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Criminal Behavior Theories, Typologies, and Criminal Justice J.B. Helfgott Seattle University. CHAPTER 2 Theories of Criminal Behavior. Theories of Criminal Behavior. “ It’s, I don’t know, maybe a messed up gene somewhere.” -- Alex Baranyi, Quadruple Murderer . Myth v. Reality of Crime.

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Criminal Behavior Theories, Typologies, and Criminal Justice J.B. Helfgott Seattle University

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Criminal behavior theories typologies and criminal justice j b helfgott seattle university l.jpg

Criminal BehaviorTheories, Typologies, and Criminal JusticeJ.B. HelfgottSeattle University

CHAPTER 2

Theories of Criminal Behavior

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Theories of Criminal Behavior

“It’s, I don’t know, maybe a messed up gene somewhere.”

-- Alex Baranyi, Quadruple Murderer

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Myth v. Reality of Crime

  • There is an ongoing chatter of incomprehensible criminal events in the background of our lives. For example:

    • “Girl fatally stabbed before decapitated” (Associated Press, February 19, 2007). 

    • “Gunman kills girls ‘execution style’ at Amish school” (Reid & Baldwin, October 2, 2006).

    • “Woman rips of husbands testicles with bare hands” (Clipmarks.com, May 19, 2006). 

    • “Woman charged with scalping Mohawk-wearing teen” (Associated Press, July 14, 2005).

    • “Woman kills pregnant woman and cuts out fetus” (Shortnews.com, 2003).

  • Most crime is not this extreme and the statistical likelihood of falling victim to a heinous crime is slim.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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What Causes a Person to Engage in Criminal Behavior?

  • It is impossible to respond to crime without asking what causes it to occur.

  • Knowing something about the factors associated with criminal behavior, the characteristics of offender types, and the “causes” of crime provides information with which to:

    • Pursue and investigate suspects

    • Adjudicate defendants, make sentencing determinations

    • Manage offenders in correctional institutions, make parole and reentry decisions, and to design crime prevention and crime control strategies.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Interdisciplinary Criminology

  • INTERDISCIPLINARY CRIMINOLOGY involves the integration of knowledge from many fields to understand crime.

  • In recent years there has been recognition among criminologists that comprehensive and accurate understanding and prediction of criminal behavior requires theoretical and disciplinary integration.

  • Promising integrative models have emerged that pull from a range of disciplines.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Factors that Influence Criminal Behavior

  • BIOLOGICAL:What are the biological roots of criminal behavior?

  • PSYCHOLOGICAL:What psychological factors contributed to this behavior?

  • SOCIOLOGICAL:What sociological forces contributed to this behavior?

  • ROUTINE ACTIVITY/ECOLOGICAL:What situational, contextual, environmental factors provided the setting and opportunity for this crime to occur?

  • CULTURAL:What cultural forces provided the context in which this crime could occur?

  • PHENOMENOLOGICAL:What personal meaning does the crime hold for the offender?

These six bodies of knowledge represent unique ways of looking at crime and offer specific tools with which to analyze criminal behavior.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Biological Theories

  • Evolution and Genetics

  • Brain Chemistry and Function

  • Hormones

  • Psychophysiology and Other Biological Factors

Biological theories explain crime in terms of the interaction between biological predisposition and environmental conditions on behavioral outcomes -- behaviors, characteristics, and traits associated with crime are influenced by a range of biological factors including evolution and genetics, brain biochemistry and function, brain injury, hormones, physiology, physical anomalies and body build, diet and blood sugar levels, and cognitive deficits.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Psychological Theories

  • Psychodynamic and Personality Theories

  • Cognitive Theories

  • Behavioral Theories

Psychological theories attribute criminal behavior to individual differences resulting from early psychodynamic development, information processing and cognition, and conditioning processes. Psychological theories of crime are micro-level theories that locate the source of criminality within the individual with the idea that crime is a symptom of an individual’s internal psychological condition.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Kernberg’s Theory of Borderline Personality Organization

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Sociological Theories

  • Structural Theories

  • Cultural Theories

  • Interactionist Theories

Sociological theories explain criminal behavior in terms of social influences such as community disorganization, stigmatization and labeling, peer influences, delinquent subcultures, and social bonds. Sociological theories of crime are macro-level theories that locate the source of criminality outside of the individual with the idea that “nurture” rather than “nature” shapes criminal behavior.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Routine Activity Theory

  • Reduced Temptations

  • Increased Controls

  • Suitable Target

  • Willing Offender

  • Audience/Absence of Capable Guardians

The routine activity theory states that crime occurs as a result of increased temptations and reduced controls. From this perspective, setting and opportunity are the most important factors contributing to criminal behavior. Crime is considered a normal everyday activity that occurs when opportunities in the environment support or discourage criminal behavior and can be controlled through strategies that harden targets and alter settings in ways that make crime less opportune and desirable for offenders.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Cultural Theories

  • Cultural Criminology

  • Black’s Aesthetics of Murder

  • Penal culture and impact on prisoners

Cultural criminology recognizes criminality and criminalization as cultural enterprises that must be studied through a synthesis of divergent perspectives including social, feminist, and cultural theories. From this perspective, criminal behavior (and its control) is constructed, in part, through media, popular culture, and the aesthetics dictated by the authority. Criminal identities are born and shaped within culture and within criminal subcultures -- collective criminal aesthetic and style, symbolism, and meaning are important factors in understanding the criminality.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Phenomenological Theories

  • Jack Katz Seductions of Crime

  • Criminological Verstehen

  • Convict Criminology

The phenomenology of offending, grounded in symbolic interactionism and existentialism, reflects the unique experience, motivations, decision-making processes of the offender, and meaning of the offense in the moment it is committed .

