Crime is one of the most complex and critical issues that every society faces. For many years extensive research has been carried out to understand the exact nature of the circumstances that lead a person to commit crime. This research has lead to various theories that try and explain to some extent the occurrence of crime and helps to make one understand the mind set of a criminal. These theories have two major groups, crimes occurring due to the surrounding or sociological and the crimes occurring due to problems within the person or biological. These sociological and biological theories have long contributed to the understanding of crime and criminals, and their findings have been widely used in the field of criminology.

    This post focuses on a number of theories that tries to explain the individuals propensity to crime.  This paper discusses the sociological theories of crime, namely the strain theory, the social learning theory, the labeling theory, the social disorganization theory of crime, the situational theory of crime, the critical theories and the institutional anomie theory. The paper also briefly discusses biological theories including biological positivism.

      The sociological theories deal mostly with the effects of the surroundings or the society we live in. The strain theory explains the cause of crime in a society. According to this theory the root cause of crime in society is based on the strain that an individual or groups in society have that push them to commit crime. The strain placed on groups or individuals that commit crime prevents them from achieving their goals. The strain can be caused when something that is valuable or important to the group or the individual is taken away from them. Another cause of the strain could be because the group or individual are perceived negatively in society. The causes that may trigger the criminal behavior could be the desire to acquire money, higher status or respect. According to this theory, if an individual is hindered from achieving their goals, strain is placed on them and the only way that they can restore money, respect andor freedom is to use violent behavior, theft, drug dealing and any other means that they see fit to achieve their goals. Males in general are perceived to have a higher Ego and if they feel that they are not recognized by other members of the society they might be propelled towards crime, because the situation causes strain on them. (Crutchfield, Bridges  Weis 2000, pp 207-213).

    According to the strain theory, there is evidence that people of the lower classes commit crime because they are unable to earn money. Since money is considered so important in developed countries, the strain that they face in earning money or not, may incline them to commit crime.  Middle class people may turn to crime to maintain their living standards if they can not get enough money legally. Some studies have revealed that noxious negative stimuli can also cause crime. For example, studies have revealed that negative conditions and events can increase the likelihood of crimes such as child abuse, criminal victimization, physical punishments by parents, negative school relations, and poor relationships with the teachers, neighborhood problems and other life events that can cause strain on an individual. These problems that exert strain on the individual makes himher commit crime (Thornberry 2004, pp 7-10). The higher class people also commit or are involved in crime. These types for crimes occurring in positions of high respect and position are called white collar crimes, defined by Edwin Sutherland Edwin Sutherland as a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation (1939). Sutherland was a proponent of Symbolic interactionism Symbolic Interactionism, and believed that criminal behavior was learned from interpersonal interaction with others. White-collar crime, therefore, overlaps with  Corporate crime corporate crime because the opportunity for Bribery bribery, Insider trading insider trading, Embezzlement embezzlement,  Computer crime computer crime, Identity theft identity theft, and Forgery forgery is more available to White-collar worker white-collar employees.

The social learning theory suggests that  juveniles learn behavior through association and exposure to others, and particularly, the family and other intimate groups have a large influence on what one learns. Ones association with miscreants is the best predictor of delinquency other than prior delinquency. One does not have to be in direct contact with miscreant groups in order to learn from them. One might learn to engage in violence through observing criminals via the television. This observation may lead one to admire criminals and then later, become one. Individuals can teach others to engage in crime through reinforcements and the punishments that they provide for such behavior. Crime is more likely to occur when it is infrequently punished, and receives frequent large amounts of reinforcements for example money and pleasure, and when it is more likely to be reinforced than other behaviors (Akers 2009, pp 60-75).The social learning theory postulates that some individuals live in environments that are more prone to reinforcement of crime or criminal activities. This reinforcement can be unintentional, for example parents with overly aggressive children at times unintentionally encourage and reinforce aggressive behavior outside the home. One example, a parent who might decide to buy a screaming child whatever it wants in shop, so doing the parent reinforces the behavior of the child instead of eradicating it and aggressive behavior then can develop in the child. (Crutchfield, Bridges  Weis 2000, pp 152).

    The labeling theory of crime lays emphasis on the official reaction to crime. Official efforts to control crime have the effect of increasing crimes for the individuals who are resisted, prosecuted, and punished and labeled as criminals. Other people view and treat these individuals as criminals. This increases the likelihood of subsequent crime as individuals who are labeled may have difficulty getting employed, which increases the level of strain they suffer reducing their conformity with the set rules and regulations. Labeled people might face rejection from society simply because they have been labeled as criminals. Labeled individuals may have trouble obtaining legitimate employment, which increases their level of strain and reduces their stake in conformity. This reduces the bond that they have with other members of society, which leads them to crime. Such individuals commit crime because they want to take revenge on a society that does not accept them and therefore they feel no remorse when committing a crime. The labeled individual may eventually accept the label as criminal and continue to commit crime.

