Criminal offenders in today’s society garner a great deal of attention both from the media and the field of sociology. The reason for this is the recent boom in criminal activity and theorists attempt more and more to understand where the problem comes from and how to fix it. Do theories help us solve the crime problem? What are these theories? In this paper we look at three case studies with regard to different theories of criminology. We make use of Merton’s Strain Theory, Feminist Theory, Labeling Theory and Trait Theory (as a psychological perspective), in order to discuss and organize theoretical frameworks for each case.
We look at aspects of society such as patriarchal power; traditional family roles; dysfunctional societal structures; inherited personality problems and childhood abuse. What we ascertain from these aspects is that crime and crime prevention are not simple, one-size-fits-all strategies, but have their roots in societal malfunctioning and the issues that need to be dealt with need to happen on a functional level. Case Study one – Bobby (19 years old, African American): Charged with felony crime. Bobby comes from a fairly large family of six siblings with no present father figure.
His mother works two jobs in order to support the family and they live in the inner city. As a result of financial difficulty Bobby’s mother relies to an extent on Bobby for financial assistance while also receiving public assistance. Bobby has graduated from high-school but is not employed and although he does not take drugs or drink, he does run with gangs. Financial strain is one of the key contributors to crime in inner city areas, assessing why Bobby is involved in criminal activity may appear to be simple.
Merton’s Strain Theory refers to egalitarian societies where the need and drive for financial success is an incentive but where the financial means to do so and the opportunities are not equal (AGS, date unknown). This theory is also similar to Emile Durkheim’s anomic society where the need to keep up with the ‘Jones’s’ is so great as to encourage people to embark in criminal activity. In Bobby’s case, as unemployed and being a principle bread-winner in the family the strain is also a moral obligation.
Strain theory also relates to the fact that crime is not only directed because a there is a blockage between reaching goals but also occurs when there is an anger element. This means that when it is produced in the presence of anger, the reaction is worse (UWEC, date unknown). Bobby not only has a serious amount of pressure on him to succeed for himself, but also to help provide for his family. Intervention: The interventions that best support this kind of crime is to recognize that first of all, the crime is not violent. Even though this is not excusable in the public eye, it means that Bobby’s crime is not pathological.
He needs to be evaluated to ascertain the likelihood of him committing violent crimes such as assault or murder. Of course, this type of evaluation is not always successful and is not a hundred percent foolproof, but in the presence of other interventions as well, the critical needs of him and his family can be addressed. We have already ascertained that Bobby is not using drugs or drinking, but he may be selling drugs. In this case, the primary intervention is to pinpoint the cause of the crime: poverty. Simply put, Bobby needs a job.
However, running with gangs can be a very lucrative activity and Bobby may feel that he is unable to make the same amount of money in a job as he would in the gang. He needs to witness first-hand the dangers of running with gangs and also realize that it is not a long term solution. There are also underlying issues with regard to his fatherless upbringing and this needs to be addressed. Bobby needs rehabilitative treatment as well as counseling for underlying issues. Furthermore, it may help that Bobby attends a stringent life-skills course in order to learn to deal with certain issues that arise in the situation that he is in.
he may have a fatalistic approach to his life, leading him to believe that crime is the only way he is going to survive. As we have seen in Merton’s theory, there is a feeling that Bobby may never achieve his goals and then he becomes ‘goalless’. His age means that he still has many years to turn his life around so he should be able to make the necessary changes with the support of his family. Case Study two – Sarah (20 years old, Caucasian): Prostitution. This is a typical repercussion of abuse. Sarah had been well-educated and supported by her affluent family and had no real means for prostituting herself. She uses drugs and drinks.
Sarah is at college and therefore has a bright future, but her problems are psychological. In this kind of crime, Sarah is reacting to a number of buried memories. Abused by a friends father, repeatedly, Sarah was never allowed to report the sexual abuse because the perpetrator was a man upheld by society. Feminist approaches deal with the fact that the patriarchal society we live in contributes to the way in which various crimes are committed. They believe that men use women to exert control and power over women (UWEC, date unknown). There is also a deep seated issue involving the way in which the victim assimilates the crime against them.
