Criminology: The Scientific study of crime as asocial phenomenon, of criminals, and of penaltreatment. People who explore the causes of crime areinterested in both the formal systems for thecontrol of behavior, such as the legal system, andthe informal systems of control, such as thefamily, school, social group and religiousaffiliation. They are interested in observing howthese systems influence behavior and whathappens when there are conflicts among thesevarious control systems.
By studying such behaviors and gatheringreliable data about individuals and their socialenvironment, the criminologist seeks toconstruct theories that can be used to predictbehavior. The purpose of a theory is not to predict whata specific individual will do in a specific case.Rather, theories attempt to define generalprinciples that will apply in a number ofsimilar cases, but not necessarily in all cases.
Early nonscientific theoriesemphasized moral weaknessand evil spirits as the cause ofcriminality. Early explanationsof deviant and criminal behaviorwere derived primarily fromnonscientific methodologies.Most of these nonscientificinvestigations searched forprinciples underlying humanconduct and thought basedupon logic or beliefs assumed tobe true, and were often basedon social and religious moralsinstead of empiricalobservations and facts. It wasbelieved that people are, or canbe, inherently evil.
Modern theories of crime causation are complexbecause they recognize the interaction of manyvariables as necessary and sufficient inexplaining criminal behavior. Modern theories explaining criminal behavior arebased on scientific inquiry, which involvesobservation and isolation of variables relating tocause and effect. Modern scientific explanations of criminality haveevolved from simple theories with few variablesto complex theories built upon extensive dataand research.
In classical and neoclassical theories, theexplanation for crime is based on the assumptionthat criminal behavior is a matter of choice. Theindividual has free will to choose to commit orrefrain from criminal behavior. The individual’s choice of behavior is influencedby a rational analysis of the gain to be achievedfrom committing the criminal act versus thepunishment or penalty that could be suffered ifsanctioned by society for the criminal behavior. Theories that share this assumption of free willand rational choice are commonly called classicalschool theories and neoclassical school theories.
Two theorists representing theclassical and neoclassical theoriesare Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794)and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832),respectively. Their theories were aradical departure from thecontemporary thought of theirtime, which credited spirits anddemons as the cause of “bad”behavior. Salem Witch trials of 1692Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794)
While Cesare Beccaria’s ideas actuallypreceded the development of criminologyas an academic discipline, he is known asthe founder of classical criminologybecause his theories about crime markedthe beginning of a new approach tocriminological thought that wouldeventually lead to modern theories. Beccaria was an Italian nobleman and juristwho was dissatisfied with the justicesystem of his time and attempted to bringabout change. During the 1700s, theItalian criminal justice system was abarbaric system that leaned towardextreme punishments and questionablejustice. Laws were unwritten, arbitrary, and unfairlyapplied. The situation was made worse byunschooled judges whose decisions wereoften arbitrary and based to a large degreeon the social class of the accused. Thepenalties handed out by the courtsconsisted of corporal and capitalpunishments that were considered asource of public entertainment.Defendants had no rights, there was notdue process, and torture was regarded asan effective interrogation method.Examination of a Salem Witch
Beccaria composed a single volumeaddressing his concerns about the criminaljustice system in Italy, Dei delitti e Delle Pene,published in 1764 and translated into Englishin 1768 under the title Of Crimes andPunishments. In 1771, he was appointedCounselor of State and a magistrate. Beccariaprobably had no idea that his short testwould become the single work responsiblefor a revolution in the philosophy of criminaljustice.
His essay clearly summarizedthe concept of the criminaljustice system as a socialcontract based on logic, goalorientation, and humanisticprinciples. The concepts inhis books – innocent untilproven guilty, trial by a jury ofone’s peers, the right ofappeal, the classification ofcrimes, equal treatment of allpeople before the court, andso on – reflect the principlesof American jurisprudence.
