Open Posted By: highheaven1 Date: 16/09/2020 Graduate Assignment Writing

case study of related criminals. Chapter 6-7

Category: Accounting & Finance Subjects: Behavioral Finance Deadline: 12 Hours Budget: $120 - $180 Pages: 2-3 Pages (Short Assignment)

Attachment 1


Introduction to Criminology

Second Edition


Introduction to Criminology Why Do They Do It?

Second Edition

Pamela J. Schram California State University, San Bernardino

Stephen G. Tibbetts California State University, San Bernardino



SAGE Publications, Inc.

2455 Teller Road

Thousand Oaks, California 91320

E-mail: [email protected]

SAGE Publications Ltd.

1 Oliver’s Yard

55 City Road

London EC1Y 1SP

United Kingdom

SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

B 1/I 1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area

Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044


SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte. Ltd.

3 Church Street

#10-04 Samsung Hub

Singapore 049483

Copyright © 2018 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Schram, Pamela J., author. | Tibbetts, Stephen G., author.

Title: Introduction to criminology : why do they do it / Pamela J. Schram, California State University, San Bernardino, Stephen G. Tibbetts, California State University, San Bernardino.

Description: Second Edition. | Thousand Oaks : SAGE Publications, [2017] | Revised edition of the authors’ Introduction to criminology, [2014] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016040618 | ISBN 9781506347561 (pbk. : alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: Criminology.

Classification: LCC HV6025 .S38 2017 | DDC 364—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016040618

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Acquisitions Editor: Jessica Miller


eLearning Editor: Laura Kirkhuff

Editorial Assistant: Jennifer Rubio

Production Editor: Libby Larson

Copy Editor: Rachel Keith

Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.

Proofreader: Sally Jaskold

Indexer: Joan Shapiro

Cover Designer: Scott Van Atta

Marketing Manager: Amy Lammers


Brief Contents

Preface Acknowledgments About the Authors Chapter 1: Introduction to Criminology Chapter 2: Measuring Crime Chapter 3: Classical School of Criminology Thought Chapter 4: Contemporary Classical and Deterrence Research Chapter 5: Early Positivism Chapter 6: Modern Biosocial Perspectives of Criminal Behavior Chapter 7: Psychological/Trait Theories of Crime Chapter 8: Social Structure Theories of Crime I Chapter 9: Social Structure Theories of Crime II Chapter 10: Social Process and Control Theories of Crime Chapter 11: Labeling Theory and Conflict/Marxist/Radical Theories of Crime Chapter 12: Feminist Theories of Crime Chapter 13: Developmental/Life-Course Perspectives Criminality Chapter 14: White-Collar Crime, Organized Crime, and Cybercrime Chapter 15: Hate Crimes, Terrorism, and Home Land Security Chapter 16: Drugs and Crime Glossary Notes Index


Detailed Contents

Preface Acknowledgments About the Authors Chapter 1: Introduction to Criminology

Introduction Key Concepts to Understanding Criminology

What is a Crime? Case Study: Burke And Hare

What is Criminology and Criminal Justice? The Consensus and Conflict Perspectives of Crime

Learning Check 1.1 The Criminal Justice System

Law Enforcement Courts Corrections The Juvenile Justice System

Learning Check 1.2 Introduction to Comparative Criminology

Applying Theory To Crime: Motor Vehicle Theft Comparative Criminology: Motor Vehicle Theft Criminology Theory

Characteristics of Good Theories Learning Check 1.3

Three Requirements for Determining Causality Why Do They Do It? Diane and Rachel Staudte

Theory Informs Policies and Programs Victimology

Victim Precipitation Incidence/Prevalence of Victimization Child Abuse and Neglect Compensation/Restitution Victim Impact Statements

Learning Check 1.4 Victim Rights Awareness

Conclusion Key Terms Discussion Questions


Web Resources Chapter 2: Measuring Crime

Introduction Crime Data From Law Enforcement Agencies Case Study: September 11, 2001, Victims

Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) Comparative Criminology: Child Abuse Why Do They Do It? Learning Check 2.1

Supplementary Homicide Reports The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) Data Collection Limitations of NIBRS Hate Crime Data Data Collection Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Statistics Data Collection

Crime Data from Victims of Crime: The National Crime Victimization Survey Learning Check 2.2

Limitations of the NCVS Comparing the NCVS with the UCR

Crime Data from Self-Report Surveys Monitoring the Future The National Survey on Drug Use and Health National Youth Survey—Family Study

Additional Approaches to Collecting Crime Data The National Youth Gang Survey

Applying Theory to Crime: Hate Crime Spatial Analyses of Crime

Learning Check 2.3 Conclusion Key Terms Discussion Questions Web resources

Chapter 3: Classical School of Criminology Thought Introduction Case Study: Deborah Jeane Palfrey Pre-Classical Perspectives of Crime and Punishment

Punishments under Pre-Classical Perspectives The Age of Enlightenment


Learning Check 3.1 The Classical School of Criminology

Influences on Beccaria and His Writings Beccaria’s Proposed Reforms and Ideas of Justice Beccaria’s Ideas of the Death Penalty Beccaria’s Concept of Deterrence and the Three Key Elements of Punishment

Learning Check 3.2 Beccaria’s Conceptualization of Specific and General Deterrence Summary of Beccaria’s Ideas and Influence on Policy

Learning Check 3.3 Impact of Beccaria’s Work on Other Theorists

Jeremy Bentham The Neoclassical School of Criminology Why Do They Do It? The Harpe Brothers

Applying Theory to Crime: Other Assaults (Simple) Loss of Dominance of Classical/Neoclassical Theory Policy Implications

Comparative Criminology: Homicide Rates Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 3 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 4: Contemporary Classical and Deterrence Research Introduction Case Study: Wayne Rebirth of Deterrence Theory and Contemporary Research

Formal and Informal Deterrence Rational Choice Theory Learning Check 4.1 Applying Theory to Crime: Driving Under the Influence Comparative Criminology: Threats and Assaults Routine Activities Theory

The Three Elements of Routine Activities Theory Applications of Routine Activities Theory

Learning Check 4.2 Policy Implications Why Do They Do It? The Green River Killer Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 4


Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 5: Early Positivism Introduction Early Biological Theories of Behavior Case Study: Javier

Craniometry Phrenology

Physiognomy Lombroso’s Theory of Atavism and Born Criminals

Lombroso’s Theory of Crime Lombroso’s List of Stigmata Lombroso as the Father of Criminology and THE Father of the Positive School

Learning Check 5.1 Lombroso’s Policy Implications

Why Do They Do It? Dr. Harold Shipman Learning Check 5.2 AFTER Lombroso: The IQ-Testing Era

Goddard’s IQ Test Policy Implications

Sterilization Reexamining Intelligence

Applying Theory to Crime: Burglary Comparative Criminology: Burglary Body Type Theory: Sheldon’s Model of Somatotyping Learning Check 5.3 Learning Check 5.4 Policy Implications Case Study Revisited: Javier Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 5 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 6: Modern Biosocial Perspectives of Criminal Behavior Introduction Nature Versus Nurture: Studies Examining the Influence of Genetics and Environment Case Study: Faith and Hope

Family Studies


Twin Studies Adoption Studies

Learning Check 6.1 Twins Separated at Birth

Learning Check 6.2 Cytogenetic Studies: The XYY Factor Hormones and Neurotransmitters: Chemicals That Determine Criminal Behavior Applying Theory to Crime: Aggravated Assault Comparative Criminology: Assault Brain Injuries Learning Check 6.3 Central and Autonomic Nervous System Activity Why Do They Do It? Charles Whitman Learning Check 6.4 Biosocial Approaches Toward Explaining Criminal Behavior

Behavioral Genetics Studies Diet/Nutrition Toxins

Policy Implications Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 6 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 7: Psychological/Trait Theories of Crime Introduction Early Psychological Theorizing Regarding Criminal Behavior

Freud’s Model of the Psyche and Implications for Criminal Behavior Case Study: Albert Fish

Hans Eysenck: Theory of Crime and Personality Lawrence Kohlberg: Moral Development

John Bowlby: Attachment Theory Example Case History: Derek B.

Modern Versions of Psychological Perspectives of Criminality IQ and Criminal Behavior

Learning Check 7.1 James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein: Crime and Human Nature

Applying Theory to Crime: Rape Comparative Criminology: Sexual Offenses

Psychopathy and Crime


Box 7.1 Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System Learning Check 7.2

Treatment Why Do They Do It? Ariel Castro

Mental Health Courts Insanity Defense

Learning Check 7.3 Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 7 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 8: Social Structure Theories of Crime I Introduction Early Theories of Social Structure: Early to Late 1800s

Early European Theorists: Comte, Guerry, and Quetelet Case Study: The Black Binder Bandit Durkheim and the Concept of Anomie Learning Check 8.1 Learning Check 8.2 Merton’s Strain Theory

Cultural Context and Assumptions of Strain Theory Learning Check 8.3

Evidence and Criticisms of Merton’s Strain Theory Variations of Merton’s Strain Theory

Cohen’s Theory of Lower-Class Status Frustration and Gang Formation Cloward and Ohlin’s Theory of Differential Opportunity

General Strain Theory Why Do They Do It? Christopher Dorner

Evidence and Criticisms of General Strain Theory Learning Check 8.4 Why Do They Do It? Gang Lu Applying Theory To Crime: Bank Robbery Summary of Strain Theories Policy Implications of Strain Theory Comparative Criminology: Bank Robbery Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 8 Key Terms


Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 9: Social Structure Theories of Crime II Introduction The Ecological School and the Chicago School of Criminology

Cultural Context: Chicago in the1800s and Early 1900s Case Study: Los Angeles Gangs

Ecological Principles in City Growth and Concentric Circles Shaw and McKay’s Theory of Social Disorganization Learning Check 9.1

Reaction and Research for Social Disorganization Theory Applying Theory to Crime: Stalking Cultural and Subcultural Theories of Crime

Early Theoretical Developments and Research in Cultural/Subcultural Theory Learning Check 9.2 Comparative Criminology: Violence Against Females Criticisms of Cultural Theories of Crime Policy Implications Why Do They Do It? Whitey Bulger Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 9 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 10: Social Process and Control Theories of Crime Introduction Learning Theories Case Study: The Weavers

Differential Association Theory Learning Check 10.1 Differential Reinforcement Theory

Elements of Differential Reinforcement Theory Differential Reinforcement Theory Propositions

Applying Theory to Crime: Murder Psychological Learning Models

Operant Conditioning Comparative Criminology: Homicide

Bandura’s Theory of Imitation/Modeling Reaction to Differential Reinforcement Theory

Neutralization Theory


Techniques of Neutralization Learning Check 10.2

Reaction to Neutralization Theory Control Theories Early Control Theories of Human Behavior

Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract Emile Durkheim’s Idea of Collective Conscience Freud’s Concept of Id and Superego

Early Control Theories of Crime Reiss’s Control Theory Toby’s Concept of Stake in Conformity Nye’s Control Theory Reckless’s Containment Theory

Modern Social Control Theories Matza’s Drift Theory Hirschi’s Social Bonding Theory

Integrated Social Control Theories Tittle’s Control–Balance Theory Hagan’s Power–Control Theory

A General Theory of Crime: Low Self-Control Psychological Aspects of Low Self-Control Physiological Aspects of Low Self-Control

Learning Check 10.3 Why Do They Do It ? Jesse Pomeroy Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 10 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 11: Labeling Theory and Conflict/Marxist/Radical Theories of Crime Introduction Labeling Theory Case Study: The Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis Foundation of Labeling Theory

Frank Tannenbaum: The Dramatization of Evil Edwin M. Lemert: Primary and Secondary Deviance Howard S. Becker: The Dimensions of Deviance Edwin M. Schur: Defining Deviance Basic Assumptions of Labeling Theory

Learning Check 11.1


Evaluating Labeling Theory Research on Labeling Theory Critiques of Labeling Theory

Why Do They Do It? Brian Banks and Wanetta Gibson Conflict Perspectives Applying Theory to Crime: Larceny-Theft The Conservative (Pluralist) Conflict Perspectives

George Vold: Group Conflict Theory Comparative Criminology: Larceny-Theft

Austin Turk: The Power to Define Criminal Behavior Richard Quinney: The Social Reality of Crime

Learning Check 11.2 The Radical Conflict Perspectives

Marxist Criminology William Chambliss and Robert Seidman and the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Additional Explanations of Crime Using a Marxist Framework Colvin and Pauly’s Integrated Structural-Marxist Theory Herman and Julia Siegel Schwendinger and Adolescent Subcultures Steven Spitzer and Problem Populations

Learning Check 11.3 Evaluating Conflict Theories

Research on Conflict Theories Critiques of Conflict Perspectives

Why Do They Do It? Ted Kaczynski Additional Critical Theories

Peacemaking Criminology Restorative Justice Perspective Left Realism

Policies Related to Labeling and Conflict Theories of Crime Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 11 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 12: Feminist Theories of Crime Introduction

A Brief History of Feminism in the United States Case Study: Gertrude Baniszewski

Key Terms of Feminist Perspectives Learning Check 12.1


Feminist Perspectives on Gender Traditional or Conservative Perspective Liberal Feminism Radical Feminism Marxist and Socialist Feminism Postmodern Feminism

Learning Check 12.2 Additional Feminist Perspectives

Traditional Theories of Female Crime Comparative Criminology: Trafficking in Persons

Cesare Lombroso: Physical Attributes of Female Offenders W. I. Thomas: The Biology of Female Offending Sigmund Freud: Female Inferiority Otto Pollak: Hidden Female Criminality

Learning Check 12.3 Feminist Critiques of Previous Research Studying Women and Crime Liberation Thesis Applying Theory to Crime: Female Sex Offenders Power-Control Theory Feminist Perspectives on Understanding Crime and Criminal Behavior Why Do They Do It? Lavinia Fisher

Objectivity and Subjectivity Qualitative “Versus” Quantitative Analyses Feminist Criminology

Learning Check 12.4 Critiques of Feminist Theories Applying Theory to Crime: Robbery Comparative Criminology: Robbery Policies Based on Feminist Theories of Crime Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 12 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 13: Developmental/Life-Course Perspectives criminality Basic Concepts and Early Developmental Theory Case Study: The Teen Burglar Antidevelopmental Theory: Low Self-Control Theory Learning Check 13.1 Comparative Criminology: Child Abuse


Modern Developmental/Life-Course Perspectives Sampson and Laub’s Developmental Model Moffitt’s Developmental Taxonomy

Why Do They Do It ? Henry Earl Thornberry’s Interactional Model of Offending

Applying Theory to Crime: Arson Learning Check 13.2 Policy Implications Comparative Criminology: Crime Rates Conclusion Summary of Theories in Chapter 13 Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 14: WHITE-COLLAR CRIME, ORGANIZED CRIME, AND CYBERCRIME Introduction What is White-Collar Crime? Definitions and History of White-Collar Crime Case Study: William T. Walters Why Do They Do It? Charles Ponzi Incidence and Impact of White-Collar Crime on Society Learning Check 14.1 Why Do They Do It ? Enron

Economic Costs Physical Costs Breakdown in Social Fabric

Types of White-Collar Crime Crimes Against the Environment

Learning Check 14.2 Labor Violations Transnational Comparisons of White-Collar/Corporate Crime

Comparative Criminology: Bribery Theoretical Explanations of White-Collar Crime Applying Theory to Crime: White-Collar Crime What is Organized Crime?

Definition of Organized Crime Historical Context of Organized Crime in the United States Types of Criminal Organizations The Mafia Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs


Prison Gangs Urban Street Gangs

Criminal Justice Responses to Organized Crime Chicago Crime Commission The Wickersham Commission The Kefauver Committee

Comparative Criminology: Organized Crime The McClellan Committee The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 The President’s Commission on Organized Crime

Learning Check 14.3 Theoretical Explanations of Organized Crime

What is Cybercrime? Definition of Cybercrime Types of Cybercrime Identity Theft Child Pornography Internet Fraud Cyberstalking Criminal Justice Responses to Cybercrime Relevant Legislation Theoretical Explanations of Cybercrime

Learning Check 14.4 Conclusion Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 15: Hate Crimes, Terrorism, and Home land Security Introduction What Is a Hate Crime? Case Study: Charleston, South Carolina, Shooting

Definition of Hate Crimes Hate Groups Anti-Hate-Crime Legislation Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990

Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act of 1997 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009


Model State Legislation: Hate Crimes/Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness Why Do They Do It? Matthew Shepard

Theoretical Explanations of Hate Crimes Learning Check 15.1 Multicide

Categories of Mass Killers School Attacks Disparity in Rates of Committing Multicide Across Race and Religious Ideology What Is Terrorism?

Definition of Terrorism Typologies of Terrorism Extent of Terrorism Historical Context of Modern Terrorism The French Revolution Late 19th and Early 20th Century Terrorism

Applying Theory to Crime: Terrorism Comparative Criminology: Terrorism

Contemporary Terrorism Current Context of Terrorism Organizational Networks

Financial Support Influence of the Media Domestic Terrorism

Theoretical Explanations of Terrorism Learning Check 15.2 What Is Homeland Security?

Origins of Homeland Security Definition of Homeland Security Homeland Security Organizational Network

Agencies Responsible for Homeland Security Why Do They Do It? Omar Mateen Bureaucratic Problems and Solutions Issues Related to Civil Liberties

The Torture Debate Human Rights The Constitution

USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 Learning Check 15.3 Policy Implications Conclusion


Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources

Chapter 16: Drugs and Crime Introduction Commonly Abused Drugs

Depressants Case Study: Kenneth Saltzman Diagnosing Alcohol Problems

Narcotics Stimulants Other Drugs

Learning Check 16.1 Trends of Drug Use

Early History of Cocaine and Opioid Addiction Prohibition Era “Reefer Madness” The 1960s and the Baby Boomers The “War on Drugs” Era Current Trends Regarding Drug Use

Why Do They Do It? Ryan Thomas Haight The Drug-Crime Link Learning Check 16.2

The Tripartite Conceptual Framework Modern Policies Related to Reducing Drug Use

Interdiction Strategies Eradication Strategies

Comparative Criminology: Drugs Drug Courts Maintenance and Decriminalization Harm Reduction

Applying Theory to Crime: Drug Selling/Trafficking and Drug Use Learning Check 16.3 Recommendations for Future Policies Why Do They Do It? Pablo Escobar Conclusion Key Terms Discussion Questions Web Resources



Notes Index



If you are considering a career in any aspect of criminal justice, and want to know more about the motivations and socio-psychological make-up of serious offenders, then this book is meant for you! Introduction to Criminology: Why Do They Do It? places a primary emphasis on applying the dominant theories in the existing criminological literature for why people commit crimes, and we also examine in detail many recent true (as well as many hypothetical) examples of serious crimes, and demonstrate theoretical applications for why they offended in those particular cases. While other textbooks do a decent job in discussing both the basic theories, as well as exploring the various types of crime, our book is distinctively unique in that it integrates various street crimes within each chapter, and applies theories that are appropriate in explaining such criminal activity. This is extremely important because most instructors never get to the latter typology chapters in a given semester or term. So our approach is to incorporate them into the theoretical chapters in which they apply directly to the theories that are being presented in the sections that they are most appropriate.

The emphasis on specific examples and true crime stories, such as notable serial killers and other recent crime stories, as well as utilizing established theoretical models to explain their offenses in each chapter, is another primary distinction of this book from that of most other criminology textbooks. Obviously, this book is meant to be used as a textbook in an introductory course in criminology, but due to the emphasis on applied theoretical explanations, this book is highly appropriate for higher-level undergraduate and graduate courses in criminological theory, as well as a reference for any person working in the field of criminal justice. This integration of true crimes (and some hypothetical examples) in this text occurs on both a general level, such as our Applying Crime to Theory section in each chapter, as well as more specific cases – the High Profile Crime sections—in each section, which often involve notable cases of serial killers, mass murderers, or other notorious example of offender/offending.

The subtitle of our book, “Why Do They Do It?” is the running theme in this book. Our goal in writing this book was to apply established theories of crime, which are often seen as abstract and hypothetical, to actual examples that have occurred, as well as to hypothetical examples that are quite likely to occur. To this end, we explore the various reasons of offending or the “why they do it” the subtitle for this book for various cases, from the first documented serial killers in the US—the Harpe Brothers in the late-1700s—to the most recent killers, such as California cop-killer/spree-killer Christopher Dorner in 2013 and Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white male, entering the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 and shooting numerous members. Importantly, theories will be applied throughout these discussions of the actual crimes. We shall see that some of the theories that applied to the earliest crimes also seem to apply to the most modern crimes as well.

Additionally, our textbook is unique from others because it does not include separate chapters on violent or property crimes, because we have worked those into each chapter, and applied them to the theories explored in those chapters. We strongly believe that by integrating discussions of such serious crimes—all of the FBI Index offenses of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny, and arson,


as well as other non-Index crimes such as simple assault and driving under the influence—into the theoretical chapters is the best approach toward explaining why individuals commit such offenses. And the flip side is good as well; by discussing the offenses with the theories, this also provides an example of how to apply theories toward explaining criminal behavior. Again, this goes back to our theme of “why do they do it?” Our integration of such specific offenses into the chapters that discuss relevant theories in explaining them is the best way to approach such material and demonstrates our goal: apply the appropriate theories for the specific crime.

Additionally, our book is distinguished from other textbooks in that we don’t have an overwhelming amount of boxes and special sections that diverge from the text material. Rather, we narrowed down the special sections into three basic categories, largely based on the goal of this text, which are mostly dedicated to applying criminological theory to actual offenses, or true cases. We also added a special section in each chapter regarding international comparison of certain offenses (comparative criminology), with an emphasis on how various rates of such crimes differ across the world, especially as compared to the United States. The offenses we compare range widely, from homicide to human trafficking to the correlations of beer consumption and assaults (Ireland was a high outlier). We felt this was important for readers to see how the US compares to other nations in terms of various criminal offenses. So our goal is for readers to understand the ever-growing global nature of criminality, and where the United States is positioned regarding various rates and trends in illegal behavior.

This text is also unique from all of the others by providing a separate chapter on feminist criminology. Given that over half of our citizens are female, and there has been a recent increase in females committing certain crimes (e.g., simple assault), this is an important addition to the study of crime. Furthermore, while males are still universally responsible for the vast majority of violent acts—murder, robbery, aggravated assault—in all societies, if we can understand why females commit so much less violence, then maybe this will have significant implications for reducing male violence. So this separate chapter is vitally important for not only understanding female offenders, but also has implications for male criminals as well.

Another unique aspect of this book is that we devoted separate chapters on the developmental/life-course perspective, as well as modern biosocial approaches regarding propensities to commit crime. These two frameworks/perspectives have become some of the most accepted and valid frameworks on understanding why individuals engage in criminal behavior, but most other criminology textbooks do not examine these topics as closely as we do. A recent study that surveyed key criminologists in the field showed that the developmental/life-course perspective ranked as the second most accepted perspective in explaining chronic offending (and biosocial perspective ranked #6, out of 24+ theories), yet most other textbooks have only a small portion or shallow coverage of this perspective. This developmental/life-course perspective, as well as the biosocial perspective, currently is the “cutting edge” of the field right now, and our chapters on those frameworks highlights the importance of these theoretical models, as well as the recent empirical studies that have been done in those areas of study.

Our text does follow a somewhat traditional format in that it presents theories chronologically from the


Classical School to the Positive School of Criminology, discussing all of the established theories in the areas of social structure, social process, and conflict theories as they became popular over time. However, we place much emphasis on examining why certain theories became popular at certain times, which is often due more to politics and societal trends than what empirical studies showed regarding the empirical validity of the given theory. These political and societal trends are vital in every aspect of our lives, and criminological theory is no different. So we tried to work that principle into the text throughout each chapter, showing how crime and theorizing about it is just one manifestation about society at that time period.

