crime in society

Written by Suleman Yousaf 8:08 pm Current Affairs, Pakistan, Published Content, Research Papers

Abandoning Retribution: Embracing Restorative Justice through Social Institutions in Pakistan and Beyond

Suleman Yousaf explores the role of society in crime prevention; from peer influence to moral reprimands to the loss of social status, he aims to discover potential alternatives to retributive justice. He delves into a nuanced understanding of social status in deterring crime, drawing on Howard S. Becker’s labeling theory. Here, the theory is used to examine how the fear of being labeled and losing esteemed social standing can act as a deterrent against criminal behavior. The study involved surveying 34 participants, and the findings support the proposed hypothesis that the fear of losing social status can indeed deter crime, making crime prevention by social intervention as crucial as investigation, prosecution, and conviction. The paper also proposes a mechanism for establishing social institutions that operate through the “fluidity of identity,” which involves suspending the social status of potential offenders until they embrace civility and abandon the path of c…
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Mr Suleman Yousaf is a graduate of International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University. He is currently working as a Resource Mobilization & Partnership Officer at a non-profit NGO.


The state of nature was called barbaric by some, while others termed it noble or inhabited by savages. Whatever the state, one thing is certain: humans entered into a social contract for their safety and the certainty of survival. Parties to the social contract gave up their rights to govern, own, spend, and act to establish mutually agreed-upon regularities to control deviance in society.

The “war of all against all” was so threatening that, as explained by Hobbes, the brutish and nasty acts of deviant men required correction by a force larger and mightier than all: the state (Klosko, 2005). Over time, the mechanism of the state and its institutions underwent regressive evolution and attained a complex yet practically feasible nature, regulating or attempting to regulate all sorts of human interactions.

Despite the presence of complex regulations in the form of stiff penalties, incarceration, and institutions like the police and courts, the beast of crime and deviance survives and feeds on society. It is worth noting that the phenomenon of crime has decreased over time, same as the use of violence to commit and deter crime due to the contributions of thinkers Jeremy Bentham, Michel Foucault, and others, shifting from the harsh punishments once in vogue in Catholic Europe to more humane approaches, where the world is almost convinced to make the death penalty a thing of the past.

It seems that humane approaches to treating crime have overwhelmed those mentioned by Foucault in his magnum opus “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.” Certainly, not the severity of punishment, but rather a certainty, is the deterrent favoured by those who seek to reduce the intensity and frequency of crime.

Research Problem

The use of punishment, whether in terms of severity or certainty, defies the very notion that humans are creatures of reason, and the use of violence and physical punishment should be the last, if not the only, tools to deter crime. Howard S. Becker (1963), a renowned sociologist, presented a nuanced understanding of the proliferation of crime in society and highlighted the association of labels with individuals as a major culprit that alienates them from widely accepted norms, leading to crime.

Here the positive use of labeling theory by Howard S. Becker could serve as a powerful mechanism to avoid incarcerations and harsh physical punishment by checking acts of potential offenders via moral reprimand. The fear of losing social status coupled with societal depreciation can potentially discourage criminal behavior. As the phenomenon of deviance is far from over and the rate of incarceration keeps on ballooning, the fear of losing social status coupled with societal depreciation can potentially discourage criminal behavior.

Society is direly in need of such social institutions which could potentially make the pathway from civility to criminality an exhaustive one for a potential criminal. In most cases, the person committing the crime seems to lack the clarity to weigh the odds and is taken away by the impulsiveness which often leads beyond the point of no return. Moreover, punishing a human and incarcerating defies the very notion of civility and reasoning upon which humanity prospers. The list to deter crime, whereas, is not as exhaustive and complex as the list to punish it.

Research Questions

  1. What deters an individual from committing a crime? Is it the fear of punishment or the fear of resulting social deprivation?
  2. Can the fear of losing social status be utilized as a potential and humane approach to preventing deviant behavior?


It is expected that the loss of social status and the resulting depreciation is the major deterrent against crime which could then be used as a preliminary step to arrest deviant behaviour at the grassroots level. The mechanism here is called “fluid identity” which will be recommended as a policy intervention for changing the identity status of a potential offender for an assigned period conditional to the fulfillment of certain requirements, which will then again assimilate him in society along with recognizing and acclaiming his efforts.