Beccaria was influenced by the Age ofEnlightenment. His ideas on the cause ofcriminal behavior were based on thephilosophical axiom that people are rational. He reasoned that people seek to do that whichbrings them pleasure and to avoid that whichcauses pain. He further assumed that membersof society are responsible for their actions.There are no mitigating circumstances orexcuses for one’s criminal behavior. The same standard of justice and punishmentshould be applied to people of all ages andmental abilities.
Beccaria advocated certain, swift punishment ofappropriate intensity and duration for theoffense committed, for the purpose of deterringpeople from committing crimes. According to Beccaria, the reason for thecontinued presence of crime in eighteenth-century Italian society was that the criminaljustice system did not provide for swift, certain,and appropriate punishment. This concept – that criminal behavior is a matterof free will and choice and that certain, swift, andappropriate pain will deter people from criminalbehavior - is the basic premise of the classicaltheory of criminology.
English philosopher and scholarJeremy Bentham is credited withthe formation of the neoclassicalschool of criminology, which issimilar to the classical school inthat the basic foundation is theconcept that criminal behavior is amatter of free will and the choiceto commit criminal behavior can bedeterred by pain and punishment. The major difference betweenBeccaria’s classical theory ofcriminology and Bentham’sneoclassical theory is that Benthambelieved that Beccaria’sunwavering accountability of alloffenders was too harsh. Benthambelieved in mitigatingcircumstances.
Whereas Beccaria would hold a child of age 5or 6 just as responsible for a violation of thelaw as an adult, Bentham argued that childrenunder the age of 7 and offenders sufferingfrom mental disease should be exempt fromcriminal liability. Both Beccaria and Bentham opposed thedeath penalty.
Like Beccaria, Bentham reasoned thatpeople are calculating human whologically evaluate the pleasure to begained by the commission of an actversus the punishment to be suffered forit. When the pain of punishment outweighsthe pleasure to be derived, the individualsrefrain from criminal behavior. Bentham’s theory regarding the balancingof pain and pleasure as a means todiscourage criminal behavior is known asthe felicitic calculus – the pain versus thepleasure principle.
Bentham’s philosophy is called “utilitarianism”,and states that a rational system ofjurisprudence provides for the greatesthappiness for the greatest number of people. Based on the principles that people actrationally and that the punishment should fitthe crime, Bentham’s neoclassical philosophybecame the foundation of the Englishjurisprudence system, and hence the Americanjurisprudence system.
The twentieth century ushered in a new era ofscientific inquiry. Many of the scientific fieldsthat emerged at the turn of the twentiethcentury, such as sociology, psychology, andpsychiatry, offered innovative theories toexplain human behavior. Scholars quicklyadopted this new knowledge to explaincriminal behavior, and often, the validity ofthese new explanations was tested throughthe criminal justice system.
The scientific method emphasizes thatknowledge about criminal behavior should begathered using tools such as observation,surveys, case studies, and experimentation. The positive school includes most moderntheories of criminology. The positive theories can be divided into threemajor schools based upon the emphasis of theprimary cause of crime: biology, psychology, andsociology. Theories based upon psychology and sociologyhave a greater impact upon the criminal justicesystem than biological theories have.
Modern theories of crime are based upon thepremise that, contrary to the assumption ofclassical theories that individuals have freewill and choose to commit crime, peoplecommit crimes because of uncontrollableinternal or external factors that can beobserved and measures. These positivist scholars and scientists werealso known as determinists.
Darwin’s writings provided an important portalfor the development of new positivecriminological theories. One of the dilemmas in the advancement ofpremodern criminological theories was the beliefcommonly held in Christian theologies thathumankind was created by God in God’s imageand therefore is inherently good. This foundational belief, while consistent withthe free will school of thought, posed greatdifficulties for any theory asserting that somepeople are not created good, but are bad frombirth.
To say that one was born “bad” seems toplace the fault with God or to deny thegoodness of God’s creation. If people aregood from birth, on the other hand, itbecomes necessary to explain how onebecomes bad. The theory of evolution and adaptation of thespecies provided an answer to this question.
Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was an Italianmedical doctor who took an interest in thecauses of criminal behavior. He wasparticularly influenced by previous scholarswhose writings suggested that criminality wasinherited. He was also influence by Darwin’stheory of adaptation and nonadaptation, andhe assumed that criminals were throwbacksto an earlier stage of evolution.
Lombroso collected extensive data fromItalian prisoners and Italian militarypersonnel. He believed that criminal behaviorwas a characteristic of humans who hadfailed to fully develop from their primitiveorigins, such that criminals were closer toapes than to contemporary humans.◦ Protruding jaws◦ Sloping foreheads◦ Left-handedness◦ Red hair
Lombroso concluded that criminals were cases ofatavism – reversions to primitive times. Because criminals were born inferior andprehuman, little could be done to prevent suchpersons from becoming criminals or torehabilitate them. Lombroso made extensive physicalmeasurements to define what he called the“criminal man”. The study of physical traits of criminals wascalled atavistic stigmata.
Garofalo and Ferri further developed Lombroso’stheories. Although their theories deviatedsignificantly from Lombroso’s, the central themewas that criminals should not be held morallyresponsible for crimes because they did notchoose to commit the crimes. Ferri was more hopeful that preventive measurescould overcome congenital tendencies. Garofalo focused more on psychic anomalies andthe reform of the judicial system.
Despite the fact that Lombroso’s theory was laterinvalidated, it was and continues to be influentialin the study of criminology and upon the criminaljustice system.◦ His theory influence the way in which convicted personswere treated in prison◦ Emphasis on corporal punishment and moral correctionthrough religious instruction was replaced by anemphasis on identification, isolation, and extermination.◦ Castration was a common correctional treatment basedon the belief that criminality is an inheritedcharacteristic.
“It is better for all the world, if instead ofwaiting to execute degenerate offspring forcrime, or to let them starve for theirimbecility, society can prevent those who aremanifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”◦ U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
GENETICS: As the contribution of genetics tovarious human conditions was recognized,several studies revisited Lombroso’s basicaxiom that criminality is inherited. Karl O. Christainsen: Studied sets of identicaltwins and concluded that if one twin engagedin criminal behavior, the probability that hisor her identical twin would be a criminal wasstatistically significantly higher.
Proponents of the biologicalperspective on criminalbehavior argue that somepeople are born with abiological predisposition forcriminality. Biocriminlolgy: The study ofthe roles played by genetic andneurophysiological variables incriminal behavior.
Modern biology-based theoriesidentify a diverse number ofvariables suspected of contributingto criminal behavior. Often, thesetheories have emerged afterscientific discoveries have revealednew knowledge about how thebrain works and the contributionof genetics to behavior.◦ XYY Chromosometheory
Freud and Psychoanalysis: At the end of the 1800’s, AustrianNeurophysiologist Sigmund Freudintroduced his new psychoanalytictheory. In the twentieth century,the science of psychoanalysisbecame universally accepted as away of understanding previouslyunexplainable human behavior. Freud based his theory on theunderlying assumption thatbehavior is not a choice of freewill, but is controlled bysubconscious desires.Furthermore, not all behavior isrational. Some desires are notonly irrational, but destructive.
Freud argued that despite the self-destructivenature of some behaviors, people are unableto control them. At the root of Freud’s theory is the conceptthat human thoughts and actions arecontrolled by the three components of theconscious mind: The Superego The Ego The Id
Freud did not focus on the study of criminalbehavior, but his theory of psychoanalysishas been extensively applied to the study ofcriminals. When Freud’s theory is applied to criminalbehavior, it could be said that crime is asymptom of a person’s unresolvedpsychological conflict. This conflict is causedby “free floating” feelings of guilt and anxiety. The person feels guilty, but does not knowwhy.
To alleviate the feelings of guilt, the personcommits a crime so that he or she will bepunished. The punishment brings temporary relief,however, because the punishment is not trulyrelated to the source of the feelings of guilt, theguilt returns, and it is necessary for the person tocommit another crime. This dysfunctional cycle of guilt and criminalbehavior continues because in reality, thepunishment received cannot alleviate the feelingof guilt. SERIAL MURDERERS
The University of Chicago established the firstsociological department in the United States.Robert Ezra Park (1864-1944) was one of thefounders of this department, and he focusedon explaining and understanding socialdisorder. Park believed that human behavior isinfluenced by the environment and that anovercrowded and disordered environmentleading to social isolation contributes todeviant and criminal behavior.
