Theories of Crime
Ideas About Theories of Crime
Crime is socially defined. What is considered a crime at one place and time may be considered normal or even heroic behavior in another context. The earliest explanations for deviant behavior attributed crime to supernatural forces. A common method to determine guilt or innocence was trial by ordeal. Although theories of crime causation and the workings of the legal and criminal justice systems are of limited utility, there are theories that can explain some crime. Many theories of crime have failed to provide reasonable explanations.
The Classical School of Criminology
The classical school of criminology, which argues that people freely choose to engage in crime, is embodied primarily in the works of Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. Beccaria presented nine principles that should guide our thinking about crime and the way society responds to lawbreakers. According to Bentham's utilitarianism theory, people are guided by a desire for pleasure and aversion to pain.
The Positivist School of Criminology
The positivist school of criminology uses scientific techniques to study crime and criminals and focuses on what factors compel offenders to commit crimes. The positivist school comprises many types of theories of crime including biological, psychological, sociological, and critical sociological.
Biological Theories of Crime
Many biological theories of crime have been discredited. These include phrenology, Lombroso's atavisms, Hooton's work with physiology, Sheldon's somatotyping, and XYY syndrome (as a causal factor of criminal behavior). Phrenology was a technique in which a subject's personality was assessed by the size and pattern of the bumps on his or her skull. Cesare Lombroso used the term atavisms to describe the physical differences he believed he found between offenders and non-offenders. Earnest Hooton also studied the relationship between physiology and crime. He claimed that the physical...
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