Crime is one of the most complex and critical issues that every society faces. For many years, extensive research has been carried out in an attempt to understand the exact nature of the circumstances that can lead a person to commit a crime. This research has lead to various theories in an attempt to explain the occurrence of crime, and help to bring about a better understanding of the mindset of the criminal. These theories fall into two major groups those that seek to explain crimes that occur due to sociological circumstances and those that declare crimes occur due to problems of a biological nature. 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 paper focuses on a number of theories that try to explain the individuals propensity to commit 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. We will critically evaluate, discuss, and conclude how all these theories can contribute to the explanation of the occurrence of crime. Sociological Theories

Sociological theories deal mostly with the effects of surroundings or the society we live in. The Strain Theory attempts to explain the causes of crime in a society. In a book by Cullent and Agnew (2002) the social structures within a society may encourage citizens to commit crime. The social structure in which people live can prevent them from achieving honorable goals. One cause of a declining social structure could be stereotyping. When people who live within a poor social structure are perceived as criminals, they tend to feel it is easier to live up to their reputation. Some causes that may trigger criminal behavior could be the desire to acquire money, higher status, or respect.

According to the Strain Theory, individuals that find it difficult to reach their goals will have undo pressure placed upon them. This pressure makes them angry and they tend to lash out in violent andor illegal ways. Crutchfield et al (2000) conclude that males, in general, have a profound ego and if they feel that they are not recognized by other members of the society they could be propelled towards crime, because the situation causes a strain that result in anger.

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 causes anger and resentment, which may incline them to commit crime.

Middle class people may turn to crime to maintain their social status and customary living standards. In a study by Thornberry (2004) the results have revealed that noxious negative stimuli can also cause crime. The same study by Thornberry (2004) has 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, poor relationships with the teachers, neighborhood problems, and other life events that can cause strain on an individual. Thornberry (2004) states, These problems that exert strain on the individual make himher more easily propelled towards committing crime (p.10).

The upper class people also commit or are involved in crimes, usually monetary in nature. The types of crimes that occur in positions of high respect and position are called white collar crimes, as defined in a book by Edwin Sutherland (1949) a white collar crime is one committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.

Sutherland was a proponent Symbolic Interactionist, and believed that criminal behavior was learned from interpersonal interactions with others. White-collar crime, therefore, overlaps with corporate crime because the opportunity for fraud, bribery, insider trading, embezzlement, computer crime, identity theft, and forgery is more readily available to white-collar executives. The social learning theory suggests that juveniles learn behavior through association and exposure to others. Family members and other intimate groups have a large influence on what one learns at impressionable ages. Ones association with miscreants is the best predictor of delinquency, even more so than prior delinquency issues.

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 with low self esteem tend to idolize fictitious people. Idols tend to have the characteristics that are lacking in the idolizer. Akers (2009) stated, Crime is more likely to occur when it goes unpunished and receives frequent reinforcements like money and pleasure (p.73).

The social learning theory suggests 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 can, at times, unintentionally encourage and reinforce aggressive behavior outside the home. Crutchfield et al (2000) claim that a classic example of this is the parent who decides to buy a screaming child whatever it wants in a shop to keep them quiet, and in so doing the parent reinforces the bad behavior of the child instead of curbing it, providing the seed for aggressive behavior. The labeling theory of crime lays emphasis on the official reaction to crime. Official efforts to control crime have the effect of increasing the occurrences of crimes of individuals who are resistant, prosecuted, punished, and labeled as criminals. Other people view and treat these individuals as criminals. This increases the likelihood of subsequent crime because individuals who are labeled may have difficulty maintaining employment, which increases the level of pressure they suffer, reducing their compliance of a certain 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 pressure and reduces their stake in conformity. This reduces the bond that they have with other members of society. Being labeled makes one feel they are an outsider or alone, 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 resentment when committing a crime.

The labeled individual may eventually accept their label as criminal and continue to commit crimes. Current research on this theory is looking at the causes of informal labeling and how labeling 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 low position in society. In a crime and crime prevention module provided by the University of Laicester (2009) powerless individuals are more prone to being labeled and informal labels can affect an individuals level of crime 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 decrease crime. Labeling increases the propensity to crime if no attempts are made to rehabilitate a criminal back into society. However, labeling can reduce the 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. This is especially the case with 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 cultures more than others. It is more likely to be 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.

