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The earliest perspectives on an understanding of criminal behavior and deviance differed in terms of its causative agents and the reasons behind the crimes. For instance Goddard (1914) stated that criminal behavior was caused by "feeble-mindedness" of the criminal while Dugdale (1877) indicated that it was because of "biological determinism". However, all of these early attempts at explaining crime recognized that crime was a as a result of individual variations in an individual and not as a result of social conditions. These early theories were not adequate to explain modern crimes in the beginning and other theories, determined after careful examination and scientific observation replaced them.
This essay will assess the extent to which theories of crime and deviance can inform the development of crime prevention strategies. These theories will include the social disorganization by Shaw and McKay (1942), theory of anomie/strain (Merton, 1938), the conflict-Marxian model of absolute deprivation (Turk, 1969), the relative deprivation-inequality paradigm (Blau and Blau, 1982), routine activities theory (Cohen and Felson, 1979), deterrence-rational choice theory (Becker, 1978), and emerging social support-social altruism theory (Cullen, 1994).
The social disorganization theory was developed by Shaw and McKay in the early 1900s in Chicago was of the view that crime was a function of neighborhood dynamics and not necessarily of the people who resided in those neighborhoods (Shaw and McKay, 1972). This was after an investigation that found out that crime tended to be high in slum neighborhoods even if people from different races and ethnic group lived there. The study also found out that when these individuals moved to other neighborhoods with low crime rates their rate of criminal activities decreased proportionately. Shaw and McKay focused on those neighbourhoods going through transitions and in which the socio control institutions were either non-existent or weak. Such neighbourhoods tended to produce a criminal culture that was passed down generations and conditions ripe for criminal behaviours.
This theory can be used to explain group dynamics in explaining in crime prevention strategies. The view that societies going through a transition phase and the lack of social mechanisms to entrench good behavior morals into young people cause people to turn to criminal activities can be derived from these theory. However this theory is deficient in that it does not explain the individual view of a criminal in its explanation. This personal processes in explaining crime is the view taken by modern criminologists such as Bursik and Grasmick (1992: ix) and Byrne and Sampson (1986).
The anomie/strain tradition theory was introduced by Robert Merton in 1938 through the publication of his article titled "Social Structure and Anomie". The theory was a departure from the generally accepted at that time theory of social disorganization. The theory explained that the society's adherence to the America values such as an "economic obsession" produced high rates of crime. He was of the view that the American society placed too much emphasis on the American dream and this led people to commit crimes in order to fulfill the societal values of success. He observed that the problem with the society was that not very one and especially the disadvantaged was able to socially moved upward through mechanically placed limitations on individuals. In essence the theory ascribes criminal behavior on culture and social behavior by emphasizing on economic success, however due to the limitations brought by circumstances some people opt to use non-legitimate means to acquire the economic success. He ascribed this weakening in societal values and societal limitations as "anomie" basing the term on Durkheim's (1897 ) reference to the weakening of the normative order in society. The massive pressure on individuals to reach the commonly acknowledged economic goal by people who cannot achieve it legally produces massive pressures to deviate from the norm (Merton, 1968:199).
However the theory faced certain criticism in its conceptualization that an individual's aspirations and his limitations made the individual to deviate from the norm. This theory was further on abandoned due to the reawakening of antipoverty and welfare programs in the 1970's (Messner and Rosenfeld, 1997:14).
The absolute deprivation/conflict theory focuses its attention on the struggles between individuals and or groups in terms of power differentials (Lilly et al., 1995:132-33). This theory sees crime as an activity that is only done by the powerless in the society even though even the upper class also does things that are morally questionable. The view is that even though the upper class is prosecuted the criminal justice system is wielded by the upper classes and therefore the lower classes are the ones who are affected.
The absolute deprivation/conflict theory through its various variations is a weak theory in explaining crime and deviance and prevention strategies. For instance, Akers (1997), postulates that it is difficult to label certain offences such as rape and murder as the preferred behaviours of the lower classes. The conflict theory further on views the cause of crimes as being caused by widespread poverty caused by a capitalist economic structure and this leads to feelings of hatred towards those in the upper classes of society (Turner, 1978). This group would be either simply trying to get by or they may use violence as a means of questioning the status quo (Lilly et al., 1995:134).
The relative deprivation/inequality theory set forth by Blau and Blau (1982:116) shows that the culture in slum neighbourhoods tends to value certain values in the youth that lead them to a collision path with the law. According to Blau and Blau (1982:126) this theory explains crime in that crime does not only occur because of poverty but also because of deprivation and being taken advantage of. The culture that develops in deprived areas tends to be violent.
This theory has some deficiencies in that the variable "inequality" can be measures in terms of racial, ethnicity, social and economic can be used to explained inequality (Messner, 1983; Messner and Golden, 1992).
