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Criminological Theory
Personal Criminological Theory: What Causes Crime?

April Cox

CJA/540 Criminological Theory

October 3, 2011
Angela Williams

Personal Criminological Theory: What Causes Crime?

Over the centuries of time various scientists have tried to explain the reasons behind the causes associated with crime and criminal behavior. Dozens of theories have been argued both for and against one another to address the question as to what causes individuals to commit crime. The goal of this paper is to once again attempt to address this same question. The paper will define crime, and explain some of the current theories associated with crime causation. The paper will then present an explanation regarding the occurrence of crime and why people commit crime. Then the paper will identify variables that would be considered, identify assumptions on which the theory was based, and explain the methodologies used to evaluate it.
Definition of Crime: Peoples Law Dictionary, (2005) defines crime as a violation of a law that causes injury to the public or a member of the public, and in which a term of incarceration in jail or prison in conjunction with a fine is possible. Collins English Dictionary (1991 et.al) claims that a crime is an act or omission that is prohibited and punished by the law. Finally The American Heritage Dictionary (2003) defines crime as an act that is committed or omitted in violation of the law forbidding or commanding it, and as that which punishment is set at the time of conviction.
Criminological Theories: There exist many theories that have been used to explain crime. First is the classical theory of Cesare Beccaria, which claims that crime happens when the benefits outweigh the costs or when individuals chase after self-interests in the absence of effective punishments. Thus crime is seen as a free-willed choice. Second is the Positivist theory of Cesare Lombroso, Adolphe Quetelet and Andre Guerry, which is grounded in the concept that crime is either caused or determined. Lombroso laid stronger emphasis on the biological deficiencies, where other scholars emphasized psychological and sociological factors. The theory also uses science to determine the factors that are associated with crime. The third class of theory is referred to as Individual Trait. The theory claims that criminals and non-criminals are different from one another based on a variety of biological and psychological traits, which causes crime when they interact with the social environment (Williams and McShane, 2009). Other theories include Differential Association Social Learning Subcultural Theory. These theories state that crime is learned through man’s association with criminal definitions, which might be generally approving of criminal activity, or be neutralizations, which claim that crime is justified under certain circumstances. Furthermore according to the theories the interaction that one has with antisocial peers is a major contributor of crime causation. The theory also is grounded in the concept that criminal behavior will not only be repetitive, but will become chronic if reinforced, and that when there is the existence of criminal subcultures, then numerous individuals have the opportunity to commit crime in a centralized location, thus causing crime rates, including violence to become high or higher. Another theory is that of rational choice, which claims that crime is a choice influenced by the costs and benefits or by rationality. Finally there is the developmental life course theory. This theory is one that claims that crime is the result of a developmental process, which begins before birth and continues throughout one’s life journey. The theory further claims that individual factors and social factors interact with one another to determine the onset, length and end of one’s criminal career (Williams and McShane, 2009).
New Theory regarding the occurrence of crime and why people commit crime: When considering the various theories of crime there exists a few that would seem to best be suited to define and explain crime causation. According to the educated opinion of the author these theories could be combined to create a new integrated theory referred to as Human Nature Theory. Human Nature Theory could be a combination of the following theories social disorganization, strain, and social learning. The theory would be based on the fact that human nature and the will to survive is the causation of crime
Assumptions on which the theory is based, Variables that would be considered, and Methodologies used to evaluate the theory: The assumptions on which Human Nature Theory would be based are as follows: first that social community are so broken down and disorganized to the point that there is a major lack of social control. Second, that there is an increase in the interaction between non-criminal and criminal aspects of the community in the attempt to find acceptance or means of survival. Finally, that due to social strain individuals cannot achieve success and reach their goals. Variables that the author would consider in regard to the theory would be the social strain of the community and the economic strain affecting the community. Other variables would include but not be limited to the cost of living in the community, the housing situation, the employment situation and the number of school aged adolescents who are not in school or employed. Further variables would consist of the presence of law enforcement in the community and whether or not the law enforcement community can control the criminal aspects of the community. The methods that the author would use to evaluate the theory would be impact evaluation to assess the overall effects of the situation whether they are intentional or non-intentional. However, this would be combined with a more formative research in the form of observations, surveys and questionnaires.

Summary: For centuries researchers and theorists have presented various strong theories with regard to the causation of criminal behavior or criminology. For centuries to come more theories are sure to arise. However, in today’s society the community is plagued with high rates of homelessness, higher unemployment, an increase in drug and alcohol addictions, higher rates of youth dropping out of school and higher rates of petty or victimless crimes, and increases in gang activity. As this social disorganization increases one can easily assume that human nature and the will to survive will cause an increase in more violent crimes.

References crime. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003). Retrieved October 3 2011 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/crime crime. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2003). Retrieved October 3 2011 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/crime crime. (n.d.) The People 's Law Dictionary. (2005). Retrieved October 3 2011 from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/crime
Williams, F. P., III, & McShane, M. D. (2009). Criminological theory. (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Retrieved October 3, 2011

References: crime. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003). Retrieved October 3 2011 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/crime crime. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2003). Retrieved October 3 2011 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/crime crime. (n.d.) The People 's Law Dictionary. (2005). Retrieved October 3 2011 from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/crime Williams, F. P., III, & McShane, M. D. (2009). Criminological theory. (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Retrieved October 3, 2011

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