Critically evaluate biological and sociological theories and discuss how these contribute to the explanation for the occurrence of crime

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March 2010 Intake

Critically evaluate biological and sociological theories and discuss how these contribute to the explanation for the occurrence of crime.

4150 words

Are criminals born or are criminals made? This is a question that many criminologists have researched into and tried and come to a conclusive answer. However the majority are divided into two main schools of thought; those believing in the nurture methodology (made criminals) and the latter in the nature approach (born criminals). There are many theories as to how and why people commit criminal acts; this essay will critically assess two of these, biological and sociological. Firstly, it will be shown how different biological theories have come about and how they contribute to the 'who and why' in criminological theory. Secondly, we will look in detail at the more recent sociological theories and see how these are more adept in explaining the roots of the criminal mind. After looking into the two theories it will then be shown how these may play a part in the occurrence of crime.

These two classes of theory in themselves have many sub theories which have developed over time, some new and some just different interpretations of previous ones. In such a discipline as criminology, with such a large range of empirically driven quantities, it would be useful to categorize and illustrate the numerous interpretations of theories. Criminal theories are classed in two main schools of thought, the _positivist_ and _classical_ approach, positivism is the search for the causes of crime using scientific method, as opposed to the classical approach, which relies upon free will as the main cause of crime.

_Biological theories:_

One of the founders of modern criminology and leaders, Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), thought that people were born predisposed to antisocial behaviour (Bartol, 2005), Lombroso also held that many criminals had been born with certain physical attributes or stigmata such as large jaws, high cheek bones, fat lips and large ears, as well as other "atavistic" features. According to Lombroso, such people favour behaviour becoming that of primates than that of normal people in human society.

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look he thinks too much; such men are dangerous (_Julius Caesar,_ I.ii.194).

In this study Lombroso observed the physical characteristics of prisoners and compared them to soldiers - looking for similarities such as heads, bodies, arms and skin (Criminology, Carrabine et al). His theory was later ridiculed by many, his methodology was flawed, had he looked further than the prison walls he would have seen such characteristics throughout the population. Questionably, Lombroso's samples included people with severe learning difficulties and people who came from poverty, he ignored the fact that they came from such backgrounds and that such factors may have been the reason for the physical defects rather than criminality Lombroso later adapted his philosophy admitting that environmental factors had a large impact of criminality, factors such as poverty, inflated food prices, emigration and corruption with the police (Vito _et al_., 2006).

Goring (1913), later expanded on Lombroso's work but this time using a much larger control group of criminals over a much longer time period and using additional physical measures, he found that on average, inmates where slightly lighter and shorter. Although he could not find distinctive peculiarities as found by Lombroso, he did however find a common factor of low intelligence amongst prisoners. He accredited this to genetics - at least in this respect, his studies reinforced Lombroso's claim that criminals are born not made.

Hooten (1939) produced similar results with an even bigger control group of criminals (14 000 compared to 300) and increased measurements. Hooten found the majority of criminals to have 'inferior' body-part measures....
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