Background to causes of crime

What is a crime?

Laws exist to protect people, to give order to our societies and to prevent harm. A crime happens when a person breaks a law.

However, laws change over time. An action that was a crime in Tudor or Stuart times may well not be a crime today and vice versa. For example, in the 18th century, highway robbery was a criminal offence.

Attitudes towards crime have changed over time. Crimes that were considered very serious in the past may not be seen in the same way today. An example of this is public protest. In earlier centuries protesting against the monarchy or Government was a serious offence. However, in modern times, people should be able to protest peacefully and have the freedom to express their views in writing.

Motives for crime

Different motives for committing crime - greed, desperation, unemployment, poverty, religion, politics.

Crimes can be planned or they may be committed on the spur of the moment. Sometimes individuals may be acting under the influence of drugs, or they may be pressured into crime by other people.

People commit crime for many reasons, including:

  • greed – the desire to gain more money or possessions
  • desperation
  • unemployment
  • poverty

Social changes, such as population increases and urbanisation, have led to many crimes throughout history.

A person's political or religious beliefs may also influence them to commit criminal activities. For example, in the past, rebellions and plots against the Government often had political motives, whilst in modern times, the desire for political change is often used to justify terrorism.