Criminological Theories

Criminology may be defined as the scientific study of the nonlegal aspects of crime including its causes, correction and prevention. The origins of criminology dates back to the late eighteenth century, when the Italian Cesare Bonesano Beccaria (1738-94) and Englishman Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) pointed out that laws and punishments should be equal to all and be proportionate to the crimes committed. Criminology was earlier a part of a larger branch of sociology and it still continues to be, in certain aspects.

It is an extensive interdisciplinary field dwelling on subjects like psychology, economics, anthropology, biology, statistics and law. Criminology covers various subjects including penology, or the study of prison systems; biocriminology which is the study of the biological basis of criminal behavior, feminist criminology which is the study of crime among women and criminalistics or crime detection. The modern interpretation of the classical conception of crime, advocate force and fraud as being always possible in human affairs.

An acknowledgement of this fact helps in developing crime theories and crime analysis, consistent with research. Many criminologists consider crime as being a form of deviance, while some consider it as a type of anomie behavior. Others consider crime as a response to social conditions, stress and break down of law or social order. Criminological theories are logical facts, which help us in understanding and analyzing crime and their causes. These theories are formed using statistics, case histories, official records and sociological field methods on criminals and their activities.

Criminological theories are mainly focused on crime and its causes. Representation of the theories takes the form of diagrams, figures, table of numbers, statistical data and correlated with a classic case. All theories have to some extent, a set of assumptions like human behavior under economic and social setups, elements of causation, etc. , based on which facts are interpreted and explained. The classification of theories can also be carried out based on their level of application.

Some theories operate at the micro level or at an individual basis while some theories can explain happenings at a macro level or groups. A theory can be identified as a macro theory or a micro theory by looking at what it predicts. There are about several types of criminological theories, of which strain, learning and control theories are the most prominent or the mainstream. The oldest theory however is biocriminology dating back to 1876. It is noteworthy to state that it is not possible for any single theory to fully and perfectly explain every crime or deviant act.

A good explanation of the crime can only be got by incorporating various theories. It was in the nineteenth century, when criminology took a scientific approach by incorporating biological and medical findings in its study and biocriminology was born. Italian Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909) found that criminal behavior is associated with certain body characteristics like cranial, skeletal, and neurological malformations. However, subsequent criminologists have disputed this theory that biology is responsible for creating a class of criminals.

Today biocriminology has established that heredity and body organ dysfunctions can induce an inclination towards crime. Modern researches indicate that chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal Criminological Theories 3 and brain chemical imbalances, diet, drugs and alcohol etc. , are factors that contribute to criminal behavior. In the journal ‘Research in Corrections’ (June 1988, Vol. 1, Issue 2), by Diana Fishbein and Susan Pease; Virkkunen (1986) found abnormal insulin and blood glucose responses to a glucose tolerance test among male offenders, diagnosed as violent and impulsive.

Several case studies indicate that certain foods or food constituents induce neuropsychological disorders in the form of allergic or pharmacologic reactions which may even lead to chemical imbalances in the brain, resulting in behavioral disorders. Adoption and twin studies too indicate that genetic influences play a major role in development of criminal behavior. Molecular genetic investigations and epidemiological studies suggest that criminal activity may be genetically linked to mental abnormality. Prenatal disturbances or altered normal fetal development due to maternal smoking in pregnancy period is linked to violent offsprings.

Reading deficits are sometimes developed in impulsive aggressive people, which could be attributed to their early school experiences. Here, impulsive and aggressive acts are caused due to inability in discriminating visual information during social situations. Psychological criminology and ecological criminology developed only during the early twentieth centuries. Early psychological criminology suggested that there is an IQ difference between the criminals and the non-criminals. Many psycho criminologists had attributed crimes to personality disorders, psychopaths, sociopaths, and antisocial personalities.

