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Criminology's key focus is on investigating why people perpetrate crimes. This knowledge helps shape public policy regarding how crime ought to be dealt with, and more significantly, how it ought to be prevented.
According to the rational choice theory, a criminal decides to break the law on a logical basis. Even though many variables may have played a role in the decision, the criminal is ultimately accountable for the crime that was committed.
Numerous studies have been conducted to look into the factors linked to rational thought that might motivate criminal behavior. The following are some of the variables found:
Opportunity to benefit economically from the crime
The time and place of opportunity
The presence of targets
In determining whether a crime is the result of rational deliberation, it is advisable to narrow down to the specific type of the offense. This is due to the variability of types of crime.
The rational choice theory maintains that criminals deserve punishment since they chose to commit a crime. It, therefore, advocates retribution over rehabilitation.
Public Policy Implications
The rational choice theory has contributed to deterrence strategies of crime prevention. The following categories of crime-control policy trace their origins to the theory:
Situational crime prevention: This strategy is concerned with reducing opportunities to commit crime and minimizing the rewards of committing crime.
General deterrence: Sanctions are formulated by the government to decrease crime rates. The target is the general population rather than criminals.
Specific deterrence: These sanctions target known criminals. They increase the severity of punishments to prevent the individuals from committing crime.
Incapacitation: Direct incapacitation, in particular, prevents crime by locking up offenders.
Based on the view that personal traits predispose some individuals to criminal behavior. The trait theory has two salient categories:
Biosocial: This category studies physical, environmental, and social conditions that influence an individual’s criminal behavior.
Psychological: Factors such as personality and intelligence are studied in relation to predisposition to criminal behavior.
The biosocial and psychological categories both concentrate on how acts of violence can be triggered by aspects of human behavior such as aggression and impulsivity.
However, overdependence on the relationship between personality traits and crime could lead to inaccurate profiling of individuals.
Public Policy Implications
The trait theory has had an undue influence on treatment options for convicted criminals and high-risk persons. Treatment options such as psychological counseling, anger management, drug recovery, and family therapy are based on the trait theory.
Social Structure Theories
The social structure theories focus on the relationship between social circumstances and criminal behavior. The socioeconomic structure of a community is the key variable in these theories.
Social Disorganization Theories
These theories study the result of the breakdown of social controls. The consequent social disorganization may cause the following:
High unemployment or underemployment
Elevated rates of school dropout
Disproportionately high numbers of single-parent households.
These factors may prevent individuals from reaching their goals which may breed anger, frustration, and resentment. This could ultimately lead to involvement in crime.
Cultural Deviance Theories
Cultural deviance theories examine the effects of the development of subcultures when social structures break down. Subcultures such as street gangs provide one with family and a source of identity. However, most of their values and norms are against conventional values.
Public Policy Implications of Social Structure Theories
Social structure theories have played a significant role in the development of social programs that seek to alleviate the adverse effects of poverty while indirectly affecting the rates of crime in communities where they are implemented. Programs under the War on Poverty initiative such as Job Corps, Head Start, and Upward Bound reflect the social structure theories. The level of success of such programs is, however, not guaranteed.
Social Process Theories
These theories examine the influence of socialization on criminal behavior. The question is whether social processes such as education, employment, family life, and peer relations could lead to the development of criminal conduct. Social process theories maintain that a person’s behaviors are shaped by the interaction of aspects of the mentioned social processes.
Social Learning Theory
The theory is concerned with whether criminal activity is a learned behavior. While some factors may decrease the probability of an individual committing a crime, others increase the likelihood. Aspects such as the social context in which the learning takes place, reinforcing mechanisms and the influence of various players are key to the social learning theory.
Social Control Theory
The basic assumption of this theory is that all human beings are capable of engaging in both law-abiding and law-violating behavior. Individuals can be steered towards law-abiding behavior through internal social controls such as emotional commitment to following rules or external controls such the threat of punishment.
Human beings differ in their receptiveness to acquiring internalized controls. This necessitates the presence of external forms of social control such as laws.
Social Reaction Theory
The social reaction theory investigates how the nature of social interaction influences future decisions, choices, and behavior. The key concept, in this case, is the power of labeling. Labelling of an individual by key social figures such as parents and teachers could significantly influence their conduct. Labelling a juvenile as a criminal will help in creating his self-image which is hard to negate since they will try to maintain that label by involvement in crime.
Public Policy Implications of Social Process Theories
Social process theories are influential when dealing with juvenile crime since such individuals are still developing. The Safe Start Program is an example of a federal initiative based on social process theories. It prevents delinquency through strategies such as family support, substance abuse prevention, and mental health.
Social Conflict Theories
The social conflict theories study the nature and function of social conflicts and how they contribute to the development of criminal behavior. Issues examined include the following:
How society creates crime
How governments respond to crime
The role of social inequality in crime production and control
How power differentials among social groups relate to crime and crime control
This is a prominent branch of social conflict theory that focuses on the features of crime especially within capitalist economic systems. It is based on Marxist philosophy, particularly its view of class and social structures.
Class: refers to the direct and indirect economic relationships that exist between groups. Economic and power relations define one’s class and play a crucial role in social stability and social change.
Social Structures: According to Marxist philosophy, social structures are ultimately unstable due to changes in the society over time. This instability can result in a revolution unless the conflicts are resolved peacefully.
Contemporary Forms of Conflict Theory
Some criminologists have suggested that a criminal justice system is a tool for controlling societal classes that pose the greatest threat in terms of crime. This alludes to poorer members of society who are, at times, forced to commit crime to acquire material resources they could not have through other means. Poverty leads to individual discontent which if left unattended can evolve into criminal behavior.
This aspect of critical criminology focuses on the inequity in power relations based on gender and patriarchy. The nature of the power relations in the family could influence the development of delinquency in young individuals.
Public Policy Implications of Social Conflict Theories
Social conflict theories advocate restorative justice. While criminals should be held accountable for their actions, the criminal justice system should try to restore self-respect and mutual respect.
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