Although Sarah is not a violent criminal and would not be considered dangerous, Post Traumatic Stress disorder plays a big role in the development of a child into adulthood. Reports show that a startling amount of young offenders or juveniles particularly on death row had been abused or neglected during their childhood (The International Justice Project, 2008: 2). Trauma stalls the development phase of childhood and also may cause visual or olfactory hallucinations (The International Justice Project, 2008: 2). The Feminist and the Psycho-social approaches both help to understand this crime.
Drug and alcohol use in Sarah’s case, mask the real problem that is the memories of her childhood trauma. In female victims of sexual abuse, an awkward relationship with sexuality occurs in that the victim somehow believes that they are worth more as a sexual object then they are as an intelligent contributor to society. The crime committed against Sarah as a child has manifest itself in her behavior as a prostitute. Adler and Daly believe that the way men are socialized contributes to the way they treat women but also in the way they assert themselves on women (UWEC, date unknown).
Interventions: The interventions in this case are critical. This is not only because of the fact that Sarah committed a crime, but because the root of this crime was based on another crime committed. It is understandable that Sarah should be punished for a crime committed, albeit for a non-violent crime, but the problem is much deeper than that. Sadly the perpetrator of the original crime was never prosecuted and still remains free, and this is an unfortunate fact in our society.
Evidently there was no financial strain present in this case as there was in Bobby’s, and there was not pathological problem, so the real issue that needs addressing is Post Traumatic. Sarah has internalized a number of self-beliefs, under the circumstances of her abuse and these need to be addressed. For this reason, Sarah needs intense psychotherapy in order to deal with the crime committed against her. She also has to be wary of falling into the ‘labeling theory’ and end following a course of events that exacerbate the problem rather than help to heal it.
Under the labeling theory the problem of deviance is not so much the act the person commits but a consequence of the ‘application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender’ (Demelo, 1999: 21). This means that what Sarah believes to be her destiny is formulated by what the abuser made her feel like. It is possible that Sarah does not have a very good self-esteem, following the continuous abuse and therefore feels the only route for her to take is to prostitute herself. Sadly she has internalized many negative self-beliefs. As another intervention she also could do better with community service rather than jail-time.
Jail time can be potentially damaging for Sarah at this time who will still not be able to cope with life outside of prison when she is released, therefore not really dealing with the real problem at hand. Further more, giving her a suspended sentence or making her pay for her crime will also not have the desired effect because it would be too easy for her to continue her present path. Unfortunately there is a great deal of unfairness in this situation, because Sarah would probably not have conducted herself in this manner had she not been abused. Case Study three- John (21 years old, Hispanic): Aggravated assault.
Can violence be pathological, can it be that there is an innate or inherent psychological response to external stimuli? John is an only child raised by a loving and supportive mother and was an average student from a lower middle class school. He is employed regularly in ever revolving jobs. His mother divorced his father as a result of ongoing domestic abuse, while some of his uncles were charged with violent and aggravated assault. John has already been in juvenile court several times for violent offenses. This is a complicated situation with relationships to both psychological aspects and labeling theory.
John grew up watching abuse and violence from his father and it is possible that John has internalized a self-fulfilling prophecy that he will become like his father and then validates it by saying that it ‘runs in the family’. Howard Becker believes that a deviant individual internalizes the ‘attainment of a deviant identity or career’ (Demelo, 1999: 22). In some cases this can be environmentally determined but in other cases, such as John’s case, it can be that he simply uses it as an excuse to behave the way he does. However, John also may have violent temperament in his genes.
