Causes of Crime – Recent Developments in the International Criminological Theory-Discusion Cover Image

Przyczyny przestępczości. Nowe aspekty międzynarodowej dyskusji o teoriach kryminologicznych
Causes of Crime – Recent Developments in the International Criminological Theory-Discusion

Author(s): Hans J. Schneider
Subject(s): Law, Constitution, Jurisprudence
Published by: Instytut Nauk Prawnych PAN
Keywords: crime;criminological theory;mental illness;offense;

Summary/Abstract: This survey intends to critically inform the reader about new and further developments of criminological theories on causality and about how successful these theories have proved in empirical and practical terms during the last three decades. From the point of view of mainstream criminology the criminalbiological, criminalpsychological, criminalsociological, socialpsychological, victimological, critical-radical, feminist, postmodernist and integrated theories are being considered. Preceding this is a discussion of the theory of national choise, according to which criminality is based on a costprofit-analysis and which, empirically speaking, has not exactly held good. Among the criminalbiological approaches the theory of constitutional predisposition is being discussed which assumes an interaction between genes and environment to produce criminality. Since the studies on family, twins and adoption, while attempting to prove this interaction, show both theoretical and methodological shortcomings, this theory is being rejected. Under the headline of "criminalbiological theories" a discussion of mental illness and crime can be found. A psychiatrisation of crime is not held advisable: Only between 0.2 % and 2 % of all schizophrenic persons are arrested for violent crimes per year, which amounts 1.1 % to 2.3 % of the total arrests for violent crime. Among the criminalpsychological theories the following three approaches are being discussed: the psychopathological theory, the theory of criminal personality according to Hans Jürgen Eysenck and the biosocial theory of inherited criminal tendencies according to Sarnoff A. Mednick. It is proposed to give up the term "psychopathy'' altogether since it contradicts modern findings of dark field research that personality traits not socially desirable are restricted to and concentrated in only a small section of the human race. The theories of Eysneck and Mednick, according to which criminal behaviour is tfre result of interaction between certain social environmental factors and inherited predispositions of the central nervous system, have empirically not been sufficiently proven.The survey's emphasis lies on criminalsociological, socialpsychological and victimological theories. In the context o criminalsociological approaches the theories of social disorganization and of anomie are being discussed. A society is socially disorganized when social bonds dissolve, when social control breaks down and when interpersonal disorientation spreads among its members. The theory of social disorganization has been further developed inasmuch as the social structuring of delinquency areas has been described as a dynamic process and as the spiral-like social downfall and dereliction of a neighbourhood ("community crime career"). In empirical studies making use of data from accounts showing how people have become perpetrator or victim ("British Crime Surveys"), this theory of social disorganization has been widely confirmed. The theory of anomie has undergone further development by the adaptation of two new approaches: the theory of institutional anomie according to Steven F. Messner and Richard Rosenfeld and the theory of general strain according to Robert Agnew. The theory of institutional anomie underlines the extreme importance western societies ascribe to monetary success while at the same time not stressing the component of achieving this success by legal means. One institution – economy – assumes priority over all non-economic institutions such as family, education or politics, which on their part are only insufficiently capable of restricting the criminogenic pressure phenomenon, i.e. the overestimation of monetary success. According to the theory of general strain the incapability of reaching positively marked aims results in overstraining (pressure). This pressure can be measured by ascertaining the gap between aspirations (ideal aims) and expectations on the one hand and actual achievements and successes on the other.The socialpsychological theories, which are theories of social processes can be subdivided into theories of cognitive-social learning, control, interaction and life-course. According to the theory of cognitive-social learning a person acquires his/her behaviour by way of reinforcement and modeling. In self-reinforcement processes people both reward and punish themselves. Finally, this theory regards human learning as an active, cognitively controlled psychical process of assimilating experience. Criminal behaviour is learned by reaffirming (rewarding) it more than socially conforming behaviour. Delinquents acquire it in criminal subcultures, in which criminal behaviour is justified by means of neutralisation techniques as being "not really'' criminal. The theory of cognitive-social learning of criminal behaviour (the theory of differential reinforcement and imitation) has held good empirically and practically and has been complemented by the theory of crime seduction according to Jack Katz stating that the euphoria of criminal success is relevant factor. The robber f.i. is not only rewarded by his material profit but also by experiencing domination during the criminal act.Among the theories of control the theory of social bonds according to Travis Hirschi is widely appreciated in practical terms. Empirically speaking, however, it has not quite achieved what it promised. It has been further developed by the theory of self-control, according to which delinquents are persons with a low level of self-control as a result from ineffective and inadequate socialization. Another new