Current research on this theory is looking at informal means of labeling and how that can contribute to crime. Informal labeling refers to labeling by teachers, parents and peers of an individual. Informal labeling is influenced by the individuals delinquent behavior and position in society. Powerless individuals are more prone to labeling. Informal labels can affect an individuals level of criminology by affecting their perceptions of how others view them. If they perceive that other people see them as delinquents and troublemakers then they are more likely to act in accordance with this perception and engage in delinquent behavior.
Labeling can either increase or reduce crime. Labeling increases the propensity to crime if no attempts are made to incorporate a criminal back into the society. However, labeling can reduce propensity to crime when offenders are made to feel guilty or ashamed for crimes that they have committed, but are eventually forgiven and accepted back into society, especially by the family and peer groups. Integration back into society may occur through acts such as words and gestures or forgiveness ceremonies to remove the label of criminal. This process is referred to as reintegrative shaming and is said to be more acceptable in certain settings than others. It is more likely acceptable in social settings where the individual is closely connected with friends, neighbors, family and others in society. It is also more common in humanitarian societies, which place great effort and trust on peoples mutual obligation to help each other.
The social disorganization theory of crime explains why some individuals are more susceptible to committing crime and why some groups have higher crime rates than other groups. This theory draws heavily on the central ideas in the theories of strain, social learning and ideas of control. This theory identifies the characteristics of communities displaying higher crime rates using the social control theory to explain why these characteristics contribute to crime. These factors apparently reduce the willingness of society members to exercise effective social control.

    Residents of high crime societies lack the required skills and resources to effectively assist each other. Most of the populations in such residential areas are poor and single parents and struggling with family obligations. These factors constrain them in socializing their children against crime or providing them with a stake in conformity, like the skills to do well in school or make connections that secure a good job. These residents are also less likely to have close neighborly ties and to care about their community. They do not own homes reducing their investment in the community. They are less likely to intervene in neighborhood affairs or monitor the behavior of neighborhood residents and so preventing crime. These residents are less likely to support community, educational, religious, and recreational organizations. This can be attributed to their limited resources and lower attachment to society, serving to further reduce control since these organizations exercise direct control and provide people with a stake in conformity and socialize them. These organizations help secure resources from the larger community for example, better schools and police protection. It therefore implies that if these communities do not form such groups, then they are more susceptible to crime.

    Social disorganization theorists and other criminologists state that the number of communities with characteristics conducive to crime especially the ones that have high concentrations of poor people have increased since the 1960s. These communities exist primarily in inner city areas in the western world and mainly comprise, minority groups due to the effects of discrimination.

     The situational theories of crime focus on factors that create a general willingness and predisposition to engage in crime locating such factors in the immediate and local environment. This category includes the rational choice perspective and the routine activities perspective, postulating that people disposed to crime generally commit more crime than these who are not.  However, the theories suggest that predisposed individuals are more likely to be engaged in crime in some situations than others and that crime is more likely in the situations where the benefits of crime are seen as high and the cost is low. In this aspect, this theory is more compatible with the social learning theory. The routine activities perspective was advanced by Lawrence Cohen and elaborated by Marcus Felon. This theory argues that crime is more likely when motivated offenders come together with attractive targets in the absence of capable guardians. The attractive targets may be valuable, accessible and easy to move. The role of capable guardians may be placed on the law enforcers but it is more common for ordinary people to play this role for example family members, neighbors and teachers. This theory states that the supply of suitable targets and the presence of suitable guardians is a function of every day routine activities like going to school and work.                

Cohen and Felon point to an example in the changes of peoples activities that led to people spending more time away from home. This change was reflected by women working more outside the home. According to the theory, criminals are more likely to be motivated to encounter such suitable targets in the absence of capable guardians. Homes are left unprotected during the day and at times in the evening when people go to public settings for entertainment. When the people go to the public setting they become prey to the offenders.    The rational choice perspective theory discusses the characteristics of situations that are more conducive to crime and tries to explain human decision making. According to this theory people chose to engage in crime because of its benefits. Prevention of crime is aimed at altering decision-making processes so as to increase the risk or effort involved in the act of the crime and decreases the rewards associated with it (Maguire, Morgan  Reiner, 2007, p 10)                        

The critical theories of crime tries to explain the group differences of crime rates in terms of the larger social environment, focusing on class difference as a cause of crime and on gender and societal differences. Some of the theories that fall under this category of sociological theories include the Marxist, the institutional anomie, and feminists theories.

