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Why do people

commit Crimes?
Theories of Criminology
Criminology refers to the study
of the nature, causes, and
means of dealing with crime
Classical Criminology
Classical theories on criminology
came out of the chaos of justice
in the 18th and early 19th
Some key thinkers:
Cesare Beccaria
Jeremy Bentham
Cesare Beccaria
Famous for writing On Crimes and Punishment
Humans are driven by self-interest, but are
rational in their decisions
Government should act on behalf of all citizens
Citizens are prepared to give up some freedoms
in exchange for protection
Existence of law should act as sufficient deterrent
Punishment should be proportionately greater
than enjoyment received by disobeying
Jeremy Bentham
Based his view on theory of utilitarianism
Law should ensure the greatest good for
the greatest number of people
Social contract between government and
people, each with clear responsibilities
Government to make clear what was
illegal and what punishment would
Citizens to follow laws as created
Positive Theory (Positivism)

Criminals are born not made

This is an example of nature, not nurture
Focused on biological and psychological
factors to explain criminal behaviour
Positivist Theorists

Cesare Lombarso (1835 1909)

Italian physician and psychiatrist

What did he think/do?

Studied cadavers of executed criminals in an effort to
determine scientifically whether criminals were physically any
different from non-criminals
He believed that people were born criminals and facial
features of criminals included things like enormous jaws and
strong canine teeth.
Pictures of
that Lambarso
carried facial
tied to criminal
Murderer Sean Penn

See any similarities!?

Does this mean Sean Penn is a Criminal?
Positivist Theorists cont

In the 1960s, positivist criminologists argued that criminal

behaviour lies in abnormal chromosomes

The XYY theory argued that violent male criminals have an

abnormal XYY chromosome (XY is the normal pattern in males)

However, researchers soon found out that this was not true and
that criminals had normal chromosomes and that non-criminals
also had abnormal chromosomes.

The Positivist theory of criminals being born rather than made

died out. There were moral implications with this.
Modern Day Example
Philippe Rushton
University of Western Ontario psychology

Rushton's book Race, Evolution, and

Behavior (1995)tries to show that East
Asians and their descendants average a
larger brain size, greater intelligence,
more sexual restraint, slower rates of
maturation, and greater law abidingness
and social organization than do
Europeans and their descendants, who
average higher scores on these
dimensions than Africans and their
Sociological Perspectives:
Theory of Anomie

Sociological Theorist: Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)

People who live in cities feel more anonymous and isolated (as
compared to rural life).
No longer restrained by the strict norms of society (in rural life)
and given the anonymity in a big city certain individuals turned
to crime.
Durkheim is also a father of functionalism (i.e., everyone has a
role/function in society and that is how society runs/functions.
Durkheim believes that criminals have a role and are needed for
society to function
If there were no crime, it would mean that everyone in society was
the same and agreed on everything. This is no ideal and society
would be too comforting people need a release.
Anomie cont
Kitty Genovese
Young woman stabbed to death on a street in New York City -1964
As many as 37 neighbours and bystanders all heard her screams for
No one called the police because they all thought someone else
would take action.
Sociologists call this Diffusion of Responsibility

Sociology cont
Ecological School

Believed that criminal behaviour was fostered and

encouraged in certain environments.
They studied a number of poor neighbourhoods and
concluded that communities that suffered from high
rates of poverty and social disintegration were more
likely to condone criminal activity than more affluent
Sociology cont
Social Conflict Theory

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels argued that the capitalist

society encouraged crime as people competed for
resources and wealth.

Our society protects those with power and property. As a

result, people who are economically disadvantaged are
more likely to be punished by our justice system. The only way
to solve the crime problem is to eliminate the capitalist
Social Psychological
Social psychology is the study of the relations
between individuals and people.

They are interested in how regular people can

commit atrocious crimes.

Stanley Milgram was specifically interested in how

Nazis were able to commit horrible acts of
genocide he focused on how people could do
this just by following orders.

Milgram Experiment

Torturing and killing innocent civilians

In relation to torturing
Displacement of responsibility and dehumanizing the victim are two
categories of moral disengagement

Bandura (1999) states, People behave in ways they would normally oppose
if a legitimate authority accepts responsibility for the consequences of that
behavior. Under these conditions, people view their actions as the dictates
of authorities rather than their own actions.

According to reports in the article, the torture and abuse of the civilians was
approved and facilitated by the White House

According to Bandura, (1999) person can justify torture by loosing empathy

for the victim while convincing himself that the victim lacks human qualities.