Finally, our special typology chapters, located in the last three chapters of the book, are dedicated to more contemporary topics, such as cybercrime, hate crimes, terrorism, white-collar/corporate crimes, drug-related offenses, as well as several others that do not fit into the FBI Index crimes. We have done our best to provide the most current research on these topics, and we hope that readers will gain far more insight on these topics. Furthermore, we believe that our coverage of these modern forms of offending are the most vital in understanding the current state of criminal offending occurring in our society.

Our book also provides an ancillary package with numerous resources to support instructors and students.


Digital Resources

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Instructor Teaching Site

SAGE edge for Instructors supports your teaching by making it easy to integrate quality

content and create a rich learning environment for students. A password-protected site, available at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e, features resources that have been designed to help instructors plan and teach their courses. These resources include an extensive test bank, chapter-specific PowerPoint presentations, lecture notes, sample syllabi for semester and quarter courses, class activities, web resources, and links to the video, audio, city and state rankings, author podcasts, and SAGE journal articles.


Student Study Site

SAGE edge for Students provides a personalized approach to help you accomplish your coursework goals in an easy-to-use learning environment. An open-access student study site is available at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e. This site provides access to the video, audio, city and state rankings, author podcasts, and SAGE journal articles as well as several study tools including eFlashcards, web quizzes, web resources and chapter outlines.

Available tools that can be found in the Interactive eBook:

Videos: Links are provided to videos that correlate to the chapter content and increase student understanding.

Premium videos: Available only in the Interactive eBook, original videos showcase author Stephen Tibbetts discussing real-world examples and strange crimes and a first-person view of the correctional system from former offenders.

Journal articles: Articles from highly ranked SAGE journals such as Crime and Delinquency, Theoretical Criminology, Criminal Justice Review, and more can be accessed.

Audio Links: Links are provided to audio clips that enhance student comprehension of chapter content.

Web Links: Links are provided to relevant websites that further explore chapter-related topics.

Access SAGE premium video through the Interactive eBook!

Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e/access

Overall, we really hope you appreciate our unique approach to studying criminology, and hope you believe that after reading this book that you will have a better understanding of why offenders do what they do.


New to This Edition

As we mentioned previously, a constant theme of this book is “Why Do They Do It?” We explore different reasons of offending by presenting various cases, both hypothetical as well as actual cases, current as well as historical. For this edition, we have updated some of these materials, including more recent crime data as well as more current news stories. Other significant changes in this edition include the following:

A more extensive discussion on victimization which focuses on victims of crime and presents key concepts in victimology. An entire chapter is dedicated to measuring crime (Chapter 2). This chapter provides students a strong, and essential, foundation to understanding and appreciating how crime data enhance our understanding of criminal activity. A new section on multicide examines the motivations behind mass murders, school shootings as well as issues of race and religious ideology linked to these types of crimes. Up-to-date coverage of contemporary issues such as gun control, mental health, disparity in the criminal justice system, cybercrime and internet fraud, hate crimes, and terrorism. Critical thinking questions have been included with other features of this text to help students understand the connection between the real-world examples and theory. The revised learning objectives follow Bloom’s taxonomy and provide students with a clearer pedagogical framework.

Pamela J. Schram, PhD

Stephen G. Tibbetts, PhD

California State University, San Bernardino

In the electronic edition of the book you have purchased, there are several icons that reference links (videos, journal articles) to additional content. Though the electronic edition links are not live, all content referenced may be accessed at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e . This URL is referenced at several points throughout your electronic edition.



We would first like to thank Publisher Jerry Westby. It was Jerry's idea for us to write this book, and he has “gone to bat” for us numerous times regarding various unique things about this text, such as integrating the violent and property street crimes into the theoretical chapters, rather than just having separate chapters on these topics at the end of the book that instructors often don't get time to cover in a single term, as well as including separate chapters on feminist and developmental/life-course perspectives. This is a rather unorthodox approach, compared to other introduction to criminology textbooks, but Jerry was fully supportive, even at the outset. So we offer him the highest level of respect for his support in backing us on our rather deviant way of approaching this material.

We would also like to thank the staff at SAGE Publishing, for doing such a great job at putting the book together, which includes checking all of the mistakes we made in drafts of the chapters, as well as so many other things that go into producing this book. We specifically want to thank Associate Editor Theresa Accomazzo for all of her help in getting the drafts of the first edition in order to be sent to the copyeditor, and for giving advice on how to make the book far more polished than it was in its original draft. We also want to thank our copyeditor, <copyeditor>, who has gone to great lengths to make us sound much better than we are. She did a fantastic job, and it was a pleasure working with her. Also, we would like give a special thanks to Digital Content Editor Nicole Mangona and Laura Kirkhuff, who were invaluable in finding the various links to videos and other sources that were vital in the e-text version of the text and for pulling together the new original filming for the second edition. Overall, we give the greatest thanks to all of the SAGE staff that worked on this book!

Pamela Schram would like to acknowledge some very special people who had an influence on her life prior to her college years. First and foremost, she would like to thank her ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Joe Devlin. She remembers her first day of English class. Mr. Devlin said, “I can't learn you. First, that is poor English, and second, that is not how it works. I can teach you, but the learning part is on you.” Obviously, this has “stuck” with her; it has been over 30 years and she still remembers his “opening” lecture. Later, he was Pam's Latin teacher; Pam continued to take Latin and she was the only student for Latin III. Mr. Devlin would stay after school to conduct this class. As you can imagine, this was not a popular after school activity. But, it taught Pam an important lesson as to how a truly dedicated teacher cares about his students.

Pam would also like to acknowledge Mrs. Frank. She was her second grade teacher. Mrs. Frank was one of those teachers who would incorporate learning with fun things, especially arts and crafts. Mrs. Frank encouraged Pam to write, especially short stories. These were the times when students learned cursive writing on paper with the various lines for lower and upper case. Pam still has some of those short stories written on the “special writing paper. “ It brings back many fond memories as well as an appreciation for another special teacher who touched her life.

Pam would finally like to give a special thanks to her organ teacher, Mrs. Cessna. (As you can tell, Pam wasn't


considered popular in school.) Mrs. Cessna was one of the most patient teachers Pam has ever had in terms of continuously giving her encouraging words. It may have also helped that Mrs. Cessna had some hearing difficulties. When most of her friends were taking piano, she decided to try organ lessons. She obviously endured some ridicule, especially from her brothers. Their words of encouragement were something like, “Well, with those lessons you can one day play at the Detroit Tiger stadium.”

As Pam has gotten older, she has realized the numerous people that have touched her life in so many special ways. One of those special people is her co-author Steve Tibbetts. Steve is an extremely intelligent and well- respected criminologist in the field. He is also a wonderful friend with those important words of encouragement, usually with a sense of humor. He has been very patient and understanding with her not just when writing this book but during his years at CSUSB. Through his friendship, he has helped her to be a better person.

Stephen Tibbetts would like to thank some of the various individuals who helped him complete this book. First, he would like to thank some of the professors he had while earning his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at the University of Florida, who first exposed him to the study of crime and inspired him to become a criminologist. These professors include Ron Akers, Donna Bishop, and Lonn Lanza-Kaduce. He would also like to thank several professors who were key influences in his studies during his graduate studies at University of Maryland, such as Denise Gottfredson, Colin Loftin, David McDowell, Lawrence Sherman, and Charles Wellford. A special thanks goes to Raymond Paternoster, who was his mentor during his graduate studies at Maryland, and provided the best advice and support that any mentor could have given.

Tibbetts would also like to mention the support and influence that work with Alex Piquero, and his wife, Nicole Piquero, had on his career. He was lucky enough to share an office with Alex early on in graduate school, and the work that they did together early on in his career was key in inspiring him to do more work on biosocial and life-course criminology, which are both important portions of this book. Tibbetts' collaboration with Nicole Piquero on the issues of white-collar crime was also important, and has led to more recent studies in this often neglected topic of illegal behavior. He would also like to acknowledge several colleagues who have been important in his research in more recent years, such as John Paul Wright at University of Cincinnati, Nichole H. Rafter at Northeastern University, Chris L. Gibson at University of Florida, Kevin Beaver at Florida State University, and Cesar Rebellon at University of New Hampshire.

Tibbetts would also like to include a special acknowledgment to Jose Rivera, who has contributed much to this book in terms of both video and written sections. Jose has gone above-and-beyond in trying to contribute to the information provided in this book, given his experience as a former incarcerated inmate for over 9 years in various prisons in Southern California. He has shown that such inmates can excel after they have been incarcerated, not only by earning his Master's degree in Communication Studies, but by becoming a fantastic educator, which was proven when he was awarded the Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year Award by his college at California State University, San Bernardino, in 2012. Jose also recently was a recipient of the President Obama's Presidential Volunteer Service Award in 2012 for his work in programs that promote educational opportunities for Latinos.


Finally, but most important, Tibbetts would especially like to thank his co-author on this book, Pamela Schram, for providing him with the inspiration, motivation, and collaboration for completing this project. Without Pam's constant support and advice, his work on this book could not have materialized. So he gives the highest acknowledgement to Pam; she will always be his most trusted consigliere.

Pam and Steve would like to thank the reviewers of the initial proposal for their advice and critiques. They would also like to express their sincere appreciation to their colleagues who reviewed the text and gave them invaluable feedback:


Reviewers of First Edition

Kevin Beaver, Florida State University—Tallahassee Doris Chu, Arkansas State University—Jonesboro Christopher Davis, Campbell University—Buies Creek Melissa Deller, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Daniel Dexheimer, San Jose State University Tina Freiburger, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chris L. Gibson, University of Florida Jennifer Grimes, Indiana State University—Terre Haute W. Bruce Johnson, Houston Community College/Northeast College Michael A Long, Oklahoma State University Scott Maggard, Old Dominion University—Norfolk PJ McGann, University Of Michigan—Ann Arbor Anna Netterville, University of Louisiana at Monroe Angela Overton, Old Dominion University—Norfolk Allison Payne, Villanova University—Villanova Lacey Rohledef, University of Cincinnati Anne Strouth, North Central State College—Mansfield Patricia Warren, Florida State University—Tallahassee Henriikka Weir, University Of Texas At Dallas—Richardson Douglas Weiss, University of Maryland Shonda Whetstone, Blinn College


Reviewers of Second Edition:

Marilyn S. Chamberlin, Western Carolina University Dan Dexheimer, San Jose State University Terri L. Earnest, University of Texas at San Antonio Shanell Sanchez-Smith, Colorado Mesa University Julie A. Siddique, University of North Texas at Dallas Bradley Wright, University of Connecticut Selena M. Respass, Miami Dade College Charles Crawford, Western Michigan University Tina L Freiburger, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Frank P. Giarrizzi, Jr., Colorado Technical University Lindsey Upton, Old Dominion University Egbert Zavala, University of Texas at El Paso Christopher Salvatore, PhD, Montclair State University


About the Authors

Pamela J. Schram has published articles on such topics as violent female offenders, female juvenile gang and non-gang members, as well as issues pertaining to women in prison, such as stereotypes about mothers in prison and vocational programming. She has co-authored three books on women in prison, theory and practice in feminist criminology, and a juvenile delinquency text. She is currently interested in issues pertaining to elderly prisoners. Dr. Schram has been involved in various research projects that have primarily focused on evaluating treatment effectiveness such as juvenile diversion options and programs for at-risk youths as well as programs for women in prison. Dr. Schram received her Ph.D. from Michigan State University. She is a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice. She is currently the Associate Dean of the College of Social and Behavior Sciences at California State University, San Bernardino.

Stephen G. Tibbetts is a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). He earned his undergraduate degree in criminology and law (with high honors) from the


University of Florida, and his masters and doctorate degrees from the University of Maryland. For more

than a decade, he worked as a sworn officer of the court (juvenile) in both Washington County, Tennessee, and San Bernardino County, California, providing recommendations for disposing numerous juvenile court cases. He has published more than 40 scholarly publications in scientific journals (including Criminology, Justice Quarterly, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Journal of Criminal Justice, and Criminal Justice and Behavior), as well as eight books, all examining various topics regarding criminal offending and policies to reduce such behavior. One of these books, American Youth Gangs at the Millennium, was given a Choice award by the American Library Association as an Outstanding Academic Title. Tibbetts received a Golden Apple award from the Mayor of San Bernardino for being chosen as the Outstanding Professor at the CSUSB campus in 2010. One of his recent books, Criminals in the Making: Criminality Across the Life Course (Sage, 2008), was recently lauded by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the key scholarly publications in advancing the study of biosocial criminology.


1 Introduction to Criminology

Often, crimes such as the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, lead people to ask, “Why do they do it?”


Francine Orr/Getty Images


Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Describe the various definitions of crime, including the difference between criminal behavior and deviant behavior. Distinguish between criminology and criminal justice. Determine whether a theory would be considered from a consensus or conflict perspective of crime. List and describe the three general components of the criminal justice system. Identify some of the key distinguishing features of the juvenile justice system compared with the adult criminal justice system. Identify the criteria that characterize a good theory. Identify key concepts associated with victimology.



When introducing students to criminology, it is essential to stress how various concepts and principles of theoretical development are woven into our understanding of crime as well as policy. This chapter begins with a brief discussion of such concepts as crime, criminal, deviant, criminology, criminal justice, and consensus and conflict perspectives of crime. The following section presents a general summary of the different stages of the adult criminal justice system as well as the juvenile justice system. Next, this chapter illustrates how criminology informs policies and programs. Unfortunately, there are instances when policies lack evidence and are not founded on criminological theory and rigorous research but are more of a “knee-jerk” reaction. The concluding section provides students with an overview of victimology and various issues related to victims of crime.


Key Concepts in Understanding Criminology


What Is a Crime?

There are various definitions of crime. Many scholars have disagreed as to what should be considered a crime. For instance, if one takes a legalistic approach, then crime is that which violates the law. But should one consider whether certain actions cause serious harm? If governments violate the basic human rights of their

citizens, are they engaging in criminal behavior?4 As illustrated by these questions, the issue with defining crime from a legalistic approach is that one jurisdiction may designate an action as a crime while another does not recognize such an action as a crime. Some acts, such as murder, are against the law in most countries as well as in all jurisdictions of the United States. These are referred to as acts of mala in se, meaning the act is “inherently and essentially evil, that is immoral in its nature and injurious in its consequence, without any

regard to the fact of its being noticed or punished by the law of the state.”5

Other crimes are known as acts of mala prohibita, which means “a wrong prohibited; an act which is not

inherently immoral, but becomes so because its commission is expressly forbidden by positive law.”6 For instance, prostitution is illegal in most jurisdictions in the United States. However, prostitution is legal, and licensed, in most counties of Nevada. The same can be said about gambling and drug possession or use.

This text focuses on both mala in se and mala prohibita offenses as well as other acts of deviance. Deviant acts are not necessarily against the law but are considered atypical and may be deemed immoral rather than illegal. For example, in Nevada in the 1990s, a young man watched his friend (who was later criminally prosecuted) kill a young girl in a casino bathroom. He never told anyone of the murder. While most people would consider this highly immoral, at that time, Nevada state laws did not require people who witnessed a killing to report it to authorities. This act was deviant, because most would consider it immoral; it was not criminal, because it was not against the laws of that jurisdiction. It is essential to note that as a result of this event, Nevada made withholding such information a criminal act.


Case Study


Burke and Hare During the 1820s, Edinburgh, Scotland, was a major center for those pursuing an education in medicine. Almost 60 years prior to Jack the Ripper, the first serial murderers, William Burke and William Hare, captured media attention. During a 12-month period, Burke and Hare killed 16 people in Edinburgh before being arrested in November 1828. What made these killings so sordid was that Burke and Hare committed them for the sole purpose of selling the cadavers to medical schools for dissection and medical research. They were assisted by Burke’s companion, Helen M’Dougal, and Hare’s wife, Margaret. Burke and Hare would lure their victims with alcohol. Then, they would suffocate their inebriated victims by lying on their chests and holding their mouths and nostrils closed. Subsequently, Burke and Hare would sell these cadavers, “no questions asked,” to Dr. Robert Knox, a promising anatomist.

During the trial, Hare was granted immunity in return for testifying against Burke. Burke was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He was hanged on January 28, 1829. Ironically, the next day, Burke’s cadaver was donated to the University of Edinburgh,

where Professor Alexander Monro conducted the dissection in the anatomical theater.1 In fact, the University of Edinburgh Anatomical Museum has an exhibit of William Burke’s skeletal remains. A description of the exhibit ends with a 19th-century children’s rhyme:

Up the close and down the stair

In the house with Burke and Hare

Burke’s the butcher

Hare’s the thief

Knox the boy who buys the beef.2

In January 2016, Arthur and Elizabeth Rathburn from Grosse Point Park, Michigan (six miles outside Detroit), were indicted for running a black-market body part business. The Rathburns obtained most of the cadavers from two Chicago-area body donation labs. Many of the families who donated the bodies of their loved ones did so with the belief that they would go to science. A number of these cadavers were infected with HIV, hepatitis B, and other diseases. The Rathburns would use chainsaws, band saws, and reciprocating saws to butcher these cadavers for body parts. The Rathburns stored body parts from over 1,000 people inside a warehouse. Subsequently, they would sell these butchered body parts to medical and dental trainees. However, they sometimes did not disclose to their customers that these body

parts were infected with disease.3

Over 180 years separate these two cases; the technological expertise needed to carry out these crimes significantly changed during this time. However, one consistent theme that links these two cases is motive—monetary gain. This is one of the most fascinating aspects to studying crime—although technology may have changed how crimes are committed (e.g., Internet fraud), have the explanations (i.e., “why they do it”) changed?


Other acts of deviance are not necessarily seen as immoral but are considered strange and violate social norms, such as purposely belching at a formal dinner. These types of deviant acts are relevant even if not considered criminal under the legal definition, for individuals engaging in these types of activities reveal a disposition toward antisocial behavior often linked to criminal behavior. Further, some acts are moving from being deemed deviant to being declared illegal, such as using a cell phone while driving or smoking cigarettes in public. Many jurisdictions are moving to have these behaviors made illegal and have been quite successful, especially in New York and California.


While most mala in se activities are also considered highly deviant, this is not necessarily the case for mala prohibita acts. For instance, speeding on a highway (a mala prohibita act) is not deviant, because many people engage in this act. Thus, while this is illegal, it is not considered deviant. This book presents theories for all

these types of activities, even those that do not violate the law.7

crime: there are various definitions of crime. From a legalistic approach, crime is that which violates the law.

mala in se: acts that are considered inherently evil.

mala prohibita: acts that are considered crimes primarily because they have been declared bad by the legal codes in that jurisdiction.

deviance: behaviors that are not normal; includes many illegal acts as well as activities that are not necessarily criminal but are unusual and often violate social norms.


What Is Criminology and Criminal Justice?

The term criminology was first coined by the Italian law professor Raffaele Garofalo in 1885 (in Italian, criminologia). In 1887, French anthropologist Paul Topinard used it for the first time in French

(criminologie).8 In 1934, American criminologist Edwin Sutherland defined criminology as

the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope the process of making laws, of breaking laws, and of reacting toward the breaking of laws. . . . The objective of criminology is the development of a body of general and verified principles and of other types of

knowledge regarding this process of law, crime, and treatment or prevention.9

Criminology is the scientific study of crime, especially why people engage in criminal behavior. While other textbooks may provide a more complex definition of crime, the word scientific distinguishes our definition

from other perspectives and examinations of crime.10 Philosophical and legal examinations of crime are based on logic and deductive reasoning—for example, by developing what makes logical sense. Journalists play a key role in examining crime by exploring what is happening in criminal justice and revealing injustices as well as new forms of crime. However, the philosophical, legal, and journalistic perspectives of crime are not scientific because they do not involve the use of the scientific method.

Criminal justice often refers to the various criminal justice agencies and institutions (e.g., police, courts, and corrections) that are interrelated and work together toward common goals. Interestingly, many scholars who referred to criminal justice as a system did so only as a way to collectively refer to those agencies and

organizations rather than to imply that they were interrelated.11 Some individuals argue that the term criminal justice system is an oxymoron. For instance, Joanne Belknap noted that she preferred to use the terms crime processing, criminal processing, and criminal legal system, given that “the processing of victims and offenders [is]

anything but ‘just.’”12

criminology: the scientific study of crime and the reasons why people engage (or don’t engage) in criminal behavior.

criminal justice: often refers to the various criminal justice agencies and institutions (e.g., police, courts, and corrections) that are interrelated.


The Consensus and Conflict Perspectives of Crime

A consensus perspective of crime views the formal system of laws, as well as the enforcement of those laws, as

incorporating societal norms for which there is a broad normative consensus.13 The consensus perspective developed from the writings of late-19th- and early-20th-century sociologists such as Durkheim, Weber,

Ross, and Sumner.14 This perspective assumes that individuals, for the most part, agree on what is right and wrong as well as on how those norms have been implemented into laws and how those laws are enforced. Thus, people obey laws not for fear of punishment but rather because they have internalized societal norms

and values and perceive these laws as appropriate to observe rather than disobey.15 The consensus perspective was more dominant during the early part of the 1900s. Since the 1950s, however, no major theorist has considered this to be the best perspective of law. Further, “to the extent that assumptions or hypotheses about consensus theory are still given credence in current theories of law, they are most apt to be found in ‘mutualist’


consensus perspective: theories that assume that virtually everyone is in agreement on the laws and therefore assume no conflict in attitudes regarding the laws and rules of society.

Around the 1950s, the conflict perspective was challenging the consensus approach.17 The conflict perspective maintains that there is conflict between various societal groups with different interests. This conflict is often resolved when the group in power achieves control.

Marsha Gay Reynolds, a JetBlue flight attendant, was accused of transporting $3 million worth of cocaine in her suitcase. What might have motivated such behavior?

Los Angeles Airport Police via AP

Several criminologists, such as Richard Quinney, William Chambliss, and Austin Turk, maintained that


criminological theory has placed too much emphasis on explaining criminal behavior; rather, theory needs to shift its focus toward explaining criminal law. The emphasis should not be on understanding the causes of criminal behavior but on understanding the process by which certain behaviors and individuals are formally designated as criminal. From this perspective, one would ask different questions. For instance, instead of asking, “Why do some people commit crimes while others do not?” one would ask, “Why are some behaviors defined as criminal while others are not?” Asking these types of questions raises the issue of whether the

formulation and enforcement of laws serve the interests of those in a more powerful position in society.18

conflict perspective: criminal behavior theories that assume most people disagree on what the law should be and that law is used as a tool by those in power to keep down other groups.


Learning Check 1.1 1. Crime that is evil in itself is referred to as _______________. 2. Acts that are not necessarily against the law but are considered atypical and may be considered more immoral than illegal are

_______________ acts. 3. Criminology is distinguished from other perspectives of crime, such as journalistic, philosophical, or legal perspectives, because it

involves the use of _______________.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


The Criminal Justice System

According to the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice,

any criminal justice system is an apparatus society uses to enforce the standards of conduct necessary to protect individuals and the community. It operates by apprehending, prosecuting, convicting, and

sentencing those members of the community who violate the basic rules of group existence.19

This general purpose of the criminal justice system can be further simplified into three goals: to control crime, to prevent crime, and to provide and maintain justice. The structure and organization of the criminal justice system has evolved in an effort to meet these goals. The structure and organization is often presented as three

components: law enforcement, courts, and corrections.20


Law Enforcement

Law enforcement includes various organizational levels (i.e., federal, state, and local). One of the key features distinguishing federal law enforcement agencies from others is that they were often established to enforce specific statutes. Thus, their units are highly specialized and often associated with specialized training and

resources.21 Federal law enforcement agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Further, almost all federal agencies, including the Postal Service and the Forest Service, have some police power. In 2002, President George W. Bush restructured the federal agencies, resulting in the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. This department

was created in an effort to protect and defend the United States from terrorist threats.22

Law enforcement officials often find crime in unusual places. These two women were arrested after being accused of cooking meth inside a rural Illinois church.

