SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CRIME
THE CLASSICAL SCHOOL
-Apresumption of guilt, unless proven innocent.
-Confession of guilt, or proof of innocence, through inquisition, often involving torture.
-The death penalty for most crimes.
-Physical torture as punishments for the few crimes that did not result
BEFORE THE CLASSICAL SCHOOL
¡ A presumption of guilt, unless proven innocent.
¡ Confession of guilt, or proof of innocence, through inquisition, often
¡ The death penalty for most crimes.
¡ Physical torture as punishment for the few crimes that did not result
CESARE BECCARIA (1738-1794) ¡ Torture was unfair – confession might have nothing to do with innocence or guilt.
¡ If you were innocent, you were tortured anyway; if you were guilty, you were tortured too,
¡ If you were guilty, but were able to handle the torture and did not confess, you received the
same punishment as someone who was innocent.
¡ The death penalty was inappropriate –people gave up certain rights when they joined
society, but they never agreed that the state should be able to kill them.
CESARE BECCARIA cont.
¡ The presumption of innocence
¡ Specific criminal codes
¡ Limitations on the severity of punishment
-The duration of punishment as a more effective
deterrent. -Public (visible) punishment as a more effective
JEREMY BENTHAM (1748-1832)
¡ People were rational, and exercised free will.
¡ Would employ a hedonistic calculus in deciding whether a certain action was more likely to
result in pleasure than in pain.
THE POSITIVE SCHOOL
¡ Used “scientific” methods to explain criminal
¡ Involved notion of "determinism", as opposed to “free
will” or “rational choice”.
¡ Behavior of criminals was pre-determined by their
genes or evolutionary condition. CESARE LOMBROSO
¡ Founder and most prominent member of the Positive School
¡ Interest in science, medicine and evolutionary theory led Cesare Lombroso in search of
atavistic criminal – a degenerate throwback on earlier forms of evolution.
-Argued that free will did not exist
¡ Placed greater emphasis on determining effects of social, economic and
¡ Crimes as being “against the laws of nature”
¡ “Natural crimes” that violated the sentiments of “probity” and “pity”
¡ Advocated elimination of criminals through incapacitation or execution.
Criminological Theory -Sacco and Kennedy describe criminological theories as general (rather than individual) explanations of what
-Good or “valid” theories should be logically constructed, and should be consistent with what we know about
-Theories should also be falsifiable – we should be able to test or measure them.
l Most theories discussed in Chapter 4 of The Criminal Event are positivist theories.
l Positivism = use of “scientific” methods to study and explain human/criminal behaviour.
l Involves a degree of determinism (i.c. the way people behave is due to circumstances beyond
l general pedigree studies
l twin studies
l adoption studies
l karyotype studies GENERAL PEDIGREE STUDIES
l Look at people who are related to each other, to see whether they
behave in similar manner.
l Assume that children of parents who engage in criminal behaviour are
more likely to be criminals themselves, because they inherited their
l If one brother is criminal, other brother should have higher chance of
being criminal too, because of similar genetic make-up.
PROBLEMS WITH PEDIGREES
l Difficult to say whether criminal behaviour caused by
inherited tendencies, or by social environment.
l Unless raised in different family, with different
parents, it could be argued that parents taught children
that criminal behaviour was acceptable.
PROBLEMS WITH PEDIGREES cont. Children may learn criminal behaviour by watching and imitating
behaviour of their parents.
l Effort to avoid problems associated with general pedigree studies.
l Researchers study differences between dizygotic (DZ) and monozygotic
l DZ (fraternal) twins share only 50% of their genes; MZ (identical)
twins share 100% of genes.
l Concordance = the degree to which behaviour of the twins is similar or
MZAND DZ TWINS
l Studies have suggested that if one MZ twin is a criminal, the other MZ twin is more
likely to e criminal.
l DZ twin less likely to display the same criminal tendencies. TWINS CAN BE DOUBLE TROUBLE
l Fail to take into consideration that most monozygotic twins are raised in similar environments,
have similar social experiences.
l Because monozygotic twins look so much alike, they are also more likely to provoke similar
responses from other people than dizygotic twins, who may not look as much alike.
l Study identical (MZ) twins raised by different sets of parents, in
l Control for social class, child-rearing practices, and diet.
l Most adoption studies have found relatively low rates of concordance.
l Sacco & Kennedy conclude there is “no real scientific basis for….the
existence of a crime gene”. l Others claim there is measurable degree of association between
criminal behaviour of biological parents and their children put up for
adoption at birth.
l Examine number, shape, size of chromosomes.
l Focus on existence of extra Y chromosome, or XYY
l XX chromosome determines gender in women; XY
chromosome determines gender in males.
THE XYY SUPER MALE
l Relatively rare in the general population (one in 1,000)
l More common in prison population (one in 100) -Little evidence to suggest that they commit more violent crimes than other
males, or that they are necessarily more aggressive.
l Sheldon’s 1949 work argued that mesomorph was most likely to become a criminal, or to engage
in violent behaviour.
l The Gleucks’ 1950 study of 500 delinquent and 500 non-delinquent boys concluded that
delinquent boys were in fact more mesomorphic than non-delinquent boys.
CRIMEAND HUMAN NATURE
l Wilson and Herrnstein claimed in 1985 book Crime
and Human Nature that offenders tend to be shorter
and more muscular than people in the general
population. l Herrnstein (2000, p. 21) has continued to argue that
offender populations “are more likely to be
mesomorphic (I.e., muscular, large-boned)”.
WHAT S & K SAY
they might be more muscular than average.ft weights while in prison, thus explaining why
l Stronger, more muscular individuals often come out on the winning side of fights, and
end up being categorized as the aggressors.
l Less muscular individuals often come out on losing end of fights, and come to be viewed
THE MESOMORPH SCALE
INTELLIGENCEAND CRIME l Hirschi and Hindelang reported in 1977 on six ( then recent) studies
indicating that IQ was as least as important as race and social class in
l Recent upsurge in interest in relationship between intellige