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What Is Criminal Justice Sociology?

An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber.
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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 29 June 2014
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Sociology is the study of human interaction. Thus, any units where human beings conglomerate and interact are evaluated, from small families to entire civilizations. Analysis and application are key, with the latter concerning how scientists can use gathered sociological information to understand and solve real-world societal problems. Out of all the problems a society faces, crime is one of the most prevalent. Criminal justice sociology focuses on the confluence of factors that lead to crime and the tools and systems societies have devised to both prevent and punish criminal activity.

The definition of exactly what actions constitute a crime differ by region and may transform over time. A historical approach to criminal justice sociology might evaluate the definition of crime in different societies. It might consider how these attitudes toward acceptable and unacceptable behavior reflect the values and beliefs of a particular group or civilization.

Societies create many institutions and systems, and one of the earliest markers of a cohesive and organized group is a legal system. Cultural approaches to dealing with crime are as diverse as cultures themselves. Criminal justice sociologists will often study and perhaps even help develop these systems. The difference between one society’s punitive legal system and another’s rehabilitative system might be of interest to a sociologist, for example. Several societal debates have emerged from criminal justice systems, including the following: potential racial bias in arrests, the use of executions, the effectiveness of trial-based systems, and the benefits of incarceration versus medical treatments.

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Crime might be used as a tool for understanding sociology, but sociology may also be utilized to better understand crime. One major aspect of criminal justice sociology involves studying the roots of crime. Most researchers would agree that no singular factor underpins illegal activities, but several complex factors can contribute. For example, a sociologist might consider how a dysfunctional family life cripples an individual’s ability to interact with others in stable, healthy manners. Further, societal factors such as workplace conflict, religious and political differences, and economic stress can become partial triggers for a variety of crimes ranging from theft to murder.

Criminology and sociology are frequently grouped together in academic and professional circles, demonstrating the complementary nature of the two disciplines. Many higher education institutions even offer a certified criminal justice sociology degree program. In addition, students will often double major or pair a major in one discipline with a minor in the other discipline. While individuals can pursue sociology careers in subdivisions running the spectrum from political sociology to family sociology, criminal justice sociology is one of the most prominent professional sociology classifications.

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