Criminology Class Notes

Criminology – Class Notes for Chapters 1 through 10, and 12 (Full Course Materials)

Chapter 1 – Crime and Criminology

What is Criminology?

An academic discipline that uses scientific methods to study the nature, extent, cause, and control of criminal behavior.

What Do Criminologists Do?

Criminal Statistics/Crime Measurement involves calculating the amount and trends of criminal activity and focuses on creating valid and reliable measures of criminal behavior.

This is done by an analysis of the activities of police and court agencies. Measuring criminal activity not reported to the police by victims. Identifying the victims of crime.

Developing Theories of Crime Causation

Criminological orientations:

Psychological – crime as a function of personality, development, social learning, or cognition (understanding). Biological – antisocial behavior as a function of biochemical, genetic, and neurological factors. Sociological – criminal behavior as a product of social forces including neighborhood conditions, poverty, socialization, and group interaction.

Criminologists may use innovative methods to test theory. For example, the use of magnetic resonance imaging to assess the brain function of male batterers.

The true cause of crime is still problematic – given similar conditions, why do some people choose crime while others do not?

Understanding and Describing Criminal Behavior – Research of Specific Criminal Types and Crime Patterns

50 years ago, researchers focused on perceived major crimes including rape, murder, and burglary. Today, some researchers focus on crimes including stalking, cyber crime, terrorism, and hate crimes.

Example: Terrorism and the terrorist personality

a.Mental illness is not a critical factor in explaining terrorist behavior, most terrorists are not "psychopaths." b.There is no "terrorist personality." c.Histories of childhood abuse/trauma and themes of perceived injustice and humiliation are often prominent in terrorist biographies but do not help to explain terrorism.

Penology: Punishment, Sanctions, and Corrections

Penology is concerned with the correction and sentencing of known criminal offenders. While some criminologists may advocate rehabilitation, others may advocate capital punishment and mandatory sentences. Criminologists as a whole are concerned with evaluating the effectiveness and impact of crime control programs.


Criminologists who study victimization have found that criminals are at greater risk for victimization than non-criminals.

Additionally, victims may be engaging in high-risk behavior, such as crime, which increases their victimization.

A History of Criminology

The scientific study of crime and criminality is a relatively recent development.

During the Middle Ages (1200-1600) people who violated social and religious norms were viewed as being witches or possessed by demons. Torture was used to extract confessions, and criminals received harsh penalties, including whipping, branding, maiming, and execution.

In the mid 1700s, Italian professor Cesare Beccaria developed a theory that human behavior is driven by a choice between the amount of pleasure gained over the amount of pain or punishment experienced. He argued that in order to reduce or stop criminal behavior, the punishment should be swift, certain, and severe. This theory of "free will" became known as the classical theory.

Classical criminology – the theoretical perspective suggesting that (1) people have free will to choose criminal or conventional behaviors; (2) people choose to commit crime for reasons of greed or personal need; and (3) crime can be controlled only by the fear of criminal sanctions.

Positivist Criminological Theory – holds that most criminal behavior is the result of social, psychological, and even biological influences. Positivism is the branch of social science that uses the scientific method of the natural sciences and suggests that human behavior is a product of social, biological, psychological, or economic factors.

Biological Determinism

Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) is considered the "father of criminology." Lombroso's theory of anthropological criminology essentially stated that criminality was inherited, and that someone "born criminal" could be identified by physical defects, which confirmed a criminal as savage.

Lombroso's strict biological determinism is no longer taken seriously.

Biosocial theory – Criminologists have recently linked crime and biological traits, and have looked at the link between physical and social traits and their influence on behavior (which also take into account social and environmental conditions).

Sociological Criminology – Variables such as age, race, gender, socioeconomic status and ethnicity have been shown to have been shown to have a significant relationship with certain categories and patterns of crime.

The foundations of sociological criminology can be traced to Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874) and Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). It employs the use of social statistics to investigate the influence of social factors on the propensity to commit crime. These factors include age, sex, season, climate, population composition, and poverty.

According to Durkheim, crime is normal, inevitable, and is useful and occasionally even healthful for society (as it can pave the way for social change).

