crime

COVID-19: SHIFTING TRENDS IN CRIME RATES VIS-À-VIS UNEMPLOYMENT AND POVERTY

by Anushka Rungta and Utsav Saxena

Introduction

The world has come to a grinding halt in its war with the unseen enemy. After more than four months of lockdowns, the Government of India started taking measures to reopen the economy by introducing relaxations in some states. During these unstable times, the crime rates in the country are experiencing a haphazard graph. With the invocation of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Epidemic Act, 1897 via the Ministry of Health Guidelines in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the roles of the actors of the criminal justice system have drastically changed

The article puts forth the correlation between the current economic downturn and the upward trend in the crime rates in the country amidst the pandemic and specifically after the ‘Unlock 2.0’. Firstly, it sets the motion in perspective by recognizing the current state of the society with respect to criminal activity and the growing financial hardships. Secondly, the concept of ‘economic theory of crime’ is brought forward which illustrates the response of economic rationale behind incentivizing criminal acts. Lastly, the said state of the society is interconnected via this aforementioned theory to find the direct relationship between the statistics of the current economic recession and rising crime rates. Lastly, the article sums up by drawing recommendations to face these ever-increasing crime rates.

Contextual Socio-Economic Conditions

Organized crimes, hate crimes, cybercrimes and domestic crimes against women are at an all-time high whilst heinous crimes are experiencing a downward trend. Some of these trends are on account of changes in public behaviour and police practising. Fewer crowds on the streets have led to lower fatal accidents and crimes on the streets. Increased police presence on borders and roads contribute to a stricter environment and thus result in reduced burglaries and thefts. Restrictions on interstate movement have attributed to deterrence for criminals from other states and smuggling.

On the economic front, the situation of unemployment in the country is grim and worrisome. Though many companies have supported their employees during these hard times, many have also witnessed an increase in the number of forced layoffs and pay cuts, owing to inadequate funds and lack of business. Companies or major corporate houses are not the only business model in the economy who faced such consequences; small businesses or daily wage labourers are also equally or rather more adversely affected by it. It has become practically impossible for such business houses or workers to cope up with the sudden adversity which arose due to a sudden fall in demand and limited savings. Moreover, the students who were about to finish their degree courses this year and were set to enter the labour market, also took a hit due to the lockdown as the economic downturn kicked in which forced many companies to cancel the job offer letters or the pre-placement offers.

With no or less income and continuously diminishing savings, it has become difficult for individuals to pay off the mandatory debts and earn a minimum living thus, creating a debt trap.  Therefore, the economic consequence of the lockdown is followed by rising unemployment and increasing poverty. Though the government, through various schemes, is trying to ensure that voluntary unemployment and poverty do not become a reason for hunger in the country, this initiative is also time-bound due to limited resources. It is essential to make individuals self-reliant by creating jobs and ensuring income in the long run.

Taking into consideration limited household savings, such unemployment might result in a recession at the national or global level. Assuming the limited capacity of the government to cater to such economically weak masses there is a high probability for such individuals to feed their families through money consolidated through illegal criminal activities, eventually showcasing that the ‘Unlock 2.0’ will result in higher crime rates as a consequence of the earlier lockdown period.

Economic Theory of Crime

The act of monetizing income through criminal means instead of legal means has been defined as the ‘Economic Theory of Crime.’ As the term suggests, the theory describes the rationale behind committing a crime for money, which is sixfold, i.e. the incentive behind such criminal behaviour; cost-benefit analysis; gains over legal work; chances of being caught and convicted; the extent of punishment; and the employment/income opportunities in the legal activities.

The assumption to support the theory includes, but is not limited to, sick debts, poverty, lack of education, and involuntary unemployment etcetera. It is essential to analyze the component of ‘Economic theory of crime’ to the present situation of Unlock 2.0 to conclude the applicability of the same. Unemployment and poverty are some of the consequences of the lockdown which the country witnessed due to the pandemic, such consequences force an individual to look for alternative methods to earn money. Thus, this becomes an incentive for an individual to adopt criminal behaviour to generate money.

