There is no one prevailing criminal justice theory dominating the United States. Several models exist, each attempting to define why some individuals become “deviant” and others do not. Each theory intends to explain criminal behavior, though some may hold more weight than others. Regardless, each of these different perspectives lends significant insight into the minds of those who commit crimes., making them essential knowledge for law enforcement training.
Rational Choice Theory
This theory is based on early Classical Theory with a few modern updates. This school of thought looks to three core figures existing in the world. Among them are the rational actors, people who choose not commit crimes because they imagine the punishment that would befall them. Then, there are predestined actors, individuals who are unable to control their urges and are encouraged by their environment to commit crimes. Lastly, there is the victimized actor, a person who has been coping with systemic inequality.
Contemporary Trait Theory
Based on an early criminal behavior theory known as biological positivism, Contemporary Trait Theory suggests that criminal behavior is related to biological and physical traits. Those who fall into this camp tend to believe that chemical changes of the brain may influence one’s behavioral patterns, often leading to criminal activity.
Social Structure Theory
This criminal behavior theory takes theories regarding biological factors and turns them upside down. Followers of this line of thought tend to believe that most crime takes place in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. This theory takes into account conditions of a neighborhood that might lead to criminal deviance, including high levels of unemployment and lack of funding in public schools. When it becomes difficult for residents of these neighborhoods to meet their needs, they may turn to criminal activity.
Social Disorganization Theory
This school of thought is based on the Chicago School with a modern twist. It agrees with other theories that poverty and low socioeconomic status may lead to deviancy, but it also delves into the high population turnover associated with impoverished neighborhoods. It focuses on the fact that it is difficult to maintain order in a neighborhood with such deep-rooted problems.
This concept, which was developed by Robert Merton, assesses that the American dream has a lot to do with deviancy. Those who want to achieve the American dream of prosperity, freedom and a bright future might turn to criminal means if they feel that such concepts are not attainable.
Those who ascribe to the Subcultural Theory believe that disrespect for authority becomes commonplace in some neighborhoods, resulting in a desire to conform to deviant subculture. The result is criminal activity.
Social Control Theory
In this theory, people who are attached to others do not tend to become deviant. They are more likely to ascribe to rules, seeing them as valid means for achievement.
Edmund Husserl and George Herbert Mead were among the first to explore many of the ideas associated with this theory, which is related to both Conflict Theory and Subcultural Theory. Symbolic Interactionism explores the relationship between the government, media, powerful elite groups and less powerful groups. Ultimately, it explores the idea of labelling children with titles such as “delinquent” and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Surely there is something to glean from each of these theories. It is possible to use each model in analyzing the motivation and cause of a particular case, and it is important that every law enforcement trainee understand the various components that come into play when somebody commits a crime. Contact us if you want to learn more about studying to work in a law enforcement career.