Montgomery County Sheriff's Office via New York Daily News

The earliest form of state police agency to emerge in the United States was the Texas Rangers, founded by Stephen Austin in 1823 to protect settlers. By 1925, formal state police departments existed throughout most of the country. While some organizational variations exist among the different states, two models generally characterize the structure of these state police departments.

The first model can be designated as state police. States such as Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Vermont, and Arkansas have a state police structure. These agencies have general police powers and enforce state laws as well as perform routine patrols and traffic regulation. Further, they have additional functions such as specialized units to investigate major crimes, intelligence units, drug trafficking units,


juvenile units, and crime laboratories. The second model can be designated as highway patrol. States such as California, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas have a highway patrol model. For these agencies, the primary focus is to enforce the laws that govern the operation of motor vehicles on public roads and highways. In some instances, this also includes not just enforcing traffic laws but investigating crimes that occur in

specific locations or under certain circumstances, such as on state highways or state property.23 Agencies on the local level are divided into counties and municipalities. The primary law enforcement office for most counties is that of county sheriff. In most instances, the sheriff is an elected position. The majority of local police officers are employed by municipalities. Most of these agencies comprise fewer than 10 officers. Local police agencies are responsible for the “nuts and bolts” of law enforcement responsibilities. For instance, they investigate most crimes and engage in crime prevention activities such as patrol duties. Further, these officers are often responsible for providing social services such as responding to incidents of domestic violence and

child abuse.24

state police: agencies with general police powers to enforce state laws as well as to investigate major crimes; they may have intelligence units, drug trafficking units, juvenile units, and crime laboratories.

highway patrol: one type of model characterizing statewide police departments. The primary focus is to enforce the laws that govern the operation of motor vehicles on public roads and highways.



The United States does not have just one judicial system. Rather, the judicial system is quite complex. In fact, there are 52 different systems, one for each state, the District of Columbia, and the federal government. Given this complexity, however, one can characterize the United States as having a dual court system. This dual court system consists of separate yet interrelated systems: the federal courts and the state courts. While there are variations among the states in terms of judicial structure, usually a state court system consists of different levels or tiers, such as lower courts, trial courts, appellate courts, and the state’s highest court. The federal court system is a three-tiered model: U.S. district courts (i.e., trial courts) and other specialized courts, U.S.

courts of appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court (see Figure 1.1).25

Before any case can be brought to a court, that court must have jurisdiction over those individuals involved in the case. Jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear and decide cases within an area of the law (i.e., subject

matter such as serious felonies, civil cases, or misdemeanors) or a geographic territory.26 Essentially, jurisdiction is categorized as limited, general, or appellate:

A black wool crepe is draped over Justice Antonin Scalia’s bench chair in the Supreme Court courtroom. His death in 2016 left a vacancy on the Supreme Court bench.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Courts of limited jurisdiction. These are also designated as lower courts. They do not have power that extends to the overall administration of justice; thus, they do not try felony cases and do not have appellate authority.


Courts of general jurisdiction. These are also designated as major trial courts. They have the power and authority to try and decide any case, including appeals from a lower court. Courts of appellate jurisdiction. These are also designated as appeals courts. They are limited in their

jurisdiction decisions on matters of appeal from lower courts and trial courts.27

Every court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, is limited in terms of jurisdiction.



After an offender is convicted and sentenced, he or she is processed in the corrections system. An offender can be placed on probation, incarcerated, or transferred to some type of community-based corrections facility. Probation is essentially an arrangement between the sentencing authorities and the offender. While under supervision, the offender must comply with certain terms for a specified amount of time to return to the

community. These terms are often referred to as conditions of probation.28 Examples of general conditions include the offenders regularly reporting to their supervising officer, obeying the laws, submitting to searches, and not being in possession of firearms or using drugs. Specific conditions can also be imposed, such as participating in methadone maintenance, urine testing, house arrest, vocational training, or psychological or

psychiatric treatment.29 There are also variations to probation. For instance, a judge can combine probation with incarceration, such as shock incarceration. This involves sentencing the offender to spend a certain amount of time each week, oftentimes over the weekend, in some type of institution like a jail; during the remaining time period, the offender is on probation.

Some offenders are required to serve their sentences in a corrections facility. One type of corrections facility is jail. Jails are often designated for individuals convicted of minor crimes. Jails are also used to house individuals awaiting trial; these people have not been convicted but are incarcerated for various reasons, such as preventative detention. Another type of corrections facility is prison. Those sentenced to prison are often convicted of more serious crimes with longer sentences. There are different types of prisons based on security concerns, such as supermax, maximum, medium, and minimum security. Generally, counties and

municipalities operate jails, while prisons are operated by federal and state governments.30

limited jurisdiction: the authority of a court to hear and decide cases within an area of the law or a geographic territory.

probation: essentially an arrangement between the sentencing authorities and the offender requiring the offender to comply with certain terms for a specified amount of time.

jail: jails are often designated for individuals convicted of a minor crime and to house individuals awaiting trial.

Figure 1.1 Three-Tiered Model of the Federal Court System


Source: Adapted from http://judiciallearningcenter.org/our-programs/

Given the rising jail and prison populations, there has been increased use of alternatives to traditional incarceration. For instance, examples of residential sanctions include halfway houses as well as work and study release. Examples of nonresidential sanctions include house arrest, electronic monitoring, and day reporting



The Juvenile Justice System

Prior to the establishment of the juvenile justice system, children were treated the same as adults in terms of criminal processing. Children were considered as “imperfect” adults or “adults in miniature.” They were held to the same standards of behavior as adults. The American colonists brought with them the common law doctrine from England, which held that juveniles seven years or older could be treated the same as adult offenders. Thus, they were incarcerated with adults and could also receive similarly harsh punishments, including the death penalty. It should be noted, however, that youths rarely received such harsh and severe

punishments.32 Beginning in the early 1800s, many recognized the need for a separate system for juveniles.33

For instance, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss educator, maintained that children are distinct from adults, both physically and psychologically.

While there is some disagreement in accrediting the establishment of the first juvenile court, most acknowledge that the first comprehensive juvenile court system was initiated in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois. An essential component to understanding the juvenile justice system is the concept of parens patriae. This Latin term literally means “the parent of the country.” This philosophical perspective recognizes that the state has both the right and the obligation to intervene on behalf of and to protect its citizens who have some impairment or impediment such as mental incompetence or, in the case of juveniles, immaturity. The primary objective of processing juveniles was to determine what was in the best interest of the child. This resulted in the proceedings resembling more of a civil case than a criminal case. The implication of this approach was that the juvenile’s basic constitutional rights were not recognized; these rights included the right to the confrontation and cross-examination of the witnesses, the right to protection against self-incrimination, and compliance regarding the rules of evidence. Another distinctive feature separating the juvenile justice system and the adult criminal justice system is the use of different terms for similar procedures in each system (see Table 1.1).

prison: generally for those convicted of more serious crimes with longer sentences, who may be housed in a supermax-, maximum-, medium-, or minimum-security prison, based on security concerns.

parens patriae: a philosophical perspective that recognizes that the state has both the right and the obligation to intervene on behalf of its citizens in the case of some impairment or impediment such as mental incompetence or, in the case of juveniles, age and immaturity.

During the 1960s, there was a dramatic increase in juvenile crime. The existing juvenile justice system came under severe criticism, including questions concerning the informal procedures of the juvenile courts. Eventually, numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions challenged these procedures, and some maintained that these decisions would radically change the nature of processing juveniles. For instance, in the case In re Gault (1967), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a juvenile is entitled to certain due-process protections constitutionally guaranteed to adults, such as a right to notice of the charges, right to counsel, right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and right against self-incrimination. The case In re Winship (1970) decided that the standard of proof in juvenile delinquency proceedings is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The first U.S. Supreme Court case to address juvenile court procedures was Kent v. United States (1966). The


court ruled that juveniles who are facing a waiver to adult court are entitled to some essential due-process rights.

Source: Taylor, R. W., & Fritsch, E. J. (2015). Juvenile justice: Policies, programs, and practices (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, p. 9.

Although the major impetus for establishing the juvenile justice system was to emphasize rehabilitation, since the 1980s, there has been an emerging trend toward a more punitive approach to juveniles. This changing trend is due to various converging developments, such as broadening due-process protections of adults to include juveniles, the resurgence of retribution, and societal changes in perceptions about children’s

responsibility and accountability.34 Another aspect to this more punitive trend is in reference to transfer provisions—waiving a juvenile offender from the juvenile justice system to the adult criminal justice system.


The reasons for waivers have often been that the juvenile justice system cannot provide the needed treatment or protect the community from the offender. In reality, however, the reason for waivers is an immediate

increase in the severity of response to the juvenile.35


Learning Check 1.2 1. Law enforcement agencies on the state level that have general police powers as well as additional functions, such as investigating

major crimes, are designated as the _______________ model. 2. Law enforcement agencies on the state level whose primary focus is to enforce laws concerning public roads and highways are

designated as the _______________ model. 3. Every court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, is limited in terms of _______________. 4. Recognizing that the state has both the right and an obligation to protect juveniles is referred to as _______________.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Some states have had transfer provisions since the 1920s; other states have had such provisions since the

1940s.36 Transfer provisions can be categorized into three types: judicial waiver, concurrent jurisdiction, and statutory exclusion.

Judicial waiver: The juvenile court judge has the authority to waive juvenile court jurisdiction and transfer the case to criminal court. States may use terms other than judicial waiver. Some call the process certification, remand, or bind over for criminal prosecution. Others transfer or decline rather than waive jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction: Original jurisdiction for certain cases is shared by both criminal and juvenile courts, and the prosecutor has discretion to file such cases in either court. Transfer under concurrent jurisdiction provisions is also known as prosecutorial waiver, prosecutor discretion, or direct file. Statutory exclusion: State statute excludes certain juvenile offenders from juvenile court jurisdiction. Under statutory exclusion provisions, cases originate in criminal rather than juvenile court. Statutory

exclusion is also known as legislative exclusion.37

While all states have some type of provision that allows some juveniles to be tried in adult criminal court, 34 states have what is termed the “once an adult, always an adult” provision. Under this provision, juveniles who have been tried and convicted as adults must be prosecuted in criminal court for any subsequent offenses.

judicial waiver: the authority to waive juvenile court jurisdiction and transfer the case to criminal court.

concurrent jurisdiction: original jurisdiction for certain cases is shared by both criminal and juvenile courts; the prosecutor has discretion to file such cases in either court.

statutory exclusion: excludes certain juvenile offenders from juvenile court jurisdiction; cases originate in criminal rather than juvenile court.


Introduction to Comparative Criminology

Another area of criminological research is the study of the nature and extent of crime and criminal justice systems across societies. This is an expanding area of research given the complexities associated with crime,

prevention, and detection in a high-tech, global environment.38 There are various definitions for the term comparative criminology, some being more comprehensive in scope than others. Hardie-Bick, Sheptycki, and Wardak noted that comparative criminology should address questions such as the following:

Why do some societies have lower crime rates? What are the differences and similarities in crime definition and control across social and cultural frontiers?

How do theoretical models relating to crime translate across cultures?39

The comparative perspective is not a relatively new approach. In 1889, E. B. Taylor outlined the benefits of such an approach during his presentation to the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. But it was not until the mid-1950s that researchers outside anthropological studies, such as those in sociology, psychology, and political science, incorporated a more comparative approach in their research. Criminologists also began to incorporate this perspective in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While this approach has been

relatively slow to gain prominence, a growing body of research incorporates this perspective.40

The study of comparative criminology is no longer considered an option but rather a necessity:41

In our global village, crime problems are no longer a domestic concern. Many types of crime have international dimensions, and trends in crime and justice in different countries are increasingly interdependent. The international nature of markets for drugs, sexual services, and illicit firearms is generally recognized. Less well understood is the international nature of many other criminal markets such as that for stolen cars with an estimated half million stolen cars transported from developed to less developed countries annually. More and more criminal groups operate internationally through loose

networks of partners in crime.42

As mentioned previously, although there is an increased appreciation for the study of comparative criminology, there are limitations regarding the availability of international statistics on crime and criminal justice. In recent years, there have been increasing efforts to enhance international statistics on global social issues such as diseases, infant mortality, and the consumption of illegal drugs. However, efforts to collect information on crime are limited. One explanation for the relative paucity of data on this global issue is that some governments do not want to be exposed to data that may reveal their countries in a negative light.

Scholars are working to break this politically inspired conspiracy of silence.43

This text will include a series of boxes that compare the United States with foreign nations in terms of various aspects of criminology and criminal justice. Nearly every chapter in this textbook will include a Comparative


Criminology box, and each will focus on a single type of serious crime; for example, the Comparative Criminology box in this chapter examines relative rates of motor vehicle theft. It is important to be aware of and understand where the United States stands in relative terms on crime rates, which enlightens us on how cultural and socioeconomic factors influence such rates. The same can be said of comparing various regions/states/cities across the United States, which some of the comparative boxes will also examine.

Most of the statistics in the various comparative criminology boxes of this book were obtained from The World of Crime by Jan Van Dijk, one of the best compilations of international crime statistics in that it synthesizes and reports on a variety of measures using both police reports and victimization surveys from a multitude of sources.

comparative criminology: the study of crime across various cultures to identify similarities and differences in crime patterns.

Applying Theory to Crime: Motor Vehicle Theft

A motor vehicle theft is defined as “the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle. . . . A motor vehicle is a self-propelled vehicle

that runs on land surfaces and not on rails.”44 Examples of motor vehicles include sport utility vehicles, automobiles, trucks, buses, motorcycles, motor scooters, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles. They do not, however, include farm equipment, bulldozers, airplanes, construction equipment, or watercraft. In 2014, about 689,527 motor vehicle thefts were reported in the United States. In that time, more than $4.5 billion was lost as a result of motor vehicle thefts; the average dollar loss per stolen vehicle was $6,537.

Slightly over 74% of all motor vehicle thefts were automobiles. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the Honda Accord is stolen more often than any other car in the United States. This is followed by the Honda Civic, Ford pickup (full size), Chevrolet pickup (full size), Toyota Camry, Dodge Ram pickup (full size), Dodge Caravan, Nissan Altima, Acura Integra, and

Nissan Maxima.45 Further, the NICB noted that one should also consider vehicle theft fraud. In the past, vehicle thieves were focused on stealing cars and trucks the “old-fashioned way,” such as by forced entry and circumventing ignitions. Today, there are new scams for stealing vehicles that involve fraud:

Owner give-ups: The vehicle owner lies about the theft of the vehicle and then orchestrates its destruction to collect insurance money. He or she claims the vehicle was stolen, but then it is found burned or heavily damaged in a secluded area, submerged in a lake, or, in extreme cases, buried underground. Thirty-day specials: Owners whose vehicles need extensive repairs sometimes perpetrate the 30-day special scam. They will report the vehicle stolen and hide it for 30 days—just long enough for the insurance company to settle the claim. Once the claim is paid, the vehicle is often found abandoned. Export fraud: After securing a bank loan for a new vehicle, an owner obtains an insurance policy for it. The owner reports the vehicle stolen to a U.S. law enforcement agency but, in reality, has illegally shipped it overseas to be sold on the black market. The owner then collects on the insurance policy as well as any illegal profits earned through overseas conspirators who sell the vehicle. Phantom vehicles: An individual creates a phony title or registration to secure insurance on a nonexistent vehicle. The insured then reports the vehicle stolen before filing a fraudulent insurance claim. Often, antique or luxury vehicles are used in

this scam, since these valuable vehicles produce larger insurance settlements.46

One interesting approach to addressing the problem of motor vehicle thefts, which has been popularized by the media, is the use of bait cars. The Los Angeles Police Department defines the use of a bait car as “an undercover operation where [they] bring in a plain motor vehicle and load it with desirable goods (iPod, GPS, cigarettes, etc.) and hope someone breaks into the car as [they] are

watching.”47 On June 25, 2012, police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were quite surprised when one of their bait cars was stolen by an 11-year-old boy. This boy wanted to take the car for a joy ride; on the way, he also decided to pick up two of his 10-year-old friends. A video camera had been placed in the bait car. In the video, the boy can be heard bragging to his friends about his driving skills. For instance, while turning up the radio to enjoy the music as he drives, the boy says, “I’m a good driver, huh?” During their


joy ride, apparently one of the boys spotted a police officer; one of the boys said, “Quiet,” while the other said, “Slow down.”48

After reading about this youth, one might ask, “Why would he do that?” Some of you might consider that his 10-year-old peers somehow influenced his behavior, especially since it seems he wanted them to be a part of his criminal adventure. Others may argue that these boys lacked some form of adult supervision resulting from a dysfunctional family environment. Another possible explanation is that these boys lacked self-control, that they were thrill seekers who knew this was wrong, especially given their reaction when spotting the police. When we read about this type of behavior in a newspaper or hear about it on the news and ask, “Why would someone do that?” we are trying to find some kind of explanation. This is what theory attempts to do but in a more rigorous, scientific manner. Throughout this text, as we discuss various theories, we attempt to apply key points of those theories to either a real or hypothetical situation in boxes labeled “Applying Theories to Crime.” For each of these special boxes, we begin with a brief discussion of a particular crime, such as motor vehicle theft, robbery, or murder. Subsequently, we apply the relevant theory or theories in that chapter to that particular crime. With this approach, you will obtain general information about particular offenses as well as apply key features of various theories to those crimes.


Think About It: 1. What kind of influence did peers have on this 11-year-old’s behavior? 2. Do you think the lack of adult supervision could explain his behavior?

Comparative Criminology: Motor Vehicle Theft


Ranking Regions/Countries on Rates of Motor Vehicle Theft The key measure of prevalence of motor vehicle theft in the world is the International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS), which is a data bank that collects and standardizes police reports from more than 70 countries around the world. This measure has been conducted since 1987 and does have some weaknesses, but it is currently the best measure of most crimes in terms of cross-national comparisons.

The ICVS has collected many years’ worth of data on motor vehicle theft. Van Dijk synthesized the data from ICVS regarding car

theft from the years 1996 to 2005.51 Some regions have very high numbers of stolen vehicles, but to make a fair comparison across regions, rates of ownership should be accounted for. As seen in Figure 1.2, the countries with by far the highest percentages of car owners in urban areas who had been victimized by car theft were on the continent of Africa. A relatively distant second highest ranking area was countries in the region of Latin America/Caribbean.

To be more specific, we can examine the ranking of the countries in terms of their rates of vehicle theft. As can be seen in Figure 1.3, ICVS data show that Papua New Guinea had by far the highest rate (at 9.8% of car owners victimized each year), followed by Mozambique (7.5%) and then South Africa, Swaziland, and Brazil rounding out the top five. It is notable that the United States did not rank in the worst 15 countries for motor vehicle theft.

Figure 1.2 Percentages of Car Owners in Urban Areas Victimized by Car Theft or Joyriding During the Past 12 Months

Source: ICVS, 1996–2005, latest survey available.

Figure 1.3 World Ranking of Countries According to Victimization of Car Owners in Urban Areas by Theft of a Car in the Course of One Year, Rank Number, and Percentage of Victims per Year


Sources: ICVS, 1992, 1996–2005, latest survey available.

*Countries with data from ICVS, 1992.

It is not too surprising that motor vehicle theft tends to be higher (when accounting for rates of ownership) in some of the most deprived nations in the world, such as Africa and various Latin American/Caribbean countries. After all, in such extreme poverty, many individuals are driven to commit such crimes to survive. However, the results from the ICVS also reveal that vehicle theft actually happens quite a bit in many regions of the world (North America being ranked third), so motor vehicle theft is alive and well throughout virtually all societies.


Think About It: 1. According to the ICVS, what regions of the world had the highest rates of motor vehicle theft between 1996 and 2005? 2. Which regions had the lowest vehicle theft rates between 1996 and 2005? 3. Can you provide possible explanations for these differences across regions?


Criminological Theory

Respected scientific theories in all fields of study, whether chemistry, physics, or criminology, tend to have the same characteristics. This is further illustrated by the scientific review process (i.e., blind peer review by experts) used in all fields to assess which studies and theoretical frameworks are of high quality. The criteria that characterize a good theory in chemistry are the same ones used to assess what makes a good criminological theory. These characteristics include parsimony, scope, logical consistency, testability, empirical

validity, and policy implications.49 Each of these characteristics is examined in the next section.50


Characteristics of Good Theories

Parsimony is attained by explaining a phenomenon, such as criminal activity, in the simplest way possible. Other characteristics being equal, the simpler the theory, the better. The challenge with criminal behavior is that it is highly complex; however, some criminologists have attempted to explain this complex phenomenon using rather simplistic approaches. For instance, the theory of low self-control maintains that one personality factor—low self-control—is responsible for all criminal activity. As will be discussed in a later chapter, the originators of this theory, Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, contend that every act of crime and

deviance is caused by this same factor: low self-control.52 A simple theory is better than a more complex one. Given the complex nature of criminal behavior, however, it is likely that a simple explanation, such as identifying one factor to explain all types of criminal and deviant behavior, will not be adequate.

How would Lombroso classify this person?


Scope is the trait that indicates how much of a given phenomenon the theory attempts to explain. Other traits being equal, the larger the scope, the better the theory. To some extent, this is related to parsimony in the sense that some theories, such as the theory of low self-control, seek to explain all crimes and all deviant acts. Thus, the theory of low self-control has a very wide scope. As we will discuss later, other theories of crime may attempt to explain only property crime, such as some versions of strain theory or drug use. However, the wider the scope of what a theory can explain, the better the theory.

Logical consistency is the extent to which a theory makes sense in terms of its concepts and propositions.


Sometimes it is easier to illustrate this point with an example. Some theories do not make sense simply because of the face value of their propositions. For instance, Cesare Lombroso maintained that the most serious offenders are born criminals; they are biological throwbacks to an earlier stage of evolutionary

development and can be identified by their physical features.53 Lombroso, who is discussed later in this book, maintained that tattoos were one of the physical features that distinguished these born criminals. This does not make sense, or lacks logical consistency, because tattoos are not biological physical features (i.e., no baby has been born with a tattoo).

Testability is the extent to which a theory can be empirically and scientifically tested. Some theories simply cannot be tested. A good example of such a theory is Freud’s theory of the psyche, discussed in more detail later in this book. Freud described three domains of the psyche—the conscious ego, the subconscious id, and

the superego. None of these domains, however, can be observed or tested.54 While some theories can be quite influential without being testable (e.g., Freud’s theory), a theoretical model that is untestable and unobservable is at a considerable disadvantage. Fortunately, most established criminological theories can be examined through empirical testing.

Empirical validity is the extent to which a theoretical model is supported by scientific research. This is closely associated with the previous characteristic of testability. While almost all accepted modern criminological theories are testable, this does not mean they are equal in terms of empirical validity.

parsimony: a characteristic of a good theory, meaning that it explains a certain phenomenon, such as criminal behavior, with the fewest possible propositions or concepts.

scope: refers to the range of criminal behavior that a theory attempts to explain.

logical consistency: the extent to which concepts and propositions of a theoretical model make sense in terms of face value and consistency with what is readily known about crime rates and trends.

testability: the extent to which a theoretical model can be empirically or scientifically tested through observation and empirical research.

For instance, deterrence theory proposed in part that offenders will not repeat their crimes if they have been caught and given severe legal punishment. If research finds that this is true for only a small minority of offenders or that punished offenders are only slightly less likely to repeat crimes than are unpunished

offenders, then the theory has some, but not much, empirical validity.55

Thus, questions of empirical validity include these: “What degree of empirical support does the theory have?” “Do the findings of research provide weak or strong support?” “Does the preponderance of evidence support

or undermine the theory?”56


Learning Check 1.3 1. When a theory can explain a phenomenon using a simplistic approach, this is considered _______________. 2. When a theory attempts to explain all crimes and all deviant acts, this theory is broad in _______________. 3. Empirical validity is the extent to which a theoretical model is supported by _______________.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Three Requirements for Determining Causality

Various criteria are involved in determining whether a certain variable causes another variable to change—in other words, causality. For this discussion, we will be referring to the commonly used scientific notation of a predictor variable—called X—as causing an explanatory variable—called Y. These variables are often referred to as an independent or predictor variable (X) and a dependent or explanatory variable (Y). These criteria are used for all scientific disciplines, whether chemistry, physics, biology, or criminology. The three criteria required to determine causality are temporal ordering, covariation or correlation, and accounting for spuriousness.