Individual Trait theory explains that inherent biological and psychological aspects can be inherited and are a reaction to societal norms and values and also the way the individual is treated (UWEC, date unknown). This includes pathological problems such as Borderline Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality disorders that are reactions against control or dominance and are often seen in what we call sociopaths. These people are determined to flout the norms of society and believe themselves to be somewhat more important than other people (delusional).
However, in John’s case it is more likely that he has learned behavior from his family rather than it being an internal problem. This can only really be determined after evaluation occurs and a psychologist has had a chance to psychiatrically evaluate the situation. While psychological deviance is not an excuse for criminal behavior it can be seen as a reason and can go a long way in preventing further offenses. Interventions: Violent crimes especially with aggravating circumstances cannot be taken lightly and this particular case needs to be dealt with carefully.
A violent criminal needs to be incarcerated, even though what happens within the prison system itself can be aggravating to potential psychological issues. In fact, in a case like John’s he needs to be evaluated psychologically as well and undergo thorough anger management strategies. While in prison it is possible for rehabilitation to occur especially of the offender shows positive abilities to change. John is still young enough to change his life-path and may be able to recognize warning signs in himself. It is almost a crime in itself that people of such a young age can be locked away for life if they are able to change themselves.
He needs to deal with issues involving his fathers treatment of his mother, which also contributes to the way in which he deals with life challenges. Life-skills at this stage are extremely important as the offender deals with issues surrounding society in a negative fashion when they have learned certain behaviors. John needs to ‘re-program’ the way he sees the world around him and especially the way he reacts to certain external stimuli. Although there is not much information as to who his victims were and what the circumstances of each crime were, we can ascertain by the fact that he has not kept a regular job.
This would suggest that John is impulsive and has a scattered personality, which also means that he may be confused about his future or about who he is. He holds a lot of anger, which is why he needs to partake in anger management classes. This would help to curb the impulsive anger reaction that erupts in negative and deviant behavior. Although some of these young offenders are seen as merely ‘naughty’ and ‘undisciplined’ but when we look at the bigger picture and in John’s case, we recognize that they have been exposed to a great deal of violence which they have internalized.
Imprisonment is necessary fro violent offenders, but this does not mean that they cannot undergo rehabilitation while in prison and take that time to evaluate their own actions. Conclusion: In previous years, all offenders were seen to be equal or to receive equal treatments, but as the modern age has dawned, it becomes clear that there are a number of variables involved in the making of an offender. Not all offender are ‘serial’ or repeat offenders, and not all offenders respond to the same interventions.
The modern perspective is that a number of factors affect the behavior of an offender. We see that poverty and fatalism contribute to Bobby’s case, which is a modern sociological phenomenon while John’s offenses come from violent relatives and father. These are two aspects of family that are actually displayed here and that is: the absence of a father and the presence of a violent one. There are also two aspects of society that are visible here: poverty and dysfunctional life-skills. Sarah’s case is not unusual either and was actually well discussed in the film Girl, Interrupted.
The sad aspect is that it appears to be the adults that are creating the juvenile delinquents and this needs to be addressed on a national level. Interventions do not simply mean throwing someone in prison, they mean dealing with specific reasons for criminal activity while also recognizing that each situation is unique. It is necessary to realize that the study of criminology seeks to find solutions to problems and to understand why it happens, in this sense treating the cause and not merely the symptoms. Sources: AGS. (no date). “Criminological Theory”.
Associated Graduate Students Web Portal. http://www. ags. uci. edu/~dkieso/crimth. htm Demelo, Diane. (14 November 1999). “Criminological Theory”. Criminological Theory on the Web. http://www. umsl. edu/~keelr/200/Diane_Demelo/diane. pdf The International Justice Project. (2008). Brain Development, Culpability and the Death Penalty. http://www. internationaljusticeproject. org/pdfs/juvBrainDev. pdf UWEC. (no date). “Criminological theory Summaries. ” University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. http://www. uwec. edu/patchinj/crmj301/theorysummaries. pdf