How are values linked to crime? What constitutes a crime really does come down to what kind of values that we have, and what is a crime now might not have been a crime in a previous generation. The laws of a society are always changing as the views, morals, and priorities of a society evolve over time. As society changes, our laws change to fit the values that society now has, and to reflect how we want to live, and how we want to be protected or exposed to certain aspects of life.
If I went to the county clerk, and asked for a marriage license to someone who was 16, I would probably be arrested. It is obviously illegal to marry someone under the age of 18 in most states, and I’m fairly certain that is the case in the state of New York. Clearly I wouldn’t want to do this, from a legal standpoint, and from a standpoint that what girl would be mature enough to marry that young? However, my grandfather was roughly my age when he married my grandmother, and she was 16. It was perfectly OK for that to happen at the time.
This is one example of how values have changed over the past 50 years or so, as we evolve our viewpoints on marriage. It would also have been a crime for a white person to marry a black person, or for gays to marry, or even be open as homosexuals. Fast forward about thirty years, and most of the laws that govern marriage are gone, and all that is required are two people who love each other. Gays still don’t have th right to marry in most cases, but we still allow it to happen in some states.
People routinely break the speed limit, and are technically committing a crime. Do we really cite every single person that is driving above the speed limit? Of course not, because if we were to do that, we would have to give almost everyone a ticket. We do stop some people who are going too fast for their own safety, but we don’t throw them in jail unless they do it too many times. This is because we don’t consider people who are driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit as bad people. They were just in a hurry, and not necessarily looking to hurt anyone.
What about white collar crime? It seems that we have different standards for those who steal from workers, or from pension funds as opposed to robbing someone in their home. The end result is the same, but would we consider a CEO a threat to society, or just to the company that he runs? We don’t have the same reaction to the guy who robbed Enron as we would to a guy who is in my house robbing me in the middle of the night. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the answer to that question. While we do punish the CEO just the same, we don’t really worry about him in the middle of the night.
There is crime all around us, but not all crime is equal, or viewed the same throughout history. We want to protect ourselves from those who might hurt us, and that perception changes all the time. Should we throw speeders in jail? Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to be in jail with a killer just because I went 45 in a 40, and thank God most agree with me.