Author-Hiteishi Sharma, Smt. KG Shah Law School/SNDT University


The field of Criminology primarily deals with understanding the characteristics, causes, and consequences of criminal behaviour, as well as the creation, assessment and evaluation of criminal justice policies and systems.

Criminology and criminal justice are related fields that share some commonalities, but they have distinct focuses and approaches. Criminology primarily involves studying the underlying factors that contribute to crime, whereas criminal justice is more concerned with the systems and processes that address crime. Criminology involves developing theories to explain crime and its causes; criminal justice applies these theories into practice.

Keywords (Minimum 5): Crime, legal maxims, Sections, Practice, Criminals, Reports, Victims,

Definition &Meaning

Criminology is the analysis of the nature of crime, the perpetrators of crime, the causes of crime, the formulation of criminal laws and law enforcement and the ways that crime can be controlled[1]


Different aspects often intertwine and complement each other in the pursuit of understanding crime and criminal behaviour:

  • Interdisciplinary: Criminology draws from various disciplines such as sociology, law, psychology, biology, economics, and anthropology, as each offers unique perspectives and insights into the complexities of crime and criminal behaviour.
  • Empirical: Empirical research is crucial in criminology, as it involves gathering real-world data and evidence to study criminal behaviour and the criminal justice system. This approach enables criminologists to identify patterns, test theories, and develop evidence-based policies and interventions.
  • Applied: Criminological research is often applied to real-world problems, aiming to improve public safety, inform criminal justice policies, and reduce recidivism.


Criminology is a complex and multifaceted field as it aims to understand the criminal behaviour its causes, and consequences. It also focuses on finding solutions to prevent and control crime. Here are three main areas mentioned below:

  • Causality of Crime: It involves examining the factors that contribute to criminal behaviour, such as biological, psychological, social, and environmental influences.
  • Penal System: Criminology looks after the functions of the criminal justice system, encompassing aspects of law enforcement, courts, and correctional facilities. It includes understanding the effectiveness of various policies and practices, such as probation and rehabilitation programs. Their goal is to improve the penal system and to make it more efficient, fair, and humane.
  • Criminal Reform and Crime Prevention: A significant part of criminology is dedicated to finding ways to prevent crime and reform criminals. This includes developing and implementing crime prevention strategies, such as community policing, education, and awareness programs.
  • Importance of criminology
  • Diminish criminality: “A disease known is half cured[2]“. Criminology assesses the mindsets of criminals to understand the reasons behind their actions, and various factors that influence them. By understanding the reasons behind criminal behaviour, criminologists can develop effective strategies to potentially deter individuals from engaging in criminal activities, and appropriately allocate resource for crime control.
  • Reforms of criminals: Criminology indeed plays a significant role in developing effective rehabilitation programs for individuals who have committed crimes. Criminologist design tailored treatment plans that focus on reformation and rehabilitation. This ultimately contributes to reducing recidivism rates and helps to reintegrate criminals back in society and lead law abiding lives.
  • Reduction in crime: Studying crime is a crucial aspect of understanding its underlying factors and contributing elements. By analysing these causes, criminologists can aid policy makers develop more effective crime reduction policies and initiatives that address the root cause of crime, ultimately promoting a safer society.
  • Enhancing the Criminal Justice System: By examining various components of the system, like law enforcement, courts, prisons, rehabilitation programs, etc. criminologists help identify areas of improvement, develop efficient and fair methods, and promote fairness, fostering public trust and ensuring justice is both served and perceived as fair.
  • Criminological Theories
  • Demonic Perspective

Also known as the “Demonic Possession Theory”, this was the very first theory of criminology, and was the only theory till the 17th century. People believed that crime was caused, not as a result of one’s free will, but by supernatural forces, such as demonic possession. Extreme measures (torture/death) were carried out, in public, in the belief it would erase any trace of demonic influence, and re-align the community with God.

A well-known case that involves demonic possession as a potential explanation for crime is the infamous case of the “Devil’s Disciple” – Albert Fish was a notorious American serial killer, who admitted to committing heinous crimes such as child kidnapping, sexual assault, homicide, and cannibalism. He felt that he was controlled by demons, which led to his appalling behaviour

  • Classical Theory (Cesare Beccaria, 1764)

This hypothesis proposes that people endeavour to enhance their personal well-being, and reduce discomfort. They would abstain from engaging in criminal activities solely if the punishment was prompt, definite and stringent.

For example, if the punishment for stealing a vehicle is severe enough, a potential thief would most likely not steal it. But if the punishment is perceived as too lenient, the individual might be more inclined to commit theft.