Emotional disorders are generally considered as cause for crime, which are mostly rooted in childhood experiences where the criminal attempts a suppressed wish or desire. Ecological criminology is the first sociological criminology, which sought to link crime with environment, suggesting a connection between crime and the disorganized eco-areas where people live. Few criminologists believe that certain offenders are born into environments like high poverty, discriminated minority groups that are likely to induce criminal behavior than most other environments.

The strain theory sees crime as an obvious outcome of hopelessness and loss of belief, leading to breakdown of rules of conduct. The theory suggests that with dreams of opportunity, freedom and prosperity, people dream big and it becomes a powerful cultural and psychological motivation. But when the opportunities are less and when the dreams are not realized for the people, they come under strain or pressure. They take to crimes to realize their dreams, driven by frustration and anger. However such strains, which make people to take to crimes, may not be completely due to failure in realization of goals.

The replacement of valued stimuli by noxious stimuli also induces and accelerates one to take to crime. This theory is based on the French sociology invented by the father of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). Control theories mainly deal with an individual’s social relationship and its deviance. The use of control or lack of control may become a motivational factor for Criminological Theories 4 crime. It analyzes a person’s relationship with his teachers, parents, preachers, coaches or police officers emphasizing that effective bonding with authority indicates bonding with society and keep people out of crime.

Thus these controls are associated to relationships or are internalized through self-control. Control theories view crime as being due to insufficient attachment to others. The labeling theory was at its infancy during the 1960s and 1970s and focuses on criminals who carry out a minor crime or act, only to be engulfed by a massive government sponsored labeling or shunning reaction. Once they are stigmatized and labeled as criminals, people tend to get stabilized in their criminal activities. The theory recommends that minor offences be sparred or rehabilitation procedures undertaken for these people to get re-attached to their communities.

It is interesting to note that the social control theory is more appropriate for initiation into delinquent behavior while the negative labeling aspect of the labeling theory examines why delinquent is persistent (Douglas A. Smith and Robert Brame, 1994). The strain theory suggest individuals taking to crime due to fall out of the larger picture of their aspirations in the society while the control theories emphasize on personal bonding with members as a criteria for crime causation. The strain theory is applicable more on a macro level while the control theories are more individual specific.

However, here too it should be understood that failed aspirations and ineffective bonding will always have its appropriate effects, irrespective of the theory which explains that particular crime. The labeling theories underline the attachment of individuals to crime, rather than analyze the causes of the crime. All theories have a bearing on the individual’s criminal attitude, to varying degrees, depending on the strength of the influencing factors and also on their biological factors, which respond to such stimuli.

Biological factors and effects, including those formed due to induced stimuli can lead to crime causation, which again is influenced, by the environment and situation. All these, therefore reiterate the fact that successful explanation of crime and its causes can only be done based on a combination of all relevant theories rather than a single theory. Once a theory is determined, its feasibility is tested as to its effectiveness. The theory is applied to the real world for evaluation. A theory is determined as incorrect if the tests fail to support it. It is not meaningful to test other aspects of the theory if it fails a particular test.

Sadly, most theories of crime are never completely supported or refuted. Some empirical tests may support the theory; while some might offer partial support while the others might refute the theories. It is for this reason that theories are examined based on ‘weight of the evidence’. It should be determined whether majority of the tests support the theory or whether certain aspects of the theory is supported more than others and whether high-quality research designs support the theory. Theories need to be constantly improved to understand crime relevant for a society for a given period of time. REFERENCES

http://www. uwec. edu/patchinj/crmj301/theorysummaries. pdf http://law. jrank. org http://www. crime-times. org http://faculty. ncwc. edu/toconnor http://criminology. bestprogram. de Travis Hirschi and Michael R. Gottfredson; A general Theory of Crime; Stanford University Press David O. Friedrichs, Criminal Justice 2002, Sage Publications Douglas A. Smith and Robert Brame, 1994 On the initiation and continuation of delinquency Clinard, Marshall B. and Richard Quinney (1973 [1967]) ‘Criminal Behavior Systems: A Typology. New York: Rinehart& Winston. de Brie, Christian (2000) ‘Thick as thieves’ Le Monde Diplomatique