Home » A General Theory of Crime

A General Theory of Crime

Crime is a serious issue in the United States and research shows that it is running rampant, and its effects are felt in all socioeconomic levels. Each economic class has its own crime rates and types of crime. It is a mistake to think of crime as a lower class problem. Crime is a problem for all people. The lower classes commit crime for survival while the upper class commits crime to supplement capital and maintain control. Research also highlight that middle class crime is the most popular while lower class neighborhoods are deteriorating.

This paper will focus on “A General Theory of Crime” using classical theory (Schmalleger, 2001, p. 96-98), such as the relationship between crime and socioeconomic class structure. The essential nature of crime and results of scientific and popular conceptions of crime. In reading the book, there is a broad perspective and comprehensive explanations of crime per se, as well as a breakdown of crime under capitalistic system of government. In doing this the authors explore the typical patterns of crime associated with specific classes and attempts by the state to regulate and control capitalist marketplace activities and working class life.

An important theme also highlighted was dynamic and contradictory relationship between the structural reproduction of capitalism and capitalist methods of crime control. The actual patterns of social relations are determined by the economy, institutionalized forms of the state or political power, and associated forms of culture and ideology (Gottfredson, 1998). Modes of behavior and their definition as criminal vary accordingly. Class structure gives rise to different types of criminality, which relate fundamentally to the needs of the dominant minority to control the laboring majority.

Such a pattern ensures the continual production of social wealth, but it also ensures a continuation of economic exploitation and class struggle over the distribution of social surplus. Crime is simply one such expression of this class struggle, an endemic feature based upon the functional and dysfunctional characteristics of living in a class-based economic system. There is no perfect way of measuring crime, and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly how much crime is going on in any particular jurisdiction at any given time.

To a certain extent, crime or criminality is a label placed on some behaviors and not on others. There are known inaccuracies in the labeling process, much crime go undetected and some crimes are not reported to police. Crimes that go undetected and unreported obviously are not included in the overall statistics at the same time making it difficult to perform accurate studies due to the dark figures. Law enforcement agencies at times, may omit/neglect to record something as a crime, or inaccurately report something as a crime when it is not.

Criminologists refer to all crime that escapes counting for any of the above reasons as the dark figure of crime. Crime statistics serve a number of purposes such as the determining of public policies, budgets, legislation, funding priorities, and evaluation of existing programs. Politically, crime data is often used to persuade voters of the success or failure of crime control policies. Private and nonprofit agencies also use crime data to justify their position on crime issues. A criminologist on the other hand might use the same data to study incarcerated offender population and how they relate to crime rates overall.

Most of the data used are obtained from a number of major sources such as the UCR (Uniform Crime Report) published by the FBI. Law enforcement agencies across the country; city, state, and county report to the FBI every year the number of crimes reported and recorded within their respective jurisdictions. The main purpose for the UCR is to serve as an indicator for comparisons, estimates, and for indexing crime and how it relates to the well being of the country as one entity.

Crimes highlighted in the UCR are broken down into eight categories of offenses also known as part I offenses, i. e. rape, murder, burglary, motor vehicle theft, aggravated assault, robbery, larceny-theft, and arson (Siegel, 2001, p. 52). The UCR utilizes the hierarchy rule that implies that when multiple crimes are linked to one offender within the same reporting year, only the most serious crime is counted. The UCR also uses another category termed clearance rate, this category highlights number of cases solved based on arrests, usually some cases where there are suspects but cannot be cleared for one reason or another when suspect flees the country, commits suicide, dies, or is convicted in another jurisdiction.

The assumptions and implications of labeling theory in criminology are not agreed upon by all of society, but it is essentially a conflict theory that can explain the process of harmful labeling at the community level. There are communities dominated mostly by African Americans, and communities dominated mostly by those not of African American descent. One of the assumptions in labeling theory is a focus upon the micro level of explanation, but the implications are important for the whole of society.

Labeling simply means singling out individuals, tagging and segregating a particular individual or group. Many believe that labeling is biased to the lower class in apprehending offenders. Labeling does not measure the amount of crime that’s in a certain given area as much as they measure what class, race, and gender committing the crimes. Perhaps the surge in crime rates and offending within the lower class is based on weak social bonds and natural predispositions toward crime. These components act as social controls on deviant and criminal behavior.

As they weaken, social control suffers and the likelihood of crime and deviance increase. Social bonds can be described as emotional attachments to family members or friends, obligation or attachment to a certain lifestyle, an involvement conventional values accepted by society and the belief and attachments in following social order and rules of society. The most important element of the social bond is attachment such as affection and sensitivity to others. Attachment is said to be the basic element necessary for the internalization of values and norms.

