Criminology Theories, and Story

The first theory to discuss is Population Heterogeneity, which was researched, by Daniel Nagin and Raymond Paternoster in 1991. The researchers believed that there were two theoretical explanations to explain antisocial behavior across the life course. The second theory, named State Dependent, which was also conducted in 1991 by Nagin and Paternoster. Their research continues to be studied by current criminologist to refine and develop new courses of actions in understanding deviant and criminal behaviors.

Population Heterogeneity implies that past and future offending are related only as much as they are both related to an unmeasured criminal propensity that is stable over time within the individual. The theory also asserts that crime or violence is caused by an underlying propensity where one begins antisocial behaviors early in childhood and it continues throughout adulthood.

It is this deviant trait, which is the connection between past and future deviant behavior. These theorists also contend that events external to the individual do little to influence criminal offending. The second theory is State Dependent theory, which argues that prior crime or violence can increase or decrease the likelihood of future crime. The state dependence component implies that committing a crime has a legitimate behavioral influence on the likelihood of committing future crimes. In other words, crime itself, whether directly or indirectly causally changes the future chance of one to engage in crime.

Social bonds or lack of, to family, school, and peers all influence past and future deviant behavior. How one reacts to the justice system or incarceration could stigmatize those so marked and cause structural obstacles to establishing strong social ties to conventional lines of adult activity according to this theory.

The next theory is Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Self-Control Theory, which was published in 1990. This theory states that unless self-control was instilled early in one’s life, they are more likely to be involved in delinquent behavior. Some examples of risky related behaviors in those with low self-control are drug abuse, gambling, excessive drinking, irresponsible sex, and driving under the influence. These kinds of behaviors may be noticeable in deviant persons who seek thrills and enjoyment of living dangerously.

One out of the six elements of self-control presented by Gottfredson and Hirschi states that most crimes require little skill or planning. This is undoubtedly open for criticism because many criminals do in fact plan their criminal acts and often are quite professional at these activities. The theory states that criminal tendencies are created very early in a child’s life and that the level of self-control depends on the quality of parenting in a child’s early years. Parents need to apply appropriate positive and negative reinforcement methods and conduct proper supervision of their children. The theorist believed this would help their children to develop the self-control required to make the right decisions in life and resist the temptations offered by crime.

Sampson and Laub’s age-graded theory of informal social control developed in 1993 emphasizes that control processes for children exist not only in the framework of the family but also in their community. They also contend that informal social control is capable of mediating the effects of neighborhood and community structural characteristics on child behavior. What is important about this theory is that it brings together social influences on crime, such as family and employment, with psychological predispositions.

There are three major themes in this theory. First, the fundamental structure to one’s family and school social controls can influence delinquency in childhood and adolescence. Second, there is strong continuity in antisocial behavior starting from childhood through adulthoodacross a variety of life encounters. Lastly, informal social control in adulthood explains changes in criminal behavior over the life span, independent of one’s prior differences in criminal tendency.

Sampson and Laub identify two transitions in this theory, career and marriage that decrease or even eliminate deviant or criminal behavior. Careers are important because workers are likely to experience close and frequent contact with conventional others and the informal social controls of the workplace encourage conformity. At-risk youth can turn away from crime and lead normal non-criminal lives if they can maintain steady employment.

Marriage creates positive social bonds and builds trust with your partner. Successful marriages have been shown to increase stature and self-worth while promoting conformity to societal norms/roles. The conclusion then is that high levels of social bonding within the same person influences offending, regardless of their level of self-control or adolescent competence.

Ronald L. Simons, Eric Stewart, Leslie C. Gordon, Rand D. Conger, Glen H. Elder, Jr. published, A Test Of Life-Course Explanations For Stability And Change In Antisocial Behavior From Adolescence To Young Adulthood in 2002. They used longitudinal data from a sample of 236 young adults and their romantic partners. They investigated a life course model using peer influence and social control. They looked at both males and females who were delinquent as adolescents and associated with deviant peers to predict the chance of them becoming romantically involved with antisocial partners.

Their findings showed that for females, quality of the romantic relationship predicted crime. Males with conventional adult friends were found to have restrained propensity to move on to adult crimes. They found that having an antisocial romantic partner worsens criminal behavior, both directly and through its effects on the quality of the romantic relationship and deviant friends. This study deeply researched the effects and propensity for future antisocial behavior by one’s social interactions and romantic involvements.

Mark Warr used numerous influences of data from the National Youth Survey in 1998 to support his hypothesis that marriage leads to a reduction in crime. The title of his work is Life-course transitions and desistance from crime. He argued, the disruption in criminal behavior after marriage is due to the dissolving relationships with deviant peers. This is because of the drastic changes in one’s social network. For this to work effectively, the romantic partner with the deviant behavior in their past must be very committed in their relationship.

