Crime (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Crime is often defined as "conduct in violation of the criminal laws of a state, of the federal government, or of a local jurisdiction, for which there is no legally acceptable justification or excuse" (Schmalleger 2001, p. 700). Not only is a crime the commission of an act, it can also be an omission of an act, such as the failure to assure that a child has clothing, food, or shelter. In 1999, law enforcement agencies in the United States made approximately fourteen million arrests, excluding traffic violations. The offenses most frequently committed were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and drug abuse (approximately 1.5 million arrests for each). The second most frequently committed was simple assault (approximately 1.3 million arrests).
Fifty-five percent of all crimes in the United States are committed by people under the age of twenty-five. Individuals in this age group commit approximately 44 percent of all violent crimes and 58 percent of all property crimes. Seventy-eight percent of all people arrested are men.
Crime has many detrimental effects on society. Victims of crime can suffer fear, stress, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, personal financial costs, medical costs, and health problems. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that the cost of crime to victims is approximately $17.6 billion a year. This estimate does not include the direct cost to the criminal justice system to process and punish/rehabilitate offenders.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), approximately twenty-three million households in the United States are "touched" by crime annually. This represents approximately one-fourth of all homes, resulting in over thirty-one million victims of crime each year. Individuals who live in urban areas are two times more likely to be the victim of crime than are those who live in rural settings. Men are more likely to be the victims of a crime, and younger Americans are more likely than elderly Americans to be victimized.
Of those arrested for violent crimes and street crimes, including predatory crime, the number of African Americans arrested is roughly the same as, or higher than, the number of Caucasians. This is a major concern because African Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population. Approximately 30 percent of African American males aged twenty to twenty-nine are under the control or supervision of the criminal justice systemour times as many as Caucasian men in the same age group.
Not only are African Americans overrepresented among criminal offenders, they are also overrepresented among victims of crime. While Caucasian Americans account for over 80 percent of the people living in the United States, they are the victims in less than 50 percent of the murders committed. According to the NCVS, African Americans are more likely than any other racial group to be victims of violent crimes. One out of every twenty-one African-American males is murdered.
In April 1990, President George Bush signed into law the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which requires that hate-crime data be collected and reported. Congress defines hate crimes as offenses "in which the defendant's conduct was motivated by hatred, bias, or prejudice, based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation of another individual or group of individuals." In 1998 there were approximately 8,000 hate-crime incidents; and racial hatred was the motive in 58 percent of these acts. Most hate crimes are acts of intimidation, vandalism, simple assault, or aggravated assault.
The majority of crimes in the United States occur in poor urban areas, and the majority of crime victims are poor. The NCVS reported in 1998 that violent-crime rates were greater for individuals living in lower-income families than individuals from more affluent homes. This puts a large burden on the health and medical systems in high-crime areas and strains community resources.
The types of crimes that law-enforcement agencies deal with are changing. Crimes such as cybercrimes (computer crimes) and crimes against the elderly are growing. Domestic violence, although always a criminal act, is being reported more frequently, and there are strict laws dealing with such offenses. It has been estimated that in 2001 the United States will spend over eighty billion dollars to finance its criminal justice system.
TAMMY A. KING
(SEE ALSO: Domestic Violence: Fraud and Misrepresentation; Gun Control; Homicide; Prostitution; Violence)
Brownstein, H. H. (2000). The Social Reality of Violence and Violent Crime. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (2000). Uniform Crime Reports, 1999. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice. Available at .
Klaus, P. A. (1994). The Costs of Crime to Victims. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief. Annapolis Junction, MD: BJS Clearinghouse.
Bureau of Justice Statistics (1998). National Crime Victimization Survey. Washington, DC: BJS.
Schmalleger, F. (2001). Criminal Justice Today. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.