Temporal ordering requires that the predictor variable (X) precede the explanatory variable (Y) if one is attempting to determine that X causes Y. Although this issue of time order appears to be quite obvious, there are instances when this criterion is violated in criminological theories. For instance, a recent scientific debate has focused on whether delinquency is an outcome variable (Y) caused by associations with delinquent peers and associates (X) or whether delinquency (X) causes associations with delinquent peers and associates (Y), which then leads to more delinquent behavior. This is an example of temporal ordering, or “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Research has revealed that both processes often occur, meaning that delinquency and associations with delinquent peers are likely to be both predictor and explanatory variables.

Correlation or covariation is the extent to which a change in the predictor (X) is associated with a change in the explanatory variable (Y). For instance, an increase in unemployment (X) is likely to lead to a rise in crime rates (Y). This would indicate a positive association, because both increased. Similarly, an increase in employment (X) is likely to lead to a decrease in crime rates (Y). This would be a negative, or inverse, association, because as one decreases, the other increases. The criterion of covariance is not met when a change in X does not produce any change in Y. Thus, if a significant change in X does not lead to a significant change in Y, this criterion is not met.

It is essential to stress, however, that correlation alone does not mean that X causes Y. For example, ice cream sales (X) tend to be highly associated with crime rates (Y). This does not mean that ice cream sales cause higher crime rates. Instead, other factors, such as warm weather, lead to an increase in both sales of ice cream and the number of people who are outdoors in public areas, which could lead to greater opportunities and tendencies to engage in criminal activity. This example leads to the final criterion for determining causality.

empirical validity: the extent to which a theoretical model is supported by scientific research.

temporal ordering: the criterion for determining causality; requires that the predictor variable (X) precede the explanatory variable (Y) in time.

correlation or covariation: a criterion of causality that requires a change in a predictor variable (X) to be consistently associated with some change in the explanatory variable (Y).

Why Do They Do It?



Diane and Rachel Staudte In an ABC 20/20 interview, Sarah Staudte stated that “she [her mother, Diane] had this journal that she wrote . . . her thoughts. She wrote the deaths of Shaun, my brother, and me. And that’s what worried me . . . I was shocked.” According to medical examiners, in April 2012, Mark Staudte, Sarah’s father, died of “natural causes”; five months later, her brother’s death was ruled as

being due to “prior medical issues.” Both bodies were cremated.57 In June 2013, Sarah was taken to Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. While she exhibited flulike symptoms, the doctors discovered that her kidneys and brain were deteriorating. After running a number of tests, doctors still could not determine the cause of her kidney and brain failure. While she was hospitalized, Springfield police detective Neal McAmis received an anonymous tip. The caller stated that Diane could be responsible for Sarah’s illness and might also have been involved in the deaths of Sarah’s father and brother. Following this tip, Detective McAmis went to the hospital. One of the doctors stated that he was suspicious that this was a possible poisoning case. He further noted that Sarah was essentially given a “zero percent chance” of living; the question was not whether she was going to die, but when. The detective also talked to a nurse, who commented that Diane was acting strangely, given the severity of the situation.

Diane was joking about Sarah’s condition and was talking about her upcoming Florida vacation.58

Subsequently, Detective McAmis brought Diane Staudte in for questioning. During a four-hour interview, Diane admitted to fatally poisoning her husband and son as well as poisoning her daughter. She, along with her then 24-year-old daughter Rachel, had put antifreeze in Coca-Cola and Gatorade. During her taped interview, Diane made some startling comments in reference to why she had poisoned her family members. She stated that she “hated his [her husband’s] guts.” Below are portions of the interview between Detective McAmis and Diane regarding her son, Shaun:

“He was almost to the point of inappropriate at times,” Diane Staudte said. “I mean he would walk into the bathroom if the door was shut. I mean just really bizarre stuff.” “He was such an interference and a bother that you just said you can’t take it anymore?” McAmis prodded. “He was more than a bother,” Diane Staudte said. “More than a bother, OK. Would a pest, would that be a good word for it?” McAmis asked.

“No, it was more than that,” Diane Staudte said.59

Diane and Rachel Staudte.

Greene County Sheriff's Office via AP

Further into the interview, when asked about poisoning her daughter, Diane Staudte stated that Sarah was unemployed and


therefore could not financially contribute to the household.

Detective McAmis then interviewed Diane’s daughter, Rachel Staudte. Rachel stated that her mother initially brought up the idea, but soon after Rachel also became involved in the poisonings. When asked why she wanted to kill her father, Rachel stated, “[I]t was for a little peace.” When asked about her brother, she said, “Shaun, because he was annoying.” Finally, when asked about her sister, Sarah, Rachel stated “Sarah was just nosy. Very nosy.” Rachel told the detective that they were planning to poison her then 12-year- old-sister.

Diane Staudte was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; Rachel, since she agreed to testify against her mother, was also sentenced to life, but she will be eligible for parole after serving over 42 years in prison.

Sarah Staudte did survive, but she suffered serious brain injury. She now has a guardian and lives in an assisted living facility.60


Think About It: 1. How does a mother involve her own daughter in the poisoning of family members? 2. If Diane and Rachel had not been caught, how many more individuals might have been poisoned?

In this text, we will be presenting what some may consider “high-profile” crimes. These are crimes that have received a great deal of media attention due to the individuals involved and/or the horrendous nature of the offense. In some instances, such as the Diane Staudte case, these types of crimes go beyond the question, “Why did she do it?”

Considering for spuriousness is a complicated way of saying, to determine that X causes Y, other factors (typically called Z factors) that could be causing the observed association must be accounted for before one can be sure that X is actually causing Y. In other words, these other Z factors may account for the observed association between X and Y. What often happens is that a third factor (Z) causes two events to occur together in time and place. Referring back to Lombroso, tattoos may have predicted criminality at the time he wrote. However, Lombroso did not account for an important Z factor—namely, associates or friends who also had tattoos. This Z factor caused the simultaneous occurrence of both other factors.

What aspects of this neighborhood would cause it to be classified as “disorganized”?

Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Researchers in criminology are fairly good at determining the first two criteria of causality—temporal ordering and covariance or correlation. Most scientists can perform classical experiments that randomly assign participants either to receive or not to receive the experimental manipulation to examine the effect on outcomes. The problem for criminologists, however, is that the factors that appear to be important (according


to police officers, parole agents, or corrections officers) are family variables, personality traits, employment

variables, intelligence, and other similar characteristics that cannot be experimentally manipulated to control for possible Z factors. Thus, as criminologists, we may never be able to meet all the criteria for causality. Rather, we are often restricted to building a case for the factors we think are causing crime by amassing as much support as we can regarding temporal ordering and covariance or correlation, and perhaps accounting for other factors in advanced statistical models. Ultimately, social science, particularly criminology, is a difficult field in terms of establishing causality, and as we shall see, empirical validity of various criminological theories is hindered by such issues.

spuriousness: when other factors (often referred to as Z factors) are actually causing two variables (X and Y) to occur at the same time; it may appear as if X causes Y, when in fact they are both being caused by other Z factor(s).


Theory Informs Policies and Programs

An essential aspect of a good theory is that it can help inform and guide policies that attempt to reduce crime. After all, a criminological theory is truly useful in the real world only if it helps reduce criminal offending. For instance, referring to the 11-year-old boy in Albuquerque who took the bait car for a joy ride, if one maintains that the reason he engaged in this criminal behavior was a lack of adult supervision, suggested policies and programs might be directed toward some type of after-school program. Many theories have been used as the basis of such changes in policy.

All major criminological theories have implications for, and have indeed been utilized in, criminal justice policy and practice. Every therapy method, treatment program, prison regimen, police policy, or criminal justice practice is based, either explicitly or implicitly, on some explanation of human nature in general or

criminal behavior in particular.61 In each chapter, we will present examples of how the theories of crime discussed have guided policy making.

One theoretical perspective we will be discussing is differential association. A central tenet of this theory is the influence of close peer groups or other role models. The major implication of this theory is to replace negative, antisocial role models with more positive, prosocial role models. The influence of this position is reflected in the conditions of probation or parole; offenders are required to stay away from convicted felons. Programs that bring juveniles together for positive purposes and positive interaction with others will face obstacles because “the lure of ‘the streets’ and of the friends they have grown up with remains a powerful countervailing force

regarding rehabilitation.”62

Another theory perspective we will be presenting focuses on social structure. If individuals live in an environment that is considered disorganized, such as one characterized by high unemployment and transiency, this could be deemed the root cause of crime. The challenge with implementing policies and programs with this perspective is that it does not necessarily focus on the individual but rather the community. Clifford Shaw argued that rather than treating individual offenders, one needs to focus on the community. Subsequently, he developed the Chicago Area Project. Shaw, along with his staff, organized various programs aimed at establishing or enhancing a sense of community with neighborhoods. He also obtained the assistance and

cooperation of schools, churches, recreational clubs, trade unions, and businesses.63



Victimology can be defined as the scientific study of victims.64 Although this definition is quite simple, the range of specific topics and the depth to which they are examined can be complex. Specifically, the study of victims includes such widely varied topics as theoretical reasons that some individuals are more likely to be victimized, the legal rights of victims, and the incidence/spatial distribution of victimization in a given geographic area. These are just some of the many topics that fall under the general umbrella of victimology, and even these three topics can be broken into many categories of study. Before we discuss some of those areas, it is important to understand the evolution of the study of victims.

Victimology is a relatively new area of criminology, which is strange because there have been victims since the very beginning of human civilization. The earliest use of the term victimology is attributed to two scholars,

Fredric Wertham in his book The Show of Violence (1949)65 and Benjamin Mendelsohn, generally considered

the Father of Victimology, in his 1956 article titled “Victimology” and published in a foreign journal.66 This may not seem to many readers being that recent, but it is when you consider that most sciences, including criminology, had been studied for hundreds of years prior to the mid-20th century. Another indication that the science of victimology is very young is that the term victimology was not recognized as a correctly spelled word by spell checks in the most commonly used word-processing programs until the last few years.

However, the study of victims is a very insightful perspective for understanding crime. After all, for most crimes there is a victim, so to only try to understand the offender is to miss half the equation. As Wertham wrote:

The murder victim is the forgotten man. With sensational discussions on the abnormal psychology of the murderer, we have failed to emphasize the unprotectedness of the victim and the complacency of the authorities. One cannot understand the psychology of the murderer if one does not understand the

sociology of the victim. What we need is a science of victimology.67

It is also important to note that one of the most accurate measures of crime that exists is based on interviews with victims. Called the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), it was begun in 1973 and is generally considered a more accurate estimate of crime in the United States than the Uniform Crime Reports collected by the police and FBI, especially for certain types of offenses, such as forcible rape and burglary. It is certainly the most important source for victimization data across the United States.


Victim Precipitation

One of the most basic underlying concepts of virtually all theoretical perspectives of victimology is that of

victim precipitation.68 Victim precipitation is when an individual does or doesn’t do something that increases the risk that he or she will be victimized. For example, if someone does not lock their car and it gets stolen, this is known as passive victim precipitation, because it was something they did not or forgot to do. The other type, active victim precipitation, involves an individual actually doing something that increases their probability of being victimized. For example, if John yells a racial slur at Ron and then Ron attacks John, what Ron did is not justified, but John clearly increased his likelihood of being attacked, which is the reason why it is an active form of precipitation. The concept of victim precipitation is not about blame; rather, it is simply about raising the odds or risk of being victimized. To be clear, victims should not be blamed, but often what they did or didn’t do made them more vulnerable to being targeted.

Marvin Wolfgang was a key researcher who conducted one of the first major studies of victim precipitation in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in which he found that a substantial percentage of homicides in Philadelphia

involved situations in which the victim was the first to use force against the person(s) who killed them.69 At the time, this was a key insight, because previously most researchers had assumed that most victims were completely innocent. Wolfgang’s study showed that many of the victims of homicide were actually active precipitators of the crime. Many other theorists have expanded on this theory of victim precipitation, but none have really added to the original model and data provided by Wolfgang.

victim precipitation: the increased likelihood of an individual becoming a victim due to something they did (or did not do) that put them more at risk (e.g., not locking their car door).


Incidence/Prevalence of Victimization

One of the most common misperceptions about rates of victimization involves the type of individual who is most likely to be victimized. Studies have shown that many people believe that the most likely individuals to be victims of violent crimes are elderly persons. Perhaps this is due to media coverage; when a grandmother gets raped or robbed, it makes the front page of every newspaper. In fact, however, older individuals are by far the least likely to be victimized by violence. The highest rates of violent victimization clearly occur among

teenagers and young adults.70 This is likely because young people are the ones who typically associate or “hang” with the most common offenders, namely young males.

The vast majority of victimization is intraracial, meaning that typically the offender is of the same race or ethnicity as the victim (see Figure 1.4). Research from the Department of Justice shows that this is true for homicide, for example. This makes sense because people of a given race or ethnicity tend to socialize with

other people of the same race or ethnicity.71

The good news is that violent victimization has been falling drastically since the early 1990s. According to both the National Crime Victimization Survey and the Uniform Crime Reports (police reports summarized by the FBI), violent victimization has dropped by over 50% since 1993. The reasons for this huge decrease are still unknown, but both of these independent measures show it to be a fact. For example, New York City has seen a decrease from over 2,200 homicides per year in the early 1990s to fewer than 400 per year currently. Also, Los Angeles used to have well over 1,000 homicides per year in the early 1990s but is now averaging less than 500.

Figure 1.4 Homicide by Race of Victim and Offender


Note: “Other” includes American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

Source: Crime in the U.S. 2014. FBI. Expanded Homicide Data Table 6.


Child Abuse and Neglect

Rates of child abuse and neglect have decreased in the last few decades, probably due to more

acknowledgment and awareness.72 It is well known that in traditional times, police and other law enforcement felt that domestic issues should be best handled at the home. It should be noted that any citizen can make an anonymous claim about child abuse or neglect; to do so, they should call their local child protection agency. However, individuals working in a professional capacity must reveal their identity and agency if they report such accusations of abuse or neglect.

Several agencies have been created at the national level to measure rates of child abuse and to provide helpful services in such cases. One of the most prominent is the Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Initiative, which is administered by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and its role is primarily to increase awareness about the long-term influence of children’s exposure to violence and to seek solutions to address the problem. Additionally, the OJJDP’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force program assists state and local enforcement in preventing and investigating technology-based sexual

exploitation.73 Also, the OJJDP works with the Office of Justice Programs to manage the AMBER Alert program, in which notices go out nationally to try to find abducted children; this program is credited with

helping to rescue over 800 children.74

The Law Code of Hammurabi was inscribed on a seven-foot basalt stele. It is now on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.


Roman Milert / Alamy Stock Phot

The Department of Justice has declared April to be National Child Abuse Prevention Month since 1983. Various agencies have been created to help children who are victims of crime and promote awareness of their rights and the services offered to them.



Compensation and Restitution

The main distinction between victim compensation and restitution is that the former is given by the state or government and the latter is given by the offender (typically as part of the sentence). New Zealand created the first victim compensation program in the world in 1963. California had the first state victim compensation program in the United States; it is still one of the largest and provides at least approximately $70,000 for victims of violent crime. Property crimes are not included because victims usually have some type of insurance for most of them; one big exception is drunk driving, which the organization MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] lobbied hard for and got, so that is actually allowed in most compensation programs. Now all states have victim compensation programs and receive federal funding from legislated programs, most of them enacted in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the first historical record about victims goes back to the Code of Hammurabi in 1754 BC. This code had many laws, but the most relevant for this course is a portion that called for a restoration of equity

between the offender and the victim as well as encouraged victims to forgive their offenders.75

Victim compensation programs are typically handled by the victims’ services unit or department at local or county offices. Victims’ services units are usually housed in the county district attorney’s office, and they typically do a great job of helping victims, not just as first responders (where they counsel and give information about social services after a major crime) but also in helping victims fill out reports to apply for state compensation (for funeral services, medical expenses, etc.).

If an offender is required to pay restitution as part of his or her sentence, the victim will likely not fare well in actually receiving it. Most offenders are unemployed and/or moneyless and thus unable to pay their victims. There are cases in which victims do receive their court-mandated restitution (often because the offender is a juvenile and his or her parents pay the money), but these instances are the exception.

compensation: often paid to victims of violent acts; provided by crime that are provided by local, state, or federal governmental funds.

restitution: often ordered by the court to be paid to victims by the offender(s) as part of their sentence.

Here a woman is reading her victim impact statement during sentencing. Should the impact a crime has on a victim be given more consideration during a trial and sentencing?


ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Phot


Victim Impact Statements

Victim impact statements are reports of a victim (often a family member) to the court about how an offender affected their life. The first victim impact statement given in a court in the United States was reported in California in 1976. The admittance of victim impact statements to courts was challenged, and a number of cases made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which wavered on the decision for many cases over the course of many years. However, the most definitive case is that of Payne v. Tennessee (1991), in which the highest court ruled that victim impact statements were relevant during the sentencing hearings. Nothing has really changed since that case; victim impact statements are still accepted under the law following a guilty verdict during the

sentencing phase presented to judges or juries.76

It is important to note that victim impact statements can be given only during the sentencing phase of a trial, not when the jury is determining the verdict. Thus, in most trials only the judge actually hears and rules based on such victim impact statements, which is likely why most studies show that such impact statements do not have much impact on the sentencing outcome. The reason for this, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is that it is believed that such victim impact statements would too strongly bias the jury at the verdict phase of the trial, preventing jurors from making an objective determination of guilt or innocence. However, the Court believes they are relevant at the sentencing phase of the trial, particularly in capital cases, that is, those in which the defendant is facing the death penalty.

Studies show that such victim impact statements have little effect despite the victims’ families disclosing traumatic revelations of how the various crimes have affected their lives. Although some studies have found support for the influence of such victim impact statements on sentencing, most studies show no significant

increase on the sentencing of the offender.77 Still, such victim impact statements are largely deemed significant and important contributions to the judicial process, as the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, if only for providing a voice and some closure for victims and their families.

victim impact statements: formal statements given by victims in court about the incident in which they were offended, often in person but also in other ways (e.g., a video or written statement read by the court reporter); these statements can be considered in determining the offender’s sentence.


Learning Check 1.4 1. Who is considered the Father of Victimology by most scholars?

1. Lombroso 2. Beccaria 3. Sutherland 4. Mendelsohn

2. When an individual does or does not do something that increases their risk of being victimized, this is referred to as victim 1. anticipation. 2. precipitation. 3. expectation. 4. consideration.

3. When an offender is ordered to pay money to the victim as part of sentencing, it is referred to as _______________, whereas when the state or federal government provides funds to the victim for losses due to the crime, it is referred to as _______________.

1. compensation; restitution 2. restitution; compensation

4. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that victim impact statements can be given during only what stage of a criminal trial? 1. before the verdict but not after 2. after the verdict and before the sentencing 3. both before the verdict and before sentencing 4. neither during the actual trial nor before sentencing; only after the sentence

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Victim Rights Awareness

April has been designated by the U.S. Department of Justice as National Crime Victims Awareness Month. Although different months bring awareness to specific offenses (such as September as Campus Safety Awareness Month, because that is the beginning of the academic year at many schools, or October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month), April is the most important month because it brings awareness to all victims of crime. Thus, you will likely see many candlelight vigils and parades during the month of April. It was first declared Crime Victims’ Rights/Awareness Month in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and was a good representation of the increase in attention to victims in the 1970s and 1980s.

Other examples of this increased attention to victims in the 1980s include the formation in 1983 of the Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), which was created by the U.S. Department of Justice to implement recommendations from the President’s Task force on Victims of Crime initiated by President Reagan in 1982. Also, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) was passed in 1984, which established the Federal Crime Victims Fund to support state compensation funds and local victim service units and programs. The fund comprises various fines, penalties, forfeitures, and so forth collected by federal agencies.

Overall, far more attention has been given to victims of crime since the early 1970s. It is surprising that it took until the last five decades before victims were given such interest in terms of study and rights, especially when one considers that there have always been victims since the beginning of human civilization. In contrast, extensive scientific studies and theories of offenders have been conducted and promulgated for centuries. It has been beneficial to the field of criminology to add such study of victims, especially considering that they are nearly always half the equation when trying to determine why offenders attack.



The purpose of this chapter was twofold. First, we wanted to provide a general understanding of different aspects related to the field. We started with key concepts in understanding criminology, such as crime, criminal, deviant, and victim. We explored the difference between criminology and criminal justice as well as consensus and conflict perspectives of crime. Next, we provided a broad overview of the major components of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. When discussing the juvenile justice system, we reviewed fundamental differences between the adult criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system. Next, we introduced criminological theory by discussing what criteria are considered when assessing whether a theory is deemed good. We also briefly discussed the three requirements to show that a given factor causes changes in another factor. Next, we noted how theory should inform policies and programs. It is essential to stress that theory is not to be thought of as some abstract or out-of-touch scientific endeavor. Rather, theory has an important purpose in terms of developing policies and programs. As Ronald Akers noted:

The question, then, is not whether policy can be or should be based on theory—it already is guided by theory—but rather, how well is policy guided by theory and how good is the theory on which the policy

is predicated?78

While you are learning and critiquing the various theories presented in this text, it is essential to ask that question continually!

Finally, we presented an overview of victimology, or the study of victims. We briefly discussed such topics as victim precipitation, the incidence and prevalence of victimization, child abuse and neglect, and victim impact statements.


Key Terms

comparative criminology, 12 compensation, 23 concurrent jurisdiction, 11 conflict perspective, 6 consensus perspective, 5 correlation or covariation, 17 crime, 3 criminal justice, 5 criminology, 5 deviance, 3 empirical validity, 16 highway patrol, 7 jail, 8 judicial waiver, 11 limited jurisdiction, 8 logical consistency, 16 mala in se, 3 mala prohibita, 3 parens patriae, 9 parsimony, 16 prison, 9 probation, 8 restitution, 23 scope, 16 spuriousness, 19 state police, 7 statutory exclusion, 11 temporal ordering, 17 testability, 16 victim impact statements, 24 victim precipitation, 21


Discussion Questions 1. How does criminology differ from other perspectives of crime? 2. Should criminologists emphasize only crimes made illegal by law, or should they also study acts that are deviant but not illegal?

Explain why you feel this way. 3. Do you think the juvenile justice system procedures, as well as its philosophy, have changed since its inception in 1899? Why? 4. Would you consider the term criminal justice system an oxymoron? Explain your answer. 5. What characteristics of a good theory do you find most important? What are least important? Make sure to explain why you feel

that way. 6. How much do you think an individual’s behavior predicts their likelihood of being victimized? What types of circumstances do

you think are most relevant? 7. If a member of your family was violently victimized, would you likely give a victim impact statement? Why or why not? Do you

feel that such statements should be considered in the sentencing of offenders?

Web Resources

The Office for Victims of Crime website is the official website of the U.S. Department of Justice. The Office for Victims of Crime oversees programs that have been designed to benefit and assist crime victims (e.g., victims’ rights, public awareness).


The Office for Victims of Crime fact sheet summarizes the amount of monies that are deposited into this fund from such sources as criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, and penalty fees.


This website provides a general overview of the criminal justice system and a flowchart of events.


Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Justice Department to Move Away from Using Private Prisons

Proportion of Girls in Juvenile Justice System is Going Up, Studies Find

Neighborhood variation in police stops and searches: A test of consensus and conflict perspectives


Juvenile Justice: A system divided

The comparative method in globalized criminology

Why Study Criminology?

