Crime is a day to day occurrence everywhere in the world. People in the search to fulfill their daily obligations and needs use illegal channels to acquire or achieve targets. With time and past experience, the social set up has developed various approaches to deal with these crimes and the perpetrators. The various methodologies applied are meant to punish the criminals, discourage further indulgence and possibly reshape the involved party. A need to understand the causative factors is therefore important in structuring the different methods aimed at vetting crime. The purpose of this paper is to examine various theories in criminology and how they have been used to explain crime and criminals.
Criminology is a field that encompasses the knowledge to treat crimes as a social phenomenon. There are various theories in criminology that helps to understand criminality in a better way in addition to a platform on how to deal with them. Criminality on the other hand entails the activity of law breaking and law making and the processes involved in counteracting with the crime (s) (Akers and Sellers, 2004). These processes are structured such that they are interconnected so that they deliver results that are socially acceptable. Criminology is thus the process of studying etiology, nature and extent of law breaking behavior (Agnew, 2005, p. 16).
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The following case study will be used to explain the roles of various theories:
The case of the Wall Street broker (Carolyn, 2010)
The case of a suburban college girl who wanted to pass and complete her education.(Carolyn, 2010)
The case of a Hispanic boy who enrolled in a gang in a neighborhood where authorities are not very vigilant (Carolyn, 2010)
The rape case of a male college student (Carolyn, 2010)
Classical and choice theories
This theory is probably one of the oldest having being in practice from the 18th century and forms the bases of the rest theories today. Cesare Beccaria was very vibrant in its structuring and subsequent modification for its appliance (Carolyn, 2010). Although the theories were put out of practice for sometime, they were later reinstated in the 19th century as many criminologist acknowledged their prevailing relevance to societies. Classical and choice theories are governed by three schools of thought which is people's freedom to choose, the ability to control choice and the swiftness, certainty and severity of the punishment (Agnew, 2005). The theories acknowledge that all human beings have the ability to make choices in their lives. Their natural making gives them the freedom to be jealous, greedy, vain, lustful, thrill seekers, needy, angry among others throughout their lives. These human characteristics demonstrate their free will (Siegel 2004).
The other aspect of the classical and choices theory is ground to the fact that human beings have the capacity to control these choices. The fear to the confrontation of the consequences resulting from their behaviors governs their mode of conduct and therefore refrains from criminal activities. "Human beings have the ability to analyze situations with regard to their positive outcomes and their potential negatives. If the risks involved in engaging in certain behavior are much less than the benefits, then an individual is likely to commit that crime" (Agnew, 2005).
In addition, swiftness, certainty and severity of the punishment forms the basic school of thought in classical theories. It goes without saying that a potential criminal faced with the reality of the nature and speed of punishment effect, will desist from any intended criminal activity. According to Cook (2005), punishment can be regarded as an incentive for obeying the law and if it is administered rationally and legitimately, it can deter crime significantly.
This theory advocates that an individual be encouraged to commit a crime on opportunity availability. The classical theory helps to understand demographics, victimization and lifestyle of a process whereby the offender and the victim come into contact with one another. Researchers have identified aspects like being unmarried, male, leading an active lifestyle and frequenting bars can raise the risk of crime committing (Pearce, 2003).
The theory of rational choice is based upon the idea that criminals are able to use intelligent thinking when they are committing crimes. In another way, societal behavior is cumulative of a series of behavioral deeds that are affected and committed by lucid individuals. It therefore means that prospective criminals are actors who are affected by some definite values and beliefs within society (Agnew, 2005). In addition, these actors usually weigh the benefits or the costs of engaging in a particular action and then resolve to commit the act if there is likelihood to maximize its benefits or its overall usefulness process. In the rational choice theory, one must also consider the effect that one's environment has upon their decisions making (Pearce, 2003; Siegel, 2004).
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It therefore comes to our attention that the rational choice theory points towards methodological individualism which implies that individuals must look at the options on hand. The rational thought is what is then translated into the entire society. Apparently, this theory originates from the individual and then aggregated to the entire society. The rational choice theory poses challenges to researchers (Akers and Sellers, 2004). Firstly, the most of the variables encompassed inside this theory are hard to quantify. A good example is a 'potential criminal'. The criminality a long this variable is a personality trait yet crime itself is an event. Targets suitability is yet another difficult term to define because most criminals portray this aspect differently depending on the demographics and their environment. The theory is most favored for its excellence in defining the three Ds of crime as detecting, delaying and deterring (Esbensen et al., 1993). It is however not easy to identify the actual location of the crime, the time it occurred and other conditions surrounding the crime with the rational choice theory (Schmallenger, 2005).
According to (Pearce, 2003), many criminology experts are of the view that this theory cannot present a comprehensive order of events and the actions involved during a crime since it lies much in asserting that a crime was committed rather than making it false. According to the experts, the theory does not specify the margins of the crime effect. This is largely an outcome of the interdependence of various variables that are not measurable. Policies concerning the offenders in this theory include the police saturation measures, the get tough policy, and the police crackdown in potential in potential crime zones.