Park and his students gathered data from thesurrounding Chicago area and engaged in acomprehensive study of the relationshipbetween urbanization and social isolation,based on Emile Durkheim’s theory of anomie. Anomie is a feeling of “normlessness” andlack of belonging that people feel when theybecome socially isolated. According to Durkheim, people with anomielack the ties to society that would inhibitthem from committing crimes against society.
Park’s research demonstrated thatcriminal behavior was independentof individual characteristics andmuch more dependent on disruptivesocial forces. This is called socialdisorganization theory. Subsequent studies by Clifford Shawand others demonstrated thatChicago was divided into territorialpatterns with distinct populations.Each population had a distinctecological niche and a life of its ownthat was more or less conducive tocrime. This environment basedtheory of criminal behavior becameknown as zone theory.Robert Ezra Park (1864-1944)
Zone Theory: According to zone theory, social environmentsbased on status disadvantages:◦ Poverty◦ Illiteracy◦ Lack of schooling◦ Unemployment◦ Illegitimacyare powerful forces that influence human interactions.Studies by Shaw and McKay showed that from 1900 to 1933,the highest rates of delinquency persisted in the sameneighborhoods, even though the ethnic compositionchanged. Thus, the basic cause of delinquency was not theethnicity of the juveniles, but the social structures,institutions, and environmental variables in that zone.
Based on the assumption that socialconditions such as unemployment, poorschools, and substandard housing aresignificant factors contributing to delinquencyand crime, many government-sponsoredprograms have attempted to fight crime byimproving employment opportunities, socialservices, and housing. Crime Prevention Through EnvironmentalDesign (CPTED) was founded on the theorythat crime prevention is related toenvironmental design, particularly housingdesign.◦ Broken Window Theory
Differential Association Theory: criminal behavioris learned entirely through group interaction. Sutherland argued that criminal behavior islearned in intimate peer groups that reward orreinforce antisocial or delinquent behaviors.Thus, a life of crime is culturally transmittedthrough peer groups. Sutherland emphasizes that criminal or deviantbehavior is simply a learned behavior.◦ Behavior is learned◦ White collar crime◦ Crime by upper-class adolescents
Social control theory emphasizes that social andcultural values exert control over individuals’behavior and that social institutions enforcethose values.◦ Family◦ School◦ Neighborhood◦ Church (Religion)◦ Government Informal Sanctions and Formal Sanctions The influence of informal and formal systems ofsocial control make people basically law abidingto the extent that they indentify with andconform to social expectations.
Social control theoriesemphasize that bothenvironmental variables andindividual self-control areinfluential in preventing orsuppressing criminalbehavior.
Neutralization theory is based on the assumptionthat one cannot completely resist criminalbehavior and that most people have committedsome criminal or deviant act at one time oranother. It is argued that deviant and criminal behaviorproduces a sense of guilt, and that the pains ofconscience are sufficient to keep most peoplefrom engaging in extended and extensivecriminality. Criminals, on the other hand, learn neutralizationtechniques that allow them to avoid being guiltridden. Neutralization techniques include psychologicaldefenses, such as rationalization, denial, andappeal to higher loyalties.
Sociologist Robert Merton formulated a populartheory called strain theory, which is based on theassumption that people are law-abiding but willresort to crime when they are frustrated infinding legitimate means to economic success. According to Merton, people attempt to adaptmeans to goals in five basic ways◦ Conformity◦ Innovation◦ Ritualism◦ Retreatism◦ Rebellion
Merton believed that social conditions, especiallypoverty and ethnicity, are powerful factors indetermining the adaptations that individualsmake to socially prescribed goals and thelifestyles that develop as a result. It waspredicted that the greatest proportion of crimewould be found in the lower classes because,Merton believed, lower-class people have theleast opportunity to reach middle-class goalslegitimately. Also, in such a diverse society asthe United States, it might be presumptuous toassume that everyone shares the same valuesystem and common goals.