development is the theory of control balance according to Charles R. Tittle. The central statement of this theory is that the amount of control a person is subjected to, as compared to the control this person exercises, influences both the probability of committing delinquencies and the possibility to commit certain types of crime. The theory of interaction, which is a theory of social process, has been converted in the seventies and eighties to a radical socialstructural labeling approach. Control institutions (f.i police, law-courts) are assumed to produce delinquency and criminality by selectively sanctioning the lower class in the order to preserve the power of the ruling class. In the nineties, however, the interaction theory is distancing itself from this radical power conflict approach and reverting to its original focus: its connection to the cognitive-social learning theory. The interaction theory has been supplemented by the Australian criminologist John Braithwaite. He regards shame as an essential means of informal social control and distinguishes between reintegrative and disintegrative shaming.The life-course-theories are new developments stemming from the late eighties and early nineties. According to these theories, delinquency and criminality develop in interactive processes spanning the whole cycle of life. Developmental crirninology focusses on the questions why people become delinquent (onset, activation), why their delinquencies continue (maintenance), why delinquencies often increase both in frequency and in seriousness (acceleration, escalation, aggravation) and, lastly, why people stop being delinquent (deceleration, desistance, termination). It is concept of casuality is dynamic and interactive. Personal and social damages cause delinquency and criminality which in their turn again result in personal and social damages. Basically, three life-course-theories have recently been developed: the interaction theory by Terence P. Thornberry, the theory of social turning-points by Robert J. Sampson and John H. Laub and the theory of criminal tendencies by David P. Farrington.Victimological theories open a range of completely new criminal-aetiological perspectives. For victimogenesis (enquiring into the causes for becoming a victim) the model of lifestyle-exposure and opportunity deals with the probability of individuals being in certain places at certain times and under certiatin circumstances and thereby meeting certain categories of people. The routine-activity-theory according to Lawrence E. Cohen and Marcus Felson distinguishes between three elements: a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of capable protectors (guardians) of this object against a violation. The routine-activity-approach accordingly predicts the highest risk of delinquency when the victim's suitability is highest: best social visibility, easiest access, strongest attraction and when the level of object observation is low. The routine-activity-theory has been further developed into a structural-choise model of victimization. Within this reconsidered and verified model the nearness and protection of a potential victim represent components of choise.The critical-radical school in modern criminology intends to develop an alternative to mainstream criminology and in the long run to replace mainstream criminology. While having achieved their first aim, thus far they have failed in thier second. The critical-radical school of thought can be divided into three theories: According to marxist theory the basis of crime can be found in the contradictions of capitalism oppresing and exploiting the working class. Crime originates in the basic conflict between the bourgeoisie and the working class, which is a conflict of power and interests. The anarchistic theory aims at showing that that kind of justice by which our modern1egal system defines itself is in reality a facade for an intrinsic system of institutionalized injustice. Left-wing realism holds a „theory” consisting of four variables: victim, offender, state agencies and the public. Without disregarding the victims of so-called street-crimes, radical realism is based not-only on comprehending the victimization of the offender by the state, but also on the understanding of victimizition of the working class by the working class.Feminist theories in criminology focus on the four following issues:the problem of generalization: It is questionable whether the criminological theories developed so far are readily applicable to women and girls;the problem of gender relations: an explanation is required on why women and girls;commit fewer and less serious crimes and delinquencies than man and boys and how significant a factor masculinity is for the genesis of crime;the victimalization problem: Both the manifestations and the causes of male physical and sexual violence towards woman have to be describeds much more accurately;the problem of equal treatment of man and woman in the criminal justice system: It is questionable whether the principles of masculinity or feminity, should define the climate of the criminal justice system.Constutive criminology is a postmodernist school. It questions the attempt of institutions and individuals to claim priority of ''expert'' knowledge. Truth to them is a form of domination. Linked with constitutive criminology is the peacemaking criminology, which tries to soothe human sufferings and reduce criminality in this way. Solutions of the criminal justice system are rejected as violent. Individual violence cannot be overcome through state violence. Integrated theories attempt to take the best of every ''middle-range" theory and combine this into a more comprehensive new theory. Finally, as an example of an integrated theory, John Hagan's theory of power control is put forward which aims at explaining the lower frequency and seriousness of woman's criminality and girls' delinquency by looking at patriarchy and class structures.

  • Issue Year: 1998
  • Issue No: XXIII-XXIV
  • Page Range: 13-44
  • Page Count: 32
  • Language: Polish