Application of the theory
The Wall Street broker weighs the benefits of trading as an insider that is: getting involved in unethical behavior, being arrested after getting barred against the cost that would result in doing the crime. The outcome is $5 million within a very short time. The punishment is not guaranteed since if it is well executed, it is difficult to detect a corporate crime. With the uncertainty of receiving a penalty against this crime, the street Wall Broker is inclined in committing the crime (Schmalleger, 2005).
In the case of the suburban girl, Classical theory gives her the advantages she stands against the possible negative outcomes. Committing the crime enables her achieves education and subsequently be able to secure a job (Akers and Sellers, 2004). On the other hand, she's likely to be viewed as a reject in the society where she lives. Gauging on her ambitions vs. the outcomes she resolves in committing the crime.
The punishment of the Hispanic boy is not certain, may not be that severe or may be delayed altogether. The boy fancies of joining the group with the intent to get protection and money to meet some of his basic needs in consideration of the possible outcomes (Agnew, 2005). To him, joining the gang has far reaching benefits considering the few means of acquiring his basic he has and the possible failure in getting punishment. He considers that if there is punishment at all, it could be lenient and thus opts to join the gang.
The classical and choice theory gives the male college student the advantage of raping. There are less chances of him ever being framed since the respective dates of the actions are hard to trace. He is inclined to commit the act to avoid the long process of achieving sex in an ordinary manner. Considering his urgent urge, the complexity of identifying positively as the culprit makes him commit the crime (Schmalleger, 2005).
The Strain Theory
The theory is founded on the basis that there are some circumstances that force an individual to commit a crime. Emile Durkheim, a criminologist was very vocal in laying down the structures of the strain theory. Robert Melton advanced it in the 1930s followed by Cohen in the mid 1950s (Carolyn, 2010). The theory has since then been amended by other experts to conform to societal expectations and time. The structural institutions that govern this theory are the society processes which are converted to become the actor. A potential criminal views the consequences of his or her actions with regard to the society regulations where he/she belongs. The theory is ground on the fact that the particular individual will have to undergo a lot of torture while in his/her efforts to meet the expectations of the society. When these expectations are in a view very wanting, an individual might opt to go for them irrespective of the manner used, either legal or illegal. Durkheim for instance weighs the options of reasons an individual may opt to commit suicide after lacking their purpose in the society for failing to achieve some particular demands. He notes that these feelings will normally be associated with the individual lacking personal values (Coleta et al 2007).
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Crimes are sometimes a result of individual's strain within the environment (Dubois, 2000) according to a study carried out through African American crime. The society in question had undergone through major changes in the political arena which consequently raised the society expectations. A large portion of the population had various life difficulties that inclined them to achieve them through crimes (Schmalleger, 2005).
It is therefore noted that the strain theory can be analyzed through the functional aspect or through the structural aspect. Through structural aspect, there is more stress on the way things work; It is examined the nature of a criminal event or the process of committing the criminal action with a look of the connections between these aspects and their level of interdependence of these variables. On the other hand, the functional reason is found upon the basis that certain structural characteristics are parts of an overall system (Agnew, 2005). Social systems are mostly founded on the parts that make them up and when one part fails to perform these functions, then it subsequently leads to strain. The whole system is bound to collapse if the strain subjected persists.
It was attributed by Robert Melton that two pathways that incline an individual to crime are: Cultural expectations and the structural responsibilities necessary in achieving this goal. People tend to involve in a criminal act owing to the stress amounting from aspirations and available opportunities. This has attributed in the high crime rates in lower social classes as people lack opportunities to realize the societal goals. These people loose motivation gets frustrated yet the society only values those perceived as winners (Peace, 2003).
In the case of the street wall broker, the theory is important in understanding this broker's decisions to commit corporate crime (Carolyn, 2010). This individual lives in a society that values winners or people who seem monetarily successful. It is likely that the legal channels for attaining high level of financial success are minimal as they may take too long. Consequently, there was an anomie in meeting societal expectations related to financial success and the legal channels available to achieve this. The street wall broker resolved to use a faster channel to achieve the meted expectations.
The theory helps in understanding the suburban college girl. The society she belongs to expects a lot from her, attaining a respectable job being one of them. However, employment comes along with education and the education involves stationery and tuition costs. The girl is thus left at a compromising situation, torn between the societal expectations and what is attainable. She is forced by circumstances to become a call girl due to the strain generated (Carolyn, 2010).
In the case of the male student who rape, this theory explains that society expects certain things from individuals. The situation requires that the two parties come in terms to agree to have intercourse. However, in order to do this, the college student may be required to spend a lot of time on a certain lady. With regard to this, the student diverts his strain in raping his victim (Schmalleger, 2005).
