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CRIM 300W (51)
Jay H (14)
Lecture 2

Week 2 Textbook - An Overview of Issues in Criminological Theory

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Jay H

INTRODUCTION: AN OVERVIEW OF ISSUES IN CRIMINOLOGICAL THEORY What is Criminology?  Criminology = scientific study of crime, especially why people commit crimes  Philosophical and legal examinations of crime = logic and deductive reasoning  Journalists – exploring and revealing crime but tend to examine anecdotes and not examine objectively  Criminology is based on using SCIENTIFIC METHOD and HYPOTHESES to tests o Journalists examine a specific case and make conclusion based on that  SOCIAL SCIENCES = use of scientific method to examine and test  Religious accounts of crime are based on authoritarian or reasoning principles, not based on observations o It is because the Bible, the Koran, the Pope, the Church says it  Not based on authority or anecdotes but on EMPIRCAL RESEARCH  Criminology is based on science and its work is accomplished through direct observation and testing of hypotheses, even if those findings do not fit neatly into logical principles or the general feelings of the public What is Theory?  Theory = set of concepts linked together by a series of statements to explain why and event or phenomenon occurs o Provide explanations of why it works that way  Theories can be wrong BUT predictions can be accurate o Ex) Earth was center of universe & flat earth theory What is Crime?  Legalistic approach – acts that are prohibited in the legal code o Problem: crime in one jurisdiction ≠ crime in another jurisdiction  Mala in se – crimes of serious violence and shock the society, crimes evil in itself  Mala prohibita – evil because prohibited, crimes that are not inherently evil acts by only bad because the law says so  Deviance – not against the law but statistically unusual and may be more immoral than illegal The Major Theoretical Paradigms  Theories of crime categorized based on concepts, assumptions, characteristics  Paradigms = distinctive theoretical models/perspectives 1 o In crime, based largely on opposing assumptions of human behavior 1. Classical school (deterrence/rational choice) o Emphasizes on individuals have FREE WILL o Choose to commit based on rational, hedonistic decisions o Benefits outweigh the cost of the crime o Maximum pleasure minimum pain 2. Positive School (positivism) o No free will or rational choice o Predetermined by factors outside of their will o Factors – genetics, IQ, education, employment, peer influences, parenting, economics 3. Conflict/Critical perspective o Use of law as a reaction/tool to enforce restraint on others by those in power or authority o How society reacts when a person is caught doing something wrong o Emphasize group behavior over individual o Those in power keep those who have limited power restrained or confined 4. Integrated theories o Combines best aspects of other models into a single better framework for understanding crime Additional Ways to Classify Criminological Theories  Micro-level of analysis – study on individual (person) level of analysis o Ex) social structure theories  Macro-level of analysis – group level of analysis o Ex) social process theories  Consensual perspective (non-conflict model) – laws are made to define acts as criminal to the extent that they violate rights of individuals and virtually everyone agrees  Conflict perspective – different groups disagree about the fairness of laws and that laws are used as a tool by those in power to keep others down  Classified based on human nature o some theories assume people are born good and are corrupted to commit crimes  STRAIN THEORY – people are born innocent by society causes them to commit crimes o Humans are born predisposed towards being bad and must be socialized or restrained so they don’t engage in crime  CONTROL THEORY – assumes all individuals are criminally disposed 2 o Tabula rasa – assumes people are born with no leaning towards good or bad but are influences by positive or negative influences  BLANK SLATE THEORY – people are born as a blank slate and learn to be good or bad based on what they experience Characteristics of Good Theories  Parsimony – explaining a single phenomenon in the simplest way as possible o Simple = better (ex. Gottfredson & Hirschi’s low self-control theory)  Scope – extent to which a theory makes sense in terms of its concepts and prepositions o Some theories don’t make sense because of the face value of its propositions (ex. Lombroso’s tattoo theory)  Testability – extent to which a theory can be put to empirical, scientific testing o Some theories can’t be tested (ex. Freud’s id, ego, superego psyche)  Empirical validity – extent to which a theoretical model is supported by scientific research o MOST IMPORANT: If a theory has good empirical validity, it is an accurate explanation of behavior, if not, it should be revised/dismissed because it’s not true  Policy implication – extent to which a theory can create realistic and useful guidance for changing the way society deals with a given phenomena o Providing useful model for authorities to how to deal with crime Criteria for Determining Causality  Temporal ordering – predictor variable (X) must precede explanatory variable (Y) o [recent debate] delinquency (X) causes associates with delinquent peers/associates (Y) OR delinquency is an outcome variable (Y) due to association with delinquent peers (X) o “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”  Correlation/co-variation – extent to which a change in X is associated with a change in Y o Correlation alone doesn’t mean X causes Y  Spuriousness – beware of Z factors that could affect X and Y outcomes o Have to make sure X is the one causing Y and there is no third variable (Z) that is causing the two events to occur (ex. firefighters at a fire scene example) Measures of Crime  Uniform Crime Report (UCR) – police send reports about certain crimes and arrests to the FBI which combines them with others’ reports and publishes UCR annually 3  National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) – large, random sample of US households are asked how much crime have they experienced in the past 6 months, collected by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)  Self-report data (SRD) – collected by individual scientists, individuals participate in surveys and interviews and report crimes against themselves or crimes they’ve committed o Provides in-depth information on the offender or victims such as personality, biology/physiology, family life, economic information whereas UCR and NVCS can’t The Uniform Crime Report  Began in early 1930s  Collected by many thousands of independent police agencies at federal, state and local levels  FBI definitions of crime differ from state organizations, concentrate on 8 index (Part 1) offences o 4 violent: murder/non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape (not statutory), robbery, aggravated assault o 4 property: burglary (includes breaking/entering or trespass), motor vehicle theft, larceny (ex. shoplifting), arson  Non-index offences – reported only if an arrest is made in case o Range from violent crimes to embezzlement and fraud to offenses that are considered violations of the law only if an individual is under 18 o Problem: likelihood of arresting someone of those crimes is less than 10%; FBI is missing at least 90% of the actual offenses  DARK FIGURE – the missing amount of crime o 70-80% of serious crimes are not reported  Why don’t they report crime? o Consider if a personal matter – committed by a family, friend, acquaintance o Believe police won’t take it seriously, better to handle it informally o Don’t feel crime is important enough to report o No confidence that reporting will do any good o Police are not competent o Fear of retaliation (in gang activities) o Fear own illegal activity will be exposed  US school systems = most important, often ignored failure to report crime o Most crime happens in school but almost never get reported o No school wants to become known as a crime-ridden place/system 4 o Parents don’t want to their children to be involved in a formal legal case  Criticisms of UCR being a measure of crime: o The way crime is counted can be misleading o UCR only counts the most serious that is committed in a given incidence  Ex) if a person, robs, rape and murder a victim or murder will be counted o Counting inconsistency  Ex) assaults 8 people and robs everyone only gets counted as 1 robbery o Police departments alter the way crime
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