Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013
SOC*2700 Criminological Theory
What are the causes of crime?
- Why do some people commit crime while other do not?
- Why do some places have higher crime rates than others?
How do we control crime?
- What is the link between theories of crime & policies intended to reduce crime?
For each theory of crime, we will consider:
- What are its underlying assumptions?
- What are its strengths & limitations?
- To what extent is it supported by empirical evidence?
- What does it contribute to the field of criminology?
- What is its implications for criminal justice policy?
We will NOT attempt to isolate the “best” theory for explaining what causes crime.
Criminological Theory: Introduction
- the purpose is to understand and explain
- theory is going to help us answer the question why
Common Sense Explanations of Crime
- mental illness
- maybe it is easy for the offender, an easy way to get money - personal gain
- influence of drugs and alcohol
- peer pressure
- they think they won’t get caught - rational calculation
- abuse history
- desperate - think they have no other option
- “it’s all in the genes” - “he’s from the wrong side of the tracks” - the person grew up in the wrong neighbor-
- “she got in with the wrong crowd”
- “what he needs is a good stiff kick” - wasn’t disciplined enough
- “it’s her parents fault”
- “we’ve got to stop coddling criminals”
- “how else could he hope to get rich?”
- “his teachers expected him to fail, so he did” - self-fulfilling prophecy
- to some extent the causes of crime are assumed to be known by everyone
- these theories are not good theories because they are far too simplistic, if they were
correct, everybody that had particular life circumstances would commit crime
How was Jane Creba’s murder explained by political leaders in Canada?
- Jane Creba was shopping at the eaton centre and got shot on Boxing Day in 2005
- she was 15 years old and it was a gang-related shooting, the bullet was not intended
- this generated intense national media coverage
- saw starkly different reactions to this tragedy
- people think very differently how they would explain crime and how to respond to it
- Paul Martin: “I think more than anything else, the killers demonstrate what are in fact
the consequences of exclusion. I was in Toronto not long ago and met with a number of
members of communities in the Jane & Finch area ... and the young people talked to be
about the void in their lives, and what hopelessness exclusion can bring”
- Stephen Harper: “there is nothing else you can do to deal with crime other than to
make sure people who commit crimes are severely dealt with, and that we don’t run a
revolving-door justice system...I think obviously this is just the consequence of 12 years
of lax criminal justice law enforcement.”
- very different opinions and theories
Different Approaches to Explaining Crime
Theories can be grouped into 3 different categories
1) Free choice of the individual
- people are internally pulled towards crime
- people have to have some motivation - that is the key - some of the motivations are economic, revenge, gaining acceptance, religion, political
beliefs, gaining power, proving group loyalty, crime is fun, can help relieve psychological
or emotional stress
2) Biological, psychological & social factors
- people are pushed towards crime
- people are not self-determining agents, we don’t decide rationally in our brain what we
wish to do
- some of the pushes are internal (biological and psychological), some are social (poor
socialization, criminal subcultures)
2) The ways laws are enacted and enforced
- some actions are criminalized and others are not
- that is how we come to understand crime
Assumptions: Theories of Crime
- all theories are guided by a set of assumptions, is crime inevitable? are people inher-
ently greedy or inherently good?
- assumptions shape how we understand and how we explain crime
- Human Nature - intrinsically good vs. Intrinsically self-interested
- Degree of Order in Society - consensus vs. conflict
- Root Causes of Behaviour - determined by external/internal forces vs. free will
Why Use Theory?
Theory helps us:
- answer the question, why?
- predict what may happen in the future
- exert some control over the social world (via policy)
Thursday, Jan 10, 2013
Introduction to Criminological Theory
- spiritual explanations of crime - characteristics of scientific theories of crime
- “the devil made me do it”
- conflict between absolute good and absolute evil
- there were 3 ways to resolve this conflict/deal with offenders:
1. Trial by Battle - either the victim or somebody from the victim’s family set out to find
the offender or somebody from the offenders family, whoever is innocent will be victori-
ous, the innocent person had to trust in god
- problem was people who continually committed crimes because they knew they could
win the battle
- doesn’t prove whose innocent, proves who’s in better physical shape, a better fighter,
higher class (more access to weapons)
2. Trial by Ordeal - the person accused of committing a crime is subject to very painful
or life-threatening situations e.g. stoning, tied up and thrown into water
- believed if they are innocent, God would prevent them from dying
3. Compurgation - have a reputable person swear an oath that