Despite a focus on constructing and testing theories about the causes of crime, researchers frequently avoid explicit discussion of causal issues. Researchers argue that attention to particular causal issues will both facilitate theory construction and testing and provide a more systematic basis for identifying policy implications for criminological theory and research. Researchers also suggest how criminologists and policymakers can benefit from consideration of causal issues.
The theory of atavism, also referred to as Biological Theory, was a concept developed by the criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909) that offers a biological explanation for criminal deviance. His theory states that criminal deviance is inherited and this inheritance is visible in the shape of the human skull (Laub, 2007). Through biological determinism Lombroso attempted to show that physical traits would be determinants of criminal behavior. His ideas were part of the 19th century movement known as positivism. Lombroso applied positivism to the field of criminology in an attempt to create a field of study known as criminal anthropology. Criminal anthropology was based on the earlier work of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution and Lombroso’s theory of atavism (Laub, 2007). Drawing on Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Lombroso reasoned that, in any population, a small number of individuals were likely to exhibit extremely primitive instincts and that they would have difficulty functioning in a civilized culture. They were, in effect, evolutionary throwbacks, or atavistic anomalies as Lombroso termed them. In early human societies, individuals with atavistic traits were more likely to be fit for survival. A strong desire to kill, for example, would have made them successful hunters and desirable mates. However, in civilized urban Europe, atavism, the reversion to evolutionarily primitive traits, was highly likely to cause criminal behavior.
Assuming that Nevet and Begonia are the same age and maybe twins since they are graduating at the same time, this theory would explain that the behavior exhibited by the children was a result of their skull structure. Since they are brother and sister their skull structure is more than unlikely to be relatively similar. However, for this theory to be true there must be evidence that their parents also had atavistic traits or behavior or without past criminal behavior. Since there is no evidence of either, this theory cannot be legitimately used to explain their behavior (Gibson, 2007).
Differential Association Theory
The idea of differential association was introduced by the American criminologist Edwin Sutherland in 1962. The theory of differential association explains deviant acts as following a change in attitudes of the prospective deviant acquired through association with established deviants. More simply put, people become deviants, because they associate with deviants. The most important changes in thinking are the definitions or right and wrong and legal and illegal. The prospective values change and he/she acquires a new set of attitudes that condone or even promote criminal activity, motivating the prospective deviant to commit future deviant acts in an attempt to fit in (Gibson, 2007).
This theory would say that their behavior is a direct result of the company they keep. From the information given, no conclusion is drawn that known or established deviants directly influence them. They are described as being very popular, so the only deviants directly affecting them are each other.
Robberies, burglaries, auto thefts, and larceny are all everyday realities in our society. But why do they happen? Is this not the “land of opportunity”, where everyone has a chance to succeed and obtain the American dream? When you examine these crimes, and look at explanations from sociologist as to why they happen, these idealistic notions of our society do not hold up. The fact is that not everyone is afforded the same luxuries as means of achieving success, even though the ideals of, and desires for success are pretty consistent throughout society (Laub, 2007). Therefore, when the means are lacking but the desire is strong, any methods, especially committing a property crime, become options. When examining crimes such as robbery in a case study, one must take into account the fact that even with the reported statistics only limited conclusions can be reached. This is because not all crimes are reported; therefore the statistics are not 100 percent accurate. Robbery is defined as “the taking or attempting to take anything from person(s) by the use of force/violence to institute fear” (McCaghy, 2007). The NCVS states that only 57% of robberies that are committed are successfully reported and documented by the proper authorities (McCaghy, 2007). This rate is subject to change dependent upon other victim experiences, broken bones, injury by weapon, etc, usually the more serious the crime the greater response the victim will put forth. The person(s) that commits a robbery is usually a stranger; also over half of these robberies are committed on the streets, thus giving fame to the expression street crimes. There are a variety of robbers: addict, professional, opportunist, and alcoholic. Many robbers commit the act because they have an urgent need for money brought on by their addiction to drugs. Robbing an individual is the quickest and easiest way to fulfill this need. For the majority of robberies the offender is merely looking for financial stability.
The UCR defines burglary as the unlawful entry of an area with the intent to commit a felony or theft (McCaghy, 2007). According to the UCR the rate of burglaries are on the decline, although they do not include private homes, the NCVS also reports the rates of burglaries have been on the decline since 1973. The UCR reports that young white males commit the majority of burglaries. These statistics are based on the 13% of reported burglaries that result in arrest (McCaghy, 2007). When a burglary is committed it is usually calculated and done in a professional fashion. The stolen goods are usually turned over to fences, who sell the hot goods on the street. No more money is made on the goods once they are sold on the street to the general public.
