One of the many aspects of the criminal justice system is the various theories of crime. Crime theories study why people commit crimes. Each theory has its own distinct characteristics. Since criminal behavior is not always simple, more than one theory can be used to solve the crime or help criminologists understand the case better. Here are some of the common theories.
Anomie is described as the confusion that occurs when there is a conflict or lack of social norms. This theory was founded by Emile Durkheim when he was researching for his book on suicide so it’s commonly associated with him. He used it to explain how an individual who was not conforming to the rules and norms of the society would be more likely to commit suicide. Durkheim felt that anomie suicide was common when there has been a change in the economic situation of the society or when there is a major difference between ideologies. In such cases, an individual may react by turning to deviant behaviour, just to retaliate or prove a point.
Differential association is a learning theory in criminology which was developed by renowned sociologist Edwin H Sutherland in 1939. In differential association, acts of crime are seen as learned behaviour. The basic principles are:
Differential association proposes that if an individual interacts more with people who are defiant than those who follow the rules, the person is more likely to turn into a criminal.
Deviance can be defined as any undesirable social act or behaviour. With this understanding, sociologists have formed theories about its impact on society and how individuals turn deviant. The deviation theory forms the basis of criminology studies. It is used to identify why and how people turn into criminals, making it easier to resolve such behaviour. Deviance is classified largely into three classes, namely, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism, and structural functionalism.
The labeling theory was developed in 1963 by Howard Becker. It states that deviance is a label given by people in authority to a particular act or individual. Society defines what is acceptable, and what is not. In this sense, a present deviant behaviour may not be “deviant” a few years from now or even in another part of the world. Becker also reasons that the efforts taken to control crime have the opposite effect. People who been sentenced to jail are labelled as criminals, and they will be labelled as such for the rest of their lives. This makes it difficult for them to lead a normal life so they are pushed into deviant behaviour. The labeling theory was popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s but slowly declined due to mixed results shown by studies.
Rational Choice Theory
Developed by Ronald Clarke and Derek Cornish, the rational choice theory is based on the basic underlying fact that every individual has the ability to think logically about the effects and consequences of his or her action before making a choice. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a sharp increase in crime so sociologists analysed the phenomenon, giving rise to the rational choice theory. Prior to committing a crime, the theory says that people actually weigh the risk involved, chances of being caught, intensity of punishment, and various other factors before they proceed. To reduce crime, law enforcers have to increase the risks and reduce the rewards. Reducing the chances of crimes occurring would in turn reduce the number of criminals.
Social Control Theory
Social control theory was put forth by the Right Realist Travis Hirschi. Later, it was developed by philosophers Albert Reiss, Ivan Nye, and Jackson Toby. Social control theory analyses social behaviour in a controlled society, focusing on its effects in crime reduction. It states that crime is merely the result of unsupervised anti social behaviour which can be reduced with some sort of control. In this way, society plays an important role in curbing crime. The different types of social control are:
Here’s some more information on social control theory.
Social Disorganization Theory
The social disorganization theory was pioneered by Clifford R Shaw and Henry D McKay. It attempts to explain the relationship between communities and crime rates with a focus on why crime is more prevalent in particular areas. The findings reveal that disorganised communities were typically poor with large heterogeneous population, high residential mobility, and dysfunctional families. This leads to a weakening of social controls, causing an increase in crime rates. Due to the diverse nature of individuals, people who live in disorganized communities have little regard for regulation. Though this theory is identified with Shaw and McKay, it was founded by sociologists in the University of Chicago in the early 1900’s.
Social Learning Theory
Social learning theory states that behaviour is largely influenced by observation and imitation of people who are close to the subject, mainly parents and friends. New behaviour can be developed by means of rewards and punishment. If an individual observes that positive results are tied to a particular behaviour, they are more likely to adopt it. This theory is the work of Cornell Montgomery. He says learning happens through close contact with people, imitating superiors or parents, understanding various concepts, and role models. The most popular social learning theory is by Albert Bandura who felt that aggression is learned through behavioural modelling. People are not born with violence but they learn violence through observation. This is especially true in children who learn faster from parents and the media. If deviance was diagnosed early in children, it could be rectified to reduce criminal behaviour.
According to the strain theory, individuals under some strain or stress resort to crime as a means of release to their tensions and frustrations. Strain theories have been put forth by various sociologists like Robert Merton, Albert Cohen, Richard Cloward, and Lloyd Ohlin. The major types of strain are prevention of goals by others, loss of valuable things or negative stimulus. Money, respect, and individuality were seen as the main causes for stress. The strain theory helps to explain the motivation and reasoning behind a criminal act.