Drawing on the relevant criminological literature, critically consider whether psychological or sociological explanations of criminal behaviour offer effective strategies for intervention and the reduction of crime? How useful is this approach for those working with offenders in the community? This essay will briefly look at the major sociological theories to explain crime, however due to word constraints I will only focus on anomie/strain, labelling and the rational choice theories to explain criminal behaviour and examine how effective the strategies are for reducing crime.
There will be some focus on desistance literature and how I apply these theories to my work with offenders. Upon conclusion it should show that all theories offer effective interventions and strategies but that each explanation contains an argument that may be inadequate on its own. To close, the essay will examine further, situational crime prevention and how we address the needs of present crime problems.
There are two main approaches that aim to explain criminality and criminalisation they are sociological and psychological perspectives. Although both approaches suggest opposite explanations, they each contain valid points that account for the causes of criminality and criminalisation. The psychological approach concentrates on the individual as the foundation of criminality. Sociological theories of crime reject individualistic explanations of crime and emphasise the social and cultural context of criminal behaviour Giddens (2003: 207).
Sociological theories which help to understanding criminal behaviour include: Anomie theory, strain theory, control theory, sub-cultural theory, deviance theory, social ecology labelling theory, social learning theory, routine activities theory, rational choice theory and Feminist theories. Emile Durkheim (1933, 1970) had an impact on sociological criminology in that he assessed that societies were held together by solidarity and shared aims. Society members had also become inter-reliant.
Durkheim felt that the predictability of crime rates meant that they are social facts and therefore 'normal'. The increases of crime occur when societies evolve and grow into more complex forms of organisations thus producing a state of anomie. He believed crime and punishment could be seen as positive and negative issues as they both brought about social values and social solidarity within communities Gelsthorpe (2003: 27). Durkheim's notion of anomie was modified by the American Sociologist Robert K.
Merton who explained it as the strain put on individual's behaviour when accepted norms conflict with social reality. Merton proposed that people resort to crime because of social structural barriers that sets the same goals for everyone but does not take into account economic inequalities and the lack of equal opportunities. As these goals are unattainable people therefore resort to crime Giddens (2001: 207). Like Merton, Albert Cohen saw the contradictions within American society as the main source of crime.
However while Merton emphasised individual deviant responses to the tension between values and means Cohen saw the responses occurring collectively through sub-cultures. In delinquent boys (1955) Cohen argued that the boys experienced status frustration and strain to which they respond by adopting delinquent subcultures, such as gangs. They reject the norms and values of the middle class and replace them with defiance and non-conformity Giddens (2001: 208).
Having analyzed the strain theory it appears that deviance is a symptom of the social structure in society and that lack of opportunities and inequalities are key factors in criminal behaviour. The strain theory is validated by Bowling and Philip (2002) who state that economical and political forces can shape your life chances without the individual having any control over it. In Coleman and Moynihan (1996) it showed a link between inequality and crime on a consistent basis. So far the strain theory suggests that if inequality and exclusion were addressed then this could reduce crime.
I feel this would need to include equal opportunities in terms of education, housing, employment and training. Studies which prove this theory include The What Works literature which provides consistent information that indicates that rates of reconviction can be reduced by addressing factors that place the offender at future risk. According to McGuire (1996 cited in Offender Assessment System, 2002) factors often described as 'criminogenic' can be social or personal, have a causal or contributory role in offending acts and should be the target of intervention.
Many criminogenic factors are well established such as employment and drug misuse. May (1999) conducted a study which aimed to establish whether including social factors along with criminal history variables could improve the prediction of reconviction rates. It concluded that the most powerful predictor of reconviction was criminal history, but that social variables can play a part, particularly for those with multiple problems and for less experienced offenders.
Of the social variables considered in the study, drugs, employment, housing, and finances were all significant. Knott (2004) states that there is a mass of evidence to suggest that most offenders have limited basic skills, many dropped out of school due to their own unruly behaviour therefore only ever likely to get manual labour jobs. However there has been a drive to improve this situation and partnerships were formed between the Learning and Skills Councils with i?? 30 million being made available for offender education.
Currently the Probation Service and Learning skills council have targets to meet to improve the basic skills of offenders. With there being a close correlation between reducing reoffending and employment, the Probation Service also have close connections with employment advocacies including Job centre plus. To address the importance of an effective accommodation strategy, Probation also has 'approved premises' which provide accommodation for high risk offenders and newly released prisoners.