  • Positivist Theory (Cesare Lombroso, 1876)

Lombroso contended that minds of criminal are formed by heredity, and these individuals could be identified by physical characteristics and imperfection, i.e., people committed crimes because they were so called “genetic throwbacks” (this  is similar to racial profiling, which currently is present in the media and entertainment, wherein people of a certain skin colour are generally shown as criminals or “the bad guys”).

  • Anomie Theory and Strain Theory (Merton, Rosenfeld & Messner, 1938)

The Anomie Theory suggests that crime occurs due to the nation’s heightened emphasis on the economic aspects, as opposed to other values and principles. This hypothesis is supported by studies that demonstrated a correlation between lower crime rates in communities which prioritized other ideals, such as family, education and religion. Offenders are driven by financial achievements and cultural aspirations (which they could not achieve through conventional, legal means), and, at the same time, look legitimate.

On the other hand, the Strain theory is quite the opposite – it suggests that people commit crimes due to their inability to achieve their objectives, but they are not driven by cultural aspirations and financial prosperity – they resort to crime as a last means in response to the strain being experienced at that time. For example, to provide for their family, or funds for medical treatment, etc.

Indian movies are replete with scripts wherein a child commits theft (of food/money/medicine) to provide for his dear ones (Strain Theory), and later is motivated for monetary success (Anomie Theory)

  • Differential Association (Sutherland and Cressey, 1939)

This theory proposes that criminal behaviour is mainly passed on through personal communication and interactions between people. This theory is related to organized crime, seen with mobs, mafia and gangs.

For example, children associating with other delinquent children tend to have a higher chance of adopting delinquent behaviour themselves, as they learn from such actions. The environment in which children are nurtured also influences criminality.

  • White Collar Crime (Sutherland, 1939)

Sutherland formally defined white-collar crimes as “a crime of deceit committed by a person of high social status and respectability in the course of his occupation.” White collar crime also encompasses offenses perpetrated by corporations and other legal entities also. Examples include fraud, money laundering and embezzlement.

  • Deterrence Theory (Stafford & Warr, 1968)

This theory is similar to classical theory, but the deterrent here is that offenders don’t want to do with the punishment.

There exist two different categories of Deterrence –

Specific Deterrence is: when you commit a crime, you are punished, so you don’t repeat (for e.g., you are caught speeding, and are penalized. So, you avoid speeding the next time)

General Deterrence is: when someone else commits a crime, that someone is punished, so you don’t commit that crime (for e.g., someone else is caught speeding and penalized; you observe this and eye your speedometer to ensure you are within the speed limit)

  • Broken Windows Theory (Wilson and Kelling, 1982)

This theory aims to explain the reasons why certain urban zones and residential districts experience an increase in criminal activities. The phrase “broken windows” symbolizes disarray in neighbourhoods, suggesting that minor disruptions and impolite behaviour within a community can result in more severe criminal activities in the future. According to this theory, when a window pane in a building is broken and remains unfixed for long duration of time, it signals that no one cares about the area, and does not discourage others from breaking more windows. Going further, it indicates that there is no one around, and encourages theft, and can also attract disreputable people. And so, the house spirals into decline.

The theory suggests that if communities and law enforcement agencies focus on fixing broken windows, cleaning up litter, and addressing other signs of disorder, to deter disreputable people from coming in, it can create a sense of pride and safety among residents.

  • Collective Efficacy (Sampson, Raudenbush & Earls, 1997)

This theory is a form of informal social control, suggesting social cohesion and trust within a community would reduce crime – Crime would be higher in areas where there was low residential stability (for e.g., tenants living on rent, for short durations), vis-a-vis residents staying in the neighbourhood for long periods of time, and bonding together. This bonding translates into the willingness of neighbours to intervene in problematic situations, look out for one another, reporting suspicious activities and maintain a sense of order and safety.

Routine Activities Theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979)

This theory is based on the premise that a combination of three circumstances instigate criminal activity – a motivated perpetrator, a susceptible target and absence of competent guardianship.

As the name says, Routine Activities Theory focuses on our routine. For example, if one routinely goes for a morning walk, this (routine) would increase his chances of being a suitable target. If the husband and wife both go to their daily jobs, this could be leveraged by an offender to commit a house theft. So, in this latter example, the house would be a prime target, while the absence of an anti-theft system would be the lack of capable guardianship. All that the intruder requires, is motivation!

  • Rational Choice Theory (Cornish & Clarke, 1986)

This theory considers people to be rational beings, and offenders take a rational decision, based on previous experience, reliable information, first hand surveillance, and weigh out pros and cons in deciding whether they want to engage in crime, and exactly what type of crime they want to engage in.