Valu is a fifteen-year-old native Hawaiian whom I learned about through his Uncle that I work with on post. Valu is the only child of a single mother and the father was never in their life. His antisocial behavior troubles began at age four when he went to live with his grandparents after his mother was incarcerated for a drug charge. According to his Uncle, Valu exhibited antisocial behaviors such as biting, pulling hair, and bullying his cousins almost immediately after moving in with his grandparents. His behavior proved to be obvious signs of ineffective parenting practices. Valu’s Uncle believed that Valu’s mother used spanking as the primary disciplinary action.

He also told me that he believed poor supervision by the mother also attributed to the behavior problems because he was left alone on occasion at night. Valu’s extended family attempted to correct his behavior by changing the reward and punishment techniques as well as increased monitoring and getting involved with the child. Valu showed a steady improvement in his behavior until mid-way through second grade. That is when the behavior problems began to surface again but this time, they were even worse. His uncle told me that he believed a lot of it stemmed from Valu losing his grandfather a few months prior. Valu began to get in fights at school and his performance at school declined rapidly.

He lost interest in family activities such as fishing and surfing. He also started having problems during his community activities, which were soccer and church youth group. Valu was eventually suspended from school for threatening another child with a knife. Later that summer, he was reunited with his mother and went to live with her, in the same community. At first, things were going well until after winter break, approximately seven months later. Valu’s mother never completely got control of his behavior and delinquency returned.

She simply gave up and sent him back to live with his grandmother. Valu got caught shoplifting and was accused of harming a neighbor’s cat. Valu went through some counseling from the school and the community but according to his Uncle, never completely ceased his deviant behavior and actions. He was able to return to school and his performance lacked significantly. Eventually he was held back a year but still no noticeable improvement in performance but his delinquency did decline. After spring break in sixth grade at age twelve, Valu returned to his delinquent ways. He began to steal from his family, skip school, and eventually arrested for possession of crystal meth. Valu has been in and out of the juvenile justice system for three years for progressively worse crimes.

According to his Uncle, the extended family has never given up and continually attempt to intervene to help and provide positive support for Valu. Unfortunately, he eventually seems to migrate back to his deviant peers and continue the delinquent and criminal behavior. The story of Valu appears to follow several theories that one would study in this class. I believe that both of Travis Hirschi’s theories, Social Bond and Self-Control, have merit in this case. First, due to the lack of supervision and developing strong social bonds beginning with the family and moving into school and community could arguably be a leading cause in the delinquency of Valu. The lack of effective parenting practices absolutely show cause to a certain extent in his behavior.

The extent I am referring to is when he moved to his extended families care, it appeared to be present and the social bonding began to develop. Moving around as child to different family’s and different family rules and values most likely caused some confusion to Valu. Valu seemed to lack self-control, which is in support of Hirschi’s second theory. After numerous attempts at correcting the antisocial behavior, sometimes for extended periods, he always returned to the deviance. These actions support how Valu most likely lacked in self-control. His negative behaviors seemed to increase over time and evolve in to infractions that are more serious. This is a sad story but seems to fit right in and support the theories studied in this class.

Donald is a thirty three year old male Caucasian who I have known for two years. Donald is currently incarcerated for a number of charges including assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest. When I met Donald, he appeared to be a happily married man in a great relationship. He actively participated in community sports and bowled on a team with my wife and me in our community. There was a change in Donald’s behavior immediately after I learned that he and his wife were going through a divorce. I later learned that Donald had a deviant past.

Donald met his wife while working at a restaurant after he was released on parole for stealing a car. She introduced Donald to several community activities that she was involved in, including her church and that is when he changed his behavior. Donald fell in love, left his deviant peer group, and wanted to win her over more than anything. He was twenty-four at the time. They lived a great life together and positively contributed to the community for many years. Something happened and they decided to go their separate ways. Donald began to show up intoxicated during the bowling league and he seemed to be easily agitated. Finally, he quit showing up at all.

Donald’s situation falls right in to the Life-course theories studied during this class. Having a romantic relationship with a partner who does not exhibit antisocial behavior and the other partner does, it appears to decrease the chances of one returning to this type of behavior. However, in this particular situation, as soon as the romantic relationship dissolved, the criminal behavior returned and even worsened.


Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1983). Age and the explanation of crime. The American Journal of Sociology, 89, 552-584.

Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1990). Crime and deviance over the life course: The salience of adult social bonds. American Sociological Review, 55, 609-627.

Sampson, R. J., Laub, J. H., Wimer, C. (2006). Does marriage reduce crime? A counterfactual approach to within-individual causal effects. Criminology, 44, 465–508.

Simons, R. L., Stewart, E., Gordon, L. C., Conger, R. D., & Elder Jr., G. H. (2002). A test of lifecourse explanations for stability and change in antisocial behavior from adolescence to young adulthood. Criminology, 40, 401-434.

Warr, Mark (1998)Life-course transitions and desistance from crime. Criminology 36:183-216.