In her book, Joan McCord (1992) shows us why the social disorganization theory of crime explains why some individuals are more prone 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. It identifies the characteristics of communities displaying higher crime rates, and uses the social control theory to explain why these characteristics contribute to the propensity to commit crime. These factors apparently reduce the willingness of society members to exercise effective social control. Residents of high crime areas lack the required skills and resources to effectively help each other. Most of the populations in such residential areas are poor, and there are often single parents and others struggling with dysfunctional family issues. These issues limit their ability to educate their children about crime. It means they are not provided with a reason for conformity, such as 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 or the desire 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 in order to prevent crime. A study done by the office of crime reduction in the Home Office (2004) concluded that these residents are less likely to support community, educational, religious, and recreational organizations and their limited resources and lack of attachment to society serves to further reduce control as organizations against crime exercise direct restraint and attempt to provide people with a reason for conformity while attempting to 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.

Crime Times Journal (2009) prints their findings that social theorists and criminologists claim the number of communities with high rates of crime have increased since the 1960s. This is especially the case in areas of high numbers of poor people. These communities exist primarily in inner city areas in the western world and are mainly comprised of 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, and locate such factors in the immediate and local environment. This category includes the rational choice perspective and the routine activities perspective, which claims that people predisposed to crime generally commit more crime than these who are not. However, these theories suggest that predisposed individuals are more likely to be engaged in crime in some situations than others and that crime is more likely if the benefits of crime are high and the cost is low. In this respect, this theory is more compatible with the social learning theory.

According to the Department of Criminology (2009) the routine activities perspective was introduced by Lawrence Cohen and elaborated by Marcus Felson in 1979. In a book by Cohen and Felson (1979) 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 are usually valuable, accessible and easy to move. The role of capable guardians can be placed on the law enforcers but it is more common for ordinary people to play this role, (e.g. family members, neighbors and teachers). It also claims 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.

A book by Cohen and Felon (1979) points to an example in the changes of peoples activities that lead 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 search for 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 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 try to explain human decision making. According to this theory, people choose to engage in crime because of its benefits. Maguire et al (2007) claim that prevention of crime is aimed at altering the decision-making processes so as to increase the risk or effort involved in the act of the crime and decrease the rewards associated with it.
The critical theories of crime try to explain the differences of crime rates in terms of the larger social environment, focusing on class difference as a cause of crime, as well as on gender and other social differences. Some of the theories that fall under this category include the Marxist, the institutional anomie, and feminist theories.

The Marxist theory explains that people who own factories, industries, and other large businesses have power and this group uses the power to its advantage by forming a capitalist society that passes laws that affect those who are poor. On the other hand, 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 low wage earners 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 forces a number of them to engage in crime. The Institutional Anomie Theory tries to explain the high rate of crime in the United States, claiming that crime 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 roles 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 schools are less effective in educating individuals against crime and sanctioning the committers of 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 females, and the reasons why females engage in crime.

Heidensohn (2006) explains that females are taught by society to be passive and to focus on the needs of others. Females are more supervised than the males because fathers and husbands desire to protect their daughters from other males. This explains the reasons why there are fewer crimes committed by females. According to Cordella (1996) most crimes committed by females emanate from the fact that juvenile female offenders are often sexually abused by family members(p.326). 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 on the streets. They are labeled as prostitutes 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 petty theft to survive in the harsh streets. The financial difficulties faced by single mothers can propel them into crime as a solution to those difficulties.

Cordella (1996) also states that crimes committed by females have been argued to result from frustration over the constricted roles that are available to the females in society. (p.324).Biological Theories Some biological theories have also been used in an attempt to understand crime and the people who commit them. The theory of biological positivism has its roots in Charles Darwins theory of evolution. According to Lombrosos book entitled Criminal Man (2007) (originally published in 1979) the causes of crime lie in the propensity of individual offenders who are biologically distinguishable from law-abiding citizens.

Lombroso (2007) is one of the researchers who pioneered biological theories of crime and claims there is a direct contention between his theory and the evolutional theory formulated 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. According to Hunter and Dantzker (2005) Lombroso then focused on the traits that could easily be observed and thus identified some physical characteristics such as big ears, fat lips, and high cheek bones to be those associated with criminal behavior, holding that criminals belonged to a past evolutionary form.

