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Explaining Crime and Delinquency. CC200 Youth Justice Chapters 5 and 6. Social policy and theory. Social Responsibility Perspective – crime is an individual responsibility (nature). Social Problems Perspective – crime is a manifestation of social problems (nurture).

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explaining crime and delinquency

Explaining Crime and Delinquency


Youth Justice

Chapters 5 and 6

social policy and theory
Social policy and theory
  • Social Responsibility Perspective – crime is an individual responsibility (nature).
  • Social Problems Perspective – crime is a manifestation of social problems (nurture).
origins of human aggression
Origins of Human Aggression
  • Incorporate a biological, environmental, and psychological components into an exploration of the origins of human aggression.
  • NFB title
  • 2005
questions to consider
Questions to consider
  • What are the primary explanations given for aggression in children and youth?
  • At what age are children most aggressive?
  • What factors influence their aggression?
What potentials solutions are discussed in the documentary?

What actions or responses to aggression displayed by children may, in fact, encourage greater aggression?

How do biological, environmental, psychological components work together in explanations for aggression?

theory and explanation
Theory and Explanation
  • Classical School of Criminology – develops in the 18th century.
  • Based on belief that people have free-will and must be held accountable for their deeds.
  • Has as a starting point the idea that individuals have equal rights and co-exist in a society held together by common goals and beliefs.
Built upon a structural functionalist foundation.

Individuals are hedonistic beings who seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

Individuals make rational decisions by engaging in cost/benefit analyses.

Crime is repugnant and morally wrong.

cesare becarria 1819 italian philosopher
Cesare Becarria (1819) Italian Philosopher
  • One of the most influential of the classical paradigm.
  • He argued that offenders must be presumed innocent, that offences and punishments must be defined in a written code of law, and that the guilty must be held accountable and punished for their wrong-doings.
jeremy bentham 18 th century english legal scholar
Jeremy Bentham (18th century English Legal Scholar)
  • Built on Beccaria’s ideas.
  • Repeat offenders should be punished more severely, and that the punishment should fit the crime.
  • He also argued that individuals who committed similar crimes should receive similar punishments (continuity in punishment).
biological positivism
Biological Positivism
  • Biological and psychological approaches are based on the notion of individual pathologies.
This means that certain individuals are pre-disposed to criminal behaviors due to either biological or psychological abnormalities.
cesare lombroso 1835 1909
Cesare Lombroso (1835 -1909)
  • Argued that criminals could be identified by physical characteristics and were throwbacks to an earlier stage of human development.
  • He called this group “Atavistic man”
physical characteristics of atavistic man could include
Physical characteristics of atavistic man could include:
  • Asymmetry of the face
  • Eye defects and abnormalities
  • Excessive dimensions of jaw and cheek bones
  • Ears of unusual size, or very small, or ears that stuck out
  • Lips fleshy, swollen & protruding
Excessive length of arms

Supernumerary fingers and toes

Nose twisted, upturned, or flattened, or aquiline or beaklike

Receding chin, or excessive long, or short and flat

Abnormal dentition

He first argued that criminals were a throwback to a more primitive type of brain structure, and therefore behavior.

He never claimed that the born criminal made up more than 40% of the total criminal population.

he also looked at the female offender and argued that
He also looked at the female offender and argued that:
  • Most women are not criminal.
  • Those that are, are usually occasional criminals.
  • But some women are atavistic criminals.
  • They are harder to detect than men.
  • They are more cunning and more vicious.
More recently research has indicated there are specific brain structures that influence aggressive behaviors.

This has led to research in the areas of brain damage, epileptic disorders, and endocrine disorders and the direct impact that psychological disorders may have on criminal behaviors.

research has also focused on factors indirectly related to criminal behaviors
Research has also focused on factors indirectly related to criminal behaviors.
  • This research focus has included:
    • Twin studies
    • Adoption studies
    • Learning disabilities
    • ADHD
    • Perinatal factors
    • Family studies
    • Minimal brain damage
However, it is important to realize that these factors operate and interact with other non-biological factors in a complex process to create causal chains.

