The society in which we live has a complexity that makes simple definitions almost impossible. However, the idea of what exactly a criminal is ought to be easy enough to understand. Regardless of the severity of any criminal act the criminal has broken a law that has been established, through a legal procedure, to protect each citizen from the actions of other citizens. The simple fact that a criminal has been found guilty, presumably by a jury of his or her peers of having broken one of these laws is enough to understand that the criminal has placed him or herself outside the rules that govern us all and made themselves and their desires more important than the rights of the citizens that they have harmed. Finding a means to end criminal activity is, of course, as complicated a matter as the society in which that behavior is taking place. But, it does seem that as a starting point we might address the issue from the point of view that states we are all equal and that no one persons needs or desires can, should or may trump those of any other.
The only people living on Earth that will find themselves not required to bend or submit to the societal norms of decent behavior live alone in cells or on private islands. All others must, as a member of any society, understand that the groups needs are often more important than their own. It's the only way that we can all share this little paradise and not destroy one another. The idea that the needs of the one out weigh the needs of the many is a thing which has no place in our society. It can't operate effectively with so many of us just trying to get along. The frame of mind that suggests that a person has been so put upon and so cheated that no other option exists but the committing of a crime must have their way of thinking changed to suit the society that houses him before the person of this mind set can function amongst the rest of us.
The prison system of this country has not been effective in the regard of establishing a means of changing mind sets of this kind. It has been extremely effective in making those that already think in such terms angrier at the society that now incarcerates them. This act of warehousing and the striping away of more rights and freedoms does not address the problem either in a timely fashion nor in an effective one. It is a bit like closing the gates after the horses are loose. The key, then, would be to instill in each and every person a far more "we" centered frame of looking at and dealing with the world from the beginning. A preemptive strike against a mind set that allows for the creation of criminal thought. Yes, a very tricky proposition, but probably the only one that could stop criminal activity before it starts.
We must take the time and expend the energy to make all people in our society valuable. We must make each person feel an equal part of the bigger picture and turn our backs on no one if we are to see any real change. We must equalize all genders and races and we must lessen the differences between the "haves" and the "have nots". People are needy creatures and the needs of each must be addressed as best they can possibly be and be addressed equally in this society if we are ever to see a great lessening in the crime rates. A choice to do anything less is a choice to allow an escalation in crime in our future. We must do the descent thing in order to expect descent behavior in return from our citizens. We must find, however difficult it may be for us to do so, a means to these things now.
There will, obviously, always be a an element of our population that can not be anything other than a criminal element. Those that have mental disorders, those that have no conscience or ability to understand the actions they carry out. We will never be rid of it all, but we can, if we really want to, find solutions to the crimes that choke our prison systems to overflowing such as petty burglary, destruction of public property, vandalism, car jacking, breaking and entering and a host of other smaller crimes if we adopt the attitude that teaching descent "we" centered behavior early and often in our children's lives is cheaper and less destructive than prison sentences.