Criminological Theory Review
Common sense explanations-need money, background, role model admiration, mentally
unstable, under the influence, genetics, wrong crowd, parents/family, teachers, labelling.
Theory-helps us answer the question why, helps predict future behaviour and helps us exert
some control over the social world.
Spiritual Explanations-Very popular in early history focuses on the conflict between absolute
good and bad. People were assumed to be possessed by the devil and was dealt with using
exorcisms or brain surgery to free the spirit. Often killed them.
Trial by battle-Victim/victims family fights the offender/offenders family. Proposed that God
would protect the innocent party. Rich people could pay for warriors or weapons though.
Trial by ordeal-Guilt was determined by painful or life threatening situations. E.g. stones placed
on the body and if they were innocent God would prevent them from being crushed.
Compurgation-Allows the accused to choose witnesses to take an oath they are innocent. Idea
that people fear God so they wont lie under oath.
Limitations-no proof of spiritual possession, cannot scientifically test, removes personal
accountability, severe/unjust punishments and accused often died.
Principles of the penitentiary-Began in 18 C. Idea is to isolate prisoner from bad influences of
society, emphasize penance and silent contemplation. Basically repent and reform.
-Often given a bible to correct people through labour. Possibility of returning to society as a
renewed person. Emphasized productive labour.
Elizabeth Fry Society-active in putting Christian values in the penal system.
Problems-No dealing with issues, anger you, provide other delusions, insanity and suicide.
Scientific Theories of Crime-Theories provide a rationale for a causal/explanatory relationship.
-Based on studying criminals we derive a hypothesis and test it in the real world using systematic
observation and repeated evidence. Tested through verification (observe and confirm hypothesis)
and falsification (look to disprove hypothesis). Must be able to test the theory but falsification is
most important because theories can never be proven correct but can be proven incorrect.
-A correlation between A and B changes in a predictable way. Does not show causation. For
causation we need a correlation, time (cause before effect) and an absence of spurious link.
Characteristics of good theories-Explanatory power (ability to predict and explain various
types of crime.
-Charles Tittle-Theories should be evaluated based on breadth, comprehensiveness, precision and
Classical Perspective-We choose to commit crime by weighing the rewards and punishments
and thus are deserving of punishment for making this choice.
Cesar Beccaria-Utilitarianism-Rise of Classical Theory-Outlines 4 key principles of crime
1) Equality-law should apply to all.
2) Liberty-Everyone had a right to protection from the state. Need to know what the laws
are and they cannot be applied retroactively. Cannot punish without law.
3) Humanitarianism-Should be fair and humane punishment.
4) Utilitarianism-Goal is to have happiest for the greatest number of people. Punishment
should not just be about retribution but serve as a deterrent. -All behaviour is chosen, behaviour is controlled by threat of punishment. Criminal justice
system must coincide with the cost/benefit ratio for it to deter. Punishment should be fair,
certain, proportional to deter. System should eliminate discretion and arbitrariness
Jeremy Bentham-Rise of classical Theory-Choices of people depend on happiness vs. pain
-Psychological hedonism (thinking about ourselves).
-Society should evaluate behaviours based on the greatest happiness for the greatest number of
people. Must convince people that non-criminal peaceful actions are in their best interests.
-Criminal behaviour is influenced by the same mechanisms as any other behaviour.
Classical Theory assumptions-People have free will and are rational self-interested actors
(hedonism). Society is based on a social contract where we agree to a set of rules because we
realise that they benefit us even if they confine us in some ways.
-Acts that are harmful and acts that violate the social contract is the nature of crime.
Classical Paradigm-Rational hedonistic actor with free will->Perceptions of opportunity-
>Assessment of probable risk->Decision to conform or offend-rapid shift to positivism (19thC)
Re-emergence of rational choice theory 1970s Neo-Classical-
-Crime is a decision. Doesnt assume we plan all crime but assume we make a decision no matter
how fleeting which is different to rational choice theory which assumes all crimes are rational.
-Mentally ill people are exempt from rational choice perspective because they are unable to
weigh the costs and benefits.
Deterrence Theory-Hypothesis is that increasing costs of crime will reduce the likelihood
people will choose it. Certainty, celerity (swiftness), severity of punishment are all important.
-Severity is easiest to control.
Types of deterrence
General Deterrence-Goal is to convince potential offenders that the potential costs outweigh the
benefits of crime. Punishment is to the individual but goal is to deter all.
-Increased certainty reduces crime. Some studies show that severity is not related to crime and
some shows that increased severity causes increased crime.
-Examples-drunk driving laws
Specific Deterrence-Attempts to stop reoffending. Jail is specific deterrence. Convince people
not to commit crime again in the future that the costs outweigh the benefits.
-Ability to deter may depend on individual characteristics.
-Examples-mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence.
Limitations-inter-related elements-if the punishment is too severe juries may not convict which
reduces celerity. Tipping points-Certainty/deterrence is not linear, once you hit a certain point
the public cannot be deterred any more.
Scared Straight-Threats of violence, threats of rape, aggressive language, isolated in cells, being
victimized. Probably a short term effect, doesnt teach them long term lessons such as value for a
job, return to the community is going to affect the decision to offend or not not this session.
-Threat of violence is non-existent because they cannot actually do anything however the
inmates are never actually getting out so it doesnt matter to them and the violence could be
Routine activities Theory-Assumes rational perspective and thus doesnt have to explain crime.
-Questions how peoples daily activities/routines make them most likely to be victimized. It is a
theory of victimization, motive is assumed and it looks at the situational aspects of crime.-3 elements are lack of capable guardians (people/things that stop the offender from doing the
offence), presence of motivated offenders (assumed these are available) and availability of
suitable targets (portability of items and easy access).
-Criminal offences are related to the nature of everyday patterns of social interaction. Doesnt
explain domestic violence and assumes the home is safe.
-Availability of suitable targets is dependent on VIVA; Value, Inertia (weight/size), Visibility
Patterns and changes in crime due to changes in targets and guardians
-Transient, single parent neighbourhoods means fewer capable guardians.
-Overcrowded schools limits guardianship and brings together potential victims and offenders.
-Large apartment complexes means lots of people and escape routes. Same issues with houses or
businesss on main streets with multiple exits.
Preventing crime-Cannot eliminate motivations of offend very easily so we should reduce
opportunities through target hardening (deadbolts, better lighting etc) and increasing the presence
of formal and informal guardians.
-Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED)- literal creation of the environment to
make the space more inviting for legitimate users and less inviting for potential offenders.
Positivist-Looks at the differences between offenders and non-offenders. Assumes offenders are
Biological perspectives-Looks at whether crime is hereditary and that there is a crime gene. Has
a potential for being used as an excuse for crime.
Original Sin-Inmates look at their family history and see a history of jail or violence. They
believe they are born evil.