The UCR defines motor theft as the theft or attempted theft of automobiles, including a wide variety of motorized vehicles (McCaghy, 2007). The theft rate for motor vehicles is currently stable according to statistics. The UCR statistical data is comprised of all stolen vehicles, while the NCVS only reports on privately owned vehicles. As was the case with burglaries, young white males commit the majority of all auto thefts. Only half of the cars they steal are ever recovered. There are a variety of names given to the different types of car thieves: joy-riders (who steal your car to have a good time with it), short termers (who just need your car to get out of town), felony motivated thieves (who may use your car for a drive-by shooting), long termers (who steal your car because they want it), and finally profit motivated thieves (who usually steal your car for parts that will be sold to the public).
Larceny theft is defined by the UCR as the unlawful taking of property with out the use of force or fraud. An example of larceny theft would be shoplifting (McCaghy, 2007). Shoplifting occurs everywhere in the world, but even more so in the United States. There are so many types of shoplifters, many of them have specially designed devices that allow them to walk into stores and walk out with thousands of dollars in merchandise, completely undetected.
A way to approach an explanation for property crime is through Merton’s theory of aspirations that can not be attained by the means available (McCaghy, 2007). This concept is known as the Strain theory, what this theory states is that one may set a variety of goals to be accomplished but they do not have the ability to achieve them. What it comes down to is that we as a society are told what is expected out of us. Committing a property crime is for many people, the only way they see possible to reach societies expectations. For example, all the teenagers are buying the hottest new tennis shoes, but a poor deprived inner city teen can not even come close to affording a pair, so what is his option, steal them or do with out. This theory offers a good explanation for all property crimes; because it puts individuals need to meet the standards of society at its core.
Durkheim’s concept of anomie offers a second explanation behind property crime. In his theory, Durkheim portrays society as being riddled with greed, so much so that they will do anything to achieve what they want. Durkheim explains that when people have such motivated aspirations, nothing, not even personal morals are strong enough to control the methods by which those aspirations are achieved. A person may feel that morals and laws are only holding him or her back, and are therefore justified in committing a crime. This explanation works to an extent, but if a person is so motivated by greed to achieve their goals, why does that motivation have to result in committing a crime. Someone with so much motivation should be able to use it in a positive way, instead of a negative way.
Karl Marx offers a third theory that may be applied to property crimes. His theory states that society is full of forces competing for the control of production, distribution, ownership, and the process of transferring wealth in society. Marx’s theory suggests that we as humans are overpowered by greed, and therefore, are driven to compete economically. This theory works to explain property crimes, because it means that there will always be someone at the bottom that cannot achieve the success of those at the top. Marx is trying to point out the fact that we as humans are always going to desire those things, which we do not have. However, we are not solely individuals, we are a part of a whole society and in the imbalance of our society, against the wishes of Marx and many others, and not everything is attainable for everyone.
Investigators can use criminological theories of deviance during the structured interrogation process to develop themes to present to the suspect that will reduce moral and ethical consequences of admitting involvement in a particular criminal behavior. The examples of themes derived from these theories only offer a starting point for investigators cultivating themes. Learning and understanding the theories generated through sociological research will enhance the skills of all investigators in developing and presenting convincing themes to subjects in the interrogation room. Furthermore, any tactic or approach used by an investigator must pass constitutional gather, and confessions derived from the approach must be voluntary and not the product of government overreaching to have value in the criminal prosecution.
Gibson, Mary. (2007). Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology. (Italian and Italian American Studies.) Retrieved from the World Wide Web March 13, 2008 at http://www.historycooperative.org/cgi-bin/justtop.cgi?act=justtop&url=http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/109.2/br_186.html.
Laub, H. John (2007).Edwin H. Sutherland and the Michael-Adler Report: Searching for the Soul of Criminology Seventy Years Later. Retrieved from the World Wide Web March 13, 2008 at www.soulofcriminology.org.
McCaghy, Brian. (2007). Radical Theory and Society. Choice Theories in Criminology. Retrieved from the World Wide Web March 13, 2008 at http://www.apsu.edu/oconnort/crim/crimtheory01.htm.