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Integrating Theories of Crime

  • A number of theories have emerged that attempt to incorporate multiple theories and perspectives in explaining crime including:

    • A General Theory of Crime (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990)

    • Developmental (Moffit, 1993) and Life-Course Criminology (Farrington, 2003)

    • Integrated Systems Theory (Robinson, 2004)

    • Control Balance Theory (Tittle, 2003)

    • Integrated Theory of Delinquency (Elliot, Ageton, & Canter, 2003)

    • Interdisciplinary Criminology (Barak, 1998)..

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Applying the Theories –The Baranyi and Anderson Case

  • Interdisciplinary criminology can be thought of as a criminological tool box -- different theories and knowledge bases can be thought of as distinct tools that can explain converging parts of the whole story.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Key Elements of Byranyi and Anderson murder of the Wilson Family

  • Murders were committed by two individuals.

  • Victims were acquaintances.

  • Murder weapons were baseball bats, knives, and swords.

  • Baseball bats, knives, and swords were seized from Anderson’s home.

  • Offenders and one of the victims (Kimberly Wilson) were part of a group who hung out together at a local Denny’s who were considered “Goths” who dressed in black and glorified death.

  • Anderson)had previously dated Kimberly Wilson and owed her $350.00 which she tried to collect shortly before the murders.

  • Forensic evidence (DNA analysis of blood on Baranyi’s shoelaces and Anderson’s shoes) supported convictions.

  • Witnesses testified that Baranyi and Anderson were inseparable.

  • Baranyi had been arrested 10 months prior to the murders for a domestic dispute with a female friend.

  • Anderson had no prior record but had been previously investigated for property damage, a hit-and-run. accident, attempted arson, and grand theft in the disappearance of a cash-machine card from his parent’s house.

  • Anderson was reported as a runaway in 1995 and wasn’t accepted back home by his parents.

  • Baranyi refused to “rat” on his friend as part of his confession.

  • Witnesses testified that Baranyi and Anderson had spoken about plans to commit a range of crimes including specific statements about murdering the Wilson family and stealing items in their home.

  • Baranyi was a devoted fan of the TV show Highlander. He wore his hair long and in a ponytail like the show’s main character and collected swords and knives. A witness testified that in the context of role-playing games, Baranyi believed he was a demigod named “Slice” or “Thunderclap” and that he had concocted a make-believe love interest for his character named Rose.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Key Elements of Byranyi and Anderson murder of the Wilson Family

  • Baranyi and Anderson were involved in role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.

  • Baranyi and Anderson played computer games including Streetfighter and Supernintendo.

  • Items from the Wilson’s home were found in Baranyi’s apartment.

  • Baranyi’s attorneys argued that he was bipolar.

  • The Prosecutors in both Baranyi’s and Anderson’s cases argued that they had Antisocial Personality Disorder and felt no remorse for the murders.

  • Baranyi confessed that he committed the murders because he was bored, “in a rut,” and in danger of becoming “decadent.” He said he had wanted to kill someone for years to “experience something truly phenomenal.”

  • Baranyi’s writings included a to-do list of crimes with the an entry about reading obituaries and robbing the families homes while at the funeral.

  • Witnesses indicated that Baranyi got too involved in role playing games and was generally calm except while playing computer games.

  • Baranyi and Anderson were both living away from home at the time of the offense.

  • Baranyi’s parents divorced when he was 8 yrs old at which time he was shuffled back and forth between his parents who lived in Washington and Pennsylvania.

  • Baranyi and Anderson attended an alternative high school and dropped out before the murders.

  • Anderson was described by witnesses as a charming “ladies man” with a “mean streak” while Baranyi was described as a sullen aloof follower who “fumbled” with women and shrunk around large groups of teenagers.

  • Baranyi indicated that he had no motivation for committing the murders except that he thought Kimberly Wilson was selfish because she didn’t share her cigarettes.

  • Witnesses testified that Anderson had expressed anger at Kimberly Wilson because she asked him to pay her back money he owed her and he felt insulted by this.

  • After being convicted and sent to the Washington State Penitentiary, Anderson paid $80 to set up a website in which he proclaimed his innocence and solicited female companionship

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Discussion Questions

  • What theories best explain Baranyi & Anderson’s criminal behavior?

  • What factors converged to produce the behavior in this case?

  • How can information/analysis of this case be used to predict and/or prevent future crimes of this nature?

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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Summary

  • To respond to crime we have to know what it is, who commits it, and why -- It is impossible to respond to crime without asking, “What causes a person to engage in criminal behavior?”

  • Disciplinary perspectives and criminology knowledge bases can be broken down into six general areas and related research questions – Biological, psychological, sociological, routine activity, cultural, phenomenological.

  • Each perspective has something to offer in terms of understanding criminal behavior.

  • Some crimes may be better explained by one or another of the perspectives, but integration of all of the perspectives is necessary to fully understand and unravel complexities of criminal behavior.

J.B. Helfgott, PhD Department of Criminal Justice Seattle University


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