All modern societies, the Australian one included, have their own legal system developed to tackle crime. However, punishment is not enough to deter future criminals. One of the ways to drive crime rates down is to try to understand what motivates offenders, what pushes them into a life of crime and, obviously, how to prevent that.
One of the things that needs to be taken into consideration is the kind of culture an individual grew up in and how that impacts this system of values and personal beliefs.
Individualist vs. Collectivist cultures
Modern Australia is a multicultural society so understanding the roots of criminal behavior implies studying the different cultures that exist side by side. This is in fact a big part of the problem, the fact that these cultures rather than strive for integration, they rarely interact. In certain segments of the population this leads to a dangerous Us vs. Them mentality.
Studies on the various cultures present in Australia speak of two types of societies, individualist and collectivist ones.
Examining the profile of offenders raised in more individualist cultures tend to view a life of crime as a means to establish their personal identity. When we’re dealing with an ‘each for his own’ type of culture or subculture, one can establish oneself by attaining a certain social status or by accumulating wealth. This is not always an option for individuals belonging to the lower class, those who were born in a poor crime-ridden neighborhood. Such areas often lack positive role models and all that’s left for individuals in search of their identity is resorting to crime and antisocial behaviour. Moreover, in an individualist culture the community won’t intervene in any significant way to reign in such behaviour.
Using the culture factor as an excuse for criminal activities
When psychologists talk about collectivist cultures they refer primarily to ethnic groups and subcultures such as gangs. In this case, the prime motive criminals give for their acts is defending the honor of their group. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about an ethnic group or indeed a gang. It’s the Us vs. Them mentality plain and simple.
Obviously, this approach is not meant to put the blame on any ethnic group, it’s not about that. This does not mean that all the members in one group will necessarily be involved in criminal activity or be prone to failing their criminal background check certificates when asked to carry out one. Far from that. In any community it’s just a small number of individuals that will engage in illegal activities or violent behaviour. Those that do use their race or ethnic group as an excuse for their activities.
Belonging to a certain culture does play a role in leading someone to a life of crime, but there are many factors one needs to consider and these have nothing to do with the community, but rather with the individual. Early childhood experiences, the lack of parental guidance or the lack of good role models, as well as poverty are even more important in determining the future of an individual.