Ideas About Theories of Crime Crime is socially defined. What is considered a crime at one place and time may be considered normal or even heroic behavior in another context. The earliest explanations for deviant behavior attributed crime to supernatural forces. A common method to determine guilt or innocence was trial by ordeal. Although theories of crime causation and the workings of the legal and criminal justice systems are of limited utility, there are theories that can explain some crime. Many theories of crime have failed to provide reasonable explanations.
The Classical School of Criminology
The classical school of criminology, which argues that people freely choose to engage in crime, is embodied primarily in the works of Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. Beccaria presented nine principles that should guide our thinking about crime and the way society responds to lawbreakers. According to Bentham’s utilitarianism theory, people are guided by a desire for pleasure and aversion to pain. The Positivist School of Criminology The positivist school of criminology uses scientific techniques to study crime and criminals and focuses on what factors compel offenders to commit crimes.
The positivist school comprises many types of theories of crime including biological, psychological, sociological, and critical sociological. Biological Theories of Crime Many biological theories of crime have been discredited. These include phrenology, Lombroso’s atavisms, Hooton’s work with physiology, Sheldon’s somatotyping, and XYY syndrome (as a causal factor of criminal behavior). Phrenology was a technique in which a subject’s personality was assessed by the size and pattern of the bumps on his or her skull.
Cesare Lombroso used the term atavisms to describe the physical differences he believed he found between offenders and non-offenders. Earnest Hooton also studied the relationship between physiology and crime. He claimed that the physical features of offenders were different from those of non-offenders. William Sheldon used the term somatotyping to describe three variations of the body— endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph— and claimed that body-type was an indication of behavior. XYY Syndrome refers to males who are born with an extra Y chromosome. It has been postulated that XYY males are more prone to commit crime.
Currently, researchers are examining three areas in order to determine if some people commit crimes for physical reasons: hormones, brain structure, and brain chemistry. Psychological Theories Sigmund Freud developed a psychological paradigm that focused on unconscious forces and drives. He contended that the personality comprises three parts: the id, ego, and superego. B. F. Skinner’s theory of behaviorism, based on the psychological principle of operant conditioning, states that behavior is determined by rewards and punishments. Sociological Theories of Crime
Sociological theories focus on the social situation or environment as a cause of crime. Chicago school researchers concluded that social disorganization causes crime. Edwin Sutherland developed differential association theory, which claims that crime is learned. Ronald Akers contends that crime is learned according to the principles of operant conditioning. Robert Merton’s strain theory of delinquency was influenced by French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s theory of anomie or “normlessness. ” Travis Hirschi’s social control theory explores why most people do not commit crimes.
Gresham Sykes and David Matza developed neutralization theory to describe how offenders deflect feelings of blame and shame. Edwin Lemert helped develop labeling theory, which contends that people commit deviant behavior because they consider themselves “outsiders” and attempt to live up to that label. Critical Sociological Theories of Crime Critical theory describes a range of perspectives that consider social justice as a legitimate end. Criminologists who study Karl Marx’s ideas of social control point out that those in power control the making and the enforcement of the law.
Feminism examines how women are treated differently from men in a society dominated by male power structures. Much of what is reported about female offenders and female criminal justice system practitioners is based on the study of males. Critical race theory observes that people of color are over-represented in the criminal justice system and suggests that race is a crucial variable for scholars to examine when attempting to explain the dynamics of the criminal justice system. Key Terms anomie— A condition in which a people or society undergoes a breakdown of social norms and values. tavism— The appearance in a person of features thought to be from earlier stages of human evolution. Popularized by Cesare Lombroso. behaviorism— The assessment of human psychology via the examination of objectively observable and quantifiable actions, as opposed to subjective mental states. Chicago school— Criminological theories that rely, in part, on individuals’ demographics and geographic location to explain criminal behavior. classical school of criminology— A set of criminological theories that uses the idea of free will to explain criminal behavior. differential association theory— States that crime is learned.
Children learn crime from other children. Developed by Edwin Sutherland. false consciousness— An attitude held by members of a class that does not accurately reflect the reality of that class’s existence. A term associated with Karl Marx. labeling theory— A perspective that considers recidivism to be a consequence, in part, of the negative labels applied to offenders. neutralization theory— A perspective that states that juvenile delinquents have feelings of guilt when involved in illegal activities. Illegal behavior is episodic and delinquents drift between legal and illegal activities.
The delinquent sets aside his/her own legal and moral values in order to drift into illegal activities. operant conditioning— The alteration of behavior by giving a subject rewards or punishments for a specified action until the subject associates the action with pleasure or pain. positivist school of criminology— A set of criminological theories that uses scientific techniques to study crime and criminals. rational choice theory— A theory that states that people choose criminal behavior consciously. The theory also states that people may choose to commit crime upon realizing that the rime’s benefits probably outweigh the consequences of breaking the law. social control theory— A perspective that seeks not to explain why people break the law, but instead explores what keeps most people from breaking the law. Associated with Travis Hirschi. somatotyping— The use of body types and physical characteristics to classify human personalities. strain theory— A hypothesis in which the causes of crime can be connected to the pressure on culturally or materially disadvantaged groups or individuals to achieve the goals held by society, even in if the means to those goals require the breaking of laws.
Based on Emile Durkheim’s theory of anomie. utilitarianism— A theory associated with Jeremy Bentham that states that people will choose not to commit crime when the pain of punishment outweighs the benefit derived from the crime. XYY syndrome— A condition in which a male is born with an extra Y chromosome. Such males tend to be tall, have difficulties with language, and have relatively low IQs. The condition was once thought to cause criminal behavior
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