In his research, Schmalleger (2006) explains that Lombroso tried to seek out all the elements that correlated crime in an attempt to make sense of them. Although he began with a biological theory of crime, Lombroso encountered some criminals that did not fit his set of criteria. He soon included variables from other disciplines and eventually came to see that his theory only accounted for a small group of criminals.

Lombrosos ideas have been disregarded by subsequent researchers such as Kania (2002) 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 connected the relationship between genetics and criminal personality.

Hunter and Dantzkers (2005) go on to tell of another biological theorist, William Sheldon (1898-1977), who shared Lombrosos idea of a crime gene, and the belief that criminals had certain genes, and developed a classification that related the human physique to crime, called somatotyping.

According to this 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 later research did not find a correlation.

In a book by Richard Quinney (2002) he claims that William Sheldon showed that among the subjects of the research that he carried out on criminals, were a large number of mesomorphs, some endomorphs, and a few isomorphs (those maintaining physical characteristics of both of the other groups) and that this pattern differed from that of the control group of normal civilians. Richard Quinney (2002) also tells us that 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 by Chompsky, according to Richard Quinney (2002) on the basis that the criminal justice system believes that delinquents tend to be of a particular appearance. As a result, this theory has been regarded with a lot of ambivalence.

The idea that criminals can be selected from the public by just looking at their physical features is regarded as an unsubstantiated solution to the problem. It still remains unclear to most researchers if there is a link between physique and crime. Modern researchers, such as, James M. Dabbs Jr. do however link body size and athleticism to overly violent behavior because large strong individuals have the capacity to use violence while inflicting little or no harm to their own bodies in a book by James M. Dabbs Jr. et al (2005).

According to Akers, R. (1999) 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 and that Eysenck believed neurophysiologic aspects correlate with criminal activity. According to his theory, extroversion, neuroticism, and psychotics are included in the personality traits of the majority of criminals. This theory presumes that extroverts may commit crimes in order to keep themselves stimulated as extroverts need a great deal of stimulation, change, excitement, leading them to be impulsive, thrill seeking individuals. Other genetically oriented theories have been developed to try and explain the role that genes play in the development of a criminal mind. They try to explain violent crime in terms of an identifiable genetic characteristic that is the XYY syndrome as shown in studies done by Michelle J. Marinello et al (1969). 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 book by Frank Schmalleger (2006) tells of a comprehensive Danish study performed on 4000 Danish men in 1976. After testing them the results showed that less than 1 of them had this syndrome. The conclusions were that the over representation of XYY males in prisons and mental hospitals was more likely to be as a result of other characteristics such as low intelligence, above average height, and the social reactions that these characteristics may have produced. According to Anthony Walsh and Huei-Hsia Wu (2008) 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 that the normal environment presents. These individuals are constantly seeking stimulation from the environment, which is an issue for individuals who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Brain dysfunction has been noted by Frank Schmalleger (2006) to account for impulsive and seemingly irrational crimes. Brain scans could be used to scan and identify abnormalities in young children who display behavioral problems. Treatment before they mature into adulthood may 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.

The history of biological criminology has been a turbulent one. It is however possible to track the development of biological criminology. The view that genetics and evolution play 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. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) claim that there still exists an unknown link between genetics and crime.Conclusion The exact reason as to why crimes occur is complex. The theories that have been proposed in order to understand the reason for crime can only help us to realize the mindset and circumstances leading to a crime to a limited extent. The actual occurrence of crime and the criminal mentality is a combination of the factors mentioned herein. Certain cases may be more influenced sociologically, whereas some may be more influenced due to biological factors. Each individual criminal or crime is as diverse as the crime itself. We still find individuals who match the theories, but do not commit crime. Certainly, to some extent, where people live and grow up can influence their propensity to commit crime, but we will still find many people that will not.

The brain of the human being is still a big mystery for scientists, and the morality, emotions, and religious beliefs of people are subjects of vast study and debate. However, the sociological explanation of crime seems entirely legitimate as opposed to the biological theories. The sociological theories unlike the biological theories go a long way in explaining nearly all crimes. Although much criticism has been leveled against biological theories by modern and early researchers, the criticism has opened up ways of developing alternative theories that may better explain crimes and criminals. The concept of using other areas of research for this dilemma, such as, Psychological theories is not new. It could end up that a combination of one or more types of theories would someday explain it all. More than adopting only biological or sociological theories, the combination of all theories together with medical and scientific research will help us to better explain and 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 why people commit crime.


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