IELTS vocabulary: crime and punishment

IELTS vocabulary crime

Updated: April 7th 2022

In IELTS writing task 2 various topics come up, such as the environment, family, society, work, technology, education, food and diet, health, sports and sometimes crime. The topic of crime is difficult for many students as there is so much vocabulary surrounding this.

When learning new words you should always learn how the words collocate in a sentence. Research has shown that the best method is to learn set phrases and ‘chunks of language’ not single word lists when learning a new language. When learning new phrases practice making sentences with them to see how they look in context. 

To see an IELTS essay model answer on the topic of ‘crime’ click the blue button below and make note of any new words you find.

Some people think that the best way to reduce crime is to give longer prison sentences. Others, however, believe there are better alternative ways of reducing crime. Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Some people argue that longer jail terms are the most effective way to lower the crime rate, whereas others think that it is possible to reduce criminal offences using different methods. This essay argues that serious offenders should serve longer prison time because society needs to be protected from dangerous criminals.

On the one hand, it is widely felt that prolonged incarceration is necessary for people who commit terrible crimes to reduce the crime rate, and I completely agree with this view. This is because serious criminals such as murderers, rapists or violent offenders need to be kept away from society for as long as possible. If they are released early they will most likely re-offend and go on to commit terrible acts. For instance, evidence suggests that crime rates in developed countries, which have very long prison sentences or the death penalty for murder, are considerably lower than those with lenient sentences.

On the other hand, there is an argument that relying on sentencing to longer incarceration periods is not effective in lowering crime. In other words, society should find ways to tackle the issue of re-offending. To illustrate this, studies from the UK Government have shown that most ex-inmates tend to re-offend because they cannot integrate back into society. Hence, they need support such as education and job training to rebuild their life rather than spending years behind bars. I believe that helping them is essential to stop them from re-offending, however, heavier penalties for serious crimes must not be overlooked.

In conclusion, despite differing views on how to reduce crime, I believe keeping hardened criminals in jail for extended periods is essential to deter them from going back into society and endangering public safety.

293 words

Types of crime:

For definitions and meaning go to and type the word into the ‘definitions’ box at the top of the page.

Serious crimes

  • Burglary 
  • Robbery 
  • Mugging 
  • Theft 
  • Fraud / Scam 
  • Assault
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Drug smuggling
  • Human trafficking
  • Embezzlement
  • Organised crime
  • Corporate crime
  • Extortion
  • Bribery
  • Arson
  • Terrorism
  • Hijacking
  • Abduction

Less serious crimes

  • Shoplifting
  • Petty crime / Misdemeanour
  • Juvenile crime
  • Drink driving
  • Speeding
  • Texting while driving
  • Jumping a red light/traffic violations
  • Pickpocketing
  • Vandalism
  • Hacking 
  • Phishing
  • Possession of drugs (in some countries this is a serious crime)

People who carry out the crimes (in red)  notice the article ‘a’ before the person

Burglary – a burglar
Theft – a thief
Pickpocketing – a pickpocket
Murder – a murderer
Robbery – a robber
Mugging – a mugger
Fraud – a fraudster
Scam – a scammer
Shoplifting – a shoplifter
Hacking – a hacker
Arson – an arsonist
Offence – an offender
Crime – a criminal


Example sentences:

Click the button below to see these words in context.

  • Online fraud and internet banking scams are rising all over the world now.
  • The number of phishing scams has increased recently.
  • Extortion is commonly used by organised crime syndicates in many countries.
  • She was imprisoned for 25 years for committing murder.
  • He spent 8 years in jail for committing manslaughter.
  • Shoplifting is common among people who are experiencing poverty.
  • Petty crime, such as shoplifting, has decreased considerably in this town.
  • Juvenile crime was a serious issue in London during the 1970s.
  • He spent 1 year in prison for burglary.
  • Human trafficking is a major problem worldwide now.
  • Corporate crime, such as bribery, is widespread among developed nations.
  • The number of muggings in London is much lower now compared to a decade ago.
  • He was charged with assault and sentenced to prison for 6 months.
  • A parking fine is usually considered to be a misdemeanour.
  • He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was given a lengthy jail term.

