This article discusses the impact of natural, physical, and social environments, as well as factors such as dysfunctional families, substance abuse, and unemployment. The article emphasizes the need for a multifaceted approach to address these issues and highlights the implications of environmental factors on crime from a legal perspective.
An individual’s surroundings hold significant sway over their behaviour, even in ways that may not be immediately apparent. For instance, the force of gravity is a constant presence in our lives, impacting every aspect of our physical being from the way we move to the way we breathe. Similarly, the environment in which we reside can have a profound impact on our actions, particularly when it comes to criminal activity.
The importance of studying the effects of surroundings on criminal behaviour has become increasingly clear as urban populations continue to rise. Historically, cities have had higher crime rates than rural areas, and this trend is expected to persist as cities become more densely populated and technologically advanced. Like our childhood experiences that shape our perspectives and behaviour, our surroundings can greatly influence the likelihood of engaging in criminal activity. To create a safer and more secure society, it is critical to comprehend the intricate connections between social, physical, and natural environments.
Natural Environment and Its Influence on Criminal Activity
The natural environment can have a profound impact on human behaviour and mental states, potentially leading to changes that increase the likelihood of criminal activity. For instance, research has shown that temperature can be a significant factor in predicting certain types of violent crime. Studies conducted in South Korea, Pakistan, the United States, and New Zealand have all found a correlation between higher temperatures and increased crime rates, especially during the summer months. Conversely, lower temperatures have been linked to lower rates of criminal activity. These findings suggest that natural forces can affect individuals both physically and emotionally, potentially leading to out-of-character behaviours that may result in criminal acts. For example, extreme weather events such as hurricanes and heat waves have been shown to increase property and violent crimes. Furthermore, changes in climate and temperature are expected to have even more significant impacts on crime rates in the future.
Air pollution is another natural factor that has been shown to impact crime rates. The presence of pollutants in the air can have neurological effects on individuals, which can affect their cognitive function and lead to an increased risk of criminal activity. For example, a study conducted by Nevin in the United States found a correlation between lead concentration in gasoline, changes in IQ levels, and an increase in violent crime rates. When lead was removed from gasoline, there was a significant decline in the number of individuals with neurological problems and violent crimes. Other studies have also explored the relationship between air pollutants like carbon monoxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and ozone and their effects on crime rates. For instance, some studies have suggested that higher levels of carbon monoxide can lead to a reduction in burglary cases. These findings highlight the importance of considering the impact of the natural environment on crime rates and the potential role of air pollution in shaping criminal behaviour. Therefore, it is important to consider the influence of the natural environment when analyzing patterns and trends in criminal activity.
Physical Environments in Crime
Physical environments’ impact on crime is increasingly being recognized and studied by developed countries. The issue is not receiving the attention it deserves, despite its significant impact on society. Three levels of study, namely Micro, Macro, and Meso, are used to understand how physical features in our surroundings affect crime. Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a multi-disciplinary approach that utilizes urban and architectural design, as well as the management of built and natural environments, to prevent crime.
Understanding the impact of physical environments on crime is crucial in developing effective crime prevention strategies. By examining how features such as building design, street layout, and lighting affect criminal activity, policymakers can design and implement measures that can deter crime and enhance public safety. The study of physical environments and crime prevention is therefore an essential aspect of creating livable and safe communities. Furthermore, adopting a multi-disciplinary approach like CPTED can help foster community cohesion and empower residents to take ownership of their areas, leading to a more proactive approach to crime prevention.
Poor physical planning and the absence of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles can increase the likelihood of criminal activity in a given area. CPTED is a set of design principles that aim to reduce crime by making changes to the physical environment. This can include features such as lighting, landscaping, and the layout of buildings and streets. When implemented effectively, these measures can create an environment that is less conducive to criminal activity.
The broken window theory supports the idea that disorder leads to more crime. According to this theory, observable indications of disorder, such as litter or broken windows, can indicate to potential offenders that an area is not well-maintained, thereby reducing the likelihood of criminal activity being identified and penalized. This can create an environment in which criminal activity becomes more prevalent.