On the other hand, the cost to benefit ratio behind choosing motive is in favour of such criminal behaviour as it is tough to commence a business or to look for employment in comparison to committing a crime. Such cost-benefit also arises due to lower possibility of getting caught and convicted for the crime. Additionally, the punishment of monetary crimes in India range from 3 years to 14 years with or without fine but have qualifications attached to it. The most common monetary crimes such as theft and robbery attract penalization of a maximum 3 years with or without fine. Such punishment with the advantage of the low probability of getting caught and delayed trials, allow an individual to commit crime as it is easy to suffer legal sanctions than to suffer hunger.

Moreover, the lockdown has affected the economy to a greater extent due to which it is a time-consuming task to bring back the economy on its feet. Thus, unless the objective is achieved the economy will be witnessing a massive reduction in employment opportunities, making it difficult for the masses to earn their living through legal activities. The correlation between unemployment, poverty and crime has also been ratified by the honourable Supreme Court in a catena of judgments.  The honourable Delhi High Court in Jai Prakash vs. State[1] noted that committing a crime due to unemployment becomes an easy means to earn money. Thus, It is reasonable to consider that the ‘Economic theory of crime’ will be applicable during and post-Unlock 2.0 as all the components of the theory qualify.

Increasing Crime Rates

Economic-based crimes mainly give rise to illegal activities such as theft, burglary, robbery, dacoity or any such crime which holds monetary outcomes. This conclusion can be drawn due to the direct relationship between poverty and crime. Statistically speaking, the crime rate in India per 100k population was 3.70 in 2014 and decreased to 3.40 in 2015 marking 8.11% decline than the previous year. Later, in 2016 it declined to 3.20 marking a 5.88% decline. Additionally, the unemployment rate in India in 2016 was 5.51% which declined to 5.42% in 2017 and 5.33% in 2018. Moreover, the poverty rate in India has also witnessed a steep decrease from 45.3% in 1993-94 to 21.9% in 2011-12. The above data depicts a positive correlation between unemployment, poverty, and finally crime rates in India.

Taking into consideration the above correlation, it is safe to conclude that the current ‘Unlock 2.0’ and all subsequent others will result in increasing criminal activities. Crimes providing monetary benefits will significantly rise, resulting in fear in society. The above data shows a gradual escalation in crime rates due to unemployment and poverty which the government can easily tackle because the then unemployment and poverty arise due to known factors allow the government to create and implement policies. But the correlation between crime rates, unemployment, and poverty due to novel coronavirus can witness a quick rise due to its unprecedented nature. Thus, it is essential for the government to foresee such effects and adopt policies accordingly.

Recommendations

There is a dire need to implement criminal law regulations in such a manner as to make the laws more effective and efficient in these unprecedented times. Certain measures which can be adopted from a legal point of view are to introduce and implement State, city and district wise regulations to monitor criminal activities in the area. This can be achieved by decentralising the autonomy and granting power to police stations for implementing necessary regulations, in their respective areas, required to control the probable crimes arising due to the above-mentioned reasons.    

Increased CCTV and drone camera activity for better surveillance, while keeping in mind the need for social distancing, assign security guards in every ward to monitor day and night activities, increase police patrolling in high crime zones. These solutions are preventive but to ensure the elimination of economic-based crimes, it is essential to ensure employment and stable financial resources. Awareness about provisions with respect to domestic crimes and safety of women in the household is the utmost need of the hour as well.

Government relaxations are not an indication of the end of the virus, and unemployment, poverty and rising crime rates are all substantially increasing, portraying a deplorable picture of the society.  While the virus and its socio-economic effects will linger for a long period of time, it is high time, we, as a community, start looking for ways to live with it and mitigate its negatives.

Views are personal.

Image credits: The Economist

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anushka Rungta and Utsav Saxena are currently pursuing law from Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai.

REFERENCES


[1] Jai Prakash vs. State, 1979 Cri LJ 1167.

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