Introduction to U.S. Court System

They’re not adults: NY seeks new approach to juvenile justice

Through Our Eyes: Children, Violence, and Trauma

Victimology and Motive: The Case of David Buller

The Justice System

Solitary Confinement

Violence Against Women’s Act Fact Sheet

National Center for Victims of Crime


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.


2 Measuring Crime

New York City memorializes the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011, at the World Trade Center site.

Andrew Burton/Getty Images


Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Identify key features and the major limitations of the Uniform Crime Reports. Describe the Supplementary Homicide Reports. Identify key features of the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Describe the Hate Crime Statistics. Distinguish key features and some of the major limitations associated with the National Crime Victimization Survey. Distinguish the major differences between the Uniform Crime Reports and the National Crime Victimization Survey. Identify different types of self-report surveys. Describe additional data collection methods used for more specific purposes or specific populations.



One often hears on the news or reads in the newspaper about crime, such as that crime is increasing or decreasing in various communities, cities, or the country. Often, these reports are based on official crime statistics, or data on crime that has come to the attention of law enforcement. There are instances when crimes do not come to the attention of law enforcement or some other criminal justice agency. These undetected, or unreported, crimes are referred to as the dark figure of crime or, as illustrated in Figure 2.1, the iceberg. Later in this chapter, we will cover one approach to addressing these undetected or unreported crimes —surveying victims of crime.

When thinking further about this dark figure of crime, one may ask, “Do we truly want to know every crime that has been committed?” To do so may require “giving up” other aspects of our lives, such as privacy and freedom. Currently, there are millions of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed in streets and businesses worldwide. The major impetus of CCTVs is to reduce crime while increase public safety. However,

some civil liberties groups have expressed concern (e.g., that they are susceptible to abuse).4 There is a

growing area of research focusing on the evaluation of CCTVs and reducing crime.5 This illustrates the continuing growth of our technological abilities to track, watch, and locate different types of activity and behavior. Given these technological advances, do we also want to improve our ability to detect and count crime? By improving these abilities, would we be willing to “give up” our privacy?

Measuring crime is necessary for various reasons.6 Some of these reasons include describing crime, explaining why crime occurs, and evaluating programs and policies. It is important to legislators, as well as concerned citizens, that crime statistics are available to describe, or gauge, criminal activity that can influence community well-being. Measuring crime is also needed for risk assessment of different social groups, including their potential for becoming offenders or victims. Another purpose of measuring crime is explanation. Identifying causes requires that differences in crime rates can be related to differences in people and their situations. Counting crime is also used to evaluate and justify programs and policies that try to address criminal activity (e.g., rehabilitation, incapacitation, deterrence).

This chapter examines various data collection methods used to enhance our understanding of criminal behaviors and patterns. The first portion describes various statistics collected by law enforcement agencies. The next portion provides an overview of the National Crime Victimization Survey. We then present a few examples of self-report surveys. The last portion summarizes additional approaches used to collect crime data, such as the National Youth Gang Survey and spatial analyses of crime.


Crime Data From Law Enforcement Agencies

Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States gather a number of crime statistics. In this section, we look at five methods used to accomplish this. They are the Uniform Crime Reports, the Supplementary Homicide Reports, the National Incident-Based Reporting System, Hate Crime Statistics, and the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Statistics.


Case Study


September 11, 2001, Victims On September 11, 2001, there were a total of 3,047 victims from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In the 2001 report, Crime in the United States, it was decided that the victims of 9/11 would not be included in the general report as victims of murder. Rather, the Federal Bureau of Investigation provided a special report that focused on the terrorist attacks. This special report included summaries of the victims, including their race/ethnicity, sex, age, and location (i.e., the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or Somerset County, Pennsylvania). Included with these victims were the 71 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty:

37 officers with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department 23 officers with the New York Police Department 5 officers with the New York Office of Tax Enforcement 3 officers with the State of New York Unified Court System 1 fire marshal with the New York City Fire Department 1 agent with the U.S. Secret Service

1 agent with the FBI1

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the reason for not including these victims was, in part, as follows:

The statistics of September 11 are not a part of the traditional Crime in the United States publication because they are different from the day-to-day crimes committed in this country. Additionally, combining these statistics with our regular crime report would create

many difficulties in defining and analyzing crime as we know it.2

Further, it was argued that the murder count was so large that if one were to combine this with what is considered traditional crime statistics, it would have what is called an outlier effect. An outlier is an extreme value that significantly differs from the rest of the distribution.

Some have argued that this was not an appropriate decision. In 2002, Dr. Paul Leighton, a professor of criminology, argued that “mass murder is still murder.” He maintains that while it was reported that homicide increased just 3% from 2000 to 2001, it actually increased by 26%. Dr. Leighton contends that if the FBI had chosen to include the victims of 9/11, the various people who refer to the Uniform Crime Reports (e.g., bureaucrats, students, reporters) would have a visual reminder of the impact those terrorist attacks had on the country. Interestingly, the FBI had previously included the victims of other terrorist attacks (e.g., the first World Trade Center bombing

and the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building).3


Think About It: Do you think that the victims of 9/11 should have been include in the Crime in the United States report?


Figure 2.1 The Dark Figure of Crime

Source: https://mir-s3-cdn-cf.behance.net/project_modules/disp/9e0ca249724943.560866c4ba83e.jpg



Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)

Historical Overview.

Between 1830 and 1930, the collection of crime statistics involved various agencies. Individual cities, regions, and states collected crime statistics for their respective regions in an effort to guide policy making. This

resulted in the collection process being somewhat haphazard.7 There was an interest in developing a crime reporting system among police chiefs. During the 1927 meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of

Police (IACP), efforts were made to collect crime statistics in a consistent and uniform manner.8 As a result, seven main classifications of crime were selected to assess fluctuations in crime rates. These classifications were later identified as Part I crimes. In 1930, only 400 agencies submitted their crimes reports; it was difficult during the beginning stages of the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Program to assess the crime rate for the entire country. In 2014, the FBI reported that over 18,000 city, university, college, county, state, tribal,

and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily report data on those crimes brought to their attention.9

In 1960, these Part I crimes were termed the Crime Index. Part I crimes were those crimes most likely to be reported to the police, including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny, burglary, and motor vehicle theft. Information was collected on additional categories of crimes, ranging from sex offenses to

parking violations; these are designated as Part II crimes.10 In 1979, by congressional mandate, the offense of arson was added as a Part I offense. In 2013, human trafficking/commercial sex acts and human trafficking/involuntary servitude were added as Part I offenses. Since 1929, forcible rape was defined as “the

carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”11 The modified definition of rape was changed prior to data collection in 2013. The definition is as follows:

Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration

by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.12

Four members of the New York City Police Department’s Honor Legion in the 1920s. How has police reporting of crime data changed since then?


Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Table 2.1 provides a list of Part I and Part II offenses.


Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Uniform Crime Reporting Program. (2013). Summary Reporting System (SRS) user manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, pp. 20–22.

Figure 2.2 Crime Clock


Source: Crime in the United States, 2015. FBI.

The UCR Program.

The primary objective of the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) is to generate a consistent (or reliable) set of crime statistics that can be used in law enforcement administration, operation, and management. Over the years, however, the UCR has become one of the country’s foremost indicators of crime. The UCR has provided information on fluctuations in the level of crime for criminologists, sociologists, legislators, municipal planners, and the media—information that has subsequently been used for both research and

planning purposes (see Figure 2.2).13

The UCR has been used for a number of criminal justice studies, such as assessing the influence of gender

equality on female homicide victimization;14 evaluating the effect of home foreclosures on crime in

Indianapolis, Indiana;15 investigating the relationship between firearm ownership and violent crime;16

comparing the influence of community policing in large and small law enforcement agencies on crime rates;17

and assessing Weed and Seed Program effects on Part I offenses.18

In 2004, the FBI discontinued use of the Crime Index. The Crime Index had often been used to detect overall changes in crime across the country:

The Crime Index and the Modified Crime Index were not true indicators of the degrees of criminality because they were always driven upward by the offense with the highest number, typically larceny-theft. The sheer volume of those offenses overshadowed more serious but less frequently committed offenses, creating a bias against a jurisdiction with a high number of larceny-thefts but a low number of other

serious crimes such as murder and forcible rape.19

The FBI emphasizes that classifying and scoring crimes are the two most important functions of agencies


participating in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Classifying is defined as determining the appropriate crime category in which to report an offense in the UCR. This is based on information resulting from an

agency’s investigation of the crime.20 An important step in classification has been referred to as the hierarchy rule. Specifically, when more than one Part I offense is classified in a multiple-offense situation, the law enforcement agency must locate the offense that is highest on the hierarchy list and score that offense but not

any of the other offenses.21 There are some exceptions to this hierarchy rule. For example, the rule does not apply to arson, human trafficking/commercial sex acts, and human trafficking/involuntary servitude; these offenses are always reported, even in multiple-offense situations. See Table 2.2 for examples on how to classify multiple-offense situations.

Uniform Crime Reports: an annual report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S. Department of Justice. It is meant to estimate most of the major street crimes in the United States.

Scoring is defined as counting the number of offenses after they have been classified. The two rules for scoring Part I crimes pertain to the two types of crimes involved (i.e., crimes against persons and crimes against property). For crimes against persons, one offense is scored for each victim. For crimes against property, one

offense is scored for each distinct operation or attempt.22


Source: Albert D. Biderman, A.D., & Reiss, A.J. (1967). On exploring the ‘Dark Figure’ of crime, Annals, pp. 1–15. Skogan, W.G. (1977). The ‘Dark Figure’ of unreported crime. Crime and Delinquency, 23, p. 41.

Efforts to warn people of the dangers of smoking marijuana in the 1930s included propaganda films such as Reefer Madness. How has the societal response to marijuana changed since then, and what impact has that had on its classification as a crime?


Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Limitations of the UCR.

As early as 1931, there were criticisms concerning the UCR, and some of these still apply to the current


UCR.23 Even with these criticisms, the UCR continues to be a major source of information pertaining to

crime in the United States.24 Below is a brief overview of the criticisms and limitations concerning the UCR:

1. Some crimes do not come to the attention of those responsible for collecting this information. In reference to the UCR, this pertains to law enforcement agencies. As stated above, these unknown crimes

constitute the dark figure of crime.25 Potential problems with not counting these “unreported” crimes have been outlined by Wesley Skogan:

It restricts the deterrent capability of the criminal justice system by shielding offenders from police action. It contributes to the misallocation of resources such as police manpower and equipment. It can influence the police role when officers do not recognize certain types of criminal activity in their own environment. As a result, officers might overlook addressing these problems. It can have a negative influence on victims of crimes who do not become “officially known” to the criminal justice system; for instance, these victims are ineligible for many supportive benefits from both public and private agencies. It can influence the perceived “socialized” costs of crime; this misperception can influence private

insurance premiums and the public cost of victim compensation programs.26

2. The UCR concentrates on conventional street crime (e.g., assaults, robbery) but does not adequately include other serious types of offenses such as corporate crime. This is illustrated by the priority given to the investigation and prosecution of such crimes within the federal government, including the collection

of crime statistics.27

3. Crime statistics, such as the UCR, can be used for political purposes. Some argue that official crime

statistics are a social construction.28 In this vein, these statistics are perceived as an objective reality for

program and policy purposes.29 When these claims are stated and supported by powerful groups, this can influence public perceptions, which can then result in policy changes. One historical example are the efforts to warn individuals of marijuana use in the 1930s (see Photo 2.3).

4. Some law enforcement agencies may submit incomplete or delinquent reports. These incomplete or delinquent reports can be due to such reasons as: (a) an agency may have experienced a natural disaster that prevented the timely submission of the crime data; (b) due to budgetary restrictions, some police agencies may have had to limit some routine clerical activities, including the collection of crime statistics; and (c) changes in personnel experienced in preparing UCR data (as a result of, e.g., retirement, promotion) may result in problems with data reporting if the individual is replaced by

someone who is not adequately trained and/or experienced with these activities.30

5. Problems with the collection of UCR data can also occur because of clerical and data-processing errors. Based on his experience as a senior analyst in the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services,

Henry Brownstein described how accuracy can be compromised due to clerical error.31

6. Changes in the legal code can influence subsequent crime reports and make later comparisons difficult. Thus, when a previously acceptable behavior is later criminalized or when a classification is altered (e.g.,

from misdemeanor to felony, or the reverse), this will likely result in a change in reported crimes.32 For


instance, some have argued that there are increasing efforts to criminalize homelessness. Some cities have

implemented laws that make it illegal to sleep, eat, or sit in public spaces.33

Comparative Criminology: Child Abuse


Some Exploratory Studies on Child Abuse in Other Countries Unfortunately, there is no systematic global data collection regarding child abuse; however, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2002) estimated that there were about 57,000 homicides of children under 15 in just the year 2000. This study also found that perpetrators of child abuse had witnessed violence against their mothers when they were young. This is consistent with studies that repeatedly find links between childhood exposure to domestic violence and violent offending at older ages (see discussion in Van Dijk, 2008, p. 88). This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “cycle of violence.”

Van Dijk (2008) points out that perhaps the most comprehensive studies of child abuse in modern times were done in Germany, surveying more than 11,000 teenagers about their experiences with domestic violence. One consistent finding was that children of immigrants reported significantly higher rates/percentages of violence against mothers, with extremely high rates among those from Turkey (32%), Yugoslavia (25%), and Russia (20%). Another interesting pattern was that the immigrant families that had resided in Germany for longer periods had higher rates of domestic violence, which Van Dijk claimed suggested “growing tensions between spouses after a longer exposure of women to German norms and values concerning gender equality” (p. 88).

Also notable, WHO (2004) estimated that annual economic costs in the United States due to child abuse totaled about $94 billion. And although traditionally rare, there is a growing trend to punish much more severely parents and caretakers who abuse children, which also adds to the costs in terms of processing and incarcerating offenders. For example, in October 2012, a 23-year-old Texas woman was sentenced to 99 years in prison for such abuses as gluing her daughter’s hands to the wall and beating her as punishment for potty-training setbacks. (Read more about this story here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/texas-mom-glued-daughtershands-wall- 99-years/story?id=17436643.)


Think About It: 1. In the 2008 German study of teenagers discussed in this section, what types of youths were consistently found to have higher

rates of exposure to violence in the household? 2. What did this study show regarding living in Germany over time did to such rates, and what did the authors provide as an

explanation for this trend?

Sources: Van Dijk, J. (2008). The world of crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; World Health Organization. (2002). World report on violence and health. Geneva: Author; World Health Organization. (2004). The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence. Geneva: Author.

It is essential to note that the UCR is a “summary-based system.” These data are a summary, or total count, of crimes based on the reporting agencies. Thus, disaggregation of UCR data can occur only on the reporting agency level. The units of analysis are groups (i.e., reporting agencies). The UCR data are limited to the totals reported by each participating agency. The best-known summary UCR measures are numbers of Part I and Part II offenses. Additional summary data can include property recovered and weapons used in specific types

of offenses as well as summary totals of arrests, classified by sex, race, and age grouping of offenders.34

Why Do They Do It?

As mentioned in Chapter 1, throughout this text, we are presenting what some may consider “high-profile” crimes or crimes that have received a great deal of media attention, either due to the individuals involved or the outrageous nature of the offense. When reading or hearing about these crimes, many of us may ask ourselves, “Why do they do it?” For this particular chapter, however, we have decided to present what many may consider “odd” or “strange” types of offenses. While these crimes may not be as highly publicized as other offenses in later sections, they often evoke the same question, “Why do they do it?”


Contaminated Meth The Granite Shoals (Texas) Police department posted the following to Facebook:

Breaking News: Area Meth and Heroin Supply Possibly Contaminated With Ebola. Meth and Heroin recently brought in to Central Texas as well as the ingredients used to make it could be contaminated with the life threatening disease Ebola. If you have recently purchased meth or heroin in Central Texas, please take it to the local police or sheriff department so it can be screened with a special device. DO NOT use it until it has been properly checked for possible Ebola contamination! Contact any Granite Shoals PD officer for testing. Please share in hopes we get this information to anyone who has any contaminated meth or heroin that needs tested.

A few days later, Chastity Hopson brought her drugs to the Granite Shoals police station so it could be tested for Ebola.

Subsequently, she was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance. The Facebook posting was a hoax.36


Homemade License Plate Amanda Schweickert, of Buffalo, New York, was pulled over by Erie County Sheriff’s officers. The officers noticed that there was something odd about her license plate. Upon further inspection, they noticed that she had painted a piece of cardboard in an attempt to make it look like a New York license plate. They also discovered that she was driving with a suspended license and no insurance. Ms. Schweickert was charged with possession of a forged instrument, driving with a suspended registration, and three traffic



Beer-Battered Fish Defense John Przybyla, 75, was a serial drunk driver in Adams County, Wisconsin. He had nine previous charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. On October 12, 2015, he was pulled over for the 10th time. However, he explained to the officers that he had eaten

some beer-battered fish and that that was the reason his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit.38


Usher Steals Offerings Deputies from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (Florida) received a call from officials at the Blessed Trinity Catholic Church. The church officials had some suspicions that one of their ushers was stealing money. The deputies set up surveillance cameras in the church. The cameras caught Mario Condis, a 60-year-old church usher, stealing money from the church offering baskets while the congregation was in prayer. He would take the money from the baskets and place it in his pockets. Condis was arrested on one count

of grand theft and three counts of petit theft.39

So, “why do they do it?” Do you think it may be due to mental illness? Alcohol abuse? Substance abuse? In the following chapters, we will present theories that try to understand and explain criminal behavior from various perspectives (e.g., sociological, psychological, biosocial). As you continue with the text, you will learn how criminologists throughout the centuries have attempted to understand and explain what is considered criminal behavior.

Using UCR data, one can obtain total counts of crimes on a city or county level and move upward to a state or regional level. One cannot obtain information on individual crimes, offenders, or victims. The U.S. Department of Justice sponsors two types of crime measures that are based on incidents, rather than reporting agencies, as the units of analysis. The first crime measure is the Supplementary Homicide Reports; the second

crime measure is the National Incident-Based Reporting System.35


Learning Check 2.1 1. The UCR is based on offenses reported to _______________. 2. Unknown crimes are referred to as _______________. 3. When more than one Part I offense is classified, the law enforcement agency must locate the offense that is highest the list; this is

referred to as the _______________. 4. Exceptions to the hierarchy rule are _______________.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Supplementary Homicide Reports

Homicides are less likely to be underreported compared to other crimes counted in the UCR. Homicides are also more likely to result in an arrest or to be cleared than other offenses. Finally, compared to other offenses such as forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, homicide offense reports are more likely to have details

about the incident, such as the victims and/or offenders.40 Thus, in the 1960s, the FBI developed the Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR). Since 1976, these data have been archived at the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD), which is maintained by the University of Michigan’s Inter-university

Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).41

Supplementary Homicide Reports: part of the UCR Program. These data provide more detailed information on the incident (e.g., the offender, the victim).

In the Summary Reporting System (SRS) User Manual, SHR collects additional information pertaining to the incident, including details of the murder victim and offender, their relationship to one another, the weapon

used, and the circumstances in each criminal homicide.42 For offenses of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter as well as manslaughter by negligence, reporting agencies include information such as the following: single or multiple victims; single, multiple, or unknown offenders; age, sex, race, and ethnicity of the victim and offender; description of the weapon and how it was used (e.g., if a bottle was used in the commission of a murder, the reporting agency must note whether the person was killed by beating, cutting, or stabbing); relationship of the victim to the offender (e.g., in a murder incident where a wife is killed by her husband, the relationship must be reported as “wife”); and circumstances (e.g., lover’s quarrel, drunkenness,

argument over money, revenge, narcotics, gangland killings).43

Modifications of the SHR have been put in place when unusual incidents reveal such a need. For instance, the underlying data structure of the SHR allows up to 11 victims and 11 offenders for each record. In those unusual incidents where a crime involves more than 11 homicides, the victim information is repeated over more than one record. If an individual does not have any knowledge of the specific incident, it may be difficult to determine the separate records involving the same incident:

In April, 1995, an explosion at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 individuals. At the time information was reported to the Supplementary Homicide Reporting Program, law enforcement believed three offenders were responsible for this act. Following reporting guidelines, the information on this incident in the FBI’s 1995 SHR data file was spread over 16 records (15 containing 11 victims and the last containing 3 victims) with 3 offenders noted on each record. Without extraordinary knowledge of this incident, an analysis of these records would yield 168 victims and 48 offenders. The data files underlying this analysis package have been adjusted to accurately reflect an incident with 168 victims and

3 offenders.44

In addition to the SHR, another national data collection system administered in the United States to collect


detailed information on homicides is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They developed the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). When comparing the SHR and the NVSS, there is substantial overlap in homicide reporting (see Table 2.3). Overall, the NVSS consistently demonstrates a higher number of homicides than the SHR. This is probably due to the variations in coverage and score as

well as the voluntary versus mandatory reporting requirements.45

The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 10, 1995. What challenges do horrific incidents like this pose for the reporting of crime statistics?


Staff Sergeant Preston Chasteen, Department of Defense

The SHR has been key in developing policy related to homicide, especially since these data include not only the number of homicides but also factors associated with these crimes (e.g., characteristics of the victims and

offenders).46 The SHR has also been used to enhance our understanding of patterns and trends pertaining to


homicides, including the following: exploring sibling homicide, or siblicide;47 examining choice of weapon in

male sexual homicides;48 comparing and understanding lethal violence in Finland and the United States;49

and suggesting improvements of the SHR for collecting data on workplace homicides.50 The SHR can also be considered the forerunner to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), since it provided

additional information about incidents.51

Source: Regoeczi, W., Banks, D., Planty, M., Langton, L., Annest, J. L., Warner, M., & Barnett-Ryan, C. (2014). The nation’s two measures of homicide. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, p. 3.


The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)

The NIBRS Program.

Initially, the UCR was considered primarily a tool for law enforcement agencies. By the 1980s, it was evident that these data were being used by other entities involved with social planning and policy. Thus, there was a need to collect more detailed information on these data. The FBI, the Department of Justice Statistics (the agency responsible for funding criminal justice information projects), and other agencies and individuals from various disciplines were involved with setting in place the changes needed to update the program for collecting

crime data.52 After various stages of development and pilot programs, the FBI developed a draft of guidelines for this enhanced UCR Program, which is named the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

By the end of the 1980s, NIBRS was operational. By 2013, NIBRS was collecting data on each incident and arrest within 23 offense categories comprising 49 specific crimes (i.e., Group A). There are 10 Group B offenses for which only arrest data are collected (see Table 2.4). As of 2013, approximately 33% of law

enforcement agencies reported data in the NIBRS format.53

There are two goals of the NIBRS data collection program: (1) to enhance the quantity, quality, and timeliness of crime statistical data collected by law enforcement entities; and (2) to improve the methodology

used for compiling, analyzing, auditing, and publishing the collected crime data.54 As a result of providing

more “detailed, accurate, and meaningful data than those produced by the traditional UCR Program,”55

NIBRS data have also been used to enhance criminological research. Examples of studies using NIBRS

include the following: analyzing victims’ injuries in robbery incidents;56 examining elder abuse;57 studying

offender, victim, and incident characteristics of sibling sexual abuse;58 comparing three hypotheses about

intimate partner violence;59 and examining sibling violence.60

National Incident-Based Reporting System: an enhanced version of the UCR Program that collects more detailed information on incidents (e.g., the offenders, the victims).


