Understanding Criminology Theories

Criminology is the study of why individuals commit crimes and why they behave in certain situations. By understanding why a person commits a crime, one can develop ways to control crime or rehabilitate the criminal. There are many theories in criminology. Some attribute crime to the individual; they believe that an individual weights the pros and cons and makes a conscious choice whether or not to commit a crime. Others believe it is the community’s responsibility to ensure that their citizens do not commit crime by offering them a safe and secure place in which to live. Some ascertain that some individuals have latent traits that will determine how they will react when put in certain negative conditions. By studying these theories and applying them to individuals, perhaps psychologists can deter criminals from repeating crimes and help in their rehabilitation.

Choice Theory: The belief that individuals choose to commit a crime, looking at the opportunities before them, weighing the benefit versus the punishment, and deciding whether to proceed or not.

Classical Theory: Similar to the choice theory, this theory ascertains that people think before they proceed with criminal actions; that when one commits a crime, it is because the individual decided that it was advantageous to commit the crime.

Conflict Theory: The conflict theory holds that crime results from the conflicts in society among the different social classes, and that laws actually arise from necessity as a result of conflict, rather than a general consensus.

Critical Theory: Critical theory upholds the belief that a small few, the elite of the society, decide laws and the definition of crime; those who commit crimes disagree with the laws that were created to keep control of them.

Labeling Theory: Those who follow the labeling theory of criminology ascribe to the fact that an individual will become what he is labeled or what others expect him to become; the danger comes from calling a crime a crime and a criminal a criminal.

Life Course Theory: The theory that a person’s “course” in life is determined by short (transitory) and long (trajectory) events in his life, and crime can result when a transitory event causes stress in a person’s life causing him to commit a crime against society.

Positivist Theory: The positivist rejects the idea that each individual makes a conscious, rational choice to commit a crime; rather, some individuals are abnormal in intelligence, social acceptance, or some other way, and that causes them to commit crime.

Rational Choice Theory: Reasons that an individual thinks through each action, deciding on whether it would be worth the risk of committing a crime to reap the benefits of that crime, whether the goal be financial, pleasure, or some other beneficial result.

Routine activity theory: Followers of the routine activity theory believe that crime is inevitable, and that if the target is attractive enough, crime will happen; effective measures must be in place to deter crime from happening.

Social Control Theory: Theorists believe it is society’s responsibility to maintain a certain degree of stability and certainly in an individual’s life, to make the rules and responsibilities clear, and to create other activities to thwart criminal activity.

Social disorganization theory: Suggests that crime occurs in communities that experience breakdown in social mores and opportunities, such as in highly populated, lower income, urban communities.

Social Learning Theory: Social learning indicates that individuals learn from those around them; they base their morals and activities on what they see others in their social environment doing.

Strain Theory: The theory holds that individuals will turn to a life of crime when they are strained, or when they are unable to achieve the goals of the society, whether power, finance, or some other desirable goal.

Trait Theory: Those who follow the trait theory believe that individuals have certain traits that will contribute to whether or not they are capable of committing a crime when pushed in a certain direction, or when they are in duress.