The field of Criminology focuses on the scientific study of crime and criminal behaviour. Criminology specialists have a variety of educational and career paths at their fingertips. In this article, we’ll explore the field of criminology in a general sense, and show you some of what you can expect to learn if you choose to become a criminologist!
What is Criminology?
Criminology is the scientific study of crime, criminal behaviour, and the criminal justice system. It analyses the causes, consequences, and prevention of criminal behaviour, and also scrutinises the social and psychological factors that are believed to influence criminal activity.
Criminology studies also cover various types of crime, including violent crimes, property crimes, white-collar crimes, and cybercrime. It looks at victimology and the impact of crime on individuals and society too. Ultimately, the goal of criminology is to better understand crime with a view to reducing its prevalence and its impact on society.
What Do You Learn in Criminology?
Criminologists gain a diverse set of skills as they train within this field. Their studies are geared towards helping them to understand the reasons that lie behind criminal behaviour, the various social and cultural factors that contribute to it, and how the justice system responds to it.
Criminology studies include the following concepts and theories.
Theories of Crime and Criminal Behaviour
Criminology seeks to understand the causes and patterns of criminal behaviour. These are explained through theories of crime. Biological, psychological, social, and economic theories can all serve as explanations as to why individuals engage in criminal activity.
Criminal Law and the Criminal Justice System
Criminology covers the laws and procedures that are involved in the criminal justice system, such as regulations that define criminal behaviour and its punishments. Students learn about the basic principles of criminal law such as:
- “Mens rea” - the intent to commit a crime (the latin translation literally means “guilty mind”).
- “Actus reus” - the physical act of committing a crime.
- The roles of law enforcement, courts, and correctional institutions.
Studying research methods is a crucial component of criminology, as it equips students with the necessary skills to conduct experimental research on crime and criminal behaviour. They can then analyse the data and draw conclusions from it. These research methods usually include surveys, interviews, case studies, and statistical analysis.
Types of Crime
Criminology covers a wide range of criminal activities, including:
- Violent crimes
- Property crimes
- White-collar crimes
Students learn the characteristics of these different types of crimes and the factors that contribute to their perpetration. By understanding the different types of crime and their underlying causes, a better understanding can be gained about the complex nature of criminal behaviour.
Criminology also includes the study of the victims of crime. It examines the impact that crime has on victims and their families, and explores strategies to help them to cope with their distressing experiences. Students learn about the legal and social rights of victims, the services available to them, and the challenges they face when they’re seeking justice.
Crime Prevention and Control
Crime prevention and control is a key focus. Criminologists study strategies for the prevention and control of crime, such as:
- Community policing
- Restorative justice
- Offender rehabilitation programs
Students are then taught to design and implement effective crime prevention programs, as well as to evaluate the impact of such programs.
Ethics and Social Justice
Criminology explores the ethical considerations and social justice issues involved in the criminal justice system. This includes examining the fairness of the legal system, the impact of crime on marginalised communities, and the role that criminologists play in promoting social justice. Ethical challenges like bias, prejudice and discrimination are also delved into.
What Can You Do With a Criminology Degree?
A degree in criminology can lead to a variety of career paths in fields related to law enforcement, criminal justice, and social services. Below, we have listed some job roles that might be suitable for a criminology graduate.
A degree in criminology can help to unlock careers in law enforcement, such as serving as a police officer, detective, or special agent with the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
Criminology graduates can work in correctional institutions as prison officers, probation officers, or parole officers. From here, they can further supervise offenders and provide guidance and support that helps them reintegrate into society.
A criminology degree can also lead to jobs in legal services, such as paralegal, legal assistant, or court clerk positions. These roles involve providing administrative support to lawyers and judges, and can be a stepping stone to a full career in law.
Graduates with a criminology degree can work in social services, occupying positions such as a case manager or a victim advocate. These jobs involve working with individuals who have been impacted by crime or social issues like homelessness or substance abuse.
Academic Research and Teaching
With further education, criminology graduates can fill research and teaching positions at universities or research institutions. Not only can such opportunities offer a rewarding career in academia, but also the chance to conduct research into criminal justice policies and practices.
A criminology degree would also be very useful if you are looking for a career as a…
- Charity officer
- Local government officer
Throughout history, there have been many influential and famous criminologists who have contributed to our understanding of crime and criminal behaviour. Some of the most notable individuals include:
Nicknamed the ‘father of modern criminology’, Cesare Lombroso is considered to be one of the founders of modern criminology. The theory of criminal anthropology was his brainchild, and he believed that criminal behaviour was determined by biological factors. He also held to the notion that criminals could be identified by their physical characteristics.
Sutherland was an American criminologist and is best known for his theory of “differential association” This is the suggestion that criminal behaviour is learned through interaction,
and that individuals are more likely to engage in criminal activity themselves if they have first been exposed to pro-criminal attitudes and values.
Hirschi is known for his social control theory, which suggests that individuals are less likely to engage in criminal behaviour if they have strong social bonds and attachments to society. His work on crime prevention placed a strong emphasis on the importance of family, school, and other social institutions.
Foucault was a French philosopher and social theorist who wrote extensively about the history of punishment and the relationship between power and knowledge in the criminal justice system. He developed the concept of "disciplinary power," which suggests that power is not just something that’s possessed by individuals or groups, but that it’s also embedded in the fabric of social institutions and practices.
Overall, there are many jobs within criminology, and also numerous career paths available to criminology graduates. However, there are other ways to dip your toes into this fascinating field of study as well!
If you’re potentially interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, the legal system, or even within teaching, a criminology diploma can be an excellent stepping stone to gain the necessary knowledge and expertise to make a meaningful contribution to society.