Furthermore, once the victim is dehumanized, he is no longer viewed as a

person with feelings, concerns or hopes but as a subhuman object that is
easily tortured (Bandura, 1999).
Strain Theory (Sociology)
Current societies stress the goals of acquiring wealth, success,
and power.

However, the means to achieve these goals require education

and economic resources.

These means are frequently denied or unavailable to those

who are economically disadvantaged or have little opportunity
for formal education.

Example: The Wire, Season 4, Episode 8

Young African American youth yearning for the chance to work
on the streets to sell drugs because they know this is the only way
they can make money.
Psychoanalytical Theory
Sigmund Freud believed that all humans have
criminal tendencies.
It is through socialization that these tendencies are
controlled during childhood.
If a child has an identity problem with his/her
parent, this problem may cause the child to direct
its antisocial tendencies outward and thus become
a criminal.
Psychological Human Development also comes
into play here
How did he grow up to be a murderer?

Theorists consider moral behaviour to be self-regulated through

mechanisms of self-evaluation where one can approve or
disapprove irresponsible or inhumane behaviour

Bandura (1977), states that most violent acts and inhumanities

are perpetrated by people who, in other areas of their life are
quite considerate in their behaviour.
According to Sigelman and Rider (2009), children who are raised in
abusive environments can grow up to become abusers and to
learn that violence is an integral part of human relationships.

Furthermore, abusers are often insecure individuals with low

self-esteem. Abusers can form negative internal working models of
themselves and others, which are most likely rooted in unhappy
experiences in insecure relationships with parents and negative
experiences in romantic relationships
Contemporary Theories Of Crime
Strain Theory
Argues that people commit
crimes when they believe they
cannot achieve their desires and
goals through legitimate means.
The stress of goals of acquiring
wealth (success and power), and
the means to achieve these
goals (education, economic
resources) are denied to the
economically disadvantaged
Suggests the key
influences leading to
criminal behaviour are
found in upbringing, peer
groups, and role models
Biological Theories
Biological Trait Theory
Argues that some human traits such
as intelligence, personality,
chemical and genetic makeup may
predispose people to engage in
criminal behaviour
Research suggests that the
following can cause a person to
become a criminal
Poor diet (Twinkie Defense)
Influence of hormones (androgens)
Exposure to drugs/alcohol in the womb
Neurophysiological Theory
Focus on the study of
brain activity and how
neurological dysfunctions
are connected with
criminal activity
Twin studies
Case Study: The American Dream
and Deviance
Robert Messner (Social Structure and
Anomie, 1938)
Argued that it was the rigid adherence to
conventional American values that caused
high rates of crime and deviance
Believed that the American obsession with
economic success produced high levels of
serious crime
Case Study: The American Dream
and Deviance
All members of American society ascribe to the
American dream that if one were simply willing to work
hard enough, one would inevitably reap the economic
rewards of such labours
The problem is that despite the widespread belief in the
possibility of upward social mobility, the American social
structure limits individuals access to the goal of
economic success through legitimate means
Ex: while the probability of attaining economic success would be
enhanced by getting a college education, not all members of
American society are able to do so
Case Study: The American Dream
and Deviance
This disjunction between culturally ascribed
goals (i.e., economic success) and the
availability of legitimate means to attain such
goals (i.e., social structural limits) in turn puts
pressure on the cultural norms that guide what
means should be used to achieve the culturally
prescribed goal
The result, Merton states, is that the sole
significant question becomes: Which of the
available procedures is most efficient in netting
the culturally approved value?
Case Study: The American Dream
and Deviance
Key precepts of Social Conflict theory:
The capitalist system inherently fosters
deviance (emphasis on competition, persisting
inequality, and economic prosperity as to
The justice system as a tool of oppression
(purpose is to maintain social stratification
and serve the interests of those in power)
Case Study: The American Dream
and Deviance
Social conflict is defined by socially
unequal groups, such as the rich and the
poor, competing for money and material
The fundamental cause of crime is
oppression, resulting from social and
economic forces operating within society
Case Study: The American Dream
and Deviance
How does anomie theory and social conflict
theory explain the United States high rates of
Deviant behaviour in upper strata (Bernie Madoff,
Enron, etc.)
Deviant behaviour in lower strata (crime rates in the
ghetto, glorification of criminal lifestyle in hip hop)
Is it paradoxical that the land of opportunity
has the highest rate of incarceration in the
Americans represent about 5% percent of the world's
population, but nearly 25% of the worlds prisoners
Case Study: The American Dream
and Deviance
Read article U.S. prison population
dwarfs that of other nations
Apply anomie and social conflict theory to
explain what the United States has the
highest rate of incarceration in the world