- We look at some underlying reasons
Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
The causes of crime are complex. We accept that poverty, domestic abuse, low self-esteem, and alcohol and drug abuse are all connected in explaining why people commit crimes. Yet, these factors do not offer a comprehensive explanation of exactly why some people resort to crime. The reasons why people commit crimes are as unique and varied as the individuals who commit them.
The age-old question of why crime exists is one that will never cease to be asked, resulting in many theories that attempt to address and explain this phenomenon. Some crimes sound so unreal, such as killing one's own spouse, child or parents, that magistrates and judges may have a hard time believing that anyone is capable of doing such a thing to their loved ones. Therefore, prosecutors must prove motive to explain what reason the accused had to commit what appears at first to be an unreasonable act. The prosecution must explain bizarre and unthinkable behaviour and prove how, and especially why, anyone would commit such an offence.
The question of "why?"
Van Zandt (2006) argues that most investigations require six basic questions to be answered: "Who", "what", "when", "where", "why" and "how". The "who" question is usually simple to answer, as that refers to the victim - the person who has been raped, robbed or murdered. The answers to the questions of "what" the perpetrator did; "when" and "where" s/he did it, and perhaps "how" s/he did it, are usually self-evident after the crime has been discovered. It is the answer to the "why" question that is often hard to determine or understand. For the purpose of this article, we are not concerned with a simple answer such as that the perpetrator needed money, was frustrated, was angry, experienced rage or is simply stupid. What we are referring to is the question that is less obvious and more difficult for us to understand - why does a person get involved in crime and what is his/her motive for committing the crime?
Van Zandt (2006) notes that motive is sometimes the darkest chapter in the darkest book in the massive library of what we call the human mind. Motive is important because without motive, without an understanding of why people commit certain crimes in the way they do, we are left in the dark.
Motive versus intent
According to Hicks and Sales (2006), motive can be defined in terms of three conceptual distinctions:
- motive versus intent;
- the existence of a motive versus the ability of scientists to discern it; and
- the relationship of a motive to a criminal act.
Although it is recognised that intent and motive are related, the two terms must be distinguished. Intent refers to whether or not an offender purposefully committed a criminal act, whereas motive refers to the offender's reasons for acting. Generally speaking, motive requires the presence of intent. If an individual commits an act with purpose, then there is likely to be an explanation for that purpose. Distinction must be made between the person's motives to commit a crime and the way those motives and the crime are legally considered.
Motives of committing crime
The typical reasons why people commit crimes include greed, anger, jealously, a desire for revenge or pride. Some people decide to commit a crime and carefully plan everything in advance to increase their gain and decrease their risk. These people make conscious choices about their behaviour. Some even consider a life of crime better than having a regular job, believing that crime brings greater rewards, admiration and excitement - at least until they are caught and convicted. Others get an adrenaline rush when they successfully carry out a dangerous crime. Others commit crimes on impulse, out of rage or fear (http://law.jrank.org/pages/12004/Causes-Crime.html#ixzz4apdLaOmi).
People who only know life in prison after years of incarceration are also likely to commit crimes in order to go back to the only "family" they know, as they have come to regard prison as a place where they feel safe and where they have access to free food, medical care and other privileges which they do not enjoy on the outside. This often results in reoffending and subsequent overcrowding of correctional facilities (see related articles about these topics from pp 14-21 and pp 22-27).