Biological factors may only be indirectly linked to criminal behaviors.

psychological theories
Psychological Theories
  • Tend to approach the challenge of understanding and explaining criminality by focusing on theories of personality or learning that account for individual behavior in specific situations.
sigmund freud circa 1953
Sigmund Freud (circa 1953)
  • Is most closely linked to psychoanalytic theory.
  • While Freud did not specifically attempt to link his work to criminality, forensic researchers have used his work to explain the psychology of criminal behaviors.
The foundation of this theory is that individuals progress through five overlapping stages of development.

As well, personality is made up of three forces:

The id – biological drives

The ego – which controls and directs the id

The super-ego – or conscience.

The ego and super-ego are created when the individual successfully works through conflicts present at each of the five stages of development.

Criminal behavior results when the internal controls found in the ego and super-ego fail to restrain the primitive, aggressive urges of the id.

in other words
In other words…
  • If the ego and super-ego do not fully develop through the early stages of development, criminal behavior is more likely to develop.
jean piaget
Jean Piaget
  • Theories focusing on the idea of moral development supplement psychoanalysis with a chronological development argument.
  • Piaget (1932) studied children, game playing, and rule development.
  • He concluded that moral reasoning occurred in stages.
l kohlberg 1964
L Kohlberg (1964)
  • Built upon Piaget’s work and hypothesized that moral development occurs in six stages and that all individuals went through these stages.
  • Some individuals spent more time in different stages and some never progressed past the first few stages.
Criminal behavior was more likely to occur in individuals who had not successfully completed all stages of moral development.
hans j eysenck 1977
Hans J. Eysenck (1977)
  • Developed a theoretical explanation for the psychopathic personality.
  • Developed a more behaviorist approach to crime and personality.
  • He argued that children will naturally engage in deviant forms of behavior.
  • They will only refrain if they are punished each time they engage in the behavior.
in other words1
In other words…
  • Individuals must be conditioned not to engage in certain acts through fear of punishment.
  • Individuals who engage in deviant or criminal acts have not developed this fear as a result of poor conditioning by parents or they are less susceptible to conditioning generally.
b f skinner
B. F. Skinner
  • Work begins in the 1930s.
  • Work on operant conditioning argued that individual behavior is influenced by both positive reinforcement and punishment (negative).
  • Behavior that is rewarded will continue.
Behavior that is consistently punished will cease.

Individuals who are rewarded, or escape punishment, for deviant and/or criminal behaviors will continue to engage in them.

social learning theory
Social Learning Theory
  • Associated with Albert Bandura (1970s)
  • Suggests that aggressive behavior is learned (or modeled) from three sources.
  • Family
  • Social models and peers
  • Symbolic modeling – uses television (media) violence as a model of aggressive behavior.
  • Like biological theories, both behaviorist and developmental psychological approaches attempt to explore the relationship between individuals and deviant or criminal behavior.
Findings from this research indicates that psychological factors may play a role in determining behaviors.
However, these factors operate and interact with other social and environmental factors in a complex relationship.

These theories are still based on a primary assumption of individual badness and pathology.