The “fluidity identity”, by this pursuit, will operate in society checking the incarceration rate of potential offenders before they commit crimes. In the quest for countering crime and deviance primarily in Pakistan, the study will, therefore, explore the nuanced dimension for deterring criminal behaviour.

The existence of informal social institutions like families, peer groups, and religious centers and formal institutions like schools, colleges, and universities exist but they fall short in deterring crime via moral reprimand or fear of losing social status. Other formal social institutions like police and courts are more focused on punishing and prosecuting crime rather than arresting deviance at the larva stages. In this wake, the concerned study will be conducting a systematic literature review of the existing body of knowledge to carve out a thorough understanding and identify the gap and need for the research.

Literature Review

Pakistan is struggling to keep the crime rate under control and is currently ranked 85 out of 144 countries, with a crime index of 42.8 (Human Rights Watch, 2023). Jamshed (2018) highlights that the criminal justice system of the country can be broadly divided into five major components, including the police, prosecution, court, prisons, and corrections.

All these components have distinguished functions, working mechanisms, and legal frameworks. For instance, the police are managed at the provincial level, with each unit having its own police organization – Punjab Police in Punjab, Sindh Police in Sindh, and the same structure for other provinces (Jamshed, 2018). The organizational law also differs in each province, with the Police Order, 2002, being the governing law for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, and Balochistan Police operating under the Balochistan Police Act, 2011.

This entire legal framework of policing primarily focuses on a detection model of policing, leaving less to no room for the prevention of crime before its occurrence in society – that is, addressing the dissonance in criminal mindsets. It is worth recalling that social control has been a prime concern of the sociologist and criminologists. Jeremy Bentham was indeed of the view that certainty of human interactions leads to a sustainable society paving the way to collective good.

The means for social control, however, differed over time. In “El Panoptico” Bentham coined Panopticon, a conceptual prison design in which inmates were under continual surveillance, the more the surveillance, the greater the fear of being caught and, eventually, lesser crime (Bentham, 1791).  The concept, however, fell short of resolving a contentious issue i.e. checking crimes and the resulting overwhelmed prisons. This unexplored dimension is central to the research which tends to check deviance in the larva stages and then treat it with a rehabilitative rather than punitive approach.

Michael Foucault is second to none in hailing punishment as a powerful tool to implement social control. The former, however, has acknowledged the downtrodden trend in the severity of punishment. As in the “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison”, the comparison of punitive regimes exercised by the Catholic Church with modern-era punishments speaks volumes about the decline in the intensity of violence (Foucault, 1977).  Yet the reliance on physical punishment to tame deviance is in vogue. This poses the need for research which aims to increase the avenues for correction of human behaviour to make punishment the last and least used resort.

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Santa Cruz (2022) mentions that the functional apparatus to deter crime includes prisons and correctional units, both of which follow an incarceration-based model that is not only expensive but also contributes to the cycle of crime. As shown by Jamie Santa’s findings, being “behind bars” increases the likelihood of re-offending, leading to higher recidivism rates in society. Moreover, the report by Human Rights Watch (2023) also reveals that, as of 2021, the majority of the 91 jails and prisons are overcrowded, operating well beyond their total capacity.

Researchers like S. Box et al. (1988) are still posed with the question about the potential deterrent to crime, such as a fear comprised of factors that inhibit an individual’s deviation from established norms. In their study titled “Explaining fear of crime”, the researchers have made a prima facie case by utilizing data from the second British survey. The logit analysis of the data identified that among other factors, age, gender, social cohesion, and the level of local incivility contribute to the fear of committing crime.

On the other hand, other researchers like H. Mann et al. (2016) in their research “What Deters Crime? Comparing the Effectiveness of Legal, Social, and Internal Sanctions Across Countries” also stirred a similar debate and inquired about the factors that could deter crime. The research put legal sanctions and social sanctions, such as peer judgments, under tight scrutiny in deterring non-violent crimes like dishonest actions and disobedience to the law. By administering a survey study in Germany, China, Portugal, America, and Colombia, the results showed that legal sanctions were less effective compared to social sanctions in countries where the latter were not lax.