The Marxist theories state that people who own factories, industries and other large businesses have more power and this group uses the power to its advantage and forms the capitalist society that passes laws that affect those who are poor. But they ignore the harmful actions of their businesses and industries such as pollution and unsafe working conditions. The capitalists aim to increase their profits but they resist any improvements in working conditions and attempt to hold down the salaries of the workers. The workers are then motivated to commit crime because they are unable to achieve their economic goals thorough legitimate channels. Marxists argue that crime is the result of the poor living conditions experienced by workers and the unemployed. Some of the Marxists draw on the control theory arguing that some workers have little stake in society and are alienated from the governmental and business institutions. This kind of rejection processes forces some of them to engage in crime.

The Institutional Anomie Theory tries to explain the high rate of crime in the United States, postulating that it results from the emphasis placed on American dream, which encourages everyone to strive for monetary success with little emphasis on the ways and means to get it. The emphasis on monetary success parallels the dominance of economic institutions in the United States. Some major institutions are subservient to economic functions. The non-economic functions such as teachers and parents are devalued and receive little support therefore they try and accommodate themselves to the demands of the economy. The economic norms have penetrated these institutions so that the school system lays emphasis on competition for rewards. Institutions like the family, government and the school therefore are less effective in socializing individuals against crime and sanction the deviant behaviors.

The Feminist Theory focuses on gender differences as a major source of crime. This theory addresses the reason why males are more involved in more forms of crime than women and the reasons why females engage in crime. Females are taught by society to be passive and focused to the needs of others. Females are more supervised than the males because fathers and husbands desire to protect their property from other males. This therefore explains the reasons why there are less female crimes (Heidensohn 2006, pp 211-220).       

According to this theory most of female crimes emanate from the fact that juvenile females are often sexually abused by family members. This kind of sexual abuse is based on the concept that males have more power than females. The abused females frequently run away but face difficulties surviving in the streets. They are labeled as delinquents which makes it impossible for them to obtain work. Those women are further abused by men on the streets. Consequently they resort to crimes like prostitution and petty theft to survive in the harsh streets (Cordella 1996, pp 319-340).The financial difficulties faced by single mothers can propel them into crime as a solution to those difficulties. Female crime has been argued to result from frustration over the constricted roles that are available to the females in the society.

Some  forms  of  biological  theories  were  also  proposed  to  make the  understanding of crime simpler. The theory of biological positivism has its roots in Charles Darwins theory of evolution. According to this theory, the causes of crime lie in the propensity of individual offenders who are biologically distinguishable from law-abiding citizens. Lombroso (1835-1909) is one of the researchers who pioneered biological theories of crime and there is a direct contention between his theory and the evolutional theory postulated by Darwin. Lombroso, who began his research after discovering an anomaly in a robbers skull, believed that some people were born predisposed to antisocial behavior, in other words that biological and genetic characteristics were related to crime. Lombroso then focused on the traits that could easily be observed (Hunter  Dantzker 2005, pp 46-52) and identified some physical characteristics such as big ears, fat lips and high cheek bones as those associated with criminal behavior, holding that criminals belonged to a past evolutionary form (Schmalleger Frank 2006, p 147). In his research Lombroso tried to first seek all the elements that correlate crime to attempt to make sense of them. Although he began with a biological theory of crime, Lombroso encountered some criminals that did not fit the set criteria. He soon included variables from other disciplines and came eventually to see his own theory as accounting for a small group of criminals. Lombrosos ideas have been disregarded by subsequent research but it is worth noting than even through most researchers disagree with his findings, Lombrosos research was important for the development of other theories about crime since it directed the relationship between genetics and criminal personality. Another biological theorist, William Sheldon (1898-1977), shared Lombrosos idea of a crime gene, the belief that criminals had certain genes, and developed a classification that related the human physique to crime, called somatotyping. According to his classification, there were three body styles the endomorphic (fat and soft), the ectomorphic (thin and fragile) and the mesomorphic (muscular and hard). Some of the research conducted at the time that this theory was developing supported the theory, but other research did not find a correlation. William Sheldon claimed that among samples of the research that he carried out on those involved in criminal activity, there were a large number of mesomorphs, some endomorphs, and a few isomorphs and that this pattern differed from that of the control group of normal civilians. Sheldons work has received criticism both on methodological and subjective grounds because he rated his subjects body type himself without the use of an external frame of reference. It is hard to evaluate empirical evidence in these circumstances. This theory has also been criticized on the basis that should the criminal justice system believe that delinquents tend to be of a particular appearance then decision-making within the system could be influenced. As a result this theory has been regarded with a lot of ambivalence. The concept that criminals can be selected from the public by just looking at their physical features is regarded as a superficial solution to the problem. It still remains unclear to most researchers whether there is a link between mesomorphy and crime. Modern researchers do however link body size and athleticism to overly violent behavior because large strong individuals have the capacity to use violence while inflicting less or no harm on their own bodies.

