Criminal offences

The classical theorists believe in the concept of free will when explaining crime. If the rewards for being a criminal are greater than the retribution then criminal behaviour will seem more likely. This theory would predict that extreme punishments such as death would deter people from all crimes. Cesare Beccaria in the late 18th century successfully argued that the punishment should fit the crime and that excessive punishments could be counter productive. Jeremy Bentham, the british philosopher of the early eighteenth century, justified punishment in terms of it being able to prevent further crime rather than encouraging it.

Classical theory prominent in the late 18th and 19th Centuries but positivist theories then became popular instead. Since the 1970's there has been a resurgence interest in the classical theory of crime, with many people calling for harsher punishments. Positivist theories have been criticised for failing to discover the causes of crime and to develop effective strategies for controlling crime. Positivists theories discount the role of free will; instead takes into account factors such as genetic transmission, personality, learning and moral development.

The sociological perspective is also taken into account; emphasis is placed on a lack of moral standards in society (called 'anomi') and strain resulting from poverty imposed by a rigid class structure. Strategies to reduce crime would involve treatment at an individual level or intervention at a social level. Radical criminology was first proposed by Taylor et al. (1973) who based his views on the Marxist position. He stated that no act is naturally immoral or criminal; definitions of crime are socially determined, reflecting current social values. Crime is therefore seen as socially determined.

Criminal law is designed to suit the purposes of the wealthy and powerful. Those without money result to crime in order to enjoy the luxuries of the wealthy. The wealthy also commit crime in order to gain further wealth, but they are less likey to be arrested and punished. This theory states that the solution to crime would occur at economic, political and social levels. If wealth was redistributed then any crime that occurred would be the result of individual psychopathology. The labelling theory accords well with the radical criminology theory as it sees criminal behaviour as being defined by society.

People without power are labelled by those with power e. g. judges, parents, police and teachers. Behaviour is not seen as right or wrong rather as deviant behaviour. This argument not only applies to criminal behaviour but also to other groups in society that have been labelled, such as alcoholics, the mentally ill, and the deviant. There are two consequences of labelling- the creation of stigma and the modification of self image (Grove 1975). Stigma refers to the public attitude of condemnation and the subsequent exclusion of the criminal.

The criminal is seen as a person to be avoided and treated with suspicion. The criminal is barred from certain types of employment, the family may make them unwelcome, the police may give them an undue amount of attention. The modification of self image comes about because of the stigma the criminal experiences. There is a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby the individual becomes the person so described by the label. The label becomes a role and the individual adapts to suit that role. The individual eventually forms an identity as more crimes are committed.

Lemart (1951) called this process deviance amplification. Any intervention such as punishment or treatment simple reinforces the individuals perception, that of being a criminal. The labelling theory has been criticised for its failure to specify how some individuals started on the path of crime and that some crimes, such as murder and rape are universally judged as wrong. Becker (1963) says that deviance is a normal part of adolescent life. Such behaviour is labelled deviant and the adolescent then sees himself as a 'deviant', which encourages him to continue his deviant behaviour into adulthood.

The initial deviance might be some minor theft (primary deviance) and this through labelling turns into more serious crime (secondary deviance). Secondary deviance is when the adolescent accepts the label and follows the deviant lifestyle (lemart, 1972). Criticisms of this theory are that it cannot explain all criminal behaviour but might help to explain crime amongst the lower economic social groups. However labelling might also encourage individuals to become good and prove the label they are given wrong. There are also constitutional theories on the causes of crime.

Cesare Lombroso studied the physical characteristics of convicts in prisons in the late nineteenth Century. He claimed that criminal men were distinguished by what he called 'physical stigmata', which included long arms, shifty glances, droopy eyelids, bushy eyebrows, large ears, twisted noses and abnormal mouths and skulls (Lombroso 1897). His theories were later discredited, as many similar characteristics were found in the general population, but they stimulated further research relating criminality to physical and genetic characteristics. A variety of factors were related to crime, such as body shapes.

William Sheldon believed that people could be classified into three body shapes, which correspond with three different personality types. – endomorphic, who tend to be sociable and relaxed – ectomorphic, who are introverted and restrained – mesomorphic, who tend to be aggressive and adventurous In 1939 Thornton showed 20 photographs of criminals to people who were asked to choose one of four crimes each of the criminals might have committed. He found that people could match faces to crimes more reliably than would have been predicted by chance.

There was also further research carried out giving genetic explanations of the causes of crime. These consisted of twin studies, adoption studies, family studies, chromosomes, neurochemical explanations and neurophysiological explanations. Recent studies looking at measures of personality and intelligence in relation to monozygotic twins reared apart have found some striking similarities (Bouchard et al, 1990). If a child who has criminal parents is adopted and later the child becomes a criminal then this will lend support to the genetic explanation.

A study by Schulisinger (1972) found that only 3. 9% of such children developed criminal tendencies. This was compared with control children (adopted children from non-criminal biological parents), where 1. 4% became criminal. However the small difference was not significant. Crowe (1974) found that in a sample of 52 adopted children of imprisoned women; seven of them had at least one criminal conviction, by comparison with only one in a matched control group. Farrington, D. P (1996), the development of offending and antisocial behaviour from childhood to adulthood.

This was a longitudinal study conducted over 24 years. The findings were that by the age of 32, 37% of the males had committed criminal offences. The peak age was 17. Nearly three quarters of those convicted as juveniles were reconvicted between the ages of 17 and 24, and nearly half of the juvenile offenders were reconvicted between the ages of 25 and 32. Offending was very much concentrated in families. Just 4% of the 400 families accounted for 50% of all convictions of all family members. The worst offenders tended to be from large-sized, multi-problem families.

The most common crime in late teens were burglary, shoplifting, theft of and from vehicles, and vandalism. All of this declined in the twenties, but theft from work increased. Walters (1992) concluded from a meta-analysis of 38 studies of twins, families and adoptions, that genetics played a small but significant part in determining criminality. However many of these studies suffered from methodological flaws. Much research has explored the relationship between offending and family background.

Parental discipline has been seen as important, with inconsistent and erratic discipline in the home having been found to be more likely to be associated with crime than lax or strict discipline (West and Farrington 1973, 1977). Much attention has also recently been paid to the quality of parental supervision, and one Home Office study found that supervision was strongly related to offending, with higher numbers of those who were not closely supervised had offended compared with over half of those who were not closely supervised (Graham and Bowling 1995).

The structure of families may also be important- some studies have found fewer offenders come from families living with two natural parents, but there is no evidence to suggest that divorce, separation or single parenthood are criminogenic in themselves, as these are widespread throughout society and not always related to crime (Utting et al. 1993; Graham and Bowling 1995).

The quality of relationships within the family is also very important (Graham and Bowling 1995) and the conflict surrounding separation or divorce may be more significant than family break down (Rutter 1985); a single home parent might provide the child with a more caring and affectionate environment than one in which two parents are constantly in dispute.