Data Collection

To illustrate how NIBRS data are collected, this section includes some of the major differences between

NIBRS and the UCR Program.61

While the UCR Program collects counts on the number of criminal incidents involving eight offenses

(i.e., Part I offenses), NIBRS expands the types of offenses reported (i.e., Group A and Group B).62

Since NIBRS uses an incident-based reporting system, it includes a greater degree of detail in reporting (see Figure 2.3). The unit of analysis for the UCR is the reporting agency. For NIBRS data, however, there are six possible “units of analysis.” Specifically, NIBRS data consist of six segments pertaining to the crime incident: administrative, offense, property, victim, offender, and arrestee. Within each segment, various information is collected on each incident. Examples of the various items collected for each segment include the following: administrative—incident number, incident date/hour; offense— attempted/completed, type of location, type of weapon or force involved; property—type of property loss, value of property; victim—type of injury, victim relationship to offender; offender—age, sex; arrestee—

armed with weapon, resident status.63

An incident can consist of multiple offenses. For NIBRS reporting procedures, the FBI defined an incident “as one or more offenses committed by the same offender, or group of offenders acting in concert, at the same time and place.” Acting in concert was defined as follows: “[A]ll of the offenders to actually commit or assist in the commission of all of the crimes in an incident. The offenders must be aware of and consent to the commission of all of the offenses; or even if nonconsenting, their actions

assist in the commission of all of the offenses.”64 Thus, all of the offenders in an incident are considered to have committed all the offenses that made up the incident. If one or more of the offenders, however, did not act in concert, then there is more than one incident. As mentioned in the previous section, the UCR Program uses the hierarchy rule with some exceptions. NIBRS does not use the hierarchy rule. Thus, if more than one crime was committed by the same person(s) and the time and space distinguishing these crimes were insignificant, all the crimes are reported within the same incident.


* In January 2011, the FBI discontinued the collection of arrest data for runaways. Law enforcement agencies can continue to collect and report data on runaways, but the FBI will no longer use or publish the data. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Uniform Crime Reporting Program. (2013). Summary Reporting System (SRS) user manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, pp. 14–18.


Figure 2.3 The NIBRS Interactive Crime Map

Visit the NIBRS interactive map at: https://nibrs.fbi.gov/


Limitations of NIBRS

There are some limitations to NIBRS. Some of these limitations have slowed its widespread adoption.65 A few of these limitations are listed below:

1. As with the UCR Program, NIBRS data include only crimes reported to law enforcement; unreported and unrecorded crimes are not included in NIBRS.

2. Since the NIBRS specifications were developed by a federal agency, participating local agencies may find it difficult to work with inflexible specifications and impose problems with reporting procedures.

3. Various organizations may have different goals and incentives. While the FBI and other national agencies are interested in a national monitoring system and national-level research applications, local and state agencies may have different organizational interests. For instance, local and state agencies may be more interested in local data collection requirements and analyses to support local operations, such as the deployment of law enforcement areas in certain problem areas.

4. While NIBRS data include more detailed information than the UCR Program, this is also a drawback. With this detailed information, the NIBRS record structure is more complex; researchers and analysts may find collecting this detailed information quite a challenge.

5. Currently, little is known about the extent of the errors made when collecting NIBRS data. While some errors can be addressed, other types of errors will be noted only after the NIBRS data collection program is adopted on a more widespread basis.


Hate Crime Data

On April 23, 1990, the president signed into law the “Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990.” This was due to increasing concern regarding these types of offenses. As part of the UCR Program, the attorney general is required to develop guidelines and collect data about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The UCR Program’s first publication was titled Hate Crime Statistics, 1990: A Resource Book. This report was a collection of hate crime data from 11 states that compiled these data and volunteered to submit their data as a prototype. There have been significant changes to hate crime data collection since this time.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof killed nine people while attending a prayer meeting at the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. What characterizes this as a hate crime?

Joe Raedle/Getty Image

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 amended the Hate Crime Statistics Act to include crimes committed against people with physical or mental disabilities that should also be viewed as hate crimes. The Church Arson Prevention Act was signed into law in 1996. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 was passed. This amendment included the collection of data for crimes motivated by any bias against gender or gender identity. In 2012, system modifications were implemented that allowed agencies to report up to four additional


bias motivations per offense type. In 2013, bias types in the religion category were expanded to include all of those identified by the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Census Bureau. The program also started collecting data on anti-Arab bias. In 2015, law enforcement agencies were allowed to submit the following religious bias types: anti- Buddhist, anti-Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, etc.), anti-Hindu, anti–Jehovah’s Witness, anti- Mormon, anti–other Christian, and anti-Sikh. Also, the program started to collect data on race and

ethnicity bias under the category of Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry.66


Data Collection

To develop procedures for collecting national hate crime data, many emphasized avoiding any new data- reporting responsibilities on those law enforcement agencies participating in the UCR Program. Thus, the collection of hate crime data provides additional information on traditional UCR collection:

Hate crimes are not separate, distinct crimes, but rather traditional offenses motivated by the offender’s bias. For example, an offender may commit arson because of his/her racial bias. It is, therefore, unnecessary to create a whole new crime category. To the contrary, hate crime data can be collected by

merely capturing additional information about offenses already being reported to UCR.67

Thus, if a traditional offense has been motivated by the offender’s bias, the reporting agency is to complete the “Hate Crime Incident Report.” Table 2.5 provides two examples of how hate crimes would be reported. Figure 2.4 provides a breakdown of hate crimes reported in 2014. When examining the bias for these single incidents, 47% are classified as racial bias.

hate crime data: the best-known hate crime data source is the Hate Crime Statistics, which collect information on traditional offenses, such as murder and vandalism, that have an additional factor of bias.


Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Statistics

The FBI also collects data on the number of law enforcement officers killed and assaulted in the United States each year. This is important information that has been used for several reasons, including estimates of the risk involved in police work and analyses of what influences assaults against, and killings of, police officers. The

UCR Program began gathering these data in 1972.68

Figure 2.4


Source: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2015/november/latest-hate-crime-statistics- available/image/bias-breakdown-chart/@@images/a34d567e-641a-4f28-b390-436bf85c00de.jpeg


Data Collection

Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) is a supplementary data collection program of the UCR. LEOKA collects data from participating agencies on officer line-of-duty deaths and assaults. Information obtained from these data assist agencies in developing policies to enhance officer safety.

The UCR Program provided the following definitions to distinguish between line-of-duty, felonious, and accidental deaths:

Line-of-duty death: This type of death occurs when the officer is on or off duty and acting in an official capacity while reacting to a situation that would ordinarily fall within the scope of his or her official duties as a law enforcement officer. Suicides and deaths caused by heart attacks or other natural causes as well as deaths occurring while the officer is acting in a military capacity are not included in this definition. Felonious death: This type of death occurs when an officer is killed because of or while performing his or her official duties and as a direct result of a criminal act by a subject. Accidental death: This type of death occurs when an officer dies as a result of an accident he or she is involved in while performing his or her duties (e.g., an officer is struck by a vehicle while directing

traffic or drowns during a rescue attempt).69

Participating law enforcement agencies are required to report on officers who are killed or assaulted and meet the following criteria: (1) working in an official capacity, (2) having full arrest powers, (3) wearing a badge (ordinarily), (4) carrying a firearm (ordinarily), and (5) being paid from governmental funds allocated for payment of sworn law enforcement representatives. These officers are usually employed by local, county, state, tribal, or federal entities and working in occupations such as municipal or county police, constables, state police, highway patrol officers, sheriffs or deputies, marshals, or special agents. Officers usually not included are those involved with protective, prosecutorial, or confinement activities, such as federal judges, U.S. attorneys, probation officers, corrections officers, jailers, and prison officials.

Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted: LEOKA is part of the UCR Program. LEOKA collects data on officer line-of- duty deaths and assaults.

The UCR Program includes a special form used to collect information on those incidents involving line-of- duty felonious or accidental killing of an officer or assault of an officer. In reference to officer assaults, the UCR emphasizes that reporting agencies must count all assaults. Even those incidents that involve more than verbal abuse or minor resistance to an arrest but do not result in the officer being injured need to be



Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Uniform Crime Reporting Program. (2015). Hate crime data collection guidelines and training manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, pp. 27 & 25.


Crime Data From Victims of Crime: The National Crime Victimization Survey

While Canada and some European counties have surveyed individuals regarding their experiences of being victims of crimes, the United States has the longest and most extensive background with such surveys. Unofficial measures of crime, such as the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), further broaden our understanding of crime with information from official measures of crime (e.g., Uniform Crime Reports).

National Crime Victimization Survey: a primary measure of crime in the United States. It is collected by the Department of Justice and the Census Bureau and is based on interviews with victims of crime.

The primary purpose of these data is to provide additional insight into what was referred to at the beginning of this chapter as the dark figure of crime (e.g., crimes unreported to law enforcement). Some of the reasons that victims failed to report these crimes to law enforcement include: (1) the victim believed nothing could be done about the incident; (2) the victim felt that the crime incident was not important enough to report to the police; (3) the victim perceived the incident was too private or personal; and (4) the victim thought that the

police would not want to be inconvenienced with the crime incident.71 The NCVS is also intended to (1) identify portions of the population at risk of victimization, (2) estimate multiple victimization rates, (3) provide data needed to evaluate crime prevention programs, and (4) allow for comparisons of patterns,

amounts, and locations of crime with the Uniform Crime Reports.72

The NCVS is used by various groups who are concerned about crime and crime prevention. Community groups and government agencies use these data to develop neighborhood watch programs as well as victim assistance and compensation programs. Law enforcement agencies use the NCVS for (1) enhancing citizen cooperation with officials in deterring and detecting crime, (2) establishing special police strike forces to combat those crimes that the NCVS reported as being most prevalent, and (3) developing street and park lighting programs in those areas with high reported crime rates. The print and broadcast media also use

NCVS findings when reporting on various crime-related topics.73


Learning Check 2.2 1. _______________ are not separate, distinct crimes; rather they are traditional crimes motivated by the offender’s bias. 2. Like the UCR Program, _______________ data include only those crimes reported to law enforcement. 3. NIBRS does not use the hierarchy rule (true or false?). 4. Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) is a supplementary data collection program of the _______________.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Researchers also use the NCVS to prepare reports, to make policy recommendations, to provide testimony

before Congress, and to present documentation in court.74 The NCVS has also been used for various criminal

justice research, such as examining the seasonal variation (i.e., the school calendar) in violent victimization;75

exploring routine activity theory and lifestyle-exposure theory in terms of demographic characteristics and

victimization risk;76 investigating the epidemiology of self-defense gun use;77 and studying the dynamics of

elder victimization.78

From January 1971 to July 1972, the Census Bureau implemented the first nationwide victimization survey. The survey was included as a supplement to the existing Quarterly Household Survey (QHS). In July 1972, the National Crime Survey (NCS) evolved into a separate national sample survey. Due to a mandate, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) was the first sponsor of the NCS. This mandate required that data be collected, evaluated, published, and disseminated regarding the progress of law enforcement in

the United States.79 In 1979, the NCS was moved to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Various groups have had some serious reservations about collecting these data:

Groups supportive of police-based crime statistics were already suspicious of this new data collection system. Academics began to raise questions about a multimillion-dollar data collection with few variables that could be used in testing theories of crime and that could not produce estimates for local jurisdictions.

They also worried that this new data collection would take funds away from criminological research.80

To address these concerns, in the mid-1970s, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration commissioned the Committee on Social Statistics of the National Academy of Sciences–National Research Council (NRC)

to evaluate the victim surveys.81 From 1979 to 1985, experts in criminology, survey design, and statistics conducted a detailed study of the NCS. Their findings recommended a redesign of the victim survey that would (1) increase the reporting of crime victimization and (2) include additional information on specific crime incidents. These recommendations were implemented in a two-stage process and were completed by July 1993. In addition to these changes, in 1991, BJS renamed the NCS the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCSV).

These major changes included the following:


1. The new questionnaire uses detailed cues to assist respondents in recalling and reporting incidents. These new questions and cues also encourage responses that include a broad continuum of incidents rather than just those involving weapons, severe violence, or strangers.

2. The NCVS includes multiple questions and cues on crimes committed by family members, intimates, and acquaintances.

3. Previously, only the categories of rape and attempted rape were measured in the survey. The NCVS broadened the scope of sexual incidents to include sexual assault (other than rape), verbal threats of rape or sexual assault, and unwanted sexual contact without force but involving threats or some type of harm to the victim.

Other changes have been made to the NCVS, including a series of hate crime questions as well as a series of identity theft questions. Also, in 2006, the NCVS converted to a computer-assisted personal interviewing

(CAPI) environment.82

Any individual living in the United States and 12 years of age or older is eligible for participation in the NCVS. The households are selected by using scientific sampling methods. The NCVS collects data on individuals who have been the victims of crimes, whether or not these crimes were reported to law enforcement. The NCVS estimates the proportion of the various crime types reported to law enforcement; it also provides information as to why victims reported or did not report these crimes to law enforcement. The NCVS provides various information, including data about the victims (e.g., age, sex, race, ethnicity, marital status, income, and educational level), the offenders (e.g., sex, race, approximate age, and victim–offender relationship), and the crimes (e.g., time and place of occurrence, use of weapons, nature of the injury, and economic consequences). The victims are also asked about their experiences with the criminal justice system,

if they used any self-protective measures, and possible substance abuse by offenders.83


Limitations of the NCVS

1. Crimes such as prostitution, drug dealing, and gambling are not often revealed in interviews for obvious reasons. Further, since murder victims cannot be interviewed, the most serious criminal offense is not

included in the NCVS.84 The NCVS also does not incorporate those situations when an individual is being victimized by drunkenness, disturbances of the peace, impaired driving, drug abuse, or sexual solicitation or procuring. The surveys cannot measure those situations where individuals are unaware

they have been victimized, such as various types of fraud.85

2. Since the NCVS surveys only households, crimes committed against commercial businesses (e.g., stores)

are not included. Thus, data on crimes such as burglaries, robberies, and vandalism are not collected.86

3. The validity of the NCVS is also an issue. Validity refers to whether an instrument is measuring what it intends to measure. The validity of the NCVS refers to whether is it measuring individuals who have been victims of crimes. Two different procedures have been used to test the validity of the participants’ responses: forward record checks and reverse record checks. A forward record check begins with victims’ reports, and these are subsequently checked against crimes known to police. A reverse record check starts with police records and then traces these back to victims to determine whether these crimes were

reported to NCVS interviewers.87


Comparing the NCVS With the UCR

Since the NCVS was developed to complement the UCR, both data collection programs are similar in some respects. They both collect data on the same types of serious crimes; they collect information on rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft. The definitions of rape, robbery, theft, and motor vehicle theft are practically the same for both programs. However, prior to 2013, the UCR measured rape as a crime against women only, while the NCVS measures rape as a crime against both sexes.

There are some meaningful differences between the UCR and the NCVS. First, each program was developed to serve different purposes. The UCR’s primary purpose was to provide reliable criminal justice data for law enforcement administration, operation, and management. The purpose of the NCVS was to collect information that was previously unavailable on crime (e.g., crimes unreported to the police), victims, and offenders.

Second, while both programs collect information on overlapping types of crimes, these types of crimes are not necessarily identical. As mentioned previously, the NCVS collects data on crimes that were both reported and unreported to law enforcement. The UCR collects information on homicides, arson, commercial crimes, and crimes against children under the age of 12, whereas the NCVS does not collect these data.

Third, the UCR and the NCVS programs use different methods to collect crime data. Thus, for some crimes, they use different definitions. For instance, the UCR defines burglary as the unlawful entry or attempted entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft. Since the NCVS surveys individuals, it is difficult for the victims to ascertain offender motives; burglary is defined as the entry or attempted entry of a residence by a person who had no right to be in that residence.

Fourth, the two programs use different bases to calculate rates for certain crimes. For property crimes (e.g., burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft), the UCR calculates rates using a per-capita rate based on 100,000 persons. The NCVS calculates rates for these crimes using a per-1,000-household rate. If the number of households does not grow at the same rate each year compared to the population, trend data for property crimes rates for these two programs may not be comparable.

Fifth, since the UCR and the NCVS implement different sampling procedures, there may be variations in estimates of crime. Estimates from the NCVS are obtained from interviews; thus, these data are susceptible to a margin of error. The NCVS uses rigorous statistical methods to calculate confidence intervals around all survey estimates. Trend data in the NCVS reports are listed as genuine only if there is at least a 90% certainty that the measured changes are not due to sampling variation. The UCR data are based on actual counts of those crimes reported by law enforcement agencies. There are instances when UCR data are estimated for nonparticipating jurisdictions or those jurisdictions reporting only partial data.

Thus, the UCR and the NCVS have unique strengths. One needs to realize the strengths and limitations of these programs to obtain a greater understanding of crime trends as well as the nature of crime in the United




Crime Data From Self-Report Surveys

Generally, surveys address four broad classes of questions: (1) the prevalence of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors; (2) changes in these attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors over time; (3) differences between groups of people in their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors; and (4) causal propositions about these attitudes, beliefs, and

behaviors.89 Self-report surveys collect data by asking respondents to provide information about themselves, usually as to whether they have engaged in certain forms of illegal behavior. Self-report information can be collected either through written questionnaires or through in-person interviews.

The earliest self-report studies were conducted in the 1940s. In 1946, a researcher wanted to compare male college students’ involvement in illegal behavior with that of alleged juvenile delinquents. He compared the court records of these delinquents with the self-reported behavior of male college students enrolled at a southwestern university. The study revealed that all of the respondents in the college sample had been involved in at least one of the 55 offenses listed in the self-report questionnaire. He concluded that these college students had been involved in offenses that were as serious as those of these alleged delinquents,

although these students may not have engaged in these behaviors as frequently as the juveniles.90

Research has continued to examine juveniles’ involvement in delinquent behavior by using self-reporting

procedures.91 Self-report studies have also been administered to measure drug and alcohol use: for example,

evaluating the Minnesota D.A.R.E. Plus Project;92 examining drug use and violent offending;93 and exploring

the relationship between substance use and weapons aggression.94 Research focusing on physical and sexual abuse has also used self-reporting procedures: examining the relation between dating violence and marijuana

use;95 investigating the correlation between abuse and other adverse childhood experiences among low-

income women;96 and exploring the prevalence of women’s offending behavior and experiences with intimate

partner violence.97

While there are no nationwide surveys implemented to collect self-report surveys of all types of crime, various types of self-report surveys have been implemented to collect data on specific types of behaviors. In addition to focusing on certain types of behavior, these surveys sometimes just focus on certain groups (e.g., juveniles). Three self-report surveys are discussed below: Monitoring the Future, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, and the National Youth Survey—Family Study.


Monitoring the Future

Substance abuse by adolescents continues to be an issue, not only because it is itself illegal and can pose a health risk, but also because it may be linked to other types of criminal activity. In 1975, the National Institute on Drug Abuse sponsored the annual self-report survey Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of Lifestyles and Values of Youth. It is sometimes referred to as Monitoring the Future (MTF). The MTF collects information to measure substance and alcohol use patterns among youths. While the survey initially sampled just 12th-grade students, in 1991, 8th- and 10th-grade students were also included in the annual survey.

Currently, the MTF survey of 12th-grade students contains about 1,400 variables. The survey measures use of drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, hashish, LSD, hallucinogens, amphetamines, Ritalin, Quaaludes,

barbiturates, cocaine, crack cocaine, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), and heroin.98 The MTF also collects information on students’ attitudes and beliefs about drugs, drug availability, and the social meanings of drug use. In addition to measuring issues of substance and alcohol use, the survey asks students about their attitudes on topics such as education, work and leisure, sex roles and family, population concerns (overpopulation and

birth control), conservation, religion, politics, interpersonal relationships, race relations, and happiness.99

Monitoring the Future: an annual self-report survey that collects information to measure substance and alcohol use patterns among youths.

One limitation to the MTF research design is that it does not survey those youth who drop out of high school. This is a problem because certain behaviors, such as illegal drug use, occur at a higher-than-average rate in this group of individuals. However, it would be difficult to survey these individuals. Each spring, the data from students involve approximately 420 public and private high schools and middle schools. Within each school, up to 350 students may be selected to participate in the survey. The surveys are administered by local Institute for Social Research representatives and their assistants. The questionnaires are group-

administered in classrooms during a normal class period whenever possible.100

There are often severe and tragic consequences associated with underage drinking and DUI-related automobile accidents.


© iStockphoto.com/milanklusacek


The National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Since 1971, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH; formerly, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse) has been used to collect information annually on the use of illegal drugs by individuals in the United States. The NSDUH is currently sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services; the data collection is conducted

by RTI International (formerly the Research Triangle Institute).101 The NSDUH is one of the largest surveys of drug use ever conducted in the United States.

The primary goal of NSDUH is to provide national as well as state-level estimates on the following:

the level and patterns of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal substance use and abuse; trends in the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other types of drugs; the consequences of substance use and abuse; and groups at high risk for substance use and abuse.

These data are used by various government agencies, private organizations, and researchers as well as the

public at large.102 Numerous studies have used the NSDUH to examine issues pertaining to crime and

criminal behavior: identifying the prevalence and correlates of group fighting among youths;103 exploring the

relationship between alcohol use and violence;104 comparing the prevalence of externalizing behaviors (e.g.,

crime, violence, and drug use) and migration-related factors between immigrant and U.S.-born individuals;105

and examining the extent of substance use, mental health issues, and criminal behavior among high school


National Survey on Drug Use and Health: since 1971, the NSDUH been used to collect information annually on the use of illegal drugs by individuals in the United States.


National Youth Survey—Family Study

A major shortcoming of earlier juvenile delinquency research was that it concentrated on those youths who were already in the juvenile justice system. (This will be discussed in later chapters in reference to developing theories based on these data.) One reason that these data were used for such studies was that their records (e.g., police, juvenile hall) were easily accessible to researchers. The problem was that this research focused only on those juveniles who were formally processed in the system. Usually, these juveniles came from disadvantaged backgrounds and were more likely to come to the attention of the system, whereas juveniles

from middle- or upper-class backgrounds were more likely to be diverted from the system.107

Implementing self-report surveys is one approach to addressing problems associated with studying only those juveniles formally in the system. In 1977, researchers at the University of Colorado implemented the National Youth Survey (NYS) with an initial sample of 1,725 male and female juveniles born between 1959 and 1965. Each respondent, along with his or her parents/legal guardians, was asked about various events and behaviors that had occurred the previous year. The study is ongoing. Thus, in 2011, the respondents were aged 46 to 55. In 1993, the partners and children of the original respondents were interviewed. As a result, in 2000, the

name of the survey was changed to the National Youth Survey—Family Study.108

The NYS includes items that measure a respondent’s involvement in criminal activity. It measures over 40 offenses that represent the full range of offenses reported in the UCR. The NYS also measures respondents’ attitudes on issues such as level of community involvement, educational aspirations, employment skills, pregnancy, abortion, neighborhood problems, and the use of drugs and alcohol. The National Youth Survey— Family Study includes additional questions that cover the respondent’s family, family relationships, educational attainment, and careers.

In regard to comparing data collected only on those youths who have come to the attention of the criminal justice system (i.e., official statistics) with self-report studies, researchers have cautioned that “to abandon either self-report or official statistics in favor of the other is ‘rather shortsighted; to systematically ignore the findings of either is dangerous, particularly when the two measures provide apparently contradictory

findings.’”109 Thus, to obtain a full understanding of delinquent behavior, one should use both self-report surveys and official record research.


Additional Approaches to Collecting Crime Data

In this section, additional approaches to collecting crime data are briefly covered. It is important for those involved in the criminal justice field to realize that there are various types of data collection programs other than the UCR and NCVS. These additional data collection efforts are usually for a more specific purpose or target a more specific population. The National Youth Gang Survey and spatial analyses of crime are reviewed below.


The National Youth Gang Survey

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of gangs and gang-related crime:

Previous national surveys suggested growth in the number of cities, towns, and counties with gang problems, but there was no single source of uniform data that could be used to compare changes and

trends over time.110

In response to this growing concern, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Institute for Intergovernmental Research established the National Youth Gang Center (NYGC). One of NYGC’s primary tasks was to implement periodic national surveys to collect data on problems associated with youth gangs. The first National Youth Gang Survey was conducted in 1995. For this initial survey, NYGC wanted to collect basic information concerning the gang problem in different jurisdictions. The survey was mailed to 4,120 police and sheriff’s departments across the United States. Approximately 83% of the

participating agencies responded to the survey.111

National Youth Gang Survey: this survey collects basic information from law enforcement agencies concerning the gang problem in different jurisdictions.

