How have criminologists tried to explain why most people, most of the time, do not commit crimes?
The question posed in the title above may not be as straightforward as it appears: Is it true that ‘most people, most of the time, do not commit crimes?’ Self-report studies appear to indicate that crime is committed by a far larger proportion of the population than is ever prosecuted, with ‘between 40% and almost 100%’ admitting to having committed at least one criminal act. (Maguire et al, 1997, p. 175). While it is generally accepted that much crime is never solved, such as car crime and house burglary, and that only a fraction of reported crime leads to a conviction, it would appear that ‘”the bulk of crime…is committed by people who would not ordinarily be thought of as criminal’” (Clarke in Downes and Rock, 1988, p. 229). If this were true then it may seem illogical to feel that the majority of the population is law abiding, but common sense tells us that surely even those in society with many convictions must spend the majority of their time in non-illegal activities? How then have criminologists tried to explain this overall conformity to the laws of society? The following paper will examine the various criminological theories, be they biological, psychological or sociological in origin, scrutinize supporting documenting evidence, explore the limitations of each and finally discuss their practical implications.
Classic theory of social control relies on the fear of punishment - societal or from the state – as the primary cause of conformity. Control theorists believe that without some internal and/or external controls man would ‘know of no moral boundary save that which s/he might wish to impose’ (Box, 1981, p. 122) and ‘will seek the rewards of crime unless they are held in check’ (Braithwaite, 1989, p. 27). Travis Hirschi (1969), much credited with formulating the first coherent statement on control theory, asked simply; what restrains people...
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