Criminological Theory

Criminology, as defined by Edwin Sutherland, one of the founders of the American criminology, is identified as a body of knowledge that looks at crime in the form of a social phenomenon (Barak, 1998). It is also considered as the scientific study of a character, causes, scope, and management of criminal behavior among individuals and the society in general. It basically entails the processes of making, breaking and reacting toward the law breakers. Criminology experts have adopted various approaches of studying criminology, ranging from behavioral to social sciences (Siegel, 2003). In addition, various methods have been adopted to help assess and measure crime progress. For instance, when an undesirable act is performed, it is often considered to be a crime, and the reaction to such acts can be through punishments, prevention or treatment. However, various theories have been developed to provide an understanding of the criminology concept. This paper will analyze some of the theories developed to help understand criminology.

Schools of Thought

It is worth noting that whole concept of criminology arose when the social philosophers started to study the concepts of crime and law (Barak, 1998). Various schools of thought were established. However, three major schools of thought: classical, positivist and Chicago were basically used before the 20th century. The classical school of thought was basically concerned with legal processing and law making. The positivist school asserted that the criminal behavior is a result of both the internal and the external factors that are out of human control (Siegel, 2003). These individuals concentrated on studying human behavior. The Chicago school of thought adopted a social ecological approach while studying cities. They highlighted that an individual’s surrounding played a key role with regard to criminal acts. However, these schools of thought were outdated by various theories that have been developed in the study of criminology (Siegel, 2003).

Criminological Theories

Social Disorganization Theory

This theory was founded by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay of the Chicago School. It highlights those neighborhoods that are faced with economic deprivation and poverty, often experiences high levels of population turnover and population heterogeneity. Such a community tends to be disorganized (Hester and Eglin, 1992). However, according to the theory, disorganized communities or societies often cause crimes as a result of the breakdown of the informal social controls or lack of development of the informal social structures, thus leading to criminal cultures. According to the theory, such communities lack the combined efficacy to enable them deal with criminal activities and disorder (Hester and Eglin, 1992).

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Routine Activity Theory

The Routine activity theory was developed by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson, and looks at crime, in terms of the crime opportunities, that take place in the daily lives. According to this theory, crime takes place when an intersection exists in space and time of a motivated criminal, a striking target, and in the lack of competent guardianship. In other words, individuals’ routine activities contain significant effects on the probability that they will turn out to be criminals, especially where competent guardianship is lacking (Felson, 1994). This means, therefore, that the changes in the daily routine activities within the society, for instance, women allowed to work, can have significant effects on the crime rates. In addition, when there is a competent guardian in place, for instance, the security guards, who can witness the crime and probably report to the relevant authority, then crimes, would be minimal (Felson, 1994).

General Strain Theory

This theory highlights that when people are not able to attain success goals, for instance, status in the society, or money, some sort of pressure or strain is often experienced. Under some circumstances, people are often forced to act in response to the strain by engaging in criminal activities. Furthermore, the theory states that anticipated or actual removal of some positively valued stimuli and anticipated or actual presentation of negative stimuli would often result in strain. Basically, the strain theory is applied in explaining deviance and crime.

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Rational Choice Theory

This theory builds on the classical theory, and crime is looked at as a choice that is influenced by its benefits and costs, which is its rationality. According to this theory, crime is more liable to be prevented, if only its costs are increased, especially if the costs are immediate and certain (Hillyard et al., 2004). Such costs can be in terms of the punishment applied to deal with the criminals. Nonetheless, the information regarding benefits and costs of crime can be acquired through direct experiences with the punishment and avoidance of punishment, and indirectly through observing, if the other people who offend get punished or avoid the punishment.

Labeling Theory

This theory highlights that people simply become fully stabilized in criminal activities, when the society labels them as criminals, when they become stigmatized, when they develop criminal identities, get poisoned, and are not included in conventional tasks (Garland, 2002). Reiterative responses have a lesser likelihood with regard to defiance and crime commitment.

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Basically, the criminological theories try to provide some explanations for the prevalence, nature and scope of the criminal activities in the society. Numerous theories have been provided, and some of them have been analyzed in this paper. However, despite the fact that some of these theories tend to conflict, there is a general agreement that criminal behaviors are present in our societies and can be responded to through punishment. 

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