Drawing from Durkheim, sociologists have examined the ways that anomie (i.e., a breakdown of social norms) can produce deviance (a departure from accepted standards of behavior) in communities.

The Chicago School

Criminologists from the University of Chicago including Robert Ezra Park (1864-1944), Ernest W. Burgess (1886-1966), and Louis Wirth (1897-1952) determined that social forces operating in urban areas create a crime-promoting environment; crime is a social phenomenon.

This challenged the widely held belief that criminals were biologically or psychologically impaired or morally inferior. These criminologists felt that crime could be eradicated by improving social and economic conditions.

Chicago School criminologist Walter Reckless hypothesized that crime occurs when children develop an inadequate self-image, rendering them incapable of controlling their misbehavior.

Socialization Views

Research during the 1930s and 1940s linked criminal behavior to the quality of an individual's relationship to important social processes, including education, family life, and peer relations.

Edwin Sutherland, the preeminent American criminologist, noted that people learn criminal attitudes from older, more experienced offenders.

Conflict theory – the view that human behavior is shaped by interpersonal conflict and that those who maintain social power will use it to further their own ends.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), is the author of Communist Manifesto – a description of oppressive labor conditions prevalent during the rise of industrial capitalism.

Marx felt that the character of every society is determined by its mode of production, and that the economic system controls all aspects of human life. Exploitation of the working class would eventually lead to class conflict and the end of the capitalist system.

The social upheaval of the 1960s prompted criminologists to analyze the social conditions in the United States that promoted class conflict and crime.

A critical criminologist examines and analyzes the social conditions that promote class conflict and crime. Is crime a product of the capitalist system?

Developmental Criminology

Delinquency research in the 1940s and 1950s conducted by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck that focused on the early onset of delinquency as an indication of a criminal career. The most important factors related to persistent offending was family relations. Children with low intelligence, a background of mental disease, and a mesomorph physique (a human physical type that is marked by greater than average muscular development) were most likely to become persistent offenders.

Contemporary Criminology

Classical theory had evolved into Rational Choice Theory – the view that crime is a function of a decision-making process in which the potential offender weighs the potential costs and benefits of an illegal act.

Lombrosian biological positivism has evolved into contemporary biosocial and psychological trait theory views.

Trait theory – the view that criminality is a product of abnormal biological or psychological traits.

The original Chicago School sociological vision has transformed into Social Structure Theory – the view that disadvantaged economic class position is a primary cause of crime.

Social Process Theory – the view that criminality is a function of people's interactions with various organizations, institutions, and processes in society.

Social process theorists now focus on upbringing and socialization. Many criminologists still view social and political conflict as the root cause of crime. The Gluecks' pioneering research has influenced a new generation of developmental theorists.

Deviant or Criminal? How Criminologists Define Crime

Deviance is any action that departs from the social norms of society. A deviant act becomes a crime when it is deemed socially harmful or dangerous; it will then be specifically defined, prohibited, and punished under the criminal law.

Crime and deviance are often confused. The shifting definition of deviant behavior is closely associated with our concepts of crime.

For example, are drawings of naked (fictional) children acts of deviance or criminal acts?

Individuals, institutions, or government agencies may mount a campaign aimed at convincing the public and lawmakers that what is considered a deviant behavior is actually dangerous and must be criminalized. An example is Harry Anslinger's "moral crusade," in the 1930s, urging the criminalization of marijuana.

The Concept of Crime

Criminologists align themselves with one of several schools of thought regarding what constitutes criminal behavior and what causes people to engage in criminality.

The Consensus View of Crime

Crimes are behaviors that all elements of society consider to be repulsive. The criminal law reflects the values, beliefs, and opinions of society's mainstream. It implies that crime is a function of the beliefs, morality, and rules inherent in Western civilization, and that laws apply equally to all members of society.

The Conflict View of Crime

This theory depicts society as a collection of diverse groups that are in constant and continuing conflict. Groups, able to do so, assert political power to use the law and criminal justice system to advance their economic and social positions. Criminal laws are viewed as acts created to protect the haves from the have-nots. The poor go to prison, and the wealthy receive lenient sentences for even the most serious breaches of law.