The routine activities theory was developed by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson in the 1970's who established that the basic elements of time, location, and people may either increase or decrease the likelihood that individuals will be the victims' of predatory (personal or property) crime (Cohen and Felson, 1979). They identified three broad categories of variables that they believed were most relevant to the prediction of rates of criminal victimization: (1) the presence of motivated offenders, (2) the existence of suitable targets for victimization (either personal or property), and (3) the absence of capable guardianship of persons or property. Cohen and Felson (1979:589) extend this and note that criminal victimization should increase when there is a "convergence in space and time of the three minimal elements of direct-contact predatory violations". This theory basically notes that offenders of criminal activities exist and they are predisposed to engage in a crime in the absence of a reason not to do so Cohen and Felson (1979:605). Without the presence of social control, the individuals are predisposed to commit the crimes (Bryant and Miller, 1997:83). This theory has been used to explain burglary (Robinsonand Robinson, 1997), arson (Stahura and Hollinger, 1988), and homicide (Messner and Tardiff, 1985). However this theory does not consider inequality in its explanation of predatory crimes. In addition the conditions that create the conditions for predatory crime have changed over time.
The deterrence theory emanated from research by rational-choice economists such as Gary Becker (1968), who were concerned about the increasing incarceration rates in the US. At the basis of the theory is the notion that offenders rationally assess the potential costs and the benefits of committing a crime before doing it (Wilson and Boland, 1978). By increasing the "costs" that a criminal would have to pay if caught the theory believed that it would act as a deterrent and this measure would have a noticeable effect on crime rates (Greenberg, Kessler, and Logan, 1979).
However an examination of the empirical testing of the theory indicates that the support for the theory is at best mixed. A review by Blumstein, Cohen, and Nagin (1978:7) concluded that: "The evidence certainly favors a proposition supporting deterrence more than it favors one asserting that deterrence is absent." However other studies are not so enthusiastic (e.g. Nagin, 1998a: 3). Despite the variation in the studies it is worth noting that the increase of police and increased incarceration of offenders in prison would not reduce crime rates.
The social support/altruism theory is based on the theory of reintegrative shaming by Braithwaite (1989). The basis of the theory is the effect of social support and or atruism on crime rates in society. The theory explains how specific characteristics of social aggregates such as social support and/or altruistic actions insulates that society from high rates of crimes.
The subcultural theories look at the social and cultural conditions that insulates an individual; from committing a crime. The premise is that certain cultural norms predispose individuals to commit the crimes and that the crimes are looked up on by others (Hackney, 1969). Archer and Gartner (1984) determined that a positive association between the size of the population in a locale and the rate of crime and deviance. This is through the possibility that groups who have unconventional interests such as crime and deviance (Tittle, 1989).
Gottfredson and Hirschi introduced the general theory of crime in 1990 with their book A General Theory of Crime. The theory was structured around the criminogenic effects of the interaction between low self-control and criminal opportunity (Pratt and Cullen, 2000). According to Gottfredson and Hirschi, most crimes are "mundane, simple, trivial, easy acts" (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990:xv) and that crime can be defined as "act of force or fraud undertaken in pursuit of one's self-interest" (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990: 15). Self-control can be defined as "the tendency to avoid acts whose long term costs exceed their momentary advantages" (Hirschi and Gottfredson, 1994: 3) and is argued to be the single "most important individual-difference cause of crime and delinquency" (Gottfredson, 2006: 83). The concept undertakes that an individual commits a crime when an opportunity to satisfy a short-term impulse arises by committing a criminal offense. In general the theory posits that a crime happens when an individual with a sense of low self-control happens across an opportunity to commit a crime. Several studies (e.g. Longshore, 1998; Tittle, 1993) found support for opportunity in their empirical investigation for this theory in that if a person is presented with an opportunity to commit a crime and not suffer the consequences the person will do so.
This theory shows that individuals with low self-control ignore the long term consequences of their actions and commit the offences (Pratt and Cullen, 2000). On the other hand individuals with high self-control are able to weigh the consequences of their actions and make good decisions. the theoretical basis of this theory has been used to explain various societal problems including substance use (Wills, Duhamel and Vaccaro, 1995), academic dishonesty (Cochran, Wood,Sellers, Wilkerson and Chamlin, 1998) academic failure, poor adjustment and insecure emotional attachments (Tangney, Baumeister and Boone, 2004). Through empirical tests Grasmick and Tittle (1993), concludes that low self-control can be determined by an individual's self-reporting of their tendency to be impulsive, prefer simple to complex tasks, prefer to take risks, prefer physical over mental activities, to be self-centred and to have difficulty controlling their temper. More recent studies by Burton, Evans, Cullen, Olivares, and Dunaway (1999) found out that individuals with low self-control are more likely to engage in deviant and criminal behaviours. Criticisms have examined other intervening variables and have concluded that geographic groups and social learning variables have an influence on the results of the tests (Piquero and Rosay, 1998; Longshore et al., 1996). Despite these variations the theory is still sound in its explanation of crime and prevention strategies.
The general strain theory looks at how negative life experiences influence antisocial behaviour (Agnew, 1992). The theory posits that three sources of strain affect and if the reactions are not properly coped result in antisocial behaviour. These three strains are failure to achieve positively valued goals, presentation of a noxious stimulus, and removal of a positively valued stimulus. The theory is generally used to understand those who generally continue with their criminal behaviour past adolescence Broidy and Agnew (1996).
Sutherland (1947) introduced the differential association theory which posits that criminal behaviours are learned in a similar fashion as good law abiding behaviours. The theory indicates that people are likely to participate in antisocial behaviours when they associate with people with those behaviours on frequency, duration, priority and intensity. This has been supported by Simons, Wu, Conger, and Lorenz (1994) and Warr (2005) who found out that those juveniles who associate with delinquent peers are more likely to engage in antisocial and delinquent behaviours.
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