Both research studies offer the opportunity to explore an unexplored and underutilized dimension of crime deterrence: institutionalized positive reinforcement by society. B. Wright et al. (2004) have addressed the elephant in the room by calling punishment a redundant approach to deterring crime. Their longitudinal study “Does the Perceived Risk of Punishment Deter Criminally Prone Individuals? Rational Choice, Self-Control, and Crime” has deemed retributive justice ineffective, as the majority of crimes are a result of impulsive actions with little to no thought for the future. Thus, they would be unmoved by the threat of punishment, much like falling on deaf ears.

The propensity for crime must be addressed through a regressive process of positive reinforcement to defy and discourage impulsive deviations, which are declared unlawful by the law of the land. Social control and civility have a direct relation; in fact, the greater the former, the greater the latter. This is epitomized in the research by R. LaGrange et al. (1992) titled “Perceived Risk and Fear of Crime: Role of Social and Physical Incivilities,” where they paid close attention to incivilities and their role in creating a culture of fear with a recurring trend of crime and deviance.

The scholars believe that certain widespread incivilities like “abandoned storefronts, unkempt lots, litter, noise, bench sleepers, and public drunks” often generate a hostile environment where deviance and crimes are not uncommon. The research has deduced that interventions such as removing riffraff from the streets or clearing graffiti from walls can significantly reduce the prevailing sense of fear. By using and analyzing a national dataset of 1,101 randomly selected adults from the United States, the authors examined the influence of incivilities on various reactions to crime, including risk perceptions and feelings of fear. Surprisingly, the findings revealed a significant relationship between incivility and perceived risk and fear, ultimately giving rise to an environment of recurring crime.

Researchers like Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966) in their work “The Social Construction of Reality” emphasize the powerful interplay between interactions and shared meanings that give birth to social realities. Social realities are shaped and reshaped by social processes and lack their objective entity. The same applies to the attributed social statuses of individuals, which are products of social construction where individuals assign meanings and values based on their position in the social hierarchy.

Berger, P., & Luckmann (1966) stress the influence of social status on individual behaviour and their drive to conform to expected social roles. This social status ultimately shapes expectations, perceptions, and roles adopted by individuals. Therefore, the loss of social status could potentially be used as a deterrent against crime. This is the central question the research seeks to address.

Merton, R. K. (1968) and his research “Social Theory and Social Structure” make a seminal contribution to diagnosing the relation between social structure and individual behaviour. Merton introduces the concept of social norms, which is the driving force behind the expectations and values that a society thrives upon and that are followed by the majority of individuals. Any deviation from these social norms is seen to stir social tension, which is detrimental to both individuals and society.

Merton’s perspective on social structure and its influence on individual behaviour offer valuable insights and encourage this research to explore societal avenues that could be used as positive influences to curb deviance in society through an institutionalized approach. The fear of losing social status, coupled with societal expectations to conform to existing norms, opens the door to multiple possibilities that could be utilized to deter criminality and deviance before it reaches its culmination stage.  

“The Laws of Emotion” by Frijda, N. H. (2007) is a valuable contribution that focuses on the nature of fears, emotions, and their impacts on shaping human behaviour. The book explores the psychological aspects of fear and its role in influencing human behaviour in great detail. Similarly, Chen, C., & Feeley, T. H. (2014) in “Social status cues enhance affiliation and perceived warmth: An fMRI investigation” delve into social status cues and their effects on social interactions, such as social affiliations and perceived warmth.

The study utilizes functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record and examine individuals’ responses to social status cues and how these cues impact their behaviours and social choices. The results indicate that social status cues tend to increase affiliative behaviour and play a decisive role in shaping the perception of warmth. These studies empirically demonstrate that social status affects behaviours and increases the likelihood of using the fear of losing social status as a factor in shaping social interactions and individual choices for the betterment of society.

