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An introduction to crime and criminology
An introduction to crime and criminology

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1.2 What is crime?

So, what is crime? For many people, most of the time, crime is something other people do. In the next activity, however, you’ll check this against personal experience.

Activity 2 Crimes and punishments

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Look through the questions in the first column of Table 1 and make a mental note of the ones you would answer ‘yes’ to. Consider also the penalty you might have been given had you been caught, charged and convicted of these offences.

Table 1 Crimes and punishments
IncidentOffencePenalty ranges
Have you ever bought goods knowing or believing they were stolen? Handling stolen propertyDischarge – 14 years’ imprisonment
Have you ever taken stationery or anything else from your office/work?TheftDischarge – 7 years’ imprisonment
Have you ever used your workplace’s telephone for personal calls?Dishonestly abstracting electricityFine of £2000 – 5 years’ imprisonment
Have you ever kept money if you received too much change?TheftDischarge – 6 years’ imprisonment
Have you kept money found in the street?TheftDischarge – 6 years’ imprisonment
Have you taken ‘souvenirs’ from a pub or hotel?TheftDischarge – 6 years’ imprisonment
Have you ever left a shop without paying in full for your purchases?Making off without paymentDischarge – 2 years’ imprisonment
Have you ever taken something from a shop or stall without paying for it (shoplifting)?Theft Discharge – 7 years’ imprisonment
Have you used a television without buying a licence (pertains specifically to the UK)Using a television without a licenceFine of £1000, non-payment of the fine can lead to a custodial sentence in some cases
Have you ever fiddled your expenses?TheftDischarge – 6 years’ custody
Have you ever been in possession of cannabis? Misuse of drugsUnlimited fine – up to 5 years’ imprisonment or both


How did you get on? It may be that you are a perfectly law-abiding citizen who has never knowingly committed a crime. But, if you have been involved in some of the above ‘incidents’, you may not have even registered them as being ‘criminal.’ It would also be likely, then, that you probably don’t consider yourself to be a ‘habitual criminal’ or ‘persistent offender’. Yet crime, often thought of as an abnormal, minority behaviour is actually something that is widespread, perhaps even a majority pursuit.