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Criminology theories help in explaining the way the criminal justice works, they help us understand why people commit crimes and help formulate methods of dealing with crime. Crime theories are developed to help not only understand crimes and the motivating forces but also aid in policy formulation.
Rational Choice Theory
Human beings are assumed to be rational they, therefore, make choices that the benefits that would accrue from committing an offence. The consequences of committing offences can either be reward or punishment. According to the rational choices theory people are more incentivized to commit crimes if the chances of getting away with their crime are higher. This means that instead of punishment their get rewarded by their offensive actions (Regoli & Hewitt, 2010). This theory implies that the higher the chances of gaining from criminal actions the higher the incentive to commit a crime. Before committing criminal acts, individuals are assumed to weigh the benefits versus the cost of their action. The more they stand to benefit from their crime the higher the incentive to breaks the laws. Therefore, where chance of getting caught and facing severe punishment for a crime are higher, crimes are deterred.
According to the biochemical theory criminal behavior can be influenced by inorganic and organic substance in the body. This theory gives credence to drugs or individual under the influence of drugs committing crimes. Tumors in the brain have also been known to push rational individuals in committing crimes (Lilly, Ball, & Cullen, 2011). The theory, however, does not explain all criminal activities but seeks to explain a portion of crimes that are committed by individuals under the influence of organic and inorganic substances. Therefore, those crimes that are committed by individuals without any substance influence cannot be explained using this theory.
According to the learning theory, an individual’s behavior is learned by its consequence or reward value and maintained. Behavior is reinforced by rewards such as money, goods or social status. It can also be learned from the way others behave or the way they respond to others behavior. Criminal behavior, according to this theory, can be curtailed if its reward value is eliminated.
According to the genetic or trait theory biological, factors can be responsible for individuals committing crimes. This theory assumes that biological factors are responsible for all behavior. Crime therefore, becomes a matter of nature to those with the genetic makeup seen as responsible for criminal activities. In other words, this theory implies that individuals have no choice in their behavior and act according to their genetic makeup. This theory has a weakness in crime control policies in that it eliminates an individual’s choice not to commit criminal activities and instead lays the blame of their genes. Genetic theory cannot, therefore, be able to account for individuals from same parents who choose different paths. It lacks strong validations however this does not mean that there are no individuals who have resulted to committing criminal activities due to their genetic makeup.
This theory explains crime as resulting from psychological damages those individuals suffers in the early stages of their lives. These damages leave deep psychologically scars that may drive the disturbed individuals into life of crime. Psychological scars can damage an individual’s personality leaving deeply disturbed individuals who may in future, commit crimes. This theory purports that individuals are motivated by unconscious repressed urges. Humans are also believed to have criminal urges but these urges are controlled by childhood experiences. Criminal behavior is, therefore, seen as resulting from faulty identification of criminal behavior in childhood. This implies that individuals who were badly socialized from their childhood many result in criminal or antisocial tendencies (Britt & Gottfredson, 2003). This theory does not, however, account for individuals who were properly socialized in their childhood but eventually end up committing crimes.
According to the behavior theory, individuals can commit crimes as a result of watching others engaged in crimes benefit from their behavior. If those influential in one life routinely commit crimes and get away with it, then one can learn from them and start engaging in criminal activities. Peer pressure can also influence individuals to commit crimes (Hagan, 2011). In order for one to fit in a group one can result to committing crimes in order to be accepted by other group members.
According to the cognitive theory, individuals may commit a crime for lacking the understanding of their activities as deviant from societal values. This theory proposes that individuals perception of morals and laws determine their criminal behavior. In childhood, moral values are based on obedience and avoiding consequences of behaving badly. While in teenage years, moral values are based on expectations and the perception of others. In adulthood individuals are able to understand social convection s, laws and social systems and respect those (Regoli & Hewitt, 2010). If individuals fail to develop moral, reasoning in these stages the consequence is that they are unable to recognize criminal or deviant behavior. Social
According to this theory, criminal or social deviant behaviors are more prominent in social settings where social institutions have failed. Therefore in communities where schools, courts, families, law enforcement agencies and churches have failed have more criminal activities than in communities where such institutions are working (Gaines & Miller, 2011). This, therefore, implies that institutions are responsible for social order. It also means that where the societies have broken down for such reasons as a war crime rates are higher than working societies. Social disorganization can, therefore, be responsible for high rate of crime.