Applying Theory to Crime: Hate Crime

As noted previously, the UCR Program collects information on both single-bias and multiple-bias hate crimes. Law enforcement agencies are required to note at least one bias motivation. A single-bias incident is “an incident in which one or more offense types are motivated by the same bias.” A multiple-bias incident is “an incident in which one or more offense types are motivated by two or

more biases.”114

In 2014, over 15,000 law enforcement agencies participated in the Hate Crime Statistics Program. Of these, 1,666 reported 5,479 hate crime incidents involving 6,418 offenses. Recall that hate crimes are not separate or distinct crimes; rather, they are traditional offenses but considered hate crimes when they are motivated by the offender’s bias. Among the 6,418 hate crime offenses, 63.1% were crimes against persons and 36.1% were crimes against property. The remaining offenses were considered crimes against society (see Table 2.6).

As noted previously, in 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed. It was named after Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was tortured and killed in 1998. His murder was motivated by the offenders’ bias against gay men. James Byrd Jr., an African-American, was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death, also in 1998. His murder was motivated by the offenders’ bias against African-Americans. The act expanded the definition of hate crimes to include

violence based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.115 In terms of sexual-orientation bias, law enforcement agencies reported 1,178 hate crime offenses based on sexual orientation bias in the 2014 Hate Crime Statistics. Of these offenses:

58.0% were classified as anti-gay (male) bias. 23.6% were classified as anti-lesbian, -gay, -bisexual, or transgender (mixed-group) bias. 14.3% were classified as anti-lesbian bias. 2.6% were classified as anti-bisexual bias.

1.5% were classified as anti-heterosexual bias.116

Would you consider this hate speech?


Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images

One example of a violent offense that was subsequently considered a hate crime occurred in June 2015 in Sacramento, California. Timothy Brownell was accused of attacking three area musicians because they wore skinny jeans. Brownell allegedly yelled a homophobic slur at the musicians and subsequently assaulted them with a knife because of their skinny jeans. Later, he turned himself in at the county jail. Brownell’s initial arrest was on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and possessing a firearm. However, the police later issued an arrest warrant when the attack was reclassified as a hate crime. One of the three victims, Alex Lyman, stated that Brownell approached him without any provocation. Next, Brownell called him a homophobic slur and then

began to stab him just because he was wearing skinny jeans.117


Think About It: 1. After examining the factors associated with this incident, such as “no provocation” and using a homophobic slur, what do

you think would cause him to react in this manner? 2. What are some key factors that would indicate this offense should be classified as a “hate crime”?

As noted in the previous chapter, throughout this text we will attempt to apply key points of the theories to either real or hypothetical situations. For this particular example, it is essential to realize that while this offense was initially considered an assault, law enforcement later realized that motivation was a key aspect of this offense—Timothy Brownell had a bias toward what he perceived were gay men because they were wearing skinny jeans.


a The actual number of incidents is 5,479. However, the column figures will not add to the total because incidents may include more than one offense type, and these are counted in each appropriate offense category.

b The term victim may refer to a person, business, institution, or society as a whole.

c The figures shown in the rape (revised definition) row include only those reported by law enforcement agencies that used the revised Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) definition of rape.

d The figures shown in the rape (legacy definition) row include only those reported by law enforcement agencies that used the legacy UCR definition or rape.


e Includes additional offenses collected in the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Uniform Crime Reports: 2014 hate crime statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

A key aspect to any research on gangs is how a “gang” is defined. The NYCG requires that participants report information for any “group of youths or young adults in your jurisdiction that you or other responsible persons in your agency or community are willing to identify as a ‘gang.’” Further, participating agencies are required to

report such groups as motorcycle gangs, hate or ideology groups, prison gangs, and adult gangs.112

The 2012 NYGS consisted of two groups: (1) all police departments serving cities with a population of 50,000 or more and all suburban county police and sheriff’s departments; and (2) a randomly selected sample of police departments serving cities with a population between 2,500 and 50,000 and a randomly selected sample of rural county police and sheriff’s departments. Approximately 87% of the selected agencies responded to the survey. Key findings from this survey are as follows:

Approximately 30% of all responding law enforcement agencies reported gang activity. Compared to 2011, slightly fewer jurisdictions had experienced gang activity (3,100 versus 3,300). Gang activity remained essentially concentrated in urban areas, with indications that it was occurring more than in previous years. Gang-related homicides had increased overall nationally, partly due to increased reporting by



Spatial Analyses of Crime

Spatial analyses of crime focus on crime places. This interest in crime places “spans theory from the perspective of understanding the etiology of crime, and practice from the perspective of developing effective criminal

justice interventions to reduce crime.”118 Thus, rather than attempting to understand crime from an individual perspective, spatial analysis also incorporates where and when crimes occur. This perspective can then assist in efforts to reduce future criminal activity.

Spatial analyses of crime: this type of analysis focuses on crime places. One major aspect is mapping crimes which provides information as location, distance, direction, and pattern.

Mapping crimes can provide such information as location, distance, direction, and pattern. Location is considered the most important piece of information. Understanding where crimes have occurred or what crimes may occur in the future is essential, especially when considering how to allocate police personnel and community resources. Distance is also a crucial element. For instance, distance can answer such questions as, “How far did the victim live from the place where she was attacked?” Direction is most helpful when considered along with distance. Usually, direction is referred to in a broader context, in statements such as, “Serial robberies are moving southeast” or “The east side is becoming a high-crime area.” Finally, pattern is what crime analysts attempt to develop when using place-based crime data. Patterns are usually designated as

random, uniform, clustered, or dispersed.119

Example of using pins on maps to represent crimes in a particular area. What are some advantages and some drawbacks of this method?


Bloomberg/Getty Images

Attempting to understand crime through location is not new. Law enforcement agencies have considered crime location to be an important component of crime control. In fact, the use of maps can be traced as far

back as 1900 by the New York City Police Department.120 Police departments would place pins on maps to represent crimes that occurred in various locations (see Photo 2.9). Thanks to technological advances, they now have more sophisticated and responsive ways to track this information (see Figure 2.5). Criminologists have also explored whether there is a relationship between criminal activity and location. These criminologists

attempt to understand crime with what are called social ecological theories.121 These criminologists examine how ecological conditions such as housing standards, poverty, and transient populations influence criminal activity.

Figure 2.5 The San Jose Police Department Interactive Crime Map


Visit the San Jose Police Department interactive crime map: http://www.sjpd.org/CrimeStats/CrimeReports.html

Since the 1990s, there have been major advances in the methods available for analyzing place-based crime data. These advances are primarily due to technological improvements, especially with computer capabilities. In addition to these computer capabilities, there have been major contributions from geographic information systems (GIS). GIS is a system made up of not only hardware but also incorporating computer software and data that are later used to analyze and describe information (e.g., crime). This information is then linked to spatial location. Further, law enforcement agencies continue to enhance the computerization of police records management systems as well as computer-aided dispatch systems (i.e., citizen calls to police).

Not only does spatial analyses of crime assist law enforcement, but researchers have also used these analyses to further our understanding of crime, such as by examining the relationship between school vicinity and

criminal activity;122 exploring community factors (e.g., poverty, ethnic diversity) and residents’ perceptions of

bias crime;123 comparing the changes in the spatial patterns of automotive theft;124 and examining the effects

of population displacement after the demolition of an urban housing project.125



Learning Check 2.3 1. The _______________ survey collects information on substance and alcohol use patterns among youths. 2. The _______________ started with an initial sample of youths born between 1959 and 1965. 3. A key aspect of the National Youth Gang Survey is how the term _______________ is defined. 4. _______________ focuses on crime places.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e



This chapter began by reviewing various data collection procedures using law enforcement statistics. The Uniform Crime Reports Program is one of the best-known and most established data collection programs used to measure crime in the United States. The UCR Program also incorporates supplementary data procedures to collect information on homicides, hate crimes, and law enforcement officers who are killed and assaulted in the line of duty. To further enhance our understanding of crime in the United States, the National Incident-Based Reporting System was developed to provide additional information, especially pertaining to crime incidents and victims, that was not available with the UCR Program.

A major drawback to understanding crime using law enforcement statistics is that not all crimes come to the attention of police. In recognition of this “dark figure of crime,” the National Crime Victimization Survey was developed in the 1970s. The NCVS collects data from individuals who were victims of crime, regardless of whether or not they reported these crimes to law enforcement. The UCR and the NCVS are the two major data collection programs used to measure crime in the United States. While they have some similarities, there are also key differences. It is essential to stress that both data collection programs are necessary to understanding patterns and trends of criminal activity in the United States.

We also covered more specific data collection methods. These various methods are used primarily to collect data on certain issues related to criminal justice (e.g., Monitoring the Future and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) or to collect data on certain populations (e.g., the National Youth Gang Survey). Finally, we briefly discussed a new technique, spatial analyses of crime, which is being explored not only for law enforcement purposes but for criminal justice research endeavors as well.


Key Terms

hate crime data, 43 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 44 Monitoring the Future, 49 National Crime Victimization Survey, 45 National Incident-Based Reporting System, 40 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 50 National Youth Gang Survey, 51 Spatial Analyses of Crime, 54 Supplementary Homicide Reports, 38 Uniform Crime Reports, 33


Discussion Questions 1. How are the UCR collect data? 2. What are some key limitations to the UCR data, and how have these limitations been addressed? 3. How does the UCR collect information on homicides? 4. How does the UCR collect information on hate crimes? 5. How does the UCR collect information on law enforcement officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty? 6. What are some key differences between the UCR and NIBRS? 7. How does the NCVS attempt to measure the amount of crime that is not reported to law enforcement? 8. What are some similarities and differences between the UCR and the NCVS? 9. How do the various self-report surveys differ from the UCR and other types of law enforcement statistics?

10. What data collection program should be considered the source for understanding crime in the United States?

Web Resources

The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting website includes reports from various sources, such as the Uniform Crime Reports, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, and Hate Crime Data.


The National Crime Victimization Survey can be located on the Bureau of Justice Statistics website, which provides information (such as methodology), questionnaires, and publications regarding this data source.


The Monitoring the Future website provides information regarding their survey, such as press releases, publications, and tables and figures.


The National Gang Center website provides resources such as publications, training, as well as their newsletter.


Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


FBI: Murders Up Nearly 11 Percent in 2015; Violent Crime Rose Slightly

Historians Mine 400 Years of Crime Data at the Old Bailey


Shooting for accuracy: Comparing data sources on mass murder.

Missing data and imputation in the Uniform Crime Reports and the effects on National estimates

Assessing the practice of hot spots policing: Surveying results from a national convenience sample of local police agencies

Janet Lauritsen (1 of 3): What is the National Crime Victimization Survey

What is a Hate Crime?

Crime Statistics: The Dark Figure

Study Highlights a New Epidemic of Drug Abuse that is a Growing Problem Among US Teens

Not there for your children? Gangs will be

Federal Bureau of Prisons - Inmate Statistics


Crime Mapping

Prison Overcrowding

Crime in the United States


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.



3 The Classical School of Criminological Thought


Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images


Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Identify the primitive types of “theories” explaining why individuals committed violent and other deviant acts for most of human civilization. Describe how the Age of Enlightenment drastically altered the theories for how and why individuals commit crimes as well as how it changed criminal justice policies. Explain how Cesare Beccaria’s book in 1764 drastically influenced various criminal justice systems throughout the world, and be able to list the concepts and propositions recommended in his book. Summarize what Jeremy Bentham contributed to this movement toward the Classical School of criminological thought. Explain what the Neoclassical School of criminology contributed to the propositions of the Classical School that led most of the Western world (including the United States) to embrace this model as the major paradigm for the criminal justice system.



A 2009 report from the Death Penalty Information Center, citing a study based on FBI data and other national reports, showed that states with the death penalty have consistently higher murder rates than states

without the death penalty.4 The report highlighted the fact that if the death penalty were acting as a deterrent, the gap between these two groups of states would be expected to converge, or at least lessen over time. But that has not been the case. In fact, this disparity in murder rates has actually grown over the past two decades, with states allowing the death penalty having a 42% higher murder rate (as of 2007) compared with states that do not—up from only 4% in 1990.

Thus, it appears that in terms of deterrence theory, at least when it comes to the death penalty, such potential punishment is not an effective deterrent. This chapter deals with the various issues and factors that go into offenders’ decision-making about committing crime. While many would likely anticipate that potential murderers in states with the death penalty would be deterred from committing such offenses, this is clearly not the case, given the findings of the study discussed above. This type of deterrence, or rather the lack thereof, regarding the death penalty and related issues makes up a key portion of this chapter.

This chapter examines explanations of criminal conduct that emphasize individuals’ ability to make decisions based on the potential consequences of their behavior. The natural capability of human beings to make decisions based on expected costs and benefits was acknowledged during the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries. This understanding of human capability led to what is considered the first rational theory of criminal activity—namely, deterrence theory. Of any other perspective to date, deterrence theory has had the most profound impact on justice systems in our nation. Furthermore, it is easy to see examples in contemporary life of offenders engaging in such rational decision-making, and a number of variations of this theoretical model have been developed that focus on the reasoning processes of people considering criminal acts.

Such theories of human rationality stand in stark contrast to the theories perpetuated for most of human civilization, up to the Age of Enlightenment—theories that focused on religious or supernatural causes of crime. Additionally, the Classical School theories of crime are distinguished from the other theories we examine in future chapters by their emphasis on free will and rational decision-making, which modern theories of crime tend to ignore. Specifically, the theoretical perspectives discussed in this chapter all focus on the human ability to choose one’s own behavior and destiny, whereas paradigms popular before the Enlightenment and in contemporary times tend to emphasize the influence of external factors on individual choice. Therefore, the Classical School is perhaps the paradigm best suited for analysis of what types of calculations go on in someone’s head before committing a crime.

deterrence theory: theory of crime associated with the Classical School; proposes that individuals will make rational decisions regarding their behavior.

Age of Enlightenment: a period of the late 17th to 18th century in which philosophers and scholars began to emphasize the rights of individuals in society.


Classical School: a model of crime that assumes that crime occurs after a rational individual mentally weighs the potential good and bad consequences of crime and then makes a decision about whether to engage in a given behavior.


Case Study


Deborah Jeane Palfrey Deborah Jeane Palfrey, known as the “DC Madam,” was brought up on charges of racketeering and money laundering related to running a prostitution ring in Washington, DC, and surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. The clientele of this prostitution ring included some notable politicians, such as state senators and other elected officials. Palfrey faced a maximum of 55 years in prison but likely would have received far less time had she not committed suicide before her sentencing. Her body was found in a storage facility at her mother’s home in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

News reports revealed that she had served time before (for prostitution). Author Dan Moldea told Time magazine that she had contacted him for a book he was working on and told him “she had done time once before . . . and it damned near killed her. She said there was

enormous stress—it made her sick, she couldn’t take it, and she wasn’t going to let that happen again.”1 The situation could have been worsened by the heightened media attention this case received; while most prostitution cases are handled by local or state courts, this one was handled by federal courts because it concerned Washington, DC.

It is quite likely that the impending maximum prison sentence led her to take her own life, given what she had said to Moldea. This shows the type of deterrent effect that jail or prison can have on an individual—in this case, possibly leading her to choose death over serving time. Ironically, Palfrey had commented to the press, after the suicide of a former employee in her prostitution network—Brandy

Britton, who hanged herself before going to trial—“I guess I’m made of something that Brandy Britton wasn’t made of.”2 It seems that Palfrey had the same concerns as Britton, and she ended up contradicting her bold statement when she ended her own life.

This case study provides an example of the profound effects legal sanctions can have on individuals. Legal sanctions are not meant to inspire offenders to end their lives, but this case does illustrate the potential deterrent effects of facing punishment from the legal system. We can see this on a smaller scale when a speeding driver’s heart rate increases at the sight of a highway patrol or other police vehicle (which studies show happens to most drivers). Even though this offense would result in only a fine, it is a good example of deterrence in our everyday lives. We will revisit the Palfrey case at the conclusion of this chapter, after you have had a chance to review some of the theoretical propositions and concepts that make up deterrence theory.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, known as the “D.C. Madam,” committed suicide before being sentenced. Her case reveals the potentially powerful effects of formal sanctions on individuals’ decision-making.

© AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

On a related note, a special report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, concludes that the suicide rate has

been far higher among jail inmates than among prison inmates (see Figures 3.1 through 3.3).3 Specifically, suicides in jails have tended


over the past few decades to occur 300% (or three times) more often than among prison inmates.

A likely reason for this phenomenon is that many persons arrested and/or awaiting trial (which is generally the status of those in jail) have more to lose, such as in their relationships with family, friends, and employers, than do the typical chronic offenders that end up in prison. Specifically, many of the individuals picked up for prostitution and other relatively minor, albeit embarrassing, offenses are of the middle- and upper-class mentality and, thus, are ill-equipped to face the real-world consequences of their arrest. The good news is, this same Department of Justice report showed that suicides in both jails and prisons have decreased during the past few decades, likely due to better policies in correctional settings regarding persons considered at “high risk” for suicide.


Think About It: 1. Do you think that some of the clientele (e.g., notable politicians) should have also been charged for a criminal offense? 2. Do you think it made a difference that this case was handled by federal courts rather than local or state courts? 3. Do you think prostitution should be legal?


Figure 3.1 Causes of Death in State Prisons and Local Jails, 2013

Figure 3.2 Suicide in State Prisons and Local Jails


Figure 3.3 Homicide in State Prisons and Local Jails


Sources: Mumola, C. J. (2005, August). Suicide and homicide in state prisons and local jails. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; Noonan, M. (2015, August). Mortality in local jails and state prisons, 2000–2013—Statistical tables. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The aspects of Classical School theory presented in this chapter vary in many ways, most notably in what they propose as the primary constructs and processes by which individuals determine whether or not to commit a crime. For example, some Classical School theories emphasize only the potential negative consequences of criminal actions, whereas others focus on the possible benefits. Still others concentrate on the opportunities and circumstances that predispose one to engage in criminal activity. Regardless of their differences, all the


theories examined in this chapter emphasize a common theme: Individuals commit crimes because they identify certain situations and actions as beneficial due to a perceived lack of punishment and a perceived likelihood of profits, such as money or peer status. In other words, the potential offender weighs out the possible costs and pleasures of committing a given act and then behaves in a rational way based on the conclusions of that analysis.

The most important distinction of these Classical School theories, as opposed to those discussed in future chapters, is that they emphasize individual decision-making regardless of any extraneous influences on a person’s free will, such as the economy or bonding with society. Although many outside factors may influence an individual’s ability to rationally consider offending situations—and many of the theories in this chapter deal with such influences—primary responsibility rests on the individual to take all influences into account when deciding whether to engage in criminal behavior. Given this emphasis on individual responsibility, it is not surprising that Classical School theories are used as the basis for U.S. policies on punishment for criminal activity. After all, the Classical School theories are highly compatible and consistent with the conservative “get-tough” movement that has existed since the mid-1970s because they focus on individual responsibility. Thus, the Classical School still retains the highest influence in terms of policy and pragmatic punishment in the United States as well as throughout the Western world.

As you will see, the Classical School theoretical paradigm was presented as early as the mid-1700s, and it is still the dominant model of offending behavior in criminal justice systems. The Classical School paradigm remains the most popular theoretical framework among U.S. legislators and society and throughout the world. Although the Classical School theories have remained dominant in most Western societies, scientific and academic circles have somewhat dismissed many of the claims of this perspective. For reasons we explore in this chapter, the assumptions and primary propositions of the Classical School theories have been neglected by most recent theoretical models of criminology, which is likely premature given the impact this perspective has had on understanding human nature as well as its profound influence on most criminal justice systems, especially in the United States.


Pre-Classical Perspectives of Crime and Punishment

For the vast majority of human civilization’s history, people believed that criminal activity was caused by either supernatural or religious factors. Some primitive societies believed that crime increased during major thunderstorms or droughts. Most primitive cultures believed that when people engaged in behavior that

violated the rules of the tribe or clan, the devil or evil spirits were making them do it.5 For example, in many societies at that time, if a person had committed a criminal act, it was common to perform an exorcism or primitive surgery, such as breaking open the offender’s skull to release the demons thought to be lodged there. Of course, this almost always resulted in the death of the accused, but it was seen as a liberating experience for the defendant.

Exorcism was just one form of dealing with criminal behavior, but it epitomizes the nature of primitive cultures’ understanding of what causes crime. However, as the movie The Exorcist showed, the Catholic Church, among other religious institutions, still uses exorcism in extreme cases. Exorcisms are performed in the 21st century by representatives of a number of religions, including Catholicism, “to get the devil out.” For instance, in June 2005, a Romanian monk and four nuns acknowledged engaging in an exorcism that led to the death of a 23-year-old woman. During the procedure, the woman was chained to a cross, had a towel

stuffed in her mouth, and was deprived of food for three days.6 When the monk and nuns were asked to explain why they did this, they were defiant and said they were trying to take the devils out of the woman. Although they were prosecuted by Romanian authorities, many governments around the world still believe in and condone such practices and may not have prosecuted in this case.

One of the most common supernatural beliefs of primitive cultures was that the moon, in its fullest state, was a trigger for criminal activity. Then, as now, there was much truth to that theory. But in primitive times, this influence was believed to be caused by higher powers, such as the “destructive influence” of the moon itself. Modern studies have shown that this connection between the full moon and crime is primarily due to a Classical School theoretical model: There are simply more opportunities to commit crime when the moon is full. Specifically, there is more light during the full-moon phase, which means there are more people on the streets and more opportunities for crime. Also, nighttime is well established as a higher-risk period for adult crime, such as sexual assault.

Some of the primitive theories of crime had some validity in determining when crime was more likely to occur; however, virtually none of the primitive theories accurately predicted who would commit the offenses. During the Middle Ages and before, nearly all individuals were part of the lower classes, and only a subsection of that group engaged in offending against the normative society. So, for most of human civilization, there was close to no rational theoretical understanding for why certain individuals violated the laws of society.

Thus, for most of human civilization’s history, people believed that crime was caused by supernatural or religious factors, leading to theories of crime such as “the devil made me do it.” There were many variations on this perspective, such as crime caused by the full moon or excessive thunder. Due to the assumption that evil spirits were driving the motivations for criminal activity, punishments for criminal acts—especially for


those deemed particularly offensive to the norms of a given society—were often quite inhumane by modern standards.


Punishments Under Pre-Classical Perspectives

For example, during the Middle Ages (Dark Ages), common punishments included beheading, torturing, burning alive at the stake, drowning, stoning (still used by many Islamic courts in portions of Africa and the Middle East), and quartering (in which the limbs of a convicted criminal are tied to four horses and then the horses are made to run in opposite directions, ripping limbs from the torso). These punishments seem harsh

by contemporary standards, but given the context of the times, they were fairly standard and widely accepted.7

Although many would find primitive forms of punishment and execution quite barbaric, many societies still practice some of them. Recent examples can be seen among Islamic court systems (as well as in other religious/ethnic cultures), which are often allowed to carry out executions and other forms of corporal punishment. For instance, a number of offenders were flogged (i.e., whipped) for what is considered a relatively minor crime—or no crime at all—in most of the United States: gambling. Gambling was the most serious offense committed by the 15 individuals in Aceh, Indonesia (a highly conservative Muslim region of

that country), who were publicly caned outside a mosque.8

Medieval punishments were quite brutal, compared to how we execute offenders in current times. Most developed countries would never use such forms of execution today.


