Role of Social Institutions in Crime Causation

Crime is inevitable in any society as some or the other violation of any code of conduct is bound to occur. “There is no society that is not confronted with the problem of criminality”.[1] The study of causation of crime, studies the various reasons and approaches to identify and understand the probable causes for the happening of crimes. The said approaches can be classified into: Individualistic Approach and Environmental Approach or Sociological Approach.


Individualistic Approach to study crime causation focuses on the individual’s personality and other traits of the offenders including heredity, physical bodily factors and mental and biological factors etc., however, the Environmental or Sociological Approach tries to see crime and criminals in the light of factors that are outside the personality of the delinquent that includes the sociological factors affecting the psychological advancements of the offenders like the environment around him including institutions like family, religion etc.
Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, are “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behaviour. Social institution and crime causation are deeply related concepts as the criminal behaviour of the offenders is shaped through various institutions of the society and hence, the study of social institutions in respect to crime causation is imperative. The present article will discuss the relation of crime causation with the following institutions:


Family plays an extremely important role in the evolution of a child’s personality and behaviour. It not only sets the codes of conduct for the children to interact with the family members but also to the world at large. The initial 10-12 years of a child is very important as it builds the basic characteristics of the child and hence, the exclusive impact of family in the said manner is imperative.

Lack of affection to the child from the family is considered to be one of the prime reasons for the inculcation of anti-social behaviour in a child as the children are deeply dependent on the parents in the initial years of their lives.
Lack of affection is intriguingly related with the kind of family and the respective problems faced by them. Death of the parents is one such factor that affects and inculcates delinquent behaviour in a child thereby resulting in crime causation.

Another instance resulting in unfavourable behaviour in children is “broken family” which refers to the parents and children not living together, or either of parents not living with the children.
Many studies including the New York State Training School by Ruth Topping [2] show that children’s feeling of lack of affection results in threats by such children to kill people and hard life.

Moreover, another important consideration in this regard is the “size” of the family. The joint family system is considered to be a better possibility in regards to the crime causation in comparison to the smaller families.
Further studies show that “order of birth” in a family is also an important factor contributing to the delinquent behaviour in a child. The elder children are significantly more likely to commit crime than the latter ones.[3]


Religion is another important and vitally relevant aspect of a person’s life that affects an individual’s behaviour and thinking. Major problems, however, that are associated with religion is that it can’t be defined exclusively and many a time it is confined to mere practices of rituals and beliefs which are deeply ingrained in a person’s mind.
Religion as an institution has many roles to play. Religion is considered in its positive sense as a source of constructive morality and as a negative instrument in terms of its undesirable leadership, distorted practices and abuse due to corruption and commercialisation.[4]

The negative aspect and influence of religion are not only incapable of serving the destined purpose of religion but they also promote delinquent behavior for many different reasons.


After family, school is the place where a child spends most of its time. It also affects a child’s mental psyche and it builds the reasoning, thinking and learning abilities of the child to another level as compared to the before school phase of a child.

The kind of experience that a child gets in the school including any bad behaviour leading to the feeling of not “belonging” affects school performance and emotional and mental stability of a child which thereby ingrains anti-social behaviour in a child.

Further, the major challenge with education in countries like India, is that a great number of people, which are considered to be more prone to criminality and belong to lower strata of the class, generally, don’t get enough motivation to go to government schools and to attend educational benefits because of lack of educational environment including lack of infrastructure and staff. This also creates a very favourable ground for criminals and criminality to flourish.

Economic Factors

Money and economic stability have been traditionally considered to be one of the main reasons for crime causation and hence, it is preconceived that a large number of crimes are done to gain some or the other monetary benefit.
Poverty is a very important aspect to be considered for studying crime causation with regards to economics. Data statistics show that, in India, there is a direct nexus of poverty and crime as 50% of the juvenile offenders in the study were found to be from lower classes[5].

Karl Marx and his theory of class consciousness thereby suggesting the exploitation of the proletariats by the bourgeois is important to be considered in regards to economic crimes. However, it is also equally important not to ignore the economic crimes and offences done on higher or any positions of the not poor class, which is often referred to as white collar crimes.


State is the external institution established with legitimate physical force to regulate, supervise and control public and private affairs of the individual. As rightly pointed out by Aristotle in his saying, “Man is a social animal and by nature, he is a political being.” Man living in society cannot disassociate himself from the political life of being ruled and to rule a person or group of people. It is an association of humans gathered together organized for law within a definite territory. One needs cooperation and coordination of man against man or for man to live the life of his choice or preference to achieve a happy and honourable life. State is a single institution and society is a collective building block which comprises within itself political institutions.

State not only regulates public affairs within the legal framework but also guarantees rights and obligations to every individual. The foundation of equality in status and opportunities, fraternity and justice to all in social, economic and political aspects constitute the building block of our lives. The existence of life is merely a skeleton without liberty of speech and expression provided to us by us. The people are also bound by their obligations to perform their duties for the welfare of society at large. Therefore, your actions have their implications whether right or bad to others for the purpose of collective responsibility.


Therefore, considering the above-mentioned instrumentalities of the society, it can be said that various instruments of the society that shape the personality of the people do also affect their behaviour including their criminal behaviour and therefore, promotes antisocial and delinquent behaviour in people to commit crimes.
However, it is a matter of fact that these factors mentioned above are not a full proof explanation of all the crimes happening in the society and it cannot exclusively be said that there was one particular reason for causation of any crime. But, these theories and discussions only aim to give a general approach towards the study of crime and criminality and hence, do not and cannot stand true for each and every particular circumstance of crime causation.
Further, the initiation of criminal mentality, being a psychological process cannot be studied merely on the grounds of physical, biological and genetic factors as proposed by other approach and the passing of time has given to us this clarity that the study of crime needs and considers the social environment to be a vitally important factor in the commission of crimes.

Moreover, a general study of crime and criminality considers the criminal mental psyche as a continuous process that affects a large span of a person’s life before the actual commission of crime occurs. Therefore, the study of institutions such as family, religion, school and education, state and economic stability is very relevant. However, it cannot be conclusively said and substantiated that if there is no problem with respect to the above-mentioned institutions, the crimes will vanish as the said situation is another point of research. One thing that can be conclusively said is that social institutions that affect the behaviour and personality of people do have an effect on their criminal behaviour or anti-social behaviour and vice versa.


[1] Emile Durheim, Rules of Sociological Method 65 (Free Press, 8th edn.,1950).
[2] Don C. Gibbons, Delinquent Behaviour (Prentice-Hall, 2nd edn.,1970).
[3] “The Problem of Birth-Order and Delinquency” in Mental Abnormality Crime, 227-39.
[4] S.M. Afzal Qadri, Criminology Penology and Victimology 61 (Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 7th edn., 2019).
[5] NCRB (Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India), “Crime in India” (1971).


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