Strain theory has had a major impact on thegovernment’s response to crime. Programssuch as Head Start, Job Corps, and othersaimed at providing economic opportunities tothe poor and disadvantaged are justified bythe belief that economic opportunity deterscrime.
Cultural deviance theories are based on the ideathat the values of subcultural groups within thesociety have even more power over individualbehavior. Organized crime families, juvenilegangs, and hate groups can be described asdeviant subcultures. Cultural deviance theorists focus on differencesin values and norms between mainstream societyand subcultural groups, including immigrantswho entered the United States during the firsthalf of the twentieth century.
Thorsten Sellin (1938) advocated that crimewas not necessarily a case of bad peopleengaging in deliberate or negligent harm toothers. Sellin argued that cultural diversitycould be the cause of crime. In ahomogeneous society with strongidentification with the values of the group,there is little need for formal enforcement oflaws, as most people will conform to thegroup norms and values.
Sellin believed that criminallaw reflects normative valuesof the dominant culture orethnic group. In a societywhere there is a diversity ofcultural or ethnic groups, thebehaviors of the members ofthe minority culture or ethnicgroup may be rejected andlabeled criminal. There are two types ofcultural conflict:◦ Primary conflict◦ Secondary conflict
Primary conflict occurs when the norms of twocultures clash. Secondary conflict occurs within the evolution ofa single culture, as when children reject thevalues and conduct norms of their parents. Examples of cultural conduct norms that may becontrary to the law include:◦ Parents who do not believe in childhood immunizations◦ Compulsory schooling◦ Medical interventions to save lives◦ Religions who believe in polygamy
Conflict theorists focus on how a society’ssystem of social stratification (the division ofsociety into social classes) and social inequalityinfluence behavior. Conflict theories are based on the assumptionthat powerful ruling political and social elites –persons, groups, and institutions – exploit theless powerful and use the criminal justice systemto their own advantage to maintain their powerand privilege. In this view, criminology is thestudy of crime in relation to society’s haves andhave-nots.
Theories of crime based on social inequality havetheir roots in the social criticisms of Karl Marxand Friedrich Engels in nineteenth-centuryEurope. Marxism assumes a division between thepoor (workers) and the rich (property owners andcapitalists) in which the rich control the varioussocial, political, and economic institutions ofsociety. The rich use their power and position tocontrol the poor. Present-day conflict theorists suggest thatreducing social inequality is the only or best wayto reduce criminal behavior.
In the 1960’s, Richard Quinney argued that thecriminal justice system is a state-initiated andstate-supported effort to rationalize mechanismsof social control, which are based on classstructure. The state is organized to serve theinterests of the dominant economic class.Quinney saw criminal law as an instrument thatthe state and the “ruling class” use to maintainand perpetuate the social and economic order. Some conflict theorists went so far as to claimthat there is a deliberate conspiracy to suppressthe lower classes, especially the “dangerouspoor”.
Feminist criminology assumes thatthe underlying cause of criminalbehavior by females is theinequality of power between menand women. Advocates such asKathleen Daly, Freda Adler, MedaChesney-Lind, and Rita J. Simonargue that the inequality ofpolitical, economic, and socialpower and wealth is the root causeof female criminal behavior.
Conflict theorists have strongly criticizedmainstream criminology and the criminaljustice system. Research data began tosupport claims that inequality of opportunitycontributes to crime, and inequalities werefound to exist in the operation of the criminaljustice system. It was found, for example,that disproportionate numbers of poor andminority citizens were being stopped,arrested, and incarcerated compared withother groups.
Radical criminologists such as WilliamChambliss saw the law and the system as ameans of institutional discrimination ratherthan a means of providing fairness in justice.While efforts have been made to addressthese criticisms of the criminal justicesystem, conflict-based theories of crimecausation have not had a role in crimeprevention or rehabilitation programs.