okay now back to the classical theories of crime and criminality
Okay, now back to the classical theories of crime and criminality.
  • Don’t forget, we said that this paradigm argues that individuals are hedonistic and seek to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
  • And, they make rational decisions by weighing the pros and cons of their actions before undertaking them.
  • from this perspective, youth will naturally be drawn towards activities that bring them the greatest pleasure (risk-taking behaviors or criminal behaviors).
In order to counter the rational decision by youth to participate in delinquent or criminal activities, society, through the use of social and legal sanctions must create an environment when the potential cost of this behavior outweighs the pleasure they may gain in participation.
  • This can be accomplished through the implementation of either generalor specific deterrents.
general deterrence
General Deterrence
  • Is accomplished by the development of a criminal justice system that makes evident the consequences for anyone who engages in a criminal behavior.
specific deterrence
Specific Deterrence
  • Accomplished by the use of punishment and/or consequences to the individual who engages in the deviant or criminal act.
in order for punishment to succeed it must meet three criteria
In order for punishment to succeed it must meet three criteria:
  • Certainty
  • Timeliness
  • Proportionality
simply stated
Simply stated…
  • Those that break the laws much know that they will be punished, the punishment should occur swiftly, and the punishment should be proportionate to the crime.
  • If these three conditions are met, deterrence will succeed because the cost will outweigh the benefits.
From this perspective, the creation and implementation of policies or laws to curtail or control levels of criminal activity in society are the most important aspect of crime policies.
Youth engage in criminal behaviors because they are inadequately monitored and controlled.
The solution to the crime problem is to ensure they will be caught and punished for their criminal activities.
The appeal of this approach is that it addresses public sentiment that youth are ‘out of control’ and more dangerous and increasingly punitive measures are needed to deal with the issue.
challenges to the theory
Challenges to the theory..
  • Do youth rationally weigh the pros and cons of their actions?
  • For some youth, engaging in criminal activities may be the most rational choice they can make.
  • For some youth, the greater certainty and severity of punishment can increase behaviors as a means of increasing status.
and a last consideration
And a last consideration…
  • The United States has the highest violent crime rate of all industrialized nations.
  • They also have the highest rates of incarcerations (except that Canada incarcerates more youth).
  • This contradicts the notion that imprisonment will reduce crime – the premise that ‘get tough on crime’ policies take that is based on the classical perspective.
strain and sub cultural theories
Strain and Sub-cultural Theories
  • Strain theory has its focus on the relationships between individuals and social structures.
  • All social structures exert pressures on individuals to conform to certain behavioral standards.
These behaviors can either be socially sanctioned (conformist) or socially rejected (deviant).
Modern western society encourages/expects youth to take on certain behaviors and to accept certain expectations.
  • What are these certain social expectations?
  • Obedience.
  • A successful completion of at least high school.
  • Internalization of a strong, individualistic work ethic.
Criminal behaviors result from the strain youth face between the goals sanctioned by society and legitimate opportunities to meet these goals.
When youth are unable to legitimately meet these goals they experience strain.

They may search for alternative and illegitimate ways to meet the goals.

robert k merton 1938
Robert K. Merton (1938)
  • Argued that there were several potential outcomes to strain.
Conformists – individuals who accept socially determined goals and develop legitimate ways to accomplish their goals.
Ritualists – individuals who do not particularly subscribe to socially sanctioned goals, but who maintain conventional, or legitimate, behaviors anyway.
Innovators – individuals who face blocked opportunities to achieve socially sanctioned goals and may potentially resort to alternative, and often illegal, behaviors to achieve their goals.
Retreatists – individuals who are unable to legitimately meet their goals and who simply drop out of society all together.
albert cohen 1955
Albert Cohen (1955)
  • Built upon and added to Merton’s work.
  • Cohen observed that much of the crime committed by youth appeared to be aimless and malicious.
He argued that youth do not necessarily accept the culturally transmitted social goal of economic success and financial accumulation that appears to motivate adults.
Instead of financial success, these youth were searching for the status and respect they could not command in their schools and communities.
These institutions were based on middle-class values and morals and incorporated ‘middle-class measuring rods’ in order to judge youth.
Status frustration results when working-class youth are unable to meet those standards.

The resulting strain could manifest itself in several ways.

Some youth could strive to meet these middle-class expectations.

Other youth could reject these standards and develop their own working-class expectations.

Other youth could gravitate towards like-minded youth and form their own sub-culture.

This would allow the participant to achieve the status he/she craved.

Achieving this status in the sub-culture might mean turning over middle-class values and expectations and doing the opposite of what is expected from successful middle-class youth.
r cloward l ohlin 1960
R. Cloward & L. Ohlin (1960)
  • Added a sub-cultural dimension to the work of Merton and Cohen with their theory of Differential Opportunity.
Criminal activities resulting from strain could actually be motivated by a drive for both financial success and gaining status.
Therefore, it is important to consider the issue of access to illegitimate opportunities when considering motivations for criminal behaviors.
These individuals have to opportunity to learn and internalize criminal values and norms as well as the techniques needed to engage in deviance.

This would lead to the development of criminal sub-cultures.

There was also the potential for violent or conflicting sub-cultures to emerge where there were no opportunities (either legitimate or illegitimate) for goal achievement or where youth could achieve status and relieve frustrations through participation in gang violence.
criticisms of strain sub cultural theories
Criticisms of Strain/Sub-cultural Theories
  • Based on the assumption that all individuals accept and aspire to these goals and values.
  • Issue of originality – where does strain originate?
  • Fails to deal with social issues which may block opportunities or deny access to legitimate means of goal attainment.
Fails to discuss why and how some activities are defined as deviant/criminal in the first place.

