Examining What Rational Choice Theory Means Criminology Essay

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Rational Choice Theory is a theory used by social scientists in a bid to comprehend the behavior of human beings. In the past, the approach was used in economics but recently, it has gained widespread use in other areas such as sociology, anthropology and political science. This is a major change from the use of the theory in economic issues to its use in other areas. This theory first considers why individuals make choices on particular behaviors. Rational choice theorists analyze the development of individual behaviors before they go on to try and understand how behavior choices of individuals constitute a certain outcome (Siegel, 2008). The first part of this essay discusses how rational choice theory applies to the proposed law in Massachusetts of imprisoning first time offenders for two years.

Link between Rational Choice Theory and Crime

Rational choice theory endeavors to find out whether the criminal acts and choice of the victims criminals perpetrate the acts on emanate from rational decisions. The theory presupposes that criminals put various factors into consideration before they eventually commit a crime and usually engage in exchange of opinions before making the final decision. Some of the factors they consider include the likelihood of being arrested, the repercussions of their crimes such as death or exposing their families to suffering and other situation factors such as surveillance systems in place (Siegel, 2008).

After carefully analyzing all the above mentioned factors, criminals then make a decision on whether to commit the crime or not. They also think of where they will commit the crime and the people to bear the brunt of the crime. With this understanding, rational choice theory becomes applicable in the proposed Massachusetts law because criminals do not commit crime accidentally. Authorities are able to understand the reasons that lead them into committing crimes hence they can tighten the penalties to deter criminals from committing the crimes. The theory postulates that criminals are members of the society who hold the same values as the rest of members of the society but use different methods to achieve what they want to achieve (MPRS, 2011).

Weaknesses of the Proposed New Law

One of the limitations of the proposed law of imposing a two-year jail term for new offenders is that putting them in correctional facilities is an expensive undertaking for the government. As the number of offenders put in prison increases, this ultimately strains the government resources through increased costs since the prisoners must be maintained in the prisons (MPRS, 2011). Another weakness of the proposed law is that the imprisoned offenders often return to the community without the resources they require for them to lead their normal lives. For instance, after their release they require clothing, residence and other basic needs. Once in prison, they are not involved in any productive activity that would guarantee their successful re-integration into the society. This may cause them to resume their criminal activities as they struggle to cater for their unmet needs. This is likely to reduce the effectiveness of the proposed law in reducing crime.

Research has shown that only 10 % of programs aimed at reforming criminals are effective. The most effective programs are known to reduce recidivism by an average of 32 % (Ginger, n.d). This is brought about by the fact that correctional facilities in Massachusetts are not put in place basing them on research of how effective correctional facilities function. This is also another weakness likely to reduce the effectiveness of the proposed law in reducing crime.

Another weakness of the proposed new law of imprisoning first time offenders is that this leads to the creation of structures that disadvantage some people. Most of the imprisoned offenders are young productive individuals and separating them from their already suffering communities may impoverish the communities the more. This weakness of the new law is supported by the fact that the number of children in United States who have one of their parents in prison exceeds 1.5 million children (ncjrs, 2003). There are numerous negative effects associated with a parent who spends life in prison such as the inability to provide for the family. There is also the physical separation of the imprisoned person and his relatives, something that often causes emotional disturbance because in most cases the offenders are taken miles away from their families. These factors may contribute towards an increase in crime rates rather than a decrease.

The proposed law also has a weakness in that it causes psychological damage to the imprisoned individuals by separating them from their relatives, something which heightens class and social differences. For example, the imprisoned individuals are forced to go through antisocial conditions through a socialization process that leaves them traumatized. Sending the offenders to prison makes them appear like outcasts and unsuitable individuals to the rest of the society. These problems may as a result cause the offenders to go back to crime after release because they feel rejected.

Strengths of the Proposed New Law

Despite the weaknesses associated with this proposed new law in Massachusetts, it nevertheless has strengths that make it an important strategy of reducing crime in the region. Its first strength is that the fear of losing freedom by being imprisoned will deter first time offenders from committing crime. The mandatory two year prison sentence will expose the victims to undesirable conditions where they are removed from the society and forced to live in segregation from their family members. It is quite obvious that nobody will commit an offense that will cause him to spend time in prison since this will have adverse effects on their lives.