Commitment; the rational investment one has in conventional society and the risk one takes when engaging in deviant behavior. The third element is involvement in conventional activities; occupying one restricts opportunities for crime opportunities. Lastly, conventional moral values being neutralized with excuses so that one could commit crime without feeling guilty. In attempting to understand crime, many theories are put out to offer a different perspective. Some theories instead of asking what drives people to commit crime, they ask why most people avoid committing crime.

They focus on restraining factors that are broken or missing inside the personalities of the offenders. Those offenders with “high self-control are viewed as having a stable tendency that lets the actor avoid immediate or momentary acts and behaviors whose costs and consequences exceed the long-term benefits. Therefore, individuals who have low levels of self-control are more likely to commit any act of deviance”. (Vazsonyi, Alexander T, 2001 Hirschi and Gottfredson 1994)

If these restraining factors are thought to involve society in some way, as with the sociological notion that norms are internalized, then the theory is said to be a “social” control theory, and is most probably based on Durkheim’s idea of human nature as consisting of unlimited appetites. Family structures and functioning have crucial impacts on socialization, the capacity for symbolic interaction, self-concepts, and personality characteristics. Families are primary agents of socialization, and as such, are tempting to consider as direct causal agents of crime.

Some lines of action are defined as deviant and some are defined as conventional within particular structures of power relations, cultures, subcultures, or historical periods, but the commitment processes are the same”. (Ulmer 1994). Sociologists such as Reiss who termed the earliest control theory would argue that delinquency or offending was a result of a failure of social and personal controls (Siegel, 2001, p. 227-228). Personal controls stemming from the individuals inability to meeting their personal needs. Social control, Reiss viewed as the level by which authorities labeled the offenders behavior.

Victims and offenders are similar in many ways. Some meaningful variables are the age of both victim and offender, which are often similar. The typical violators are not usually someone who is a distant relative or lives outside the household. They usually stay with the victim, and are a son, daughter or spouse of the victim. Some victims and offenders are also unwilling to disclose all law violations. Finally, it is often difficult for self-report studies to collect data from large enough samples to develop a sufficient understanding of relatively rare events, such as serious violent offending.

Official statistics describe the cases handled by the justice system. Official records under represent juvenile delinquent behavior. Many crimes by juveniles are never reported to authorities. Many juveniles who commit offenses are never arrested. Or, if they are arrested, they are not arrested for all of their delinquencies. As a result, official records may systematically underestimate the scope of juvenile crime. In addition, to the extent there is bias in the types of crimes or offenders that enter the justice system, official records distort the attributes of juvenile crime.

There are many analyses, theories, studies, and personal opinions, which describe or explain why, offenders, commit crime and behave the way they do. Ultimately, no one explanation is sufficient to pinpoint motive, which may vary by individual. Any such analysis should be grounded on the individual basis, looking at background, culture, social environment, economic status, medical condition, and more to give a well-rounded and empirical reason for such behavior. Learning process may affect the way that offenders reason because the more negative action that the offender commits, the more he or she will be profiled in the media.

Some offend because they like the attention they receive. Some people offend because they like the thrill of it, if someone else gets away with committing a crime they feel they can get away as well. In attempting to understand the different factors that may assist in understanding crime, we must be willing to pursue every available perspective. Oftentimes within a person, there may be events that have lead up to a crime, events that sometime are overlooked. A minor unpleasant situation can often trigger a long unwanted outcome.

Simply being jumped in line can be enough to surface deep rooted emotional problems. One can be reminded of a bad past experience or even the familiarity of their upbringing. In trying to determine what caused something, we must know how to find the origin of the problems. What triggered this event, was it instantaneous, was it biological or did the individuals conflict with society cause this event. Overall, the criminal root problem may be escalated by outside variables that can enhance probability of dangerous acts.

Social learning theory declares that all behavior is learned in much the same way as other behaviors” (Schmalleger, 2001 p. 117). Criminal behavior is seen as due to a person’s social environment, not to innate characteristics of a person. “Sutherland’s differential association theory stated that criminality is a learned behavior through association and communication with others who portray criminal values. People learn to commit crime from other people. Criminal behavior is not due to feeble minds or psychopathology, but what people learn”. (Schmalleger, 2001 p. 16)

Opportunity, differential association/social learning and labeling theories provide a set of concepts and propositions that are compatible with one another and are recognized by many as central to any theoretical discussion of continuity in deviant behavior. Each of these theories implies processes and contingencies by which actors develop, maintain, and change sources of structural, personal, and moral commitment to deviance. More importantly, the commitment framework specifies potential factors that these theories either merely imply or fail to recognize”. (Ulmer 1994)

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.