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Explaining Crime


Chapter 3 Explaining Crime Chapter 3 Explaining Crime Anomie or Strain Theory Merton argued that the limited availability of legitimate institutionalized means to ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Explaining Crime

  • Chapter 3
  • Explaining Crime

Introduction to Criminological Theory
Several theories attempt to explain criminal
behavior. Some theories assume
Crime is part of human nature. Crime is based on
biological, psychological, sociological, and/or
economic aspects.
Classical Theory
One of the earliest approaches to explaining the
causes of crime was classical theory.
classical theory
A product of the Enlightenment, based on the
assumption that people exercise free will and are
thus completely responsible for their actions. In
classical theory, human behavior, including
criminal behavior, is motivated by a hedonistic
rationality, in which actors weigh the potential
pleasure of an action against the possible pain
associated with it.
Classical Theory
In 1764, criminologist Cesare Beccaria wrote An
Essay on Crimes and Punishments, which set forth
classical criminological theory. He argued that
the only justified rationale for laws and
punishments was the principle of utility.
The principle that a policy should provide the
greatest happiness shared by the greatest
Classical Theory
Beccaria believed the basis of society, as well
as the origin of punishments and the right to
punish, is the social contract.
The only legitimate purpose of punishment is
special deterrence and general deterrence.
social contract
An imaginary agreement to sacrifice the minimum
amount of liberty to prevent anarchy and chaos.
special deterrence
The prevention of individuals from committing
crime again by punishing them.
general deterrence
The prevention of people in general or society at
large from engaging in crime by punishing
specific individuals and making examples of them.
Neoclassical Theory
Classical theory was difficult to apply in
practice. It was modified in the early 1800s and
became known as neoclassical theory.
neoclassical theory
A modification of classical theory in which it
was conceded that certain factors, such as
insanity, might inhibit the exercise of free will.
Neoclassical Theory
Neoclassical theory introduced the idea of
Premeditation as a measure of the degree of free
will. Mitigating circumstances as legitimate
grounds for diminished responsibility.
Neoclassical Theory
Classical and neoclassical theory are the basis
of the criminal justice system in the United
Positivist Approaches to Explaining Crime
The theory of the positivist school of
criminology grew out of positive philosophy and
the logic and methodology of experimental
The Positivist School of Thought
The key assumptions of the positivist school of
thought were
  • Human behavior is determined and not a matter of
    free will.
  • Criminals are fundamentally different from
  • Social scientists can be objective in their work.
  • Crime is frequently caused by multiple factors.

Biological Theories
Biological theories of crime causation
(biological positivism) are based on the belief
that criminals are physiologically different from
noncriminals. The cause of crime is biological
biological inferiority
According to biological theories, a criminals
innate physiological makeup produces certain
physical or genetic characteristics that
distinguish criminals from noncriminals.
Heredity Studies
Several studies have attempted to determine if
criminality is hereditary by studying
family trees statistics identical and
fraternal twins adopted children
All of these methods fail to prove that
criminality is hereditary, because they cannot
separate hereditary influences from environmental
Modern Biocriminology
Ongoing research has revealed numerous biological
factors associated either directly or indirectly
with criminal or delinquent behavior
  • chemical, mineral, and vitamin deficiencies in
    the diet
  • diets high in sugar and carbohydrates
  • hypoglycemia

Modern Biocriminology
  • ingestion of food dyes and lead
  • exposure to radiation
  • brain dysfunctions

Criminal behaviors have also been associated with
hormone abnormalities, especially those
  • Testosterone (a male sex hormone)
  • Progesterone and estrogen (female sex hormones)

