Theories in Criminal Justice If one were to look up the definition of the word theory, they might find a meaning that pertains to words such as philosophy or a hypothesis. Theories exist in all aspects of life in order to give us explanations of why a certain phenomenon exists. This is extremely evident in the area of criminal justice. One phenomenon I am interested in is the human element during the juvenile years. Throughout I will examine why at an early age some juveniles choose one option that leads to a life of no crime and others choose an option that leads to criminal activity at an early age and then eventually as an adult. Throughout I will bring to the attention some theories of this varied behavior that have been discussed over the years and explain why I agree or disagree with such theories.
In order to understand these theories that I will address, one must look at the issue of deviance. In order to grasp the concepts of these theories, it is necessary to look at deviance on deeper level. Deviance, after all, is the basis of what these theories are based upon. Normal behavior is defined as conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected (Soanes, 2001). Deviant behavior is a divergence from normal standards, usually social or sexual. Therefore, by definition, deviance is not normal.
Deviance is non-conformity to a set of social norms or expectations widely accepted (Fulcher & Scott, 1999; Giddens, 1997). According to Haralambos and Holborn (1995), deviance is relative. It can only be defined in relation to a set of standards. Since no standards are fixed, deviance is not absolute. There are two types of deviance, primary and secondary (Fulcher & Scott, 1999). Primary deviation is behavior that is normative to expectations of a group, but which is "normalized" by them.
"While marijuana smokers might regard their smoking as acceptable, normal behavior in the company they move in, they are fully aware that this behavior is regarded as deviant in the wider society" (Taylor, Walton &Young, 1973 cited by Haralambos & Holborn, 1995). Many justifications for the normalization of deviant behavior are employed (Fulcher & Scott, 1999). Secondary deviation arises when deviation is no longer normalized (Fulcher & Scott, 1999). It becomes stigmatized or punishable and its consequences can shape a person's future (Fulcher &Schott, 1999; Giddens, 1997).
For example, a child who disrupts a class a couple of times may be labeled as a deviant by his or her teacher and may then continue to act in a deviant way. Labeling is an important theory in the study of deviance. Labeling theorists interpret deviance as a process of interaction between deviants and non-deviants (Giddens, 1997). "Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance. The deviant is one to whom the label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label" (Becker, 1963 cited by Haralambos & Holborn, 1995). One of the most important factors in labeling is social background. "the rules in terms of which deviance is defined are framed by the wealthy for the poor, by men for women, by older people for younger people, and by ethnic majorities for minority groups" Giddens, 1997).
Critics of labeling have argued that there are certain acts prohibited by nearly all cultures such as murder, robbery, and rape (Giddens, 1997). It is not clear whether labeling actually increases deviant conduct. Also, labeling theorists tend to ignore the processes that lead to acts being defined as deviant (Giddens, 1997). For instance, richer children are less likely to steal from shops than children from more deprived backgrounds. So the question remains, is deviance normal? It is because deviance differs from society to society.
What may be considered deviant in one society is normal in another, what was deviant yesterday may be normal tomorrow. The definitions and theories of deviance discussed show that everyone can be deviant. Therefore, deviance is a normal aspect of social life. Deviant behavior is socially accepted as something that occurs, consequently, it must be normal. If deviance was not normal, society would not know hoe to deal with it, yet there are rules and laws which can regulate how deviant behavior is acted upon in societies. Deviance is normal because a certain amount of deviance is necessary for well-being and maintenance of society.
This leads into the first theory I would like to discuss which is the control theory, both biological and psycho dynamic. They are called control theories because they predict that law-violating behavior results from the inability of people to control their antisocial impulses. It suggests that children commit criminal acts when they are inherently incapable of controlling those impulses or when they have not been trained properly to do so. A major theory that criminologists, psychologists, and sociologists have studies over the years has been biological characteristics that criminals have. Some theorists have concluded that lawbreakers have distinct physical characteristics. Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician, is credited the first person to apply such theories.
He came into prominence in 1876 when he published The Criminal Man. From observations of Italian prisoners and soldiers, he concluded that criminals were born lawbreakers who were subhuman throwbacks to an earlier, more primitive stage of evolutionary development. He believed that law violators are a distinct physical type at birth, they possess physical stigmata that are characteristic of an earlier form of evolutionary development such as large ears, an abnormal nose abnormal sex organs to name a few. He believed that people with at least five such physical characteristics cannot control their predisposition to crime (Sutherland and Cressey).
Since then this theory has been proven untrue, but Lombroso is worth mentioning because he stressed the importance of examining the physical characteristics of criminals and the conditions under which they violate the law. His ideas show that even in the late 1800's theories were developing about criminals and theorists were profiling and studying ways in which criminals were being portrayed. The next control theories to gain attention were psycho dynamic. These theories attributed criminal behavior to a juvenile's psychological, not biological, makeup. Much of the credit for the idea of psycho dynamic theories goes to Sigmund Freud. Although his ideas have been changed in many ways, his initial philosophies are a cornerstone on which later theories were built.
Freud was less concerned with explaining criminal behavior among children than with explaining how children can be made good. Unlike the early biological theorists, who believed that only some people are born bad, Freud assumed that every child possess a set of primitive and antisocial instincts which he called the id (Freud, 1966). He also believed that the antisocial instincts of the id can be overcome only when children are socialized by their parents to have internal controls. Freud theorized that by the age of five, all of the essential features of a person's adult personality will have been determined. Freud's ideas filtered slowly into public awareness and the institute of social life. Many variations of his theories have been modified but four main theories have been expressed time after time.