Towards the Hispanic boy, the theory ascertains that there is anomie between meeting his basic needs such as food, clothing and the means available to get them. The Hispanic boy probably has little access to education thus making it extremely difficult for him to pursue his dreams through the legal channels.
Cultural deviance theory
The most instrumental pioneer expert in this theory is Albert Cohen. The theory encompasses the delinquent behavior of young boys and innovative adaptation. Cohen observed that young people do not at many times acts solely but with influence from their peers. Their behavior is greatly influenced by the forces of the world revolving them thus it is vital that these characteristics and cultures be understood when dealing with their issues (Carolyn, 2010). Delinquent subculture has the aspect of utilitarianism with respect to the young taking part in crime just for fun. The behavior is associated with maliciousness when the delinquent participate in a criminal act for the sake of fun. These sub delinquent subcultures have their negative side as they sideline other cultures such as the middle class and perceive their defiance as normal. Hedonism and autonomy plays a great role since the delinquents regard the senior in their groups as their heads and rebel any other authority (Schmalleger, 2005). In his study, Cohen found that the delinquent boys often felt frustrated by the middle class values and in return rebelled against the sentiments through crime.
Walter Miller in his part concentrated on a different approach to cultural deviant theory. Miller carried out a research in Boston, involving people in the middle class. According to him, delinquent behavior was not bought by another class's values; instead, he .viewed it as a manifestation of the lower class culture. It was his believed that middle class values were overrated in Cohen's theory. He suggested that within the middle class, certain values were regarded as more important than others, lower class people are governed through different values. In the end, this brings about clashes between these two groups and may create conflicts between the two categories or classes. For the people in the lower class group, imposed rule are only meant for survival. Consequently, in the process of achieving these values, young males find that they have to engage in criminal behavior in order to achieve them (Esbensen & Huizinga, 1993, p. 301).
In the case of the Wall Street broker, this theory suggests that individuals tend to involve in some particular behaviors following some practices affiliated with the middle class group. Individuals not happy with this are therefore more likely to resist the tradition and engage in criminal activity. The stock broker was rebelling against society's expectations of him.
The cultural deviant theory can also be applied in this situation. The call girls comes from a middle class family, but she chooses to rebel against the expectation of this class by engaging in socially unacceptable behavior. Her decision to resolve into crime is fueled by the fact that the societal expectation she has to achieve are far from reality without education (Cook, 2005).
The theory of cultural deviance suits best in the study of Hispanic boy's case. It is most likely the boy is rebelling the middle class rules who obtain their income through means like education. He therefore wanted to go against this. The cultural deviant theory may also be applicable in that he may be acting to his peer's delinquent behavior. These peers may be acting out against their own class through date rape. The social process there is applicable in that the control theory helps to understand this college student's behavior.
Marxist Criminology Theory
The theory circulates around change and identification of disruptive forces within a society. The theory evaluates the extent a particular society is divided a long the lines of wealth, power and prestige. Environment that could propagate crime are considered as structural crime causative factors. In his view, Karl Max believed that the people in the upper class used the law to impose their own rules to subject against the lower class to make them remain in those oppressive states (Carolyn, 2010). This theory therefore fits in describing state crime, state corporate crime and political crime. Almost every state is governed by some set rules making it possible to impose any kind of rule perceived favorable to their side (Larry et al. 2008, p. 227). It is common that a certain small group will emerge as leaders in a state whether democratic or not who become decision making organs. The aftermath for this is the society having to conform to the wishes of the class in authority. They are however the most contributory class as most of them are involved in production. This theory is a focus on social isolation where a certain group oppresses the other and in return there is retaliation (Carolyn, 2010).
In the Marxist school of thought, individuals commit crime because they are trying to respond to the demeaning work or the type of work that involves minimal creativity. Marxist criminology best explains why the stock broker was inclined to commit the crime. One possible conclusion could be that he was retaliating having academic qualifications that only granted him a dissatisfying job (Carolyn, 2010).
The Marxist school of thought fit in the case of the college. Probably the people in authority who were supposedly to offer a channel towards her education had failed to do so. It was therefore the only choice the girl had in order to survive. She has to resort to socially inappropriate means such as through the call girl service in order to make it (Carolyn, 2010).
This school of thought find application in the Hispanic boy case. The surrounding environment is filled with inadequacy. There are no opportunities created for him yet the daily basic needs are calling for. The authority has limited opportunities giving him no room whatsoever where he can earn decently (Carolyn, 2010).
Various criminological theories demonstrate the root causes of crimes and how individuals react with regard to punishment underlined. It is necessary that a crime is resolved through application of these theories to enhance a fair platform. Certain theories stand against others making it relatively easy to deal with the root causes of crime through the outstanding ones. The best theory towards the possible explanation of the causes of crime and the personality of the criminals lies in the union of the well grounded parts of each of the theories. All the theories have a significant contribution in the development of criminology, and work towards one purpose; to eliminate crime.