Administering estrogen to male sex offenders has
been found to reduce their sexual drives.
Positivist Approaches
Today, most criminologists believe that criminal
behavior is the product of a complex interaction
between biology and environmental or social
Positivist Approaches
Biology or genetics gives an individual a
predisposition to behave in a certain way.
Whether a person actually behaves in that way and
whether that behavior is defined as a crime
depend on environmental or social conditions.
Psychological Theories
There are many theories regarding psychological
causes of crime, including
Intelligence and crime Psychoanalytic theories
Intelligence and Crime
The idea that crime is the product primarily of
people of low intelligence has been popular
occasionally in the United States.
A study in 1931 showed no correlation between
intelligence and criminality.
Psychoanalytic Theories
Psychoanalytic theories of crime causation are
associated with the work of Sigmund Freud who
believed that people who had unresolved
deep-seated problems were psychopaths.
Persons characterized by no sense of guilt, no
subjective conscience, and no sense of right and
wrong. They have difficulty in forming
relationships with other people they cannot
empathize with other people. They are also called
sociopaths or antisocial personalities.
Sociological Theories
Sociologists emphasize that human beings live in
social groups and that those groups and the
social structure they create influence behavior.
Most sociological theories of crime causation
assume that a criminals behavior is determined
by his or her social environment and reject the
notion of the born criminal.
The Theory of the Chicago School
In the 1920s, a group of sociologists known as
the Chicago School attempted to uncover the
relationship between a neighborhoods crime rate
and the characteristics of the neighborhood.
The Theory of the Chicago School
Studies found that neighborhoods that experienced
high delinquency rates also experienced social
social disorganization
The condition in which the usual controls over
delinquents are largely absent, delinquent
behavior is often approved of by parents and
neighbors, there are many opportunities for
delinquent behavior, and there is little
encouragement, training, or opportunity for
legitimate employment.
Anomie or Strain Theory
Robert Merton in 1938 wrote about a major
contradiction in the U.S. between cultural goals
and social structure. He called the contradiction
For Merton, the contradiction between the
cultural goal of achieving wealth and the social
structures inability to provide legitimate
institutional means for achieving the goal.
Anomie or Strain Theory
Merton argued that the limited availability of
legitimate institutionalized means to wealth puts
a strain on people. People adapt through
  1. Conformityplaying the game.
  2. Innovationpursuing wealth by illegitimate means.

Anomie or Strain Theory
  1. Ritualismnot actively pursuing wealth.
  2. Retreatismdropping out.
  3. Rebellionrejecting the goal of wealth and the
    institutional means of getting it.

Learning Theories
Edwin H. Sutherlandin his theory of differential
associationwas the first 20th-century
criminologist to argue that criminal behavior was
This theory, modified, remains one of the most
influential theories of crime causation.
differential association
Sutherlands theory that persons who become
criminal do so because of contacts with criminal
patterns and isolation from anticriminal patterns.
Learning Theories
Among the policy implications of learning theory
is to punish criminal behavior effectively,
according to learning theory principles. This is
not done effectively in the U.S.
  • Probation does not function as an aversive
  • Most offenders are not incarcerated.

Learning Theories
  • Punishment is not consistent and immediate.
  • Offenders are generally returned to the
    environments in which their crimes were
  • There is no positive reinforcement of
    alternative, prosocial behaviors.

Social Control Theories
The key question in the social control theory is
not why people commit crime and delinquency, but
rather why dont they? Why do people conform?
Social Control Theories
The most detailed elaboration of modern social
control theory is attributed to Travis Hirschi
who wrote the 1969 book, Causes of Delinquency.
Social Control Theories
Hirschi argued that delinquency should be
expected if a juvenile is not properly socialized
by establishing a strong bond to society,
consisting of
  1. Attachment to others
  2. Commitment to conventional lines of action
  3. Involvement in conventional activities
  4. Belief in the moral order and law

Social Control Theories
More recently, Hirschi wrote with Michael
Gottfredson that the principal cause of deviant
behaviors is ineffective child rearing, which
produces people with low self-control.
Critical Approaches to Explaining Crime
Critical theories grew out of the changing social
landscape of the American 1960s. Critical
theories assume that human beings are the
creators of institutions and structures that
ultimately dominate and constrain them. Critical
theories assume that society is characterized
primarily by conflict over moral values.
Labeling Theory
The focus of labeling theory is the
criminalization process rather than the
positivist concern with the peculiarities of the
labeling theory
A theory that emphasizes the criminalization
process as the cause of some crime.
criminalization process
The way people and actions are defined as
Labeling Theory
The labeling theory argues that once a person
commits a first criminal act and gets processed
in the system, they are labeled negatively as a
The label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Conflict Theory
Conflict theory focuses on the conflict in
society between rich and poor, management and
labor, whites and minorities.
conflict theory
A theory that assumes that society is based
primarily on conflict between competing interest
groups and that criminal law and the criminal
justice system are used to control subordinate
groups. Crime is caused by relative powerlessness.
Radical Theory
Radical theories argue that capitalism requires
people to compete against each other in the
pursuit of material wealth. The more unevenly
wealth is distributed, the more likely people are
to find persons weaker than themselves that they
can take advantage of in their pursuit of wealth.
radical theories
Theories of crime causation that are generally
based on a Marxist theory of class struggle.
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