Meaning and Definition of Criminology
The word criminology is composite of two words criminal + logy. Literally, it means a systematic study of the criminals, that is, persons who break or offend the social or group law. However, since the offences committed by criminals are crimes; and as crimes occur in society, the term criminology fully means a study of crimes as well as criminals in relation to society. It also tries to determine the causes of these and also thereby recommends preventive measures. The science of criminology is a scientific and systematic study of a social phenomenon. Various scientific techniques and methods are employed for the study of this phenomenon. As criminology views man as a social animal, it tries to study social interactions and phenomena to place its subject matter in a proper perspective. The science of criminology also investigates the structure and function of social laws rules and regulations. How do the social laws, conventions and traditions get formulated? How and why does an individual break them? Is there an element of compulsion or coercion in his defiance of the law? Or is it deliberate? These and other allied matters are studied by criminology with a view to find adequate answers which may help to formulate the effective preventive measures and controls. The reaction of society towards a criminal and the disposition of criminal towards society are the important matters for investigation which help to understand adequately the phenomenon of crime. Only by a full appreciation of these matters can we learn ways and means to control crime. The above discussion makes explicit the meaning of criminology. But in order to appreciate fully the nature of criminology, it is essential to examine closely the definitions given by learned sociologists and eminent criminologists. Below we give the most important of these definitions:
(1) According to an eminent sociologist Sutherland: “Criminology is the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon.” This definition exhibits sociological bias and regards crime to be reaction to certain set of social factors and causes.
(2) According to an eminent criminologist Elliot: “Criminology may be defined as the scientific study of rime and its treatment.” This definition, besides emphasizing the scientific investigation into the nature and etiology of crime, stresses the practical or utilitarian nature of this body of knowledge, namely, devising ways and means to prevent or reduce the incidence of crime and rehabilitate criminals as normal members of the society.
(3) According to renowned criminologist D. R. Taft: “Criminology is the study which includes all the subject matter necessary to understanding and prevention of crimes together with the punishment and treatment of delinquents and criminals.” This is a comprehensive definition and describes theoretical as well as practical aspects of the study. It brings out clearly the fact, which may get overlooked usually, that criminology is concerned not with the offences committed by adults only but also deals with juvenile offences.
According to another noted sociologist Webster, the science of Criminology may be described to be “the scientific study of crime as a social phenomenon, or of criminals and their mental traits, habits and discipline.” This definition has the merit of emphasizing equally the sociological as well as psychological aspects of the crime and the criminal.
Nature of Criminology
The foregoing discussion about the meaning and description of criminology makes abundantly explicit and clear the nature of this science. Fundamentally speaking, the task of criminology is a scientific, systematic, statistical, structural and functional in depth study of crime. The behaviour covertly deviant is liable to become overtly offensive of social norms and laws, both from sociological and psychological standpoints. Besides having a theoretical understanding of crime, criminal and his behaviour, the object of criminology is also to devise effective tools to minimize the incidence of crime, reform and rehabilitate the criminal. Lastly, criminology also tries to suggest reform in penal code and its enforcement in order to make these rational and humanitarian.
Scope of Criminology
Like other social sciences, the scope of criminology is also quite vast and extensive. It is related to each and every social class and structure. Though the scope of criminology is very vast and coextensive with many sciences, the criminologists have tried to limit its scope in order to be able to study the subject scientifically, systematically and exhaustively. The viewpoints of certain notable criminologists are given on next page:
(A) According to Sutherland the science of criminology, “includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking laws, and of reacting towards the breaking of laws.” In the opinion of Sutherland criminology has three distinct aspects of departments. Though distinct, these are nonetheless not independent, but inter-linked. A thorough study of these aspects exhausts the scope of criminology; to study all of them is the same as studying the whole science of criminology. In accordance with Sutherland’s description of the scope of criminology, we can divide it into departments:
(a) The sociology of law-In this we study the nature of crime from legalistic point of view. Also we investigate into the effects of present laws upon them and study the possible reforms in the laws in order to prevent and control the occurrence of crime. The major concern of the sociology of law is to critically examine the impact of various legal systems upon crime. This study can go a long way to evolve suitable changes in the laws to curb crime.
(b) Criminal Etiology-In this department a systematic investigation into the various causes of crime is made. Here we study the social and personal factors responsible for the occurrence of crime and growth of criminals.
(c) Penology-Besides knowledge and determination of the causes and factors which generate or encourage crime, it is equally, if not more essential to know the ways and means of controlling and preventing the crime. This aspect is studied systematically and in a scientific manner to achieve control over crime. The facts and theories in this regard from the scope of Penology, an important department of criminology.
The Viewpoint of Elliot and Merrill
The eminent scholars Elliot and Merrill have made an exhaustive and thorough study regarding the scope of criminology. According to these scholars, in criminology we study four sets of facts. These are as follows:
(a) The Nature of Crime-What are the features of crime? What type of action is crime? In what respect does a criminal act differ from a social or moral act? Is it just the action which may be considered criminal or can the motive make difference to our description of a crime? For example, the theft committed for personal gain and the theft committed for impersonal reasons or social gain are both cases of theft. Can we make any distinction between the two? The answers to these questions tell us the nature of crime.
(b) Investigations into the causes of Crime-Under this aspect of Criminology we study the reasons of criminal behaviour. The different types of crime have different causes. Are these differences apparent or real? Can we come by a general theory of crime which will be adequate to explain all types of crime? Are there relations, inverse or direct, between various crimes. These questions are investigated under this head. Besides, we also study the question of responsibility of crimes. If criminals are made and not born, who is responsible for encouraging criminality? Is it parent education or social system that is responsible in conjunction or one of these alone? All these questions form the subject mater of this aspect of criminology.
(c) Individualized Study of Criminals-How and when does one turn into a criminal? What particular event or series of events happen which turn man towards criminality? In order to know all these facts we have to study in detail the personal lives of the criminals. Also we have to study the life of a person in totality for understanding the nature of crime and criminal. For this purpose we make use of what has come to be known as the technique of case-history method.
(d) Study of Prevention of Crime & Reform of the Criminal-Most obviously crimes is inimical to the interests of the society. They not only disturb the social equilibrium but make life hell for the criminal as well as his relatives. Even more, due to crime the normal law abiding citizen lives in fear. Therefore it is most essential to devise ways and means to prevent crime and reform the criminals. Should the system of punishment the deterrent, preventive, reformative or exemplary? What type of punishment is adequate for each type of crime? Such questions are studied under this head.