Criminological theories


Individual explanations:



Sociological explanations: the explanations lie outside the individual


        Emphasis is on criminogenic social conditions. The immediate social environment is primarily responsible for criminality in our society, e.g., broken families, poor parenting, low quality educational experiences, delinquent peer relations, poverty, lack of equal economic opportunity, inadequate socialization to the values implicit in the American culture, etc. Crime control (emphasis is on the criminal not on the crime itself just as with biological and psychological views): correctional programs can give those arrested the social skills necessary to overcome those aspects of their immediate social environment that led to the criminal acts in their first place.



        Social control: Travis Hirschiís Social Bond theories. The emphasis is on why people do not commit crimes. Everyone has the potential to become a criminal but most people are controlled by their bond to society. Crime occurs when the forces that bind people to society are weakened or broken. When the social bonds that individuals have to parents, peers, and important social institutions like the school or the workplace are strong, they fear that their criminal activity may jeopardize their relative position in society and refuse to run the risk of losing meaningful social relationships, careers, etc. Generally, adolescents have weaker bonds to conventional society than adults.


        Strain theory (Merton) crime is a function of the conflict between the goals people have and the means they can use to legally obtain them. While goals are the same for all the ability to obtain these goals is class dependant. Consequently, lower classes feel anger, frustration and resentment which is referred to as strain. These people can either accept their condition and live out their days as socially responsible but un-rewarded citizens, or they can choose an alternative means of achieving success, such as theft, violence or drug trafficking. Here the criminal must rehabilitate psychologically and accept those limited legitimate means available to him or her.



        Cultural deviance theory: The major tenet of cultural deviance theory is that conformity to the prevailing cultural norms of lower class society causes crime. Lower class subculture has a unique set of values and beliefs, which are invariably in conflict with conventional social norms. Criminality is an expression of conformity to lower class subcultural values. Members of the working class commit crimes as they respond to the cultural norms of their own class in an effort to deal with problems of social Ėmiddle class- adjustment.



        Labelling theory: people become criminals when significant members of society label them as such and they accept those labels as a personal identity. Throughout their lives people are given a variety of symbolic labels in their interactions with others. These labels imply a variety of behaviors and attitudes; labels thus help define not just one trait but the whole person. If a devalued status is conferred by a significant other, the negative label may cause permanent harm to the target. Being perceived as a social deviant may affect their treatment at home, at work, at school and in the other social situations. Labeled persons may find themselves turning to others similarly stigmatized for support and companionship. Law is differentially applied, benefiting those who hold economic and social power and penalizing the powerless. Labeling theory is not concerned with why people originally engage in act that result in their being labeled. Its concern is with criminal career formation and not the origin of criminal acts. A person is deviant primarily because of the social distance between the labeler and the labeled. Two effects of labeling:


o       The creation of a stigma: A public record of the deviant act caused the denounced person to be ritually separated from a place in the legitimate order of society through successful degradation ceremonies.

o       The effect on self-image: stigmatized offenders may begin to reevaluate their own identities around the label.

o       Primary deviance: crimes that have little influence on the actor and can quickly be forgotten.

o       Secondary deviance: when a deviant comes to the attention of significant others or social control agencies who apply a negative label. The person then reorganizes his or her own behavior and personality around the consequences of the deviant act. Secondary deviance involves re-socialization into a deviant role. The labeled person is transformed into one who employs his behavior or a role based upon the label as a means of defense, attack or adjustment. Secondary deviance produces a deviance amplification effect. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Conflict or critical criminology: political view of crime. It is capitalism that creates criminal behavior.