Criminals often exhibit a specific modus operandi when planning and carrying out criminal activities. They tend to look for opportunities and environments that make it easy for them to commit crimes with minimal risks of getting caught or identified. Essentially, crime occurs when the perpetrator identifies a vulnerable target and feels confident that they can get away with the crime. This can include factors such as poor lighting, lack of surveillance, or inadequate security measures in a given area. By understanding the pattern of the approach used by criminals, law enforcement and community members can take steps to prevent crime and create a safer environment for all. This might involve implementing measures such as increasing lighting or surveillance, improving security measures, or increasing community awareness of potential risks and prevention strategies.
The likelihood of crime occurring in a particular location is influenced by the physical environment, as it can shape the perception and behaviour of potential wrongdoers. Criminals often evaluate a location’s vulnerabilities before committing a crime, including factors such as accessibility, visibility, and escape routes. If a location presents challenges to entering or escaping undetected, the potential wrongdoer may reconsider their decision to commit a crime. For instance, a location with high visibility, limited access points, or no direct escape route may deter criminal activity. By designing physical environments with these considerations in mind, it is possible to reduce the likelihood of crime and increase community safety.
Impact of Social Environment on Criminal Behaviour
The social environment in which individual lives can have a significant impact on their likelihood to engage in criminal behaviour. In Hindi culture, there are many proverbs that reflect this idea. One such proverb is “Sangati ka asar padta hai,” which translates to “The company you keep influences your behaviour.” This proverb suggests that the people we associate with can have a significant impact on our beliefs, attitudes, and actions. It is crucial to consider the social environment when examining the root causes of crime and implementing strategies to prevent it. By addressing the underlying factors that contribute to criminal behaviour, such as poverty and lack of education, we can create a more positive social environment that encourages lawful behaviour and reduces the likelihood of crime.
It is widely acknowledged that a significant portion of violent behavior is learned, rather than innate. Specifically, research has indicated that exposure to violence or physical abuse during childhood – particularly within the family unit – can significantly increase the likelihood of engaging in violent behaviour during adolescence. The magnitude of this risk has been estimated to be as high as 40%. It is noteworthy that the absence of effective social bonds and parental failure to impart and internalize conventional norms and values may also render children vulnerable to later engagement in violent behaviour, even in cases where violence is not modelled in the home. This underscores the importance of a supportive and nurturing environment, where children are taught to internalize socially-accepted values and norms.
Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that certain neighbourhoods may provide opportunities for learning and engaging in violent behaviour. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including but not limited to a lack of economic opportunities, social inequality, and limited access to resources that could support positive development.
Causes of Violent Behaviour
The existence of criminal organizations, particularly those involved in illicit drug trade, and gangs, exposes individuals to high levels of violence, as well as violent role models and rewards for engaging in serious violent activities. While behaviour patterns developed in early childhood can persist in the school environment, schools themselves can also serve as sources of conflict, frustration, and potential triggers for violent responses.
Research has revealed that school dropouts, drug dealers, and those with prior records of violent behaviour are more likely to possess firearms than their non-violent peers. Moreover, growing up in disorganized neighbourhoods and impoverished, minority households have been shown to have a direct impact on the development of violent behaviour in two primary ways. Firstly, limited employment opportunities at the time of transitioning into adulthood can hinder the chances of establishing a stable family life. Secondly, growing up in disorganized and impoverished neighbourhoods can disrupt the natural course of adolescent development.
DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES AND CRIME
The CS&CPC recognizes the crucial role that families play in raising responsible and healthy members of society. However, ensuring the well-being of children requires more than just the efforts of families; it involves the active participation of communities and society as a whole. Dysfunctional family structures are among the primary contributors to future delinquency. These structures can include parental inadequacy, conflict, criminal behaviour, poor communication, lack of respect and responsibility, child abuse and neglect, and family violence. Therefore, it is crucial for crime prevention efforts to address these root causes by focusing on improvements in all three areas: families, communities, and society.
Studies have found that witnessing domestic violence at home is a strong indicator of violent behavior among young offenders, with over 50% of them having witnessed wife abuse. Children who experience physical or sexual abuse are also at a significantly higher risk of becoming violent adults. Furthermore, ineffective parenting, lack of parental involvement, and rejection, as well as inconsistent and overly punitive discipline methods, are all consistent indicators of delinquent behavior.
