There are several ways to approach the causes of crime. Many theories in Criminology address crime as why and who commit these crimes. Control Theory looks at why people don’t commit crime, and what self control they possess to avoid criminal behavior opposed to those who do commit crimes. This theory focuses primarily on external factors and the processes of how they become effective in criminal behavior. Strain theory, another approach to understand crime focuses on the struggle to obtain the American Dream, and how it is obtained by different types of people. Both concepts look at the environment that individuals are raised in, and how that can impact their tendencies to be drawn to criminal behavior.
A 17 year old male raised in a wealthy suburban neighborhood, with wealthy parents is, according to control theory, going to be less likely to turn to crime. There is little struggle in that environment that he is raised therefore his self control against crime is stronger because criminal behavior is not seen as a necessity. In the case of the 17 year old male raised in a poor neighborhood, from a low income family, who also struggles in school can have a completely different impact on his control against criminal behavior.
Control theory suggests that those who commit these crimes will create justification for their actions. The boy who stole the wallet from another student may feel that the student did not need that fifty dollars because he could just ask his parents for more. This is an example of neutralization, that in Control Theory is the criminals way of justifying their actions.
The stages of neutralization all point the wrongful behavior away from the criminal, and turn the blame onto others. The first type of neutralization is Denial of responsibility, the delinquent had no control over this behavior because it was outside his control and there was no other choice.
The boy who stole the wallet could use this argument that he had no other option but to steal the wallet due to the poverty his family suffers, and he needed the money for survival. The denial of victim is the most relevant form of neutralization in this case. The delinquent can argue that there is no harm caused because the victim did not suffer a loss. The student who took the wallet sees himself as an avenger. He views his act as trying to get by in his life he predicts to be one of struggle, and the student who had the fifty dollars is in his eyes a wrongdoer because he does not struggle.
Control theory would suggest that the boy who stole the wallet has no self control against the act because he sees it as a life decision not a crime. He is trying to get himself ahead through acts of crime where a different 17 year old boy who has been raised in a different environment would have a different approach to get himself ahead. The delinquent who stole the wallet has associated his actions with the social norms for the life of poverty he foresees. The isolation from his peers, and his negativity towards school has affected his socialization and discipline to obey rules.
The availability of opportunity can alter the socialization of adolescents. Young people who are surrounded by negativity and struggle feel that there is little opportunity to rise above this environment. Such as the young man who stole his peers wallet, he feels there is no opportunity for him to achieve better than what he has grown to know. Strain Theory focuses on opportunity for individuals to achieve the American Dream, and the various categories of people who are working towards this goal.
Achieving this goal of the American Dream must first be determined by the means of how succeed. The idea of success must first be determined by the reference group the individual is using as a comparison. The 17 year old boy sees his future to be one of struggle and poverty, therefore he turns to criminal behavior in order to get by in this lifestyle. An adolescent who has high academic goals foresees their future to be successful and applies the means of education to achieve their goal. A reference group is the sample of individuals that we associate with success and strive to achieve their success.
The young male who foresees a life of struggle reveals his dreams and goals to a counselor, and is educated about achieving them. His negativity towards his life has created such an attitude that he feels he can never reach these dreams and he turned to rebellion against the means to achieve his idea of success. Rebellion is an example of Strain Theory that the individual turns to where they feel that neither the goal or the means are available to achieve their success. These people therefore replace both the goal and the means with their own ideas and rebel against social norms. An example of this occurred in the Boston Marathon bombing. The brothers had a goal to commit convey a message, and developed an ideology to commit the terrorist act to get this message across. On the opposite end of the Strain Theory spectrum are the conformists. Conformists accept social norms, and apply the means to achieve success. Conformity exists in more law-abiding citizens who accept their environment and strive to become a success within it.
Those who reject the social norm of success often feel that this goal is unattainable. The young man who foresees a life of struggle does not believe that his goals are within his reach because he has not been exposed to the opportunity to get himself ahead of the environment he has accepted. Through the direction of the counselor, these opportunities may become evident for the young male and his idea of success may begin to become more of a goal rather than an aspiration or a dream. Adolescents who have been shielded from opportunity often grow up to believe they will never achieve anything more than what they have been exposed to. Through counsel and education there can be a drastic change in how they foresee their futures.
Both Control Theory and Strain Theory focus on individuals tendency to commit crime. With Control Theory external factors are the focus of why people are drawn away from crime. And Strain Theory explains how people become inclined to crime through their outlook on success. Both theories focus on the opportunity that are available and how this can affect behavior. Success is measured by the environment surrounding the individual.
The child of a doctor may have a different model of success than one of a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Adolescents measure success through the models of adults they are exposed to and view as successful. The young man who sees his life to be one full of struggle is more than likely surrounded by people who have struggled their entire lives and he sees no way out for himself. The opportunity to achieve the goals that he explains to his counselor seem unrealistic within his ideology because he cannot foresee the means to achieve them.
His rejection of social norm have lead him to rebel against the law and steal from his peers, because he does not feel he has another option. His self control against crime is weakened because he does not see himself becoming successful. Through counsel and exposure to opportunity the young mans strive to achieve his goals may become more of a reality and his criminal tendencies will therefore diminish because of his determination to achieve these goals. This is an example of Control Theory.
This case study would be most benefitted by the Strain Theory. The counselors ability to expose the young man to opportunity and goals can change his idea of the means to achieve success. His current status as a rebellion could be transformed into conformity because his idea of success would change from a life on the street to getting himself ahead of the life he foresees for himself currently.
Cases like this have been successful through programs such as the Boys and Girls Club, and the Big Brother Big Sister project. Providing opportunity to young people who are growing up in a negative environment and presenting them with counsel making opportunity available for success is a way of avoiding the idea that they will not succeed. According to Merton, the philosophy behind the American Dream is that anyone, regardless of social background can achieve financial success through hard work, determination, and ambition. Ambition being the key. By instilling young people with this theory and encouraging goals will create an idea of success rather than the idea that they will never amount to anything.
The American Dream can be interpreted in many different ways according to social background and the success that individuals admire. Success comes in many forms. The most respected surgeon in the country who has achieved financial greatness would be considered by most to be greatly successful. A young woman who works to support her family and raises her children on her own can also be viewed as successful. There are no guidelines that determine who is admirable and who is not, and success is measured in various ways.
The idea of Control Theory and Strain Theory focus on the fact that success in regard to crime is effected by the individuals idea of achievement. Achievement may be altered by the individuals exposure to opportunity and the lack of opportunity can leave to criminal behavior as a last resort of survival. This young man felt that theft was a way to get by in his struggled life, but through counsel and opportunity his American Dream can not only be foreseeable but attained.