Research Methodology

Considering the nature of the research question and the desire to explore unexplored dimensions, a quantitative research methodology is adopted for data collection and subsequent regression analyses. The study involves data collection through Google Forms, utilizing questionnaires to assess the major deterrents against crime. The questionnaires were distributed among 34 participants, primarily from urban centers in Pakistan, including Islamabad, Lahore, and Haripur.

Based on the survey responses, the interpretation is drawn. The sample size of the study consisted of 18 females and 16 males.

Gender - survey

Among the participants, 23 individuals fell within the age group of 18-25, 10 participants were in the age bracket of 26-35, and there was 1 participant aged between 36-45.

Age group

The research employed data visualization as the primary data analysis technique for the succinct representation of the findings. The research also ensured the consent of the participants and maintained the confidentiality of their data throughout the study. The forms provided to the participants kept their details completely discreet, and they were informed in advance about the utilization of their responses in the study.

Collection and Analysis of Data

As mentioned earlier, the research involved 34 participants who were asked multiple questions to understand the role of moral reprimand and rehabilitation in the prevention of crime and deviance. The questionnaire included the following questions:

  • What do you think is the most important factor in preventing crime?
  • What deters you from committing a crime? 
  • Could fear of social deprivation be used as a deterrent against crime?
  • Would you support the establishment of formal social institutions to prevent deviance from evolving into organized crime?
  • To what extent do you think that individuals who commit crimes are unaware of the consequences, and do you believe that strong social checks could prevent them from engaging in criminal behaviour?
  • Can the fear of losing social status be utilized as a potential and humane approach to preventing deviant behaviour?
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The results of the research supported the hypothesized notion that social deprivation can serve as a potential deterrent against crime. In response to the first question, which asked participants to identify the most important factor in crime prevention, 47.1% (16 participants) affirmed that social support and interventions can effectively prevent crime.

most important factor in preventing crimes

On the other hand, 32.4% (11 participants) favored harsh punishments as an effective deterrent against crime, and only 8.8% (3 participants) believed that prolonged incarceration is the most effective approach to crime prevention. Additionally, 4% of the respondents provided varied responses, stating that crime prevention depends on factors such as a stabilized economy or the certainty of punishment being more significant than anything else.

Some participants expressed that crime prevention relies on a case-by-case basis, while others emphasized the importance of individuals involved in law enforcement, such as the police and judges, efficiently carrying out their responsibilities instead of prolonging matters.

In response to the question about the factors that deter them from committing crime, a significant majority of 58.8% (20 participants) stated that they abstain from engaging in illicit activities due to their values and beliefs. This finding highlights the significant role of religion in promoting civility and curbing deviant behaviour.


Furthermore, 29.4% (10 participants) identified the potential consequences of social deprivation and loss of social status as the ultimate deterrent against crime. This suggests that the fear of negative societal consequences acts as a strong deterrent for these individuals. On the other hand, only 8.8% (3 participants) expressed that the fear of punishment alone deters them from committing crimes. Additionally, one participant mentioned that the fear of punishment, along with factors such as retribution, incapacitation, social labelling, and online tracking, serves as a deterrent against crime.

These findings indicate that personal values and beliefs, the potential social repercussions, and the fear of punishment are among the factors that deter individuals from engaging in criminal activities. Religion plays a significant role in shaping the moral compass of individuals, while the fear of social consequences and punishment also contribute to deterring criminal behaviour.

fear of social deprivation

In response to the close-ended question regarding the use of fear of social deprivation as a deterrent against crime, the majority of participants, 75.8% (25 participants), responded in affirmation, expressing agreement with using social deprivation as a means to discourage crime.  24.2% (8 participants), on the flip side, disagreed and denied the effectiveness of social deprivation as a deterrent against crime.

The question was followed by another one that asked about the willingness of the respondents to support the establishment of a formal institution to prevent deviance from evolving into organized crime.

formal social institutions

In response, 91.2% (31 participants) expressed their support for the establishment, while only 3 respondents (8.8%) disagreed with the idea of establishing such an institution for crime prevention.