Unwanted and teen pregnancies have also been linked to higher risks of criminality. Additionally, research suggests that dysfunctional parenting increases the likelihood of youth associating with delinquent peers. Early school leavers also face many challenges, including unemployment or under-employment, and it has been found that 40% of federal inmates in Canada have an undetected learning disability from childhood. Therefore, addressing issues related to the home environment and parenting can help prevent future delinquent behavior.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND CRIME
Alcohol and substance abuse have a close association with criminal behaviour, with many offenders being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when committing crimes. The regular use of alcohol during adolescence has also been linked to higher conviction rates in adulthood. Additionally, research suggests that exposure to certain forms of media, such as television, can influence the behaviour of children to some extent. Studies have also found links between diet and violent behaviour. Therefore, addressing substance abuse and related factors is crucial for effective crime prevention efforts.
UNEMPLOYMENT AND CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR
Frequent joblessness is often associated with criminal behaviour. Several studies have revealed that a significant proportion of incarcerated youths and adults were unemployed prior to their arrest. The experience of persistent unemployment can create a sense of hopelessness, especially among young people, and trigger negative behaviours like theft, substance abuse, alcoholism, and violence against children and family members. Similarly, men who are unemployed after being released from correctional facilities are more likely to re-offend. A combination of academic failure and unstable employment situations can lead to continued involvement in criminal activities.
DIVERSE ADDITIONAL RISK FACTORS
The probability of criminal behaviour is influenced by multiple risk factors, which should not be considered in isolation. The major risk factors identified through research include poverty, racism, family violence, parental and community neglect, and problems at school. Many persistent offenders begin engaging in anti-social activities before and during adolescence. Age alone is not a risk factor but should be looked at in the context of these factors. Prevention efforts should be focused on the early childhood years as they are critical for healthy social and emotional development, with birth to age 5 being the most crucial.
Although crime rates among females have increased in recent years, males are still more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour. Research indicates that crime usually involves aggression, risk-taking, and predatory behaviour.
Implications of Environment on Crime: Legal Considerations
The impact of the environment on crime rates has important legal consequences, particularly in regard to the development of more sophisticated and personalized guidelines for sentencing. Studies indicate that individuals who come from less privileged backgrounds are more prone to criminal activity, suggesting that uniform sentencing guidelines may not be suitable for all offenders. Consequently, judges and policymakers may need to take into account factors such as an individual’s socioeconomic circumstances and other environmental influences when determining the most suitable sentence.
It is crucial to strike a balance between individualized sentencing and ensuring public safety. While it is important to consider an offender’s background and environmental influences when deciding on an appropriate sentence, it is equally essential to take into account the severity of the crime committed and the potential danger that the offender poses to society. Sentencing guidelines must be designed to serve the interests of justice, deterrence, and the protection of the public.
Although socioeconomic and environmental factors may play a role in an individual’s criminal behaviour, it is important to avoid using them as an excuse for overly lenient or excessively harsh sentencing. The principle of proportionality should be upheld in all cases, which means that the severity of the punishment should be commensurate with the gravity of the offence committed. Implementing interventions that tackle the root causes of criminal behaviour is an essential step toward reducing crime rates and creating a safer and fairer society. By investing in programs and initiatives that address issues like poverty and social inequality, we can help prevent individuals from turning to criminal activities and create a more just and equitable society.
The environment has a significant impact on an individual’s behaviour, including criminal activity. As cities become more advanced and densely populated, understanding the influence of surroundings on criminal behaviour is increasingly important. Childhood experiences and the effects of gravity are among the factors that must be considered in creating effective crime prevention strategies. Humans are social animals who require other people to live happily, but the environment can affect individuals positively or negatively. Crime is a negative effect of the environment that is a menace to society. A healthy, developed, and nurturing environment raises good, responsible, and righteous citizens, while a bad environment can raise violent, careless, and criminal-minded individuals. Countries must invest in improving all types of environments to reduce high crime rates and create a safer future.
- Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), (Apr. 27, 2023), ,https://menlopark.gov/Government/Departments/Police/Crime-safety-and-prevention/Crime-Prevention-Through-Environmental-Design#:~:text=Crime%20Prevention%20Through%20Environmental%20Design%20or%20CPTED%20(pronounced%20sep%2Dted,either%20encourage%20or%20discourage%20crime.
- Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, (Apr. 27, 2023), http://preventingcrime.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Causes_of_Crime.pdf.
This article is authored by Sohini Chakraborty, a first-year law student at RGNUL Patiala.