Theories of Crime

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Describe and evaluate the theories of crime

There are many theories what makes a criminal. A criminal is a person who breaks the law and therefore commits a crime. Some criminals may have a psychological problem which enables them to believe that their behaviour is okay. However, most people have committed some type of crime in their lifetime but the defining component into what makes a person a criminal tends to be whether the person is caught, for example a convicted criminal.

A biological theory into what makes a criminal that has been made, is Lombroso's theory of the criminal gene, 1876. He suggested that criminals were genetically different from non-criminals and it was possible to identify a criminal, just from their appearance. He argued that criminals were more primitive than other people and that it was evident in their physical features. Lombroso referred to these people as “homo delinquents”, having a mental and physical resemblance to ancestral forms of life and born criminals were viewed as a form of subspecies and evolutionary throwbacks.

P - Research that supports the theory of the crime gene was conducted by Lombroso in 1876.
E - He gathered evidence on Italian prisons and found murderers were likely to have, “cold, glassy, blood shot eyes, curly abundant hair, strong jaws, long ears and thin lips”. Whereas sex offenders were more likely to have, “glinting eyes, strong jaws, thick lips, lots of hair and projecting ears”.
C - This supports the theory of the crime gene and suggests it is possible to identify a criminal by their appearance.
However, Lombroso's research cannot be generalised to all criminals as the research was only conducted on Italians and only focused on male murderers and sex offenders. Therefore, research is androcentric and ethnocentric.

P - The theory of the crime gene was criticised by Goring in 1913.
E - Goring found no significance between 3000 convicts and non-criminals in terms of physical appearance.
C - Therefore, suggesting that there is no relationship between criminals and their appearance.

P - A criticism of the gene theory is that it does not take into account individual differences.
E - The gene theory suggests that everyone with the characteristics of a criminal, is a criminal.
C - This cannot apply to everyone with that description and therefore cannot be generalised.

A social theory into crime was conducted by Sutherland. Social learning theories believe that all behaviour is learnt, therefore criminal behaviour is also learnt by imitation and reinforcement. Sutherland identified a number of principles to show how crime is learnt. The most important of which was learning through association in close, personal groups. Within these groups, individuals are able to learn the behaviour, attitudes and motives for committing crimes.

P - Sutherland's theory was supported by Jeffery in 1965.
E - Jeffery incorporated Skinner's concepts of operant conditioning into Sutherland's theory and stated that the reason some individuals from the same background and environment become criminals and others do not is




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