Another question of the survey was inspired by the research of B. Wright et al., who held the view that the majority of crimes result from impulsive actions with little to no thought for the future. To examine this, participants were asked about their opinions regarding the awareness of criminals regarding the actions they commit and the role of social checks in preventing them from engaging in unlawful activities.

social checks

Of the participants, 23 (67.6%) responded affirmatively, stating that “Yes, social checks and positive reinforcements can prevent people from engaging in criminal behaviour.” On the other hand, 11 participants (32.4%) believed that “A criminal knows the consequences of his actions, and no amount of social checks can prevent him from committing a crime.”

The last question of the survey addressed the use of social deprivation as a potential and humane approach to deter deviant behavior. Among the participants, 23 individuals (67.6%) agreed with its utilization, expressing their support for employing social deprivation as a means to discourage deviant behaviour. On the other hand, 11 participants (32.4%) disagreed with this approach.

losing social status

These results reaffirm the notion shared by H. Mann et al. in their research “What Deters Crime? Comparing the Effectiveness of Legal, Social, and Internal Sanctions Across Countries” that societies with lax social sanctions tend to have a greater impact on social norms, beliefs, and values on the choices made by individuals.

The society in Pakistan, despite undergoing urbanization, still retains rural characteristics where social support, peer judgments, religious connotations, and social status are highly regarded and considered sacred. Therefore, the respondents in the survey have also prioritized social support and interventions, beliefs and values, and fear of social deprivation as critical factors in crime prevention, even more so than harsh punishments or prolonged incarcerations.

However, it is important to note that the study was conducted on a small scale with a limited sample size. Nevertheless, it provides valuable insights into why people in Pakistan tend to rely more on social support to prevent deviance rather than adopting more exhaustive and popularly used approaches, such as retributive justice.

Discussion and Interpretation

The standard operating procedure following a crime in Pakistan as well as other countries includes an exhaustive list of steps, ranging from filing a First Information Report (FIR) to investigation, arrest of the suspect, and then the subsequent charge, trial, and sentencing. This process ensures the complex and efficient delivery of justice. However, there are no institutionalized parameters, checks, and balances in place to deter crime in its early stages, when it transitions from civility to criminality.

Informal social institutions such as family and peer groups, as well as formal social institutions like religious seminaries and educational facilities, do exist. However, their scope of work is broad, encompassing education, preaching, and the reinforcement of norms, making it challenging to focus and narrow down their efforts solely on deterring crime.

The majority of respondents in the survey identified their belief system and fear of social deprivation as major deterrents against crime, which opens up avenues for creating formalized social institutions. These institutions could develop elaborate and comprehensive measures to prevent crime in its early stages, similar to the steps taken after a crime has been committed. The social contract between the state and the people is based on ensuring the survival of the latter and protecting their possessions.

Bentham introduced the concept of the Panopticon in his work “El Panoptico,” which was a conceptual prison design where inmates were under constant surveillance. The idea was that increased surveillance would instill a greater fear of being caught and, consequently, reduce crime. In the modern era, technologies such as the widespread use of the internet, gadgets, and Global Positioning System (GPS) have created extensive databases of users, including their locations and preferences.

Targeted advertisements, driven by algorithms and internet searches, are a common phenomenon in a consumerism-driven world. However, the ethical considerations of these practices are often overlooked. Leveraging these algorithms to build a modern Panopticon has the potential to track potential deviant behaviour in its early stages and provide social interventions and rehabilitation through targeted social support or assistance on a case-by-case basis.

Users’ searches and preferences on social media platforms can reveal valuable insights into the choices they are likely to make in life.  This approach would aid in diagnosing deviant behaviour before it evolves into organized crime, thereby making the pre-crime process as comprehensive as the post-crime process. The alarming case of the infamous shooting at Christchurch, New Zealand serves as a pertinent example. According to The Washington Post, the perpetrator, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, “allegedly uploaded a 74-page manifesto online that fixated on immigration and the concept of white genocide. Minutes before the attack, a link to the manifesto was posted on the website 8chan, along with a chilling declaration to live-stream an “attack against the invaders (Rucker, 2019).”  