The Interactionist View of Crime

The definition of crime reflects the preferences and opinions of people who hold social power. These people use their influence to impose their definition of right and wrong on the rest of the population. Criminals are individuals that society labels as outcasts or deviants because they have violated social rules. Crimes are outlawed behaviors because society defines them that way, not because they are inherently evil or immoral acts. Interactionists see criminal law as conforming to the beliefs of "moral crusaders," and are concerned with shifting moral and legal standards.

Crime and the Criminal Law

The concept of criminal law has been recognized for over 3,000 years.

Code of Hammurabi — Law code issued during the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon (1780 BCE [Before our Common Era]). It called for compensation (restitution) for a robbery victim if the thief was not caught. This was thought to be fair because the state failed to maintain law and order. Since the state was responsible for restitution, the code reduced feuds and vengeance between families. Since this time, restitution has been in all criminal codes.

Mosaic Code (1200 BCE)

It is not only the foundation of Judeo-Christian moral teachings but is also a basis for the U.S. legal system. The code noted prohibitions against acts including murder, theft, perjury, and adultery .

Common Law

Judge-made law that came into existence during the reign of English King Henry II (1154-1189), when royal judges began to publish their decisions in local cases. A fixed body of legal rules develop from published judicial decisions. If a new rule was successfully applied in a number of different cases, it would become a precedent. Precedents would then be commonly applied in all similar cases – hence the term common law.

Mala in se and mala prohibita

We can categorize crimes as either mala in se or mala prohibita. Mala in se crimes are crimes such as murder, rape, or assault that are considered wrong in themselves, based on shared values. Mala prohibita crimes are not wrongs in themselves but are punished because they are prohibited by the government. There is often a lack of consensus about whether such actions (e.g., use of marijuana, gambling, prostitution) should be illegal. People’s views of the seriousness of various crimes depend on their race, sex, class, and victimization experience.

We may also categorize crimes as felonies (serious offenses) or misdemeanors (minor or petty crimes).

Social Goals of Contemporary Criminal Law

Enforcing social control Discouraging revenge Expressing public opinion and morality Deterring criminal behavior Punishing wrongdoing Creating equity Maintaining social order

The Evolution of Criminal Law

Criminal law is constantly evolving to reflect social and economic conditions. Change may be prompted by highly publicized cases that generate fear and concern. Criminal law may change due to shifts in culture and social conventions .

For example, in Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court held that laws banning sodomy between consenting adults in a private residence were unconstitutional because they violated the due process rights of citizens because of their sexual orientation.

Ethical Issues in Criminology – What and Whom to Study ?

For criminological researchers, a definite ethical dilemma is presented when the data one collects is in fundamental opposition to the values and objectives of his or her funding agency. This is becoming an increasingly important ethical issue to consider as more criminological research projects are being funded by various external sources ranging from private enterprises to government initiatives. When confronted with such a conflict of interest, researchers are faced with the decision of whether to censor certain information to protect the mission of their funding agency, or alternatively to go against this mission in the interest of academic integrity.

For example, a study funded by the private Corrections Corporation of America that asked researchers to compare the recidivism rates of offenders housed in state funded versus privately funded (like CCA) correctional facilities.

Criminologists have focused on the poor and minorities while ignoring groups including middle-class white-collar crime and organized crime.

Methods used in conducting research must ensure that:

The subjects are randomly selected and are fully informed about the purpose of the research. The information must remain confidential, and the sources of information must be protected.


In order to better understand the workings and motivations of a criminal gang, would it be ethical for a criminologist to hang out with gang members and watch as they commit crime? Should the criminologist report observed criminal gang behavior to the police?

Which acts, now legal, would you make criminal, and which currently criminal acts would you legalize?

Chapter 2- The Nature and Extent of Crime

What is the primary sources of crime data?

The FBI's Uniformed Crime Reporting (UCR) is the most cited source of U.S. crime statistics. The UCR Program publishes an annual document containing accounts of crimes known to police and information on arrests received on a voluntary basis from 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S.