AP Photo

It is interesting to note that a relatively recent Gallup Poll addressing the practice of caning (i.e., publicly whipping) convicted individuals revealed support for the practice from most of the American public. More extreme forms of corporal punishment, particularly the methods of public execution carried out by many religious courts and countries—such as stoning, in which persons are buried up to the waist and local citizens


throw small stones (but not large stones, as those lead to death too quickly)—are drawn out and painful compared with modern forms of punishment in the United States. In most of the Western world, such brutal forms of punishment and execution were done away with in the 1700s due to the impact of the Age of Enlightenment.


The Age of Enlightenment

In the midst of the extremely draconian times of the mid-1600s, Thomas Hobbes, in his book Leviathan

(1651), proposed a rational theory for why people are motivated to form democratic states of governance.9

Hobbes proclaimed that people are rational, so they will logically organize a sound system of governance to create rules that will help alleviate the constant fear of offense by others. It is interesting that the very emotion (fear) that motivates individuals to cooperate in the formation of government is the same emotion that inspires these individuals to obey the laws of the government created—because they fear the punishment imposed for breaking the rules.

Hobbes clearly stated that until citizens in such societies received a certain degree of respect from their governing bodies, as well as from their justice systems, they would never fully buy in to the authority of government or the system of justice. Hobbes proposed a number of extraordinary ideas that came to define the Age of Enlightenment. He suggested a drastic paradigm shift with this new idea of social structure, which had extreme implications for justice systems throughout the world.

Specifically, Hobbes declared that human beings are rational beings who choose their destiny by creating a society. Hobbes further proposed that individuals in such societies democratically create rules of conduct that all members of society must follow. These rules that all citizens decide on become laws, and the result of not following these laws is a punishment determined by the democratically instituted government. It is clear from Hobbes’s statements that the government, as instructed by the citizens, not only has the authority to punish individuals who violate the rules of the society but, more important, is bound by duty to punish such individuals. If such an authority fails to fulfill this duty, it can quickly result in a breakdown in the social order.

The arrangement of citizens agreeing to abide by the rules or laws set forth by a given society in return for protection is commonly referred to as the social contract. Hobbes introduced this idea, but it was emphasized by all the other Enlightenment theorists after him, such as Rousseau, Locke, Voltaire, and Montesquieu, and it embodies their underlying philosophies. Although all the Enlightenment philosophers had significant differences of belief, the one belief they had in common was that in the social contract. This idea that people invest in the laws of their society in exchange for the guarantee that they will be protected from others who violate those laws is universal across all the Enlightenment philosophers.

Another shared belief among Enlightenment philosophers was that each individual should have a say in the government, especially in the justice system. Virtually all the Enlightenment philosophers also emphasized fairness in determining who was guilty, as well as the appropriate punishments or sentences for misconduct. During the time in which they wrote, Enlightenment philosophers saw individuals who stole a loaf of bread to feed their families receive death sentences, while upper-class individuals who had stolen large sums of money or even committed murder were pardoned. This not only goes against common sense but also violates the social contract. After all, if citizens observe certain persons being excused from punishment for violation of the law, their belief in the social contract will break down. This same standard can be applied to modern times. For example, when Los Angeles police officers who were filmed beating a suspect were acquitted of criminal


charges, a massive riot erupted among members of the community. This is a good example of the social contract breaking down, largely due to the realization that the government failed to punish members of the community (significantly, police officers) who had violated the rules.

Perhaps the most relevant concept the Enlightenment philosophers highlighted, as mentioned above, was the idea that human beings are rational and therefore have free will. The philosophers of this age focused on the ability of individuals to consider the consequences of their actions, and the philosophers assumed that people freely choose how to behave, especially in regard to criminal activity. We shall see that this was an extremely important part of Enlightenment philosophy, which the Father of Criminal Justice assumed in his formulation of what is considered to be the first bona fide theory for why people commit crime.

social contract: an Enlightenment ideal or assumption that stipulates an unspecified arrangement among citizens in which they promise the state or government not to commit offenses against other citizens and in turn gain protection from being violated by other citizens.


Learning Check 3.1 1. According to the text, which type of theory was dominant throughout most of human civilization?

1. Rational/deterrence 2. Psychological/Freudian 3. Supernatural/religious 4. Positive/empirical

2. According to the text, what concept was NOT one of the key propositions of the Age of Enlightenment theorists? 1. Democracy 2. Social contract 3. Determinism 4. Free will 5. Rationality

3. According to the text, which emotion did Hobbes claim was the motivation for groups of people both creating a state/government and enforcing its laws/rules?

1. Shame 2. Fear 3. Guilt 4. Empathy

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


The Classical School of Criminology

The foundation of the Classical School of criminological theorizing can be traced to the Enlightenment philosophers discussed above, but the more specific and well-known origin of the Classical School is considered to be the 1764 publication of On Crimes and Punishments by Italian scholar Cesare Bonesana, Marchese di Beccaria (1738–1794), commonly known as Cesare Beccaria. He wrote this book at the age of 26 and published it anonymously, but after its almost instant popularity, he came forward as the author. Because of this significant work, most experts consider Beccaria not only the Father of Criminal Justice and the Father of the Classical School of Criminology but, perhaps most important, the Father of Deterrence Theory. All this will be explained in the following sections, in which we comprehensively survey the ideas and impact of Beccaria and the Classical School.

Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794), considered the Father of Criminal Justice, Father of Deterrence Theory, and Father of the Classical School of Criminology, due to the influence of his On Crimes and Punishments (1764).




Influences on Beccaria and His Writings

As discussed previously in this chapter, the Enlightenment philosophers profoundly impacted the social and political climate of the late 1600s and 1700s. Growing up in this time, Beccaria was a child of the Enlightenment; as such, he was highly influenced by the concepts and propositions introduced by these great thinkers. The Enlightenment philosophy is readily evident in Beccaria’s writing, and he incorporates many of these philosophers’ assumptions into his work. As a student of law, Beccaria had a solid background for determining what was rational in legal policy as well as what was not. But his loyalty to the Enlightenment ideal is ever present throughout his work.

Specifically, Beccaria emphasized the social contract and incorporated the idea that citizens give up certain rights in exchange for protection from the state or government. He also claimed that actions or punishments carried out by the government that violate the overall sense of unity will not be accepted by the populace, largely due to the requirement that the social contract be a fair deal. Beccaria stated that laws are compacts of free individuals in a society. Additionally, he appealed to the ideal of the greatest happiness shared by the greatest number, otherwise known as utilitarianism. This, too, was a focus of the Enlightenment philosophers. Finally, the importance of free will and individual choice is key to his propositions and theorizing. Although these points are the main assumptions of his reforms and ideas on motives for committing crimes, taken directly from Enlightenment theorists, we shall see in the following sections that Enlightenment philosophy is present in virtually all his propositions, most clearly shown in his directly citing

Hobbes, Montesquieu, and others in his work.10

utilitarianism: a philosophical concept that relates to the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number.


Beccaria’s Proposed Reforms and Ideas of Justice

Beccaria wrote at a time when authoritarian governments ruled the justice system, which was actually quite unjust. For example, back then, it was not uncommon for a person who stole food for his or her family to be imprisoned for life. A good example of this is the story of Les Misérables, in which the protagonist, Jean Valjean, receives a lengthy prison sentence after stealing a loaf of bread for his starving loved ones. On the other hand, a person at that time who had committed several murders could be excused by the judge if that person was from a prominent family.

As Beccaria claimed, “The true measure of crimes is namely the harm done to society”11 (i.e., to the social contract). Thus, Beccaria was very clear that for a given act, a particular punishment should be administered as established by law, regardless of the contextual circumstances. (This point is the subject of much scrutiny later in this chapter.)

However, this principle did not take into account the offender’s intent in committing the crime. In most modern justice systems, intent plays a key role in the charges and sentencing of defendants for many types of crimes. Most notably, the degrees of homicide in most jurisdictions of the United States include first-degree murder (which requires proof of planning or “malice aforethought”), second-degree murder (which typically involves no evidence of planning but, rather, is the spontaneous act of killing), and various degrees of manslaughter (which generally include some level of provocation on the part of the victim).

The degrees of homicide are just one example of the importance of intent—legally known as mens rea (literally, “guilty mind”)—in most modern justice systems. Many types of offending are graded by degree of intent as opposed to the act itself—known legally as actus reus (literally, “guilty act”). Beccaria’s propositions focus on only the actus reus, because he claimed that an act against society was harmful regardless of the intent, or mens rea. Despite his recommendation, most societies factor in the offender’s intent in criminal activity. Still, this proposal that “a given act should be given equal punishment” certainly seemed to represent a significant improvement over the arbitrary punishments doled out by the regimes and justice systems of the 1700s.

Another sweeping reform Beccaria proposed was to do away with certain practices common in justice systems at the time. For example, he proposed that secret accusations not be allowed; rather, witnesses should be publicly confronted and cross-examined. Although some modern countries still accept and use secret accusations, as well as disallowing the cross-examination of so-called witnesses, Beccaria set the standard for most modern systems of justice in guaranteeing such rights to defendants in the United States and most other Western societies.

mens rea: concept regarding whether offenders actually knew what they were doing and meant to do it.

actus reus: in legal terms, whether the offender actually engaged in a given criminal act.

Additionally, Beccaria claimed that torture should not be used against defendants. Although some countries,


such as Israel and Mexico, explicitly allow the use of torture for eliciting information and confessions, most countries now abstain from the practice. However, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez (the highest law enforcement rank in the country) wrote a memo stating that torture of terrorist suspects by the U.S. military is condoned. Despite this relatively recent change in U.S. philosophy regarding torture, the United States has traditionally agreed with Beccaria, who claimed that any information or oaths obtained under torture were relatively worthless. And our country apparently still agrees with Beccaria, at least in terms of domestic criminal defendants. Beccaria’s belief in the worthlessness of torture is further expressed in this

statement: “It is useless to reveal the author of a crime that lies deeply buried in darkness.”12

Beccaria believed that this use of torture was one of the worst aspects of the criminal justice systems of his time and a manifestation of the truly barbaric acts common in feudal times in the Middle Ages (or “Dark Ages”). Beccaria expressed his doubt about the relevance of any information obtained via torture, a doubt best represented in this statement: “The impression of pain may become so great that, filling the entire sensory capacity of the tortured person, it leaves him free only to choose what for the moment is the shortest way of

escape from pain.”13

Beccaria addresses the possible policy implications of using torture in stating that, “of two men, equally

innocent or equally guilty, the strong and courageous will be acquitted, the weak and timid condemned.”14

Beccaria also asserted that defendants should be tried by fellow citizens or peers, not only by judges. He stated, “I consider an excellent law that which assigns popular jurors, taken by lot, to assist the chief judge . . .

that each man ought to be judged by his peers.”15 Beccaria clearly felt that the responsibility for determining the facts of a case should be placed in the hands of more than one person (such as a judge). Related to prior discussions in this chapter, Beccaria’s feelings on this subject were likely driven by his Enlightenment beliefs on democratic philosophy, in which citizens should have a voice and serve in judging the facts and in making ultimate justice decisions in criminal cases. This proposition is representative of Beccaria’s overall philosophy toward fairness and democratic process, which all the Enlightenment philosophers shared.

Formal, public processing and trial of criminal defendants (rather than secret accusations and closed courtrooms) is a key part of Beccaria’s proposed reforms of justice systems as well as of deterrence theory.


Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Like other reforms discussed in this section, the right of all U.S. citizens to a trial by a jury of their peers is often taken for granted. It may surprise some readers to know that many modern developed countries have not provided this right. For example, Russia just recently held its first jury trials since Vladimir Lenin banished the practice 90 years ago. During Lenin’s rule, the “bench-trials” of the old system produced almost a 100% conviction rate (99.6%, to be exact). This means that virtually every person convicted of a crime in Russia was found guilty, whether or not they were actually guilty. Given the relatively high percentage of persons found innocent of crimes (such as murder) in the United States—not to mention the numerous persons in our country recently released from death row after DNA analysis proved them not guilty—it is frightening to think of how many individuals were falsely convicted and unjustly sentenced in Russia over the past century.

Another important aspect of Beccaria’s reforms involves his emphasis on making the justice system, particularly the laws and decisions made in processing, more public and understandable. After all, this fits the Enlightenment assumption that individuals are rational and that if individuals know the consequences of their actions, they will act accordingly. Specifically, Beccaria stated, “When the number of those who can understand the sacred code of laws and hold it in their hands increases, the frequency of crimes will be found

to decrease.”16 In Beccaria’s time, the laws were often unknown to the populace. This was somewhat due to widespread illiteracy but perhaps more due to current laws not being publicly declared. Even when laws were posted, they were often printed in languages (e.g., Latin) that the citizens did not read or speak. So Beccaria stressed the need for society to ensure that citizens were educated on current laws, explaining that this alone would lead to a significant decrease in law violations.


Furthermore, Beccaria believed that the important stages and decision-making processes of any justice system should be public knowledge rather than being held secretly or decided behind closed doors. As Beccaria

stated, “Punishment . . . must be essentially public.”17 This statement has a highly democratic and Enlightenment feel to it, in the sense that citizens of a society have the right to know what vital judgments are being made. After all, in a democratic society, the citizens assign the government the profound responsibility of distributing punishment for crimes against the society. Citizens are entitled to know what decisions their government officials are making, particularly regarding justice. This provides not only knowledge and an understanding of what is going on but also a form of “checks and balances.” Furthermore, the public nature of trials and punishments inherently produces a form of deterrence for those individuals who may be considering criminal activity, which is explored in the following sections of this chapter.

One of Beccaria’s most profound and important proposed reforms is one of the least noted; in fact, it is largely ignored by every other review of his work. Specifically, Beccaria claimed to know the most certain way to

reduce crime: “The surest but most difficult way to prevent crimes is by perfecting education.”18 Although he clearly expressed this as his primary recommendation for reducing crime, we know of no other review of his work that notes this hypothesis, which is amazing considering that most of the reviews are written for an educational audience. Furthermore, the importance placed on education makes sense given Beccaria’s emphasis on knowledge of laws and consequences of criminal activity, as well as his focus on deterrence, which is explored in the following sections of this chapter.

Although the United States typically uses torture methods only in times of war, such as in the recent war against terrorism, many countries still commonly use this practice against citizens accused of criminal activity.


©iStockphoto.com/stephen mulcahey


Beccaria’s Ideas of the Death Penalty

Another primary area of Beccaria’s suggested reforms dealt with the use—and, in his day, abuse—of the death penalty. First, let it be said that Beccaria was against the use of capital punishment. (Interestingly, he was not against corporal punishment, which he explicitly stated was appropriate for violent offenders.) Perhaps this was due to the times in which he wrote, when a large number of people were put to death, often by harsh methods. Still, Beccaria provided several rational reasons for why he felt the death penalty was not an efficient and effective punishment.

First, Beccaria claimed that the use of capital punishment inherently violated the social contract:

Is it conceivable that the least sacrifice of each person’s liberty should include sacrifice of the greatest of all goods, life? . . . The punishment of death, therefore, is not a right, for I have demonstrated that it

cannot be such.19

The second reason that Beccaria felt the death penalty was an inappropriate form of punishment was that the government’s endorsing the death of a citizen would provide a negative example for the rest of society.

Beccaria claimed, “The death penalty cannot be useful, because of the example of barbarity it gives men.”20

Although some studies show evidence that use of the death penalty in the United States deters crime,21 most

show no effect or even a positive correlation with homicide.22 Researchers have called this increase of homicides after executions the brutalization effect, and a similar phenomenon can be seen at sporting events, such as boxing matches, hockey games, and soccer/football games, when violence breaks out among spectators. In recent years, there have even been notable incidents of fighting among spectators at youth sporting events.

To further complicate the possible contradictory effects of capital punishment, some analyses show that both deterrence and brutalization occur at the same time for different types of crime, depending on the level of planning or spontaneity of a given act. For example, one sophisticated analysis of homicide data from California examined the effects of a high-profile execution in 1992, largely because it was the first one in the

state in 25 years.23 As predicted, the authors of the study found that nonstranger felony-murders (which typically involve some planning) significantly decreased after the high-profile execution, whereas the level of argument-based stranger murders (typically more spontaneous) significantly increased during the same time period. Thus, the effects of both deterrence and brutalization were observed at the same time and in the same location following this execution.

brutalization effect: the predicted tendency of homicides to increase after an execution, particularly after high-profile executions.

Another primary reason why Beccaria was against the use of capital punishment was that he believed it was an ineffective deterrent. Specifically, he thought that a quick punishment, such as the death penalty, could not be an effective deterrent compared with a more drawn-out penalty. As Beccaria stated, “It is not the intensity of


punishment that has the greatest effect on the human spirit, but its duration.”24 Many readers can likely relate to this type of argument even if they do not necessarily agree with it; the idea of spending the rest of one’s life in a cell is a scary one for most people. And for many, such a concept is more frightening than death, which supports Beccaria’s idea that a more extended punishment may be a more effective deterrent than a short, albeit extremely severe, punishment such as execution.

Fights among spectators at sporting events illustrate the type of “brutalization effect” Beccaria predicted in connection with the death penalty. Some individuals who see aggressive or violent acts are more likely to behave aggressively.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

This idea seems to be supported by the case study at the beginning of this chapter. As you will recall, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, known as the “D.C. Madam,” committed suicide rather than go back to prison. So for many, prison is just as effective as a punishment as the death penalty; after all, Palfrey chose death over a lengthy prison sentence.


Beccaria’s Concept of Deterrence and the Three Key Elements of Punishment

As noted previously in this chapter, Beccaria is widely considered the Father of Deterrence, and this is for good reason. After all, Beccaria was the first known scholar to write a work that summarized such extravagant ideas regarding the role of choice in human behavior as opposed to the influence of fate or destiny. Prior to his work, the common wisdom on the issue of human destiny in criminal behavior was that it was controlled by the gods or God. At that time, governments and society generally believed that certain persons were born either good or bad. Beccaria, as a child of the Enlightenment, defied this belief by proclaiming that persons freely choose their destinies and, thus, whether or not to engage in criminal behavior.

Specifically, Beccaria claimed that three characteristics of punishment make a significant difference in whether an individual will commit a criminal act—in other words, they deter crime. These vital deterrent characteristics of punishment include celerity (swiftness), certainty, and severity.

Swiftness of Punishment.

The first of these characteristics is celerity, which we will refer to as swiftness of punishment. Beccaria claimed that swiftness of punishment was important for two reasons. The first dealt with Beccaria’s claim, consistent with his reforms discussed previously in this chapter, that some defendants were spending many years awaiting trial. Often, this was a longer incarceration than their alleged offenses would have warranted, even if the maximum penalty were imposed. As Beccaria stated, “the more promptly and the more closely

punishment follows upon the commission of a crime, the more just and useful will it be.”25 Thus, Beccaria’s first reason for recommending swiftness of punishment was that reformation of punishment was severely lacking in the time when he wrote.

The second reason Beccaria emphasized swift sentencing was related to the deterrence aspect of punishment. At the time when Beccaria wrote, some accused individuals would spend years in detention awaiting trial. A swift trial and punishment were important because, as Beccaria stated, “privation of liberty, being itself a

punishment, should not precede the sentence.”26 Not only was this unjust in the sense that some of these defendants would not have been incarcerated for as long even if they received the maximum sentence for the charges against them; it also was detrimental in terms of deterrence, because the individual did not link the sanction with the violation. Specifically, Beccaria believed that persons build an association between the pains of punishment and their criminal acts. As Beccaria stated,

Promptness of punishments is more useful because when the length of time that passes between the punishment and the misdeed is less, so much the stronger and more lasting in the human mind is the association of these two ideas, crime and punishment . . . one as the cause, the other as the necessary

inevitable effect.27


A parallel can be drawn with training animals or teaching children: You have to catch them in or soon after the act, or the punishment given does not matter because the offender does not know why he or she is being punished. Ultimately, Beccaria claimed that, for both reform and deterrent reasons, punishment should occur immediately after the act. Regarding the reform aspect, the defendant may spend a longer time in detention than the crime merits, and more important, the deterrent effect may be lost because the person will not relate the punishment with the negative act if punishment comes much later. Despite the commonsense aspects of swift punishment, this has not been examined by modern empirical research and is therefore the most neglected of the three elements of punishment Beccaria emphasized.


Learning Check 3.2 1. Beccaria’s seminal work, published in 1764, regarding criminal justice reforms was titled (translated from Italian)

1. The Criminal Man. 2. A General Theory of Crime. 3. On Crimes and Punishments. 4. Criminals in the Making.

2. According to the text, Beccaria proposed the use of the following in his book to make the criminal justice system more effective. 1. Jury trials 2. Secret/anonymous accusations 3. Public trials 4. All of the above

3. According to the text, Beccaria believed that the death penalty/capital punishment could be used as an effective deterrent if done correctly. True or false?

4. According to the text, Beccaria claimed that punishments should be based on which of the following? 1. Actus reus 2. Mens rea

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Certainty of Punishment.

The second characteristic Beccaria felt was vital to the effectiveness of deterrence was certainty of punishment. Beccaria considered this the most important quality of punishment, which is evident in his

statement, “Even the least of evils, when they are certain, always terrify men’s minds.”28 It is obvious from this statement that Beccaria felt that certainty was the most important aspect of punishment—specifically, more important than severity and more important than swiftness/celerity by implication. He makes this clear when he says, “The certainty of punishment, even if it be moderate, will always make a stronger impression than the

fear of another which is more terrible but combined with the hope of impunity.”29 As will be shown by scientific studies discussed later in this chapter, Beccaria was accurate in his assumption that perceived certainty or risk of punishment is the most important aspect of punishment.

It is interesting to note that the aspect of punishment Beccaria believed, and recent studies have shown (see below), to be most important in deterring crime—namely, certainty—is also the least likely to be enhanced in modern criminal justice policy. For example, over the past few decades, the rate of criminals being caught and/or arrested has not increased. Specifically, over the past few decades, law enforcement officials have been able to clear only about 21% of known felonies. Such clearance rates are based on the rate at which known suspects are apprehended for crimes reported to police. As shown in Figure 3.4, law enforcement officials are no better at solving serious crimes known to police than they were in past decades, despite increased knowledge and resources for solving such crimes.

swiftness of punishment: assumption that the faster punishment occurs after a crime is committed, the more an individual will be deterred in the future.

certainty of punishment: one of the key elements of deterrence; the assumption that when people commit a crime, they will perceive a high likelihood of being caught and punished.


Figure 3.4 Percentage of Crimes Cleared by Arrest or Exceptional Means, 2014

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Crime in the United States 2014. Washington, DC: Department of Justice.

Severity of Punishment.

The third characteristic Beccaria emphasized was severity of punishment. Specifically, Beccaria claimed that in order for a punishment to be effective, the set penalty must outweigh the potential benefits (e.g., financial payoff) of the given crime. However, this came with a caveat: This aspect of punishment was perhaps the most complicated of the three, primarily because while the punishment must exceed any benefits expected from the crime, Beccaria thought too much severity would lead to more crime. Specifically, Beccaria stated,

For a punishment to attain its end, the evil which it inflicts has only to exceed the advantage derivable from the crime; in this excess of evil one should include the . . . loss of the good which the crime might

have produced. All beyond this is superfluous and for that reason tyrannical.30

Beccaria makes clear in this statement that punishments should equal or outweigh any benefits of a crime if they are to deter individuals from considering engaging in such acts; however, he also explicitly states that any punishments that exceed the reasonable punishment for a given crime not only are inhumane but also may lead to further criminality.

A modern example of how punishments can be taken to an extreme, thereby causing more crime rather than deterring it, is shown by current “three-strikes-you’re-out” laws. Such laws have become common in many states, such as California. In such jurisdictions, individuals can be sentenced to life imprisonment for committing a crime, even a nonviolent crime, that fits the state statutes’ definition of a “serious felony” if it is their third offense. Such laws have been known to drive some relatively minor property offenders to wound or even kill people to avoid apprehension, knowing that they face life imprisonment if caught. The effectiveness of such “three-strikes” laws in reducing crime will be examined in a later chapter, but it is worthwhile to note


here that a recent review of the impