Thinking Like A Criminologist

The world changes on a daily basis and with it comes a number of social issues. Sometimes the world changes too fast for society and adaptations are made to try to cope with them. Crime is one of the facets of society that changes along with a number of variables, which include economic status. Criminologists play a vital role in understanding crime in an effort to curb it and as a result, a number of theories have been offered as to the nature of crime. In this paper we examine three case studies relating to three of these criminological theories.

Some of the theories are based on psychological and biological traits and others are economic of societal based theories. We will look specifically at Trait Theory, Strain Theory and Social Learning Theory in order to explain the nature of the case studies employed. Case Study 1: Bobby, 19 years – African American (Felony Theft). Bobby’s story fits the category of Merton’s Strain theory quite well. Bobby’s mother has to work two jobs to keep the family going. Bobby has 6 siblings, making it difficult to support them all on one income. Bobby therefore has to help with this support.

This means of financial strain is intensified by the fact that Bobby has no formal training and did not complete high school. As Bobby has no real learned skills, he is unemployed and has turned to street crime and gangster outfits and although he does not take drugs or drink, it is likely that the temptation will at some stage arise, if he continues to surround himself with this type of environment. Merton’s Strain theory is similar to positivist social theory in that it sees economy and social change as a contributing factor to crime.

However, Merton believed that deviance arises when the same set of goals are created for all people without equal means with which to achieve these goals (Hewett, 2008). What essentially happens is that a person in Bobby’s situation is unable to keep up with the standards presented by society and turns to crime in order to survive. Without education it becomes difficult to find employment at this stage, yet Bobby is young enough to take on some form of education.

Merton states that there are various means of dealing with goals, and in Bobby’s case, he refuses to conform; innovate; ritualize or retreat (Hewett, 2008). He rebels in the end. This rebellion can be a flouting of norms because he no longer sees society as able to accommodate him. Case study 2: Sarah, 20 years – Caucasian (Prostitution). This case is extremely serious. For a number of reasons Sarah is the result of a crime committed against her. Well cared for and educated, there would seem to be no reason for Sarah to feel she has to prostitute herself.

With a supportive family and all the financial means available, she could become anything she wanted to. However, Sarah was molested at the age of ten by a friends father, who was never prosecuted for his crime as he was an ‘upstanding’ and influential member of society. A number of psychological issues are visible here which need to be addressed before Sarah is able to deal with her crime. Post Traumatic Stress is a real threat her survival and explains partially why she has deviated.

Bandura used Social Learning theory to explain why some people committed a crime while others of the same class or race did not. He states that in this case self-affirmation or reinforcement is defined not only by how you perceive yourself but how others react towards you (Keel, 2008). “Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes they value. ” (Keel, 2008). In Sarah’s case her sense of self and her self value is jaded by the molestation she experienced as a child. As a result she has a warped perception not only of sexuality but also of herself.

Sexuality is supposed to be about valuing one another and about love, and the outcome of it can be either valued or de-valued. It may be that Sarah receives a comfort from her actions or she believes sex as something that has no value at all. Case Study 3: John, 21 years – Hispanic (Aggravated Assault). John’s behavior may be explained in a number of ways, but the best possible way to understand it is in terms of Trait theory. An average student, from an average income index her has a supportive and positive role model in his mother.

His father on the other hand had been charged for domestic violence against his mother and is no longer in the home. John changes jobs frequently. There is a history of violence in the male bloodline, and he has already been tried in juvenile court several times. If it is possible that traits are genetically dispersed, it could be that John has inherited a bad gene. It becomes difficult to discern whether this is learned behavior or inherent but for the purpose of this paper we will argue that it is biological traits since his uncles also have it.

The early positivist theorist Ferri believed there were biological, social and organic factors that cause crime and delinquency (Siegel, 2003: 7). In these cases neurological disturbances and genetic inheritance coupled with the right social environment can trigger an antisocial violent reaction (Siegel, 2003:10). In light of the above criminological and social theories we can see criminological study as a hugely diverse frame of reference. One cannot really isolate crime to one or the other factor, but instead have to integrate them on the understanding that criminals are individuals.

Each situation will be different and in some cases, such as Sarah, the crime is a result of another person’s criminal behavior and it is also possible that she lost respect for the justice system (although an unfair judgment given the secrecy of the crime) because her own situation was never dealt with. In Bobby’s case the crime is economically based, given that he is unlikely to easily extricate himself from the circumstances and is in a way fatalistic about it. John’s case could be either learned or genetic but is more likely biological given the scarce details that are provided.

In all cases, an in depth inquiry needs to be made to fully ascertain the circumstances that culminate in the deviant behavior presented. In conclusion, no individual is truly a ‘textbook’ case and the situation is dependent on myriads of variables. Sources: Hewett. (2008). Merton’s Strain Theory. Norfolk University. http://www. hewett. norfolk. sch. uk/CURRIC/soc/crime/mert_str. htm Keel, Robert O. (2008). Social Learning Theory (A. Bandura). UMSL. http://tip. psychology. org/bandura. html Siegel, Larry J. (2003). Trait Theory (Chapter 6). Wadsworth Publishing Company. http://www. umsl. edu/~keelr/200/biotheor. html