Part I crimes – the most serious – murder and non-negligent manslaughter; forcible rape; robbery; aggravated assault; burglary; larceny; arson; motor vehicle theft.

Homicide is the most accurate and valid UCR statistic

Part II crimes – all less serious crimes, including other assaults; forgery and counterfeiting; fraud; embezzlement; stolen property (buying, receiving, possessing); vandalism; weapons (carry, possessing, etc.); prostitution; sex offenses; drug abuse violations; gambling; offenses against the family and children; driving under the influence; liquor laws; drunkenness; disorderly conduct; vagrancy; all other offenses (except traffic).

Unfounded or false complaints are eliminated, and the number of actual known offenses is reported whether or not an arrest is made. Cleared crimes are also reported – cleared via an arrest, charging, and being turned over for prosecution; or cleared by exceptional means (ex., suspect left the country).

Validity of the UCR

The UCR's accuracy has long been suspect. Many serious crimes are not reported to police. Victims may consider the crime unimportant. Victims may not trust the police. Victims may not have property insurance. Victims fear reprisals. Victims may be involved in illegal activities themselves.

Criticisms aside, the UCR continues to be one of the most widely used source of crime statistics. It is collected in a careful and systematic way. Measurement of year to year change accurate because any problems are stable over time.

The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is the result of efforts to provide a more comprehensive and detailed UCR; the NIBRS collects additional data on each reported crime incident, including a brief account of the incident, arrest, victim, and offender.

Crime data may also be collected by means of survey research. People are asked about attitudes, beliefs, values, characteristics, and experiences with crime and victimization.

The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)

Nationwide survey of individual and household victimization conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It addresses the nonreporting issue.

The NCVS sample size is 76,000 households and 135,000 individuals age 12 and older. Households stay in the sample for three years with new households rotated into the sample on an ongoing basis. In 1993, the NCVS was redesigned to provide detailed information on frequency and nature of rape, sexual assault, personal robbery, aggravated and simple assault, household burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft.

Victim information provided in the NCVS includes age, sex, race, ethnicity, marital status, income, and education level.

Crime information included in the NCVS includes time, place, use of weapons, nature of injury, and economic consequences.

Validity of the NCVS

It is a more complete picture of the nation's crime problem, and addresses the nonreporting issue. It helps us to understand why crimes are not reported to police

The NCVS has methodological problems, however. There may be an overreporting due to victims' misinterpretation of events. There may be underreporting due to victims' embarrassment, fear, or forgetfulness.

The future of the NCVS

Its effectiveness has been undermined by budget limitations, and its sample size and methods of data collection have been altered. Multiple years of data are now combined in order to comment on change over time – this is less desirable than year-to-year change.

Criminologists may also measure crime by the use of self-report surveys. Participants are asked to describe their recent and lifetime participation in criminal activity. Most self-report surveys focus on juvenile delinquency and youth crime.

Validity of Self-Reports

Expecting people to admit illegal acts is unreasonable. Some people exaggerate, forget, or are confused about their criminal acts. Self-reports may measure only nonserious, occasional delinquents while ignoring hard-core chronic offenders who may be institutionalized.

"Monitoring the Future Survey" was an effort to improving the reliability of self-reports.

Since 1978, the Monitoring the Future survey, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), has surveyed high school students across the U.S.

It has shown that a surprising number of "typical teenagers" reported involvement in serious criminal behavior. If accurate, the MTF survey data indicate a much greater crime problem than the UCR and NCVS.

Evaluating Crime Data

UCR – For serious crimes, the arrest data can provide a meaningful measure of criminal activity that other data sources cannot provide. Much criminological research is based on the UCR.

NCVS – Includes unreported crime and personal characteristics of victims. It relies on personal recollections. The data consists of estimates based on limited samples of the US population, and does not include data on crime patterns, including murder and drug abuse

Self-report surveys – can provide information on personal characteristics of offenders, and rely on the honesty of criminal offenders and drug abusers.

Crime Trends

1833-1860: gradual increase in the crime rate, especially violent crime

Post-Civil War: Crime rate increased significantly for 15 years.

1880-WWI: Reported crimes decreased. Steady decline until the Depression (about 1930) when another crime wave was recorded.