The first theory is that the first few years of life are critical. If an infant does not secure satisfying relationships with affectionate, nurturing parents, the damage will be irreversible. (Abrahamsen, Cohen, Friedlander). The child will fail to develop as a self sufficient, responsible person. The second theory is that the ego and superego, if not the id, remain key concepts in most psycho dynamic theories. When both are weak, the child is unable to subordinate antisocial impulses, defer gratifications, and adhere to rational and moral courses of action (Redl and Toch).
Next is the theory that moral maturity is attained when the child moves successfully through a series of developmental stages and is no longer fixated at infantile levels (Jennings, Kilkenny, and Kohler). According to one theory (Warren), there are seven stages of interpersonal maturity, but most young criminals remain fixed between the second and fourth stages. Almost half of them are neurotics who emotional disturbance is characterized by feelings of guilt and inadequacy. The final theory is that early childhood experiences produce in every person a deeply ingrained and enduring personality. It is this personality that distinguishes between troublemakers and well-adjusted children. Troublemakers possess personality traits that predispose them to antisocial conduct.
(Abrahamsen). The fact remains that these four theories that have been changed throughout the years still reflect the basic concepts that Freud first theorized. In short the differences between biological theorists and psychodynamic theorists exist because of the nature of their ideas. Early biological theorists assumed that criminals and non criminals are different kinds of people at birth. Criminals possess biological traits or tendencies that predispose them to antisocial behavior. Non criminals, however, are inherently good people who are predisposed to good conduct.
Psychodynamic theorists, by contrast, assume that all children are antisocial at birth. They believe that everyone is impulsive, self-centered, and lack the ability to control themselves in socially approved ways. Basically the main difference between these two types of theorists is the debate of environment versus heredity or better known as nature versus nurture. The fact is that neither nature nor nurture alone can explain why a child at an early age displays criminal tendencies.
Nature and nurture together affect a young person's future tendencies on whether or not they participate in criminal activities. I believe genes help to determine a person's potential, and the development of that potential depends on the environment. Neither Freud nor Lombroso in their respective times could fathom that idea, however, it is a credit to them for laying the foundation for their theories for later research. These two early pioneers probably never imagined what affect their research has had on later theorists, but thanks to them we have better understood that no one factor alone can explain early criminal tendencies. The next body of theory in which needs to be addressed is the Strain Theory. Research indicates that there are two versions of this type of theory.
The first versions were created by Albert Cohen and by Richard Cloward Lloyd Ohlin in the 1950's and 1960's. There original version is the one that will discussed the most, however, a more recent version this theory created by Robert Agnew in the 1980's and 1990's addresses some of the problems in the others. For the sake of resources I will discuss more in depth the original versions and compare the later version to them. Basically, the classic strain theory according to Cohen and Cloward-Ohlin assumes that either people are inherently social at birth or human nature is the product of interaction in intimate groups. It believes young people's law violations represent their efforts to adjust collectively to the way society is structured. This theory maintains that young peoples law violating behavior can be explained by values and beliefs that all Americans share.
This theory maintains that the majority of violators are lower class boys who are angry and frustrated over their lack of opportunity to fulfill the American Dream. Cohen's theory set out to explain two facts. One was the existence and content of the criminal subculture; the other was the concentration of that subculture among lower-class boys. Among these facts he came up with five main assumptions to explain these two truths. The first was that lower-class Americans embrace the middle class success ethic, followed by the socialization of lower-class children hinders their capacity to compete. Next is the decreased ability to compete produces strain which results in increased strain that produces the criminal subculture.
Lastly, the criminal subculture produces the criminal behavior. Cloward and Ohlin's 1960 version of strain theory is similar to Cohen's in several ways. Like Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin assumed that criminal subcultures and gangs "are typically found among adolescent males in lower-class areas of large urban centers", and they attempted to account for what makes these subcultures arise and persist. Beyond those similarities, however, the Cloward-Ohlin theory has many distinctive features.
Whereas Cohen's criminals are irrational and malicious, the opposite of everything middle class, Cloward and Ohlin's lawbreakers are rational and utilitarian. If legitimate channels for success are closed to them, they simply turn to illegitimate ones whenever possible. Cloward and Ohlin's version of the strain theory had their own assumptions as well. The first was the belief that the success ethic is valued by all Americans. Next were the opportunities for success is not distributed equally throughout the class structure. If these opportunities are blocked it produces strain.
This strain produces criminal subcultures and from these subcultures criminal behavior occurs... Since the original version of the classic strain theory, Robert Agnew has proposed a revised version of strain theory, which expands the notion of strain to include not only blocked achievement of goal but also maltreatment and other types of adversity. According to Agnew (1995), the basic idea in his revised strain theory is "if you treat people badly, they may get mad and engage in crime". The focus is on negative relationships with others, relationships in which an individual is not being treated as he or shoe would like to be treated.
"Adolescents are pressured into crime by the negative affective states, most notably anger and related emotions that result from these negative relationships". (Agnew and White). Agnew identifies three general types of negative social relations or strain, relationships in which others block the achievement of positively valued goals, remove positively valued stimuli, and present aversive stimuli. When the strain theory was first thought up, it represented an attempt to explain certain phenomena that had become accepted as fact. The fact was that criminal behavior is predominantly a male phenomenon, concentrated in the lower class, occurring in groups, and representing a criminal subculture. Since it has been broadened in Agnew's revised strain theory to apply not just to the crime committed by lower-class boys, but to the crime committed by all youngsters.
Overall I have considered various theories of criminal behavior in youth and later on in the adult years. It is to my understanding that throughout the years many different philosophies have emerged to help explain why criminal behavior occurs, but not one philosophy alone can explain it all. We can only hope that the theories help give us a better understanding of who commits crime at an early age and why they commit these crimes at an early age. It is better to realize that there is no one way to predict when such a behavior will occur, we can only come to the conclusion that when it does occur, we analyze the situation and try to draw the best conclusions from it as possible to help better understand future occurrences.
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