Social control, as a function of crime, is driven by the use of law and law enforcement to prevent or enable social change. The laws, which either prohibit, reward, or require certain activities, are the basis for social control in the developed and organized society.
Laws which define crime and establish specific punishments for serious criminal activities, such as violent crime, theft, threatening social order, and vandalism, are the product of shared social values, belief systems, and culture. Most members of society, except for the criminals, agree that there should be serious deterrent to destructive crimes that affect everyone.
The first and most important goal of legal definitions of criminal activity, combined with the coercive force of government in order to form tools for a developing society to use in imposing social control and order.
Public safety, public hygiene, and orderly conduct of the processes of government and society are the basic needs of a developing society.
Controlled ways in disposing of human and other waste, isolating those who who commit violent acts, and organizing the ways in which individuals can obtain power and control, are at the core of defining certain behaviors and actions as “criminal”, determining what the sanctions should be, then using the force required to insure that the sanctions are carried out.
Formal definitions of crime insure that the basics of disease control, stabilizing society, and isolating violent groups and individuals are implemented.
But as societies become more complex, so do the notions of what defines an activity as criminal enterprise. Competing mores, values, and specific complaints vs creative defenses lead to more complexity in the formulation and execution of the laws which define and sanction criminal activity.
In some societies, failure to comply with religious values can be encoded in the law as a criminal activity. As a result, social control through defining and punishing activity that is not in compliance with religious dictates, leads to theocratic control of the society.
In other societies, actions that are already crimes as defined in the law can be influenced by corporate enterprises. In America, sentencing laws were modified in ways that improved the profits of the private prisons industry. This is an example where corporate interests drive social control by influencing the laws that define and sanction criminal acts, and which allowed privatizing of the governments coercive authority.
Social control becomes more chaotic as conflict between social groups becomes polarized, then organized. Once organized, groups pool their money and resources and become more influential. The criminal laws become more incomprehensible, and the ability to corrupt the very agencies that define crime, set punishment, and exercise the governments coercive authority becomes more profound.
Societies become more complex and polarized views develop. Wealth, power, and influence can become far more powerful drivers of the legal definitions of crime as a tool for social control than popular demand.
The complexity of the law which defines crime as a driving force in social control, begins to require the work of individuals who are specialists in the law, since the average person cannot begin to decipher the legal codes.
Lawmakers write far more complex laws in attempts to cover more complex inclusions and exceptions or to anticipate more rapid change in society. Defense and prosecution lawyers develop more creative challenges to the law as they plead their cases.
Wealthy individuals, well financed special interests, and powerful corporate interests gain more influence over the creation and execution of law which defines crime as a tool for social control.
The financial needs of the legislator who requires massive amounts of money in order to get elected or re-elected, are increasingly and alarmingly building direct relationships to their decisions, the criminal legislation that they introduce, and their voting records.
As a result, a corruption of the system of creating law that defines crime, describes punishment or sanction, directs use of the governments coercive authority is inevitable.
The complexity of criminal laws which control society is the result of increasing lack of social control, social disagreement and polarization, social disintegration, complication of the legal process, and comprehensions that are limited to those who are special practitioners of the law.