1930 – 1960: Crime rates increased gradually. The homicide rate peaked around 1930.

1970s: The homicide rate sharply increased.

Trends in Officially Recorded Crime

1980-1990: Sharp increase in rates of robbery, motor vehicle theft, and homicide. There was also an increase in youth firearm homicide rates (adult homicide rates fell).

Since 1990: Numbers of crime in decline. There has been a significant drop in UCR violent crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, and assault. The violence rate has dropped almost 40%. Property crime rates have also declined – a 10% decline in past decade.

Homicide rate held relatively steady from 1950 – mid-1960. Homicide rate hit a peak of 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980. 1980-1991: Homicide rate fluctuated between 8 and 10 per 100,000. 1991-2008: Homicide rate dropped more than 40% supporting the fact that the overall crime rate is in remission.

Trends in Victimization

Similar to the UCR, NCVS data indicate that victimizations have declined significantly during the past 30 years. 1973: 44 million victimizations Today: 23 million victimizations

What the Future Holds

Future crime rates may increase due to the large number of children who will enter their crime prone years. Future crime rates may also be offset by the aging of the population – large number of senior citizens.

Technological and social factors may shape the direction of the crime rate. Technological developments have resulted in new classes of crime. Some argue that the narcissistic youth culture that stresses materialism is being replaced by more moralistic cultural values that may moderate potential crime rate growth. It is too early to predict if the overall downward trend in crime rates will continue into the foreseeable future.

Crime Patterns

The Ecology of Crime

Day, season and climate – Most reported crimes occur during the warm summer months of July and August. Exceptions: Murders and robberies occur frequently in December and January. Crime rates are higher on the first day of the month.

Temperature – crime rates seem to increase with rising temperatures and then begin to decline at 85 degrees when it may be too hot for any physical exertion.

Some criminologists believe that crime rates rise with temperature. Research also indicates that a rising temperature will cause crimes such as domestic violence to continually increase, while other crimes (such as rape) will decline after temperatures rise to an extremely high level. Extreme temperatures cause stress and tension that prompts the body to release stress hormones. Hormonal activity has been linked to aggression.

Regional differences Large, urban areas have the highest violence rates. Rural areas have the lowest per capita crime rates with the exception of low population resort areas with large seasonal populations.

Use of Firearms Firearms are involved in about 20% of robberies, 10% of assaults, and over 5% of rapes. Two-thirds of all murders involve firearms; most are handguns. Criminals of all races/ethnicities are equally likely to use firearms in violent crimes.

Ongoing debate over gun control

Criminologists favoring gun control: The proliferation of handguns and the high rate of lethal violence they cause is the single most significant factor separating the US crime problem from that of the rest of the developed world. Criminologists opposed to gun control: Kleck and Gertz have found that personal gun use can be a deterrent to crime.

Social Class, Socioeconomic Conditions and Crime

Crime is generally a lower-class phenomenon.

Instrumental crimes occur when those on the lowest rung of the social ladder are unable to obtain desired goods and services via conventional means and may resort to illegal activities to obtain them.

Expressive crimes: Those living in poverty engage in disproportionate amounts of crimes as a result of their rage, frustration, and anger against society.

Alcohol and drug use is common in impoverished areas and helps to fuel violent crime. UCR data indicate crime rates in inner-city, high-poverty areas are higher than those in suburban or wealthy areas.

Surveys of prisoners consistently indicate prisoners were members of the lower class and unemployed or under-employed in the years prior to incarceration.

As alternative explanation is that the relationship between official crime and social class is a function of law enforcement practices.

Social class and Self-reports

Juveniles in all social classes commit crime. Serious crime is more prevalent in socially disorganized lower class areas. Less serious offenses are spread more evenly throughout the social structure. Community-level indicators of poverty and disorder are associated with the most serious violent crimes.

Age and Crime

Age is inversely related to criminality. Younger people commit more crime than older people and this relationship has been stable over time. The peak age for property crimes is believed to be 16. The peak age for violent crime is believed to be 18.

Young people are arrested at a disproportionate rate to their numbers in the population. Adults a