Answers to Examination Questions (Criminal Justice Theory)

1.  Compare and contrast the major tenets of the Classical, Neoclassical and Positive schools of criminology commenting upon each schools philosophy of behavior, views of mankind and society, understanding of crime and punishment and any famous persons associated with the school. Also, what current criminal justice policies seem to flow from the respective schools.

Under the Classical School, the view is that man is a calculating animal that all people are guided by freewill that all behavior is guided by hedonism that punishment should be commensurate to the offense committed. It finds basis in the Social Contract Theory, which explains that violation of a persons liberties also violates the social contract by which he lives. The Classical school advocates that people should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that the law should be codified with punishment prescribed in advance. The Classical School led to the development of prisons, as well as contributing to the development of the United States legal system. The Positivist school of thought searches for factors as the cause of human behavior. It is characterized by the demand for facts and scientific proof (OConnor, 2010).

Under positivism, there are differences between peoples minds and bodies punishment should be commensurate to the individual, and not the crime itself, the criminal justice system should be guided by scientific experts. Additionally, criminals can be treated, rehabilitated, or corrected.

Under the Neo-classical school of thought, a compromise is reached between Classical and Positivist schools. In this school of thought, character, and not freewill nor determinism, is the source of criminality. It stressed on individual accountability and individualization of punishment. Crime and punishment is seen as being equivalent, and not necessarily proportional or fitting. It also notes that imprisonment should be the normal method of punishment, and that treatment should be the normal method of punishment. It also advocates the abolition of the death penalty (Ibid).

2.  We have studied criminological theories that can be considered as individual difference theories. Each theory suggests that crime is related to some unique physical, biological, or psychological attributes of the individual. Compare and contrast the major beliefs of two dominant theories in this category and indicate the policy implications of each. Also comment upon the empirical support, or lack there of, for each theory.

Under the Choice Theory, the focus is the link between domestic and societal violence in the criminals background, while the Control Theory focuses more on the characteristics to non-criminal activity. The Choice Theories helped bring about policies such as get-rough tactics, police crackdowns some kinds of problem-oriented policing selective incapacitation deterrence strategies of almost all kinds and sometimes, ideas about using shame of embarrassment rituals for offenders (See Special Issue on Criminology and Emotions Theoretical Criminology, August 2002, Vol. 6, Issue 3).

3.  Durkheims theory of anomie is one of the classics in criminological literature not only for what it held, but also for the subsequent thought that it spawned. Please discuss Durkheims theory and compare that to Mertons formulation of the theory.

Anomie is a sociological term meaning personal feeling of a lack of norms. It denotes lack of rules, structure and organization. Durkheim introduced the concept of anomie to describe the mismatch of collective guild labor to evolving societal needs when the guild was homogeneous in its constituency. Mertons Strain theory states that social structures within society may encourage citizens to commit crime. In the comparing the two theories, Merton expanded the Strain Theory based on Durkheims Anomie. An individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these legitimately because of the structural limitations in society (Merton, 1968).

4.  Please discuss and evaluate Sutherlands theory of differential association commenting upon its strong and weak points and research testing the theory.

The Theory of Differential Association, developed by Edwin Sutherland, explains that individuals learn values, attitudes, techniques, and motives for criminal behavior through interaction with others. This theory focuses on how individuals learn how to become criminals, but does not concern itself with why they become criminals. A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law. The weakness to this argument is that no one knows which came first, the delinquency or delinquent friends. Additionally, critics point out that although delinquency causes delinquent friends, delinquent friends do not cause delinquency (OConnor, 2006)

5.  From a control theory perspective, please explain and elaborate upon the phrase, . . . all people naturally would commit crimes if left to their own devices.

If viewed from a control theory perspective, the phrase can be interpreted as such people commit crimes if, left to their own devices, they realize that the benefits or advantages for committing such acts outweigh the benefits of refraining from it. Under the Control Theory, people stay rational and refrain from committing deviant acts when they see that the attainment of his selfish goals and desires is possible through conformity. However, the Control looks to the aspect of refraining rather than the reasons for committing crimes.


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