Compare two explanations for criminal behaviour. Crime is simply the behaviour that breaks the law. However, as Standen points out, “the understanding of what actually constitutes crime varies according to historical, cultural and power dimensions which may rule different behaviours as criminal at different times”, (n. d, p. 1). The most obvious example of this is when the law changes. For example from viewing the list of criminal offences by the Legal Services Commission, aiding suicide became a crime in 1961, yet causing death by dangerous driving did not become a crime until 1988.
Criminal behaviour can then be explained as the violation of the criminal code. Usually to be convicted of a crime, an individual needs to have acted deliberately and without justification of their actions. Understanding why crime occurs is a big problem, yet there are certain explanations that can explain criminal behaviour. Modern theories that attempt to explain criminal behaviour emphasise the nature versus nurture debate; genes set the limits on behaviour while the environment forms developments in the limits (Standen n. d: p. 2).
Some of these theories put an emphasis on physical features. Sheldon developed somatypes, suggesting that broad and muscular mesomorphs were more likely to be criminals. His findings support the fact that criminals are more likely to be muscular, yet to date it is still unclear what the link is between mesomorphy and crime (Standen n. d: p. 3). Out of the numerous theories that try to explain criminal behaviour, there are two which can explain it more effectively; sociological and psychological. Sociological criminology examines group variables to crime.
Bartol and Bartol suggest these variables include age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, personal relationships and ethnic-cultural affiliation (Bartol and Bartol, 2005: p. 5). These variables have important relationships with categories and patterns of crime. For example sociological criminology has determined that African American males from disadvantaged backgrounds are more represented as perpetrators of homicide. More black people are excluded from school, leading to the notion that young African American males are disproportionately involved in crime.
Social class and poverty are involved in research on crime. Most sociological theories emphasise the lower a person’s social class; the more likely they are to display criminal behaviour. For example, a low class person who is living under poor economic conditions is more likely to commit a criminal offence such as burglary to survive. Schools in deprived areas have low academic achievement, which is a characteristic of many offenders. Schools in these areas can fail to engage with challenging pupils, causing them to truant and becoming involved in criminal behaviour.
Standen suggests that challenging pupils will eventually fail to achieve the qualifications needed to escape having a criminal career (Standen, n. d: p. 9). Psychological criminology is the science of behaviour and mental processes of the criminal. Bartol and Bartol state that “whereas sociological criminology focuses on society and groups as a whole, psychological criminology focuses on individual criminal behaviour” (2005: p6). It centres on how criminal behaviour is acquired, maintained and modified.
The “social and personality influences on criminal behaviour are considered along with the mental processes that mediate that behaviour” (Bartol and Bartol, 2005: p. 6). Eysenck developed a psychological theory of crime that suggests neuroticism and extroversion are linked to antisocial behaviour. Eysenck eventually developed the P variable, which was noticed by aggressive and impersonal behaviour. Individuals who score highly on the p variable scale are more likely to display criminal behaviour, for example if a person is abused as a child.
Whether it is physically or mentally, the child will develop impersonal behaviour, detaching themselves from their social setting to cope with what is happening to them. Once the child has become detached, this can progress with them to adulthood and cause them to become violent and display criminal behaviour. William Glasser introduced rational choice theory which is seen as the most common reason why criminals do what they do. The theory suggests the offender is completely rational when they make the decision to commit a crime.
Within choice theory there are three representations of criminal behaviour; the rational actor where individuals choose whether to do the crime; the predestined actor where criminals cannot control their urges causing them to commit crime and the victimised actor where the offender has been a victim of society. Choice theory therefore offers numerous explanations why a person could offend. Psychological and sociological theories are well represented and explain why criminal behaviour occurs.
As suggested by Bartol and Bartol, crime occurs in a social context, so factors like race, ethnicity, gender and social class will always be involved in explaining criminal behaviour. Explaining criminal behaviour improves the understanding of why people commit crime. In the United Kingdom, the police force has been given more authority to tackle criminal behaviour with seizure measures (Whitehead 2011). This could help determine more in depth explanations as to why criminal behaviour occurs, especially in certain social divisions.
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