Collocations and set phrases:

Here are some common phrases and collocations connected to crime with some example sentences to show how they fit in the context of a sentence.

bring crime rates down / reduce crime rates 

  • The government has announced new policies to reduce crime rates.
  • The government has announced new policies to bring crime rates down.

sentenced to prison / to be given a prison sentence 

  • He was sentenced to 3 months in prison for fraud. 
  • He was given a 2-year prison sentence for robbery. 

found guilty of a crime

  • He was found guilty of fraud and was given 2 years in prison by the Judge.

convicted of a crime

  • He was convicted of murder and was given life imprisonment.

jail / prison / behind bars / incarcerated /  locked up 

  • The judge sentenced him to 6 months in prison.
  • The judge sentenced him to 6 months in jail.
  • He was incarcerated for 5 years.
  • Many people believe that long term incarceration is the best punishment for murder.
  • Dangerous criminals need to be locked up.
  • He is serving 2 years behind bars for arson.

serving time/imprisonment

  • He is serving time behind bars for fraud.
  • Imprisonment for serious offences should be far higher than for less serious crimes.

commit a crime / criminal activities / break the law

  • The number of crimes committed rose by 12% last year. 
  • He committed a serious crime so he will be punished accordingly. 
  • Criminal activities have been increasing due to far fewer police patrols in the city centre. 
  • If you break the law you could go to jail or get a fine.

offenders / lawbreakers / offences / re-offend / re-offending

  • Offences such as shoplifting and theft have declined in recent years. 
  • The number of serious offenders in the UK has dropped by 5% this year.
  • Law courts must deal with lawbreakers effectively.
  • Many serious criminals tend to re-offend after being released from prison.
  • Re-offending is common among those that were jailed for long periods.

accused of wrongdoing 

  • The politician was accused of wrongdoing so he resigned from his post.

heavy penalties / strict penalties / harsh treatment 

  • The police give heavy penalties to anyone caught drinking and driving.
  • Strict penalties for drunk driving are widely believed to be the most effective policy.
  • In some societies, harsh treatment in prison is considered the best way to deter serious crimes.

a lenient sentence / get off lightly / a soft option

  • Although the offender was accused of manslaughter, he got a lenient sentence of only 9 months.
  • Considering that he was convicted of assault, he got off lightly with only a fine.
  • Fines for drunk driving offences are often believed to be a soft option.

the criminal justice system

  • The criminal justice system in Japan is in desperate need of reform.

convicts / prisoners / inmates

  • In developing countries, many of the inmates receive harsh treatment in prison.
  • The news reported that there were two escaped convicts on the loose.
  • Many of the prisoners took part in riots protesting the extremely harsh conditions of the jail

rehabilitation/counselling sessions

  • In Norway, there is an emphasis on rehabilitation of offenders with regular counselling sessions, rather than long periods in jail.

integrate back into society 

  • It is very difficult for someone who has been in jail for many years to integrate back into society.

held under house arrest

  • The businessman is being held under house arrest while authorities investigate the charges of embezzlement against him.

community service

  • Many people would argue that community service is just a soft option for criminals.

act as a deterrent

  • The main advantage of long prison sentences is that they act as a deterrent.

pay a hefty fine

  • The police are giving out hefty fines of $500 to anyone caught speeding.

seek compensation

  • The defendants’ lawyer is seeking compensation for the wrongful imprisonment of his client.

a miscarriage of justice

He was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 10 years in prison due to a miscarriage of justice.

Other useful phrases

Take a look at the example sentences and check the online dictionary for the full definition here

  • Court  –  The case will be heard in court next Monday
  • Court case –  After the high profile court case he was followed everywhere by the press.
  • The judge –  The judge sentenced him to 3 years in prison.
  • The defendant –  The defendant wanted more time to prepare his case.
  • The jury –   The jury came to a decision and found the defendant not guilty.
  • Charged with a crime –  The defendant was charged with robbery.
  • Guilty –  She was found guilty of shoplifting
  • Innocent – He was found innocent and not charged with any crime.
  • Evidence / Proof – There was no evidence or proof to show that he committed the crime.
  • Verdict –   The jury reached a verdict and found the defendant guilty of fraud.
  • In custody –  She spent 5 days in custody awaiting her sentence.
  • Trial –  He is currently in custody and is awaiting trial.
  • Witness –  The witness was given police protection as it was a high profile murder case.
  • Make an appeal –  The defence lawyer made an appeal to the judge as he felt that the punishment was very unfair.
  • Seek damages – The defendant is seeking damages for unlawful imprisonment.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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