The causes of crime and thus the factors that affect crime rates are a source of eternal debate. Nobody has been able to establish with any certainty which factors are most important and which take second place. Interestingly, the crime rates within a specific country may fluctuate over time.
Poverty and socio-economic conditions
Poverty is often seen as a cause of crime. High levels of crime are often associated with communities where poverty is prevalent. There are many countries affected by poverty. Some of these countries have very high levels of crime. Some have only moderate crime. There are also huge differences in the types of crime committed in various poor economies. In some countries crime is associated with high levels of violence. In others it is simply theft while in others there is a large element of organised crime involving drugs, prostitution and racketeering.
Rapidly changing societies
Societies that have undergone radical change in a short space of time often experience increased levels of crime. This could be seen in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid and in Russia after the fall of communism. The reasons are unclear but may be related to the effects of these different types of totalitarian societies on the morality of the population. Once the controls were lessened, many saw the opportunity to make a career of crime.
New emerging societies may also give rise to high levels of corruption. Emerging from poverty or relative deprivation, the opportunities to make a lot of money through corrupt practices has plagued many governments around the world. It seems the temptations are just too great to resist!
Social level of morality
It seems that different communities have different levels of morality. While certain societies may foster a strong sense of right and wrong, the attitude in others is quite different. Not everyone shares the view that murder and theft are wrong. Different cultures seems to view a variety of crimes differently.
Social tolerance of crime
The social tolerance of crime could be a factor that influences the crime rate. In many cultures there is a high level of tolerance – people do not act as tale-bearers against others. In other societies, the slightest transgression is reported by a neighbour. Where there is a strong organised crime syndicate in existence, there may be fear of reprisals. Victims and others are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals.
A criminal class
In some communities there is a criminal class in addition to the working class and middle class. The children are born into a life of crime and become quite skilled at their selected profession. Some become pick-pockets, others bank robbers. More often than not, time spent in jail is the equivalent of a criminal university where skills are learnt and practised.
Level of law enforcement
A strong police force coupled with high sentences for convictions may help to reduce to crime rate. An on-going debate about the effectiveness of the death penalty has revolved around the idea that a strong deterrent will reduce crime, though there is little evidence to support this. Some countries amputate limbs for trivial crimes. In these countries, crime levels may be low yet it still exists.
Perhaps the greatest influence in the level of crime lies in the perceived honesty of the leadership of a country. Where government and business are perceived to be corrupt and dishonest, there is little prospect of reducing the overall levels of crime. Perhaps this would change when the leadership provides a high level of integrity and honesty.