According to this theory, individuals who have higher socioeconomic goals and standards may commit crimes if they are unable to attain those higher goals. Lack of opportunity and achievements causes frustration, and since they hold themselves at a higher standard which are unattainable to meet their set standards they have to engage in crimes. Most of these individuals end up committing mostly, white, color crimes in order to be able to afford living in higher economic standards.
Relative Deprivation Theory
According to this theory in unequal societies where the poor live in close proximity with the rich and are unable to attain wealth crime can occur as a result of frustration and the perceived social injustices. The poor can result to crime also due to anger at their perceived social injustices. This theory does not account for the majority of crime activities and can only explain crime in social settings where there are large disparities in income levels.
Cultural Deviance Theory
In societies where there are certain social classes that uphold and attain certain goals and are perceived to be cool, their behaviors are mimicked by the rest of society. If they therefore attain their goals through criminal activities, such activities are perceived as justifiable ways of achieving goals. This theory accounts for criminal activities that are prominent in a society where most members of the society engage in crime such as societies where drug trafficking is prominent. It does not, therefore, account for criminal behavior in societies where social order still holds.
Differential Association Theory
According to the differential association theory intimate and close relationship can be responsible for one learning criminal behavior. This implies that one is able to acquire criminal behavior to those that he or she associates closely with like his or her family, best friends and close relatives. Criminal behavior can also be acquired from lovers or husbands, brothers and sisters. This theory only explains criminal behavior that is acquired from those that are close to an individual. It accounts for only a portion of the crimes committed in the society.
Differential Reinforcement Theory
According to this theory rewards can influence and reinforce criminal behavior, punishments, on the other hand, can help end criminal behavior
According to the neutralization theory criminal behavior can result when individuals assigns the blame to either the society or their victims. They, therefore, see their victims as responsible or causative of their action. Apportioning blame to the society can cause one to commit crimes. This is where one sees the society as the lead cause of their behaviors normalizing their own criminal activity. This is especially so in societies with high rates of crime. One is, therefore, able to justify his or her action as behaviors that everybody else is doing. This theory cannot be able to explain crime in a social setting where crime rates are low. It only explains crimes that are found areas where crime rates are high.
Social Control Theory
According to social control theory individuals in a society have vested interest in a society’s stability. They therefore, behave people in a manner that is beneficial for a society’s well being. However, when the social order is broken people criminal activities increase in a society as they are no longer bound by any social contract. This theory accounts for criminal activities in societies that are broken. It cannot therefore, account for criminal activities in societies where social order still holds.
Labeling theory seeks to explain crime as resulting from individuals acquiring criminal labels at an early age from influential personalities around them. This therefore, implies that if an individual grew up being referred to as a thug they would eventually grown up to be thugs.
According to this theory criminal behavior can be explained by power relations in the society. This theory explains criminal or deviant behavior as a resulting when a group or individuals in a powerful position control most of the resources. Therefore, those without means can justify their criminal behaviors as a means of fulfilling their needs. They therefore, engage in criminal activities as a way of getting some of the property. Social conflicts according to Karl Marx result when there are enormous disparities in incomes in capitalist society. The poor are driven into crime in order to meet their basic needs. In unequal societies where attaining resource appears unreachable, those without means result in committing crimes in order to attain their needs.
This theory differentiates criminality from crime and state that if an individual has no self control and an opportunity presents itself then he or she can commit a crime. Criminal behavior is therefore, seen as resulting from arising opportunity for an individual’s perceives his chances of reward being higher. Rational human beings would not engage in crime if their chances of getting caught are higher.