The second strength of the proposed law is that it will ensure that those who fall victims of first time offences are rehabilitated and leave prison as reformed people. The idea behind imprisonment is not to torture offenders but rather to rehabilitate them for a successful re-integration into the society. The two year prison term proposed in the new law will ensure that first time offenders do not continue committing crime but instead they will emerge from the correctional facilities as reformed people.


Despite the few weaknesses associated with this proposed new law, it is expected to bring about changes in crime prevention hence the legislature should pass it. It should pass the new law because definitely the law will keep first time offenders at bay. Some people may continue committing crimes because they know that they have immunity from the law but once this law is in place, many offenders will be deterred from committing crime. However, in passing the new law, the legislature should also put into consideration the conditions in the prisons to ensure that the prisoners are not treated in inhumane ways.

Part II:

Social Disorganization Theory and Neighborhood Violence

Social disorganization is a criminology theory that explains the causes of varying crime rates in different locations. According to this theory, violence in neighborhoods is caused by lack or poor performance of communal institutions such as schools, family and churches that were in the past responsible for encouraging good social relationships among people. The theory bases its argument on the breakdown or disappearance of particular relations among people in the society (ncjrs, 2003). Good relationship among societal members in a particular area is expected to be organized when different people in the society participate in different activities organized by those who represent communal institutions such as the family heads, local chiefs and pastors. Social organizations are believed to build strong social bonds among people living in the same geographical region. The theory was initially designed to refer to lack of organization in neighborhoods but it has been used to make reference to variations existing in larger contexts such as countries.

With reference to social disorganization theory, there are differences between public, parochial and social levels of social control which can explain causes of violence in neighborhoods. When interpersonal bonds among different people living in the same area are not tight, this leads to high personal social control. Parochial level of social control is referred to as the relationship between the residents of an area and institutions such as schools and churches. The interpersonal relationships might be strong even when there are weak relationships in parochial systems. Public level of social control is the other social control level which is independent from the other levels. These different levels of social control explain why we have neighborhood violence in areas that are characterized by stability and strong ties among people living in the neighborhoods (Burfeind & Bartusch, 2010).

Social disorganization theory goes on to explain that changes in the behaviors of youths in neighborhoods are as a result of changes in their attachment to others, committing themselves to ordinary goals and participating in conventional activities. When the bond between the youths and the society is strong, it is likely that violence in neighborhoods will be reduced. If the bond is weak, violence in neighborhoods increases. A break down in social institutions or poor performance of the institutions explains the cause of violence in neighborhoods.

Limitations of Social Disorganization Theory

Although social disorganization theory has attempted to explain how breakdown of social institutions causes violence in neighborhoods, the theory has a number of limitations. This theory has been criticized by different scholars who have advanced dissenting opinions. The first criticism laid against this theory is that the neighborhoods that are categorized as disorganized may not be devoid of social organization. The critics of the theory have suggested that people who live in neighborhoods and share common ideal form stable informal associations. They go on to explain defects that occur in social organizations should not be taken to mean lack of social organization.

The second limitation of the theory is that it can be misleading since there is always order associated with social life regardless of whether it is organized in violence or not. In addition, social disorganization theory can only be understood in a circular fashion. The theory offers different explanations of neighborhood violence which pay attention to social conditions of the people, the social institutions and the bonds that exist between individuals and the institutions (Burfeind & Bartusch, 2010).

The third limitation of the theory is that it explains causes of neighborhood violence by relating them to lack of appropriate constraints. This renders the theory inadequate because it is expected to explain the presence of attitudes towards violence that are expressed in the absence of the constraints. The theory makes an assumption that neighborhood violence occurs naturally when societal constraints are not strong (Miller, 2009).


Break down of social institutions is a major cause of neighborhood violence that has been cited by social disorganization theory. According to the theory, when the relationship between people living in a particular area and the social institutions in the area is strained, this loosens the bond between people and the institutions. The possible results of such an instance are an increase in neighborhood violence and crime in general. However, the theory has been criticized by some scholars who have pointed out that among other things lack of social institutions does not necessarily mean social disorganization because like-minded people have informal associations.