This theory differs from classical theory, in that they make rational decisions based on facts, and weighing pros and cons vis-a-vis being deterred from offending because the  punishment is swift, certain and severe.

For example, Rational Choice Theory, when applied to a bank heist, demonstrates the strategic and calculated approach of criminals, assessing various factors such as the potential rewards, risks involved, chances of success, and potential consequences.

  • Modern Evolutionary Theory (Ellish & Walsh, 1997)

According to this theory, certain advantageous traits and behaviour that enhance an individual’s chances of survival and reproduction can evolve over generations. This may increase the likelihood of success in criminal activities, as these traits might provide a survival advantage in certain environments.

  • Radical Criminology (Schwendinger, 1970)

Based on Marxist idea, this theory states that laws are established by the influential individuals to serve their own advantage, by suppressing the general population, resulting in crime being caused due to the large difference in wealth and power.

Legal Provisions

  • The Indian Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 The law emphasizes care, protection, and rehabilitation, treating juveniles differently from adults. It provides support like counselling, education, vocational training, and establishes separate Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees for handling juvenile cases. The aim is to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society, fostering their potential as productive citizens.
  • CRPC Section 360 allows for probation in cases where an offense is committed by a person under the age of 21 years or a woman, and the offense is not punishable with life imprisonment or death penalty. Additionally, if there are no specific provisions for convictions, the court may grant probation for a maximum period of 3 years. This provision aims to provide a more lenient punishment and rehabilitation opportunity for those who fall under these categories.
  • CRPC Section 27 indeed states that if a person below the age of 16 years has committed an offense not punishable with life imprisonment or death penalty, they should be awarded a lenient punishment. This consideration is based on factors such as the individual’s character, their history, and the circumstances that led to the commission of the offense. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that young offenders are treated with a certain degree of leniency and rehabilitation, taking into account their age, immaturity, and potential for reform.
  • The Law Commission Reports highlights the importance of addressing crime victims with empathy and understanding. The report suggests that the government should adopt the principle of offering aid and support to these victims using public funds. By doing so, the state can demonstrate its commitment to the welfare of those affected by criminal activities, fostering a more compassionate and just society
  • The Justice Malimath Committee Report focuses on crime victim concerns and criminal justice reforms. A key recommendation is to change the compensation system for victims. Earlier, under Section 357[3],compensation was given only upon successful conviction. The Committee suggests that victims should be compensated if known, regardless of offender identification, acquittal, or other outcomes, to support victims emotionally and make the justice system more empathetic.

Notable White-Collar Cases

  • Rana Ayyub v. Enforcement Directorate

CITATION : (2023) 4 SCC 357

Facts: Rana Ayyub initiated, and ran three crowdfunding campaigns, from 2020 to 2021. The defence argued that since money laundering took place under the jurisdiction of Mumbai, the Special Court, Ghaziabad could not exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Judgement: The Supreme Court determined that there is no territorial jurisdiction, implying that even if another court acknowledges a scheduled offense, the Ghaziabad Court should have exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction.

  • Balaji v. Karthik Desari

CITATION: (2023 SCC Online SC 645

Facts: From 2014 to 2015, accusations emerged about potential collusion amongst the officials within the Transport Department. These claims involved several prominent government personnel, including Senthil Balaji, a State Government Minister, who was alleged to have received unlawful benefits for facilitating appointments in the Public Transport Corporation. The petitioner’s argument was that the identification of proceeds of crime served as a fundamental/jurisdictional prerequisite, and that the Enforcement Directorate could not  issue summons without same.

Judgement: The Supreme Court dismissed the claim that the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) investigation lacked proper legal basis or jurisdiction, as they established that the funds involved were indeed connected to money laundering activities.


To foster and maintain Criminology as a significant field of study and practice, collaborative efforts are essential to address gaps and issues. Key players like UGC, ICSSR, and existing institutions should work on establishing centres for excellence, involving government agencies in recruitment, and prioritizing criminology by the UGC and Ministry of Human Resource Development. Supporting organizations like the Indian Society of Criminology should lead initiatives, while separate fund allocation and standard syllabi development should be considered. This collective approach will strengthen Criminology’s growth and relevance.


  1. Books / Commentaries / Journals Referred
    1. Coleman & Clive Norris : Introducing Criminology,2000
  2. Online Articles / Sources Referred
    1. The Law Commission Reports
    2. The Justice Malimath Committee Report.

       3. Cases Referred

  • Rana Ayyub v. Enforcement Directorate
  • Balaji v. Karthik Desari
  1. Statutes Referred
    1. The Indian Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015
    2. Code of Criminal Procedure,1973.

[1] Coleman & Clive Norris : Introducing Criminology,2000

[2] Thomas Fuller

[3] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

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