Fails to address the gendered nature of crime.

edwin sutherland circa 1947
Edwin Sutherland (circa 1947)
  • Differential Association Theory – foundation is in the idea that criminal activity is learned.
  • Argued that all behavior is learned through interactions with others in a communication process.
Majority of learning happens in intimate groups and includes learning the motivations and rationalizations for engaging in certain behaviors.
These behaviors may be socially acceptable of they may be deviant/criminal.

Sutherland developed concepts to assist in understanding how differential associations vary in terms of quality and strength.

focus is on the importance of
Focus is on the importance of:
  • Frequency – the number of times one is exposed to ideas;
  • Duration – the length of time one is exposed to ideas;
Priority – the extent to which people are exposed to learning at early stages of their development;

Intensity – the importance to the potential delinquent of the individual from whom he/she is learning.

Sutherland also argued that learning deviant behavior was like learning socially acceptable behavior and criminal behavior could not be explained in reference to the general needs and values of criminals as these appeared to be the same as non-criminal individuals.
He also argued that is association with criminals could lead to an individual learning criminal behaviors, then associating with pro-social, non-criminal groups or individuals could provide opportunities to learn acceptable, non-criminal behaviors.
This theory has been extremely influential in the study of crime.

It has highlighted the role of learning and relationships with others in regards to criminal activities.

It has provided a way of exploring why, when facing similar situations (such as poverty or racism) some people engage in criminal behaviors while others do not.

challenges to differential association theory
Challenges to Differential Association Theory.
  • One of the most important criticism of this theory is based on the concept of causality.
  • How do youth come to associate with ‘a criminal element’? They may seek them out for social support and understanding.
By focusing on how individuals learn criminal behavior, theorists ignore or deny the influence of social structure.

Learning approaches need to incorporate an analysis of the influence of the social environment on the process of learning criminal behaviors.

r j sampson j lauritsen 1990
R.J. Sampson & J. Lauritsen (1990)
  • Routine Activities Theory – argues the potential for violent/delinquent activities increases with exposure to violent/delinquent activities.
  • Individuals who experience violent environments and victimization will legitimate the use of violence as a viable solution more readily than others.
There appears to be a strong relationship between violence at home and future anti-social behaviors.

Youth may seek out others who approve and encourage the use of violence.

Same fundamental criticisms that apply to differential association theory apply to this theory –the influence of social structure is played down.

ecological theories
Ecological Theories.
  • Study the impact of social environment on communities, individuals, and criminality.
  • Chicago School – 1920s – most famous of the ecological theories.
Focused on the ways in which human societies resembled the organization and interrelationship between plants and animals in nature.
c shaw h d mckay 1930s
C. Shaw & H. D. McKay (1930s)
  • Applied the theory to the study of youth crime.
  • The physical shape and character of communities created conditions under which delinquent/criminal behavior could take place.
r j sampson w b groves late 1980s
R. J. Sampson & W. B. Groves (late 1980s)
  • Defined the links between neighborhood disorganization and criminal activity as:
  • Low socio-economic status.
  • A mix of different ethnic groups.
  • High levels of social mobility.
  • Broken homes and family disruptions.
The fundamental premise is that neighborhoods that exhibit high levels of these factors are more likely to generate crime because the social controls that prevent people from committing delinquent/criminal acts are weak or missing.
Shaw and McKay further their explanation by stating that the morals and values of the youth in these ‘disorganized’ neighborhoods have been culturally transmitted by the greater number of individuals who have internalized criminal values.
criticisms to social disorganization approaches
Criticisms to social disorganization approaches:
  • There may be multiple other factors that contribute to youth crime in particular communities.
  • These may include high levels of unemployment, family disruption, and poverty.
These theories do not focus on the roots of social disorganization – namely inequality, systemic racism, and changing economic conditions.

Not all youth in disorganized communities engage in delinquent/criminal behaviors.

This perspective has the potential to target certain neighborhoods for interventions based on factors such as socio-economic status and ethnicity.
If working-class or ethnic neighborhoods are considered more criminogenic there is a tendency to focus crime control policies in these areas.
social control theories
Social Control Theories
  • Unlike theories that focus on why youth commit delinquent/criminal acts, social control theories focus on what stops youth from engaging in delinquent/criminal behaviors.
travis hirschi circa 1969
Travis Hirschi (circa 1969)
  • Fundamental premise is that appropriate socialization will create a strong bond between the individual and society.
  • This strong bond will prevent youth from engaging in criminal behaviors.
four elements of the bond
Four elements of the bond.
  • Attachment – the degree of emotional regard and respect one has for other individuals.
  • Commitment – the degree to which an individual entertains and pursues ideas about conventional objectives – such as a ‘respectable career’.
Involvement – the time and energy one invests participating in conventional activities.

