Theory on Crime: An Individual Choice or Societal Responsibility

The Classical and Neo-Classical theories are based upon the ideation of free will and rational choice. These theories are simplex modules to follow when applying them to the role of individual responsibility. This theory further states that the person is aware of their actions, they are aware of their choice to commit crime. This is the theory of free will and rational thought. For instance, if a man robs a bank with complete mental awareness, he is aware of his actions. This would mean that he willingly chose to rob the bank and should be punished in return. It is thought that the prevention method in this theory is to provide swift and certain punishment to offenders.

The biological theory is different because it deals with the genetic make-up of a person. This theory believes that people are born with “criminal genes.” Although it has never been inconclusively proven this is a theory that has seemed to hold a lot of ground. With the biological theory, it is thought that criminals can be identified through their physical characteristics and even their DNA. An example of this would be saying that most criminals have beady eyes, and dark hair. Although this would in fact be a generalization or stereotype, this theory may not be the best defense for the individual theory of crime.

The Social-Psychological theory is based upon the thought that crime results from the failure of self-direction, inadequate social roles, or even association with poor role models. This theory could actually be used to back both sides of the debate, but I am going to use it to support individual responsibility. If a young boy hangs out with people who use him as a scape goat, he is putting himself into that situation willingly. While the actions of the other boys are not his problem, he is creating his own by being involved with such delinquents.

In the environmental factors there are four that I will be discussing briefly. They are: Society stereotypes, conflict, economic status, and peer pressure. In society stereotypes, youth begin to experience these from very young ages. Even though we may not realize we are stereotyping our kids, many of us do it all the time. Simple things as saying, why can’t you be good like your sister? Or don’t act like a hoodlum. Kids begin to associate themselves with these negative names and ideas, and in many cases begin to act out.

Conflict is the next factor that may contribute to individual crime. Conflict is inevitable, and some people cannot deal with it. Instead of working the issues out such as a simple dispute, the individual may actually take drastic measures. If the individual has only seen conflict and violence while growing up, they are more likely to model the behavior that they have seen. It is far easier to act in anger than to walk away.

Economic Status is the next factor that we will be discussing. Economic status has some bearing on the individual level of crime committed but not enough is known to support this. Crime comes in all colors, and from all genders and backgrounds of people. Crime happens in the ghettos just as it happens in the rich areas of town. Instances of this are incidents such as the Columbine shootings. Columbine is a very nice area with many people who are upper class residing in the area. While this may be true it does not mean that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were exempt from being participants in crime. It merely means that they chose to kill and injure several innocent victims. They blame it on being picked on, and being different. Although this did not entitle them to take other peoples lives because they had their feelings hurt.

Peer pressure is the last of the Environmental factors. Peer pressure is something that we all experience while growing up. While it may not be a comfortable feeling we must deal with it. Peer pressure is when someone or a group of individuals makes a person or persons feel insignificant, or badly about themselves in order to manipulate them into doing what the other person or persons wants. It is in a sense a control of power, and is many times used by bullies.

I will now begin to discuss the societal choice of crime and the factors that impact it. Society is often blamed for the crime level and the offenders who commit the crimes. Although, how do we not know that people who offend are not victims in return of their environment and of society? If a person grows up in the ghetto are they more likely to commit crime than a person who lives in a rich area? As we discussed previously, there is no answer that completes this question for sure.

However, in theories such as the broken window theory, there is evidence to show that crime can be more prevalent if not dealt with appropriately. If there is a rampage of crime and no one worries about repairing the damage, it does not mean that the damage will disappear. It doesn’t even mean that the damage will stop, but it can’t be let go. If it is not dealt with it sends a message that says, it’s OK to keep destroying what is not yours.

The other aspects that we will look at are: poverty, discrimination, inequality, and family violence. These are factors that society has an impact on in some way or another. Even if it is an indirect way, it is still an impact.

Poverty is widespread and during times of recession becomes even more pronounced. Families who were once making ends meet are now being evicted and living on the streets or moving in with relatives. The average family is only one paycheck away from bankruptcy and lives paycheck to paycheck. People are living above their means and this is of no use to anyone. Those who are impoverished have less and therefore are able to do less. In the lower class areas, many of the schools are not as well funded, the areas are not as clean and the residents are more cautious. Poverty in some cases may cause a person to commit crime if they truly want something, yet they cannot afford it. Therefore, they use illegal means to take what they want, by stealing or having someone else steal it for them. They of course commit other crimes besides theft. It is important to remember that crime is not based around those who are poor, it can happen anywhere, and to anyone.
Discrimination can happen for a few different reasons. It can happen in school, work or societal places. Discrimination is a feeling that is uncomfortable, and it is happening because the person is different in someway or another. For instance, judging a person based upon their skin color is a form of discrimination.

Inequality is similar to discrimination. It takes away the right or privilege of someone based on their differences and no other reason.

Family violence is of course an issue that is more common than many people think. 1 in 3 women will be in an abusive relationship within their lifetime. Abuse is not always physical. It can be mental or verbal as well. It is not always geared towards the women but can be aimed at anyone in the home for any reason. Family violence is an issue that impacts all of us. Society is making serious changes in its legislation to prevent and deter from further violence. If a young girl is raised in a home and sees that her mother is beaten on a daily basis, she will seek a partner who is similar for herself. Although society as a whole recognizes that this is not acceptable, the young girl is accustomed to such behaviors. It is a formed behavior and attitude that begin to cause problems. Family violence can cause a person to be traumatized and even seek out events that will only land them in trouble in the future. Now flipping this around, a young boy who watches his mother beaten for incomplete submission to the father will seek a female who is like his mother. He will more than likely be an abuser because that is what he knows.

In conclusion, this debate will more than likely never end. I personally believe that it is a little of both. I don’t believe that all crime is committed in a premeditated manner. I think that some may be at will, or spontaneously. I do also believe that crime can be part of who we are as people. If we chose to act out or not is something different. I chose not to kill or rob banks. I know that this can be accomplished. While my childhood was not picture perfect, I am able to distinguish the difference between right and wrong. I know that all people are different, and not all cases are the same, but I firmly believe that crime is a personal choice that people do not have to make. There are factors of course such as peer pressure and other environmental factors. However, society teaches us that we are not to kill, steal, and set fires or commit rape. Unless these people have been under a rock since birth, these have been law since the time of common law, before it was written in statues, or laws.

Muraskin, R., and Roberts, A. (2002) Visions for change (3rd ed.). Upper River, NJ: Prentice-Hall
Schmalleger, F. (2003) Criminal Justice Today (7th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice- Hall
Schmalleger, F. (2001) Criminology Today -An Integrative Introduction (3rd Ed.).(UOP Custom Edition Series) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice- Hall

Dugan, L. (2003). Domestic violence legislation: exploring its impact on the likelihood of domestic violence, police involvement, and arrest. Criminology and Public Policy (2) 2, 283-312. Retrieved March 7, 2004 from Ebsco Host database.

Robinson, R. and Watson, D. (1995). Guest editor’s introduction: Domestic Violence gendered abuse. Social Alternatives, 14(1). Retrieved March 6, 2004, from Ebsco Host database.

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