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Other similar cases such as Dylann Roof and Patrick Crusius, have highlighted the use of social media platforms by individuals to announce their plans for violent acts (Cobb, 2017; Killough & Yan, 2023). While these platforms are evolving to swiftly identify and flag potentially insightful content, a more targeted approach is necessary. Building a partnership between law enforcement agencies, local social institutions, and social media platforms is crucial in addressing and treating the early stages of threatening cognitive dissonance that could potentially lead to deviant behaviour.

Implementing such a mechanism raises valid ethical concerns, including privacy threats, the risk of data theft, and the potential for abuse of power for personal gain. However, through thorough consultation among stakeholders, a balanced approach can be achieved, nurturing mutually beneficial grounds where deviance and crime can be mitigated without relying solely on prolonged incarceration or harsh punishments.

The majority of the participants in the survey, approximately 91%, expressed support for the establishment of formal social institutions to deter crime. While examples of such institutions already exist, such as community policing, neighbourhood watch, and drug programs, their implementation has been scattered and limited in scale. The need of the hour is to have functional social institutions operating within communities across the country or countries.

An effective social institution can identify vulnerable populations, such as young or elderly individuals at risk of substance abuse or engaging in heinous crimes, by utilizing online databases facilitated by online platforms. A joint venture between the community, government agencies, educational institutions, and law enforcement can then utilize this information to plan targeted intervention programs for the identified population. These programs may include rehabilitation, employment opportunities, vocational training, or other tailored requirements specific to the targeted community.

The Fluidity of Identity: A Potential Deterrent Against Crime

The deterrent that these social institutions could take against deviance is the fear of losing social status, as almost 67% of the survey participants agreed that it can be a deterrent against crime. The restorative justice approach could be used to regulate this mechanism, referred to as the “fluidity of identity” proposed in this research.

It will start by focusing on the harm done by potential offenders to society. For instance, through the inclusion of the potential offender, the victim, and the community members, the former can be informed about the impact they have had on the life or lives of the victim, which in this case could be their family or the negative influence they are having on their peers.

After this initial social intervention, if the potential deviant continues on their path and shows an increased tendency towards committing a crime, their social status, including honour, prestige, and reputation in society, should be temporarily suspended as a penalty until the targeted person corrects their course. The correction of course will be done by holding mediation sessions between the potential offender and the affected parties, which will be regulated by the formalized institutions comprising members of law enforcement agencies and local government representatives.

Once their social status is restored, the person should be rewarded for their successful assimilation into society and recognized for their relentless efforts in fostering a peaceful community. This recognition could include public appreciation, community acknowledgment, or enabling opportunities for skill-building. This approach helps mitigate tendencies of recidivism, as the community will eagerly welcome the potential deviant, and their social status will be improved through widespread recognition.

To run such a mechanism in a transparent, effective, and accountable way, formalized institutions at the societal levels should work in close coordination with local governments, religious leaders, civil society, and overall community members. The ultimate objective of such institutions should be to track deviance in society and treat it via moral reprimand, followed by the loss of social status if the behaviour persists. This will increase the avenues for a person to self-reflect and retrospect before it’s too late.

Such a formalized social institution will bridge the gap between society and the deviant population, facilitating their reintegration and assimilation without the need for imprisonment and harsh punishment. This approach acknowledges that individuals may be influenced by past trauma, rendering them helpless in weighing the odds of committing a crime.


In conclusion, society has been through a significant evolution. Every existing institution, whether formal or informal, has undergone extensive changes to reach the current stage. Societies have interacted and re-interacted with these institutions, leading to a stage where they are no longer taken for granted and are seen as natural, although they have always existed.

The same applies to the institution and the proposed mechanism described in the current research. It is worth mentioning that they, too, require critical examination and evolution while aligning with sociocultural sensitivities. However, once initiated, they have the potential to address deviance, reduce crime rates, eliminate incarceration and harsh punishment, and mitigate the repercussions of recidivism, which often stem from favouring retributive justice over rehabilitative measures.

Humans have already embraced advancements in science, technology, and humanities. Now is the opportune time to either eliminate or minimize the use of violence as a means to deter such anomalies that arise from dysfunctional societal characteristics.


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