Belief – the degree of respect held by individuals for the framework of moral order and law of conventional society.

The lower the level of these bonds, the higher the likelihood of deviant or criminal behavior.

Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) argue that poor parental supervision or ineffective punishment when combined with situations that are conductive to delinquency lead to poor self-control for youth and are the main reasons youth engage in criminal behaviors.

w reckless 1961
W. Reckless (1961)
  • Containment Theory -a variation on social control theory.
  • Individuals resist criminal behaviors for two main reasons.
Inner containment - they resist because they have been socialized to resist temptations and to hold a strong belief in conventional goals.
Outer containment – individuals resist criminal behaviors because of prohibitions created by laws.
g m sykes d matza 1957
G. M. Sykes & D. Matza (1957)
  • Yet another version of social control theory.
  • Known as Techniques of Neutralization
  • Youth lose self control and engage in criminal behavior because they are able to self-rationalize and justify their activities.
Most youth are fully aware and understand the moral implications of criminal behavior and they believe, for the most part, in the moral standards and laws of society.

The majority of these youth feel shame and remorse over their actions.

d matza 1964
D Matza (1964)
  • Later adds the concept of ‘drift’ to the theory.
  • He suggests that youth ‘drift’ between conformity and deviance and do so because they are able to neutralize the impact of their actions.
  • They do so be verbalizing about their actions in five ways.
these are
These are:
  • Denial of responsibility – the youth contends that his/her behavior is not his/her personal responsibility, but that of another person or institution.
Denial of injury – the youth contends that no one was actually hurt by his/her actions.

Denial of the victim – the youth argues that the victim ‘had it coming to them’ or ‘deserved it’.

Condemnation of the condemners – the young person attempts to ‘turn the tables’ on his or her accusers, with statements like “well, you do it too”, or, “you’re just as bad”.
Appeal to higher loyalties – the youth contend that his/her commitment and allegiance to the group is more important than to society or conventional others.

Or that gangs or friends forced him/her to do what he/she did.

j hagan j simpson a r gillis circa 1978
J. Hagan, J. Simpson & A. R. Gillis (circa 1978)
  • Power-control Theory – attempts to incorporate gender into social control theories of crime and deviance.
Similar to other social control theories in that is assumes that delinquency and criminality are forms of risk-taking behaviors.
Goal is to explore sex differences in delinquency/criminality by examining the influences of variations in parenting styles of the behaviors of young males and females.
They argue that parental control and youth attitudes toward risk-taking are affected by family relations.
two ideal family types are explored
Two ideal family types are explored.
  • Patriarchal – male employed outside the home in a position of authority and the wife is not employed outside the home.
Egalitarian – both husband and wife are employed in positions of authority outside the home.
so how will power by exercised within the family unit
So, how will power by exercised within the family unit?
  • Patriarchal:
  • Traditional division of labor
  • Fathers, but even more so mothers, are expected to control daughters.
  • Daughters socialized to concentrate on domestic labor, sons to prepare for participation in outside workforce.

More equal distribution of labor.

More equal expectations of control between parents and children.

Sons and daughters encouraged to prepare for participation in outside workforce.

Based on these assumptions, Hagan et. al. predict that patriarchal families will be characterized by large gender differences in common delinquent behaviors.

Egalitarian families will be characterized by smaller gender differences in delinquency.


challenges to social control theories
Challenges to social control theories.
  • If people are motivated to choose delinquent criminal behaviors to meet needs, why in the face of temptations of the majority of youth conform to social expectations and moral standards?
Social control theories also assume that delinquent/criminal youth violate norms and expectations upon which the rest of society agrees.
This assumption is based on a core belief that consensus and not conflict is a primary characteristic of society.
Control theories are based on the premise that weak bonds to society cause delinquent/criminal behavior.
However, we could ask “does delinquency/ criminality result from poor bonds to society or is it the other way around?”