Causes of Crime Essay

Pages: 6 (1570 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Causes of Crime - Categories of Theories:

Unwanted conduct of individuals and societal attempts to control behavior that is dangerous to others or to society as a whole obviously predates recorded history

(Schmalleger, 2001). In the modern era (and the period most recently predating it),

sociologists have suggested many general categories of explanations for the cause of unwanted behavior classified as crime, including: free will, biological, psychobiological, psychological, sociological, social psychological, social conflict, phenomenological, as well as other emergent theories conceived much more recently (Schmalleger, 2001;

Henslin, 2002; Macionis, 2002).

Biological theories of crime, such as phrenology, atavism, criminal families, and somatotypes, conceive of criminal behavior as largely predetermined within the individual by virtue of inherent personal characteristics that distinguish the brains and other fundamental biological structures of criminals from those of non-criminals. Franz Joseph Gall, for example, offered the theory that criminal behavior is predictable based on the shape of the human skull.

William Sheldon's similar theory of somatotypes suggested that human beings

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possess one of three types of dominant physical features: ectomorphic, mesomorphic, and endomorphs (Schmalleger, 2001). According to Sheldon, mesomorphs are more prone to violence and other forms of aggression that predisposed them to criminal behavior. In more recent times, the connection between somatotypes and crime was rejected, but incorporated into theories of various other aspects of human variation, such as in connection with athleticism and proneness to overweight and obesity (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2005).

TOPIC: Essay on Causes of Crime Assignment

Psychological and psychobiological theories of crime (in general) conceive of criminal behavior as a function of myriad internal factors within the individual, some of which are inherent components of the person while others reflect the interplay between and among inherent factors and external influences that affect both the manner and degree that those inherent factors influence the behavior of the individual (Schmalleger,


Within psychological and psychobiological explanations for criminal conduct, behavioral theorists consider the totality of experiences within the life of the individual as substantial factors in the development of a predisposition to criminal conduct.

Psychoanalytic theorists including (most famously) Sigmund Freud consider family dynamics and the earliest frustrations experienced by the individual, particularly in connection to specific areas of human needs and frustrations that, according to psychoanalytical theorists, play a profound role in the development of individual behavior throughout adult life (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2001).

Social control theorists, such Durkheim and Merton, suggested explanations for criminal conduct that rely on the relationship between the individual and society. More specifically, Durkheim conceived of the anomie theory, according to which identification on the part of the individual with the norms and expectations of society is responsible for many aspects of observed human behavior (Henslin, 2002).

Merton later applied anomie theory to criminology and suggested that most individuals respond to socially promoted norms and expectations in various ways, some of which are more likely than others to contribute to the development of criminal inclination. In that regard, Merton categorized individuals as either conformists, innovators, retreatists, ritualists, and rebels and theorized that rebels are most likely to express criminal behavior (Schmalleger, 2001).

Conflict social theorists attribute social deviance (including criminal behavior) to the opportunities and advantages available to individuals within their social class or group (or comparative lack thereof) to be the most significant determinant of criminal conduct. In particular, theories of social strain consider the differences perceived by the individual between his or her own predicament and opportunities for satisfaction of needs and those available to others within the established framework of society (Macionis,

2002). Restraint theorists suggest that antisocial impulses are a normal feature of human behavior but that most individuals learn not to act on their negative impulses out of elf-preservation by virtue of the effect of various social restraints on the individual, such as social ostracism and criminal penalties such as apprehension, prosecution, and ultimately, incarceration (Schmalleger, 2001).

Criminal Law in Theory and Practice:

Criminal law and procedure varies tremendously in different cultures, as well as within specific cultures when viewed over the long-term. In some contemporary societies, for example, taking psychedelic drugs is strongly discouraged and associated with harsh criminal penalties. In other societies, the same substances are considered to have medicinal properties, and in still other societies, religious significance (Macionis,

2002). Likewise, whereas Western societies generally promote religious freedom, political self-determination, and the psychological autonomy of the individual, other societies, such as some of those in the Middle East and Far East, prescribe religious worship and strongly discourage the expression of political opinion or the violation of socially approved gender norms under harsh criminal penalties.

In contemporary Western society, individual liberties and autonomy are generally respected to the extent they do not infringe on the rights and sensibilities of others in society. With admitted exceptions in the way of purely paternalistic legislation that is difficult to justify objectively (Taylor, 1980), behavior that affects only the individual is usually not subject to criminal penalties. On the other hand, individual behavior that directly conflicts with the rights and welfare of others is defined by criminal statutes that authorize the state to imposes criminal penalties, including monetary fines, terms of imprisonment, and even death for the most serious offenses against others.

In principle, the general concept of criminal law is that it is necessary to protect the members of society from the harmful or destructive impulses of individuals inclined to violate the recognized rights of others and the rules established for the benefit of society as a whole. Ideally, socialization and family reinforcement of desirable behavior is sufficient to curtail individual conduct that is harmful to others. Where those efforts fail, the logical alternative is to impose criminal penalties that are appropriate to the degree of harm caused by the unwanted behavior.

In theory, criminal law serves three different functions: (1) the protection of society from unwanted conduct, (2) the punishment of nonconforming individuals, and (3) deterrence from future unwanted conduct (Schmalleger, 2001; Taylor, 1980).

Protection is achieved, very simply, by removing criminally deviant individuals from the physical proximity to non-criminally deviant members of society. In addition to protecting society from criminals, their incarceration also provides a means of rehabilitating those capable of being returned to society and living within the established boundaries codified in penal statutes (Friedman, 2005).

Punishment is also achieved through incarceration, because most individuals experience the deprivation of their freedom and the denial of various rights and opportunities available outside of correctional facilities as a significant negative consequence. This is the least justifiable of the three purposes of criminal law, because it mainly reflects the natural impulse of aggrieved individuals (as represented by society) to seek retribution, which does not, in and of itself, actually provide any legitimate benefit

(Taylor, 1980).

Finally, deterrence, on the other hand, is generally considered a valuable component of criminal punishment. In both theory and practice, the prospect of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration effectively prevents a substantial amount of criminal conduct where socialization, cultural norms, and a learned respect for others in society are comparatively ineffective. In many respects, both deterrence and the protective functions of criminal law serve valuable roles in minimizing serious social deviance defined as criminal behavior within contemporary human societies.

The Effectiveness of Penal Law in Society:

While criminal law does provide a substantial benefit to society, many aspects of contemporary societies fail to address various inadequacies that account for the development of criminal behavior. For example, sociologists have long known of the correlation between poverty and membership in racial minority groups as factors that dramatically increase the likelihood of criminal behavior (Henslin, 2002; Macionis,


Opportunities for social and economic advancement, quality education, and vocational satisfaction and success are not distributed equally in many contemporary societies. Certainly, individuals from upper class environments with numerous benefits and privileges not available to less fortunate individuals sometimes develop criminally deviant… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Causes of Crime" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Causes of Crime.  (2008, October 2).  Retrieved September 17, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Causes of Crime."  2 October 2008.  Web.  17 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Causes of Crime."  October 2, 2008.  Accessed September 17, 2021.