    Hans Eysenck, another researcher who supported the biological theory, claimed that there was an intersection between certain environmental conditions and features of the central nervous system. Eysenck believed that neurophysiologic aspects correlate with criminals. According to his theory, extroversion, neuroticism, and psychotics are included in the personality of the majority of criminals. This theory posits that extroverts may commit crimes in order to keep themselves stimulated as extroverts and need a great deal of stimulation, change, excitement, leading them to be impulsive thrill seeking individuals.

Other genetically oriented theories have been developed and try to explain the role that genes play in the making of a criminal. They try to explain violent crime in terms of an identifiable genetic characteristic that is the XYY syndrome. A human being has 46 chromosomes in pairs and these chromosomes act as the determinants of the sex of an individual. The XX pair is for females and the XY is for males. There exists a variety of possible chromosomal abnormalities and one of them is the presence of an extra Y chromosome in males. This particular genetic variation is usually linked with above average height and low intelligence. The suggestion was made that prisons have more than their fair share of these people and that these individuals have a severe inclination towards violent crime. The XYY defense was used in some criminal trials and suggestions were made that mass screening should be carried out to detect these individuals at an early age. A comprehensive Danish study that was carried out on 4000 Danish men in 1976, tested them and found less than 1 of them had this syndrome. The conclusions were that the over representation of XYY males in prisons and special hospitals was more likely to be as a result of other characteristics such as low intelligence and above average height and the social reactions that these characteristics may have produced ( Frank Schmalleger, 2006, pp.160).

    Another biological theory of crime that has emerged states that certain individuals suffer from a combination of symptoms which render them incapable of moral control because of the low levels of arousal the normal environment presents. They are constantly seeking stimulation from the environment, which is more to do with individuals that suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Brain dysfunction has been noted to account for impulsive and seemingly irrational crimes. Brain scans could be used to scan and identify disorder in young children who display behavioral problems. Treatment before they mature into adult can be helpful in preventing them from becoming antisocial. A brain tumor which could appear in late age, can also cause abnormal urges like pedophilia and homicide   (Frank Schmalleger, 2006,p.142-143  Crime Times, n.d.,  HYPERLINK httpwww.crimetimes.org03aw03ap5.htm www.crimetimes.org03aw03ap5.htm , accessed on 16th October 2009). The history of biological criminology has been a turbulent one. It is however possible to track the development of the biological criminology. The view that genetics and evolution play a role in the development of criminals has been ruled out because of the negative criticism it has received. The biological theories have ceased to be appreciated after the sociological theories emerged. There however exists a certain link between genetics and crime (Gottfredson  Hirschi 1990, p 84).

    The exact reason as to why crime occurs has a complex answer. The theories that were proposed till date to understand the occurrence of crime only help us to understand to a limited extent about the possible mindset and circumstances leading up to the final act of the crime. The theories discussed in this paper give an idea about the certain reasons for occurrence of crime. The actual occurrence of crime and the criminal mentality is a series of combinations of the factors mentioned above. Certain cases may be more influenced sociologically whereas some may be more influenced due to the biological factors. Each individual criminal or crime is as diverse as the crime in itself. These theories were suggested after in depth research and analysis. hey all certainly have they right point of view based upon deep studies and research, but we can clearly see that they arent fully supported by real life situations. How do we advance this statement By looking deeply at all the theories compared to modern life we will still find individuals who match the theories, but dont commit crime. Certainly to some context, where people live and grow up can influence their propensity to be inclined to commit crime, but we will find many people that will not. If we look into all the single theories, especially the sociological ones, we can see that many people in these context are inclined towards crime, but we can also add that those inclined, are the weak, that have poor personality and are insecure, and which have no base moralities. This leads them to be more influenced negatively and fall into criminality as a consequence.

     The brain of the human being is still considered a big mystery for scientists and morality, emotions and religious beliefs of people are subjects of much study and debate. However, the sociological explanations of crime seem entirely legitimate as opposed to the biological theories. The sociological theories unlike the biological theories go a long way in explaining almost all crimes. Although much criticism has been leveled against biological theories by modern and early researchers, the criticism has opened up the researchers way of developing alternative theories that better explain crimes and criminals.

More than adopting only biological or sociological theories, only the combination of all theories together with medical and scientific research will help to better explain and try to prevent the occurrence of crime. Scientific studies have an important role to play, as every day moves forward with new discoveries and new technologies to help the understanding of reasons why people commit crime.


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