Part 3

Social Control and Deviance

Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Researchers claim that part of the reason Japan has such a low crime rate is because they have smaller income gaps, low unemployment, a strong commitment to family life, and shared identity. They also exhibit a strongly shared antipathy toward crime. Handguns are banned in Japan. Although prison sentences are short, the quality of prison life is grim and prisoners are cut off completely from their family and communities. One man who had been in prison for 15 years, reported that none of his family members ever wrote or came to visit him. After his release, his wife and son met with him once and told him never to return to his village again.

One other reason Japan is likely to have such a low crime rate is because of socialization and the pressure to conform. Positive and negative social sanctions reward those who conform and punish those who violate social norms. Positive sanctions in Japan are usually strong motivators for people to conform. These sanctions begin early in life and continue throughout adulthood. Unlike the individualistic culture of the United States, Japan has a culture that highly values conformity.

If someone fails to conform in Japan, they are usually ridiculed or ostracized. Negative social sanctions such as these are effective means of social control. Although informal sanctions provide an effective means of controlling deviance, the criminal justice system in Japan is also effective in keeping crime at bay. Like China, Japan focuses on making criminals feel remorse. Because of this emphasis, criminals in Japan are less likely to form an oppositional culture where acts of deviance are rewarded. In the United States, however, those who are labeled deviant are often lured into a life of crime due to the fact that there are few positive sanctions present in our society. Racism and discrimination cause many to engage in an oppositional culture where deviant behavior is strongly encouraged and rewarded.

The United States also has the highest prison population in the world. Why is it that a nation that highly values freedom has such a high rate of incarceration? Some suggest the main reason is the higher rates of poverty.. Others point out the racial bias inherent in our criminal justice system. Even though they make up 12% of the U.S. population, almost half of all prison inmates are African Americans. There are countless other explanations for why we have such a high incarceration rate and perhaps no single factor is to blame. Some scholars suggest that part of the problem is the harsh treatment of drug offenders. The prison population in the United States began to increase dramatically uring the 1980’s. This is when tougher laws on drugs were established. As a result of these changes, over half of all federal prisoners today are there because of drug convictions.Some say our criminal justice system is too soft on criminals but this doesn’t seem as plausible considering the harshness of our drug laws, Also, the United States is the only industrialized nation that still practices the death penalty, even though evidence shows that capital punishment does not actually deter crime. The United States also gives the longest prison sentences among other industrialized nations.

Incarceration Rate per 100,000 in Selected Nations

Source: National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 2006

The chart above illustrates that incarceration rates in the United States are the highest in the world. What social factors contribute to this? Read the selection titled, “Crime in World Perspective” by Elliott Currie in e-Reserves. Why do you think the incarceration rate is so high in the United States? Why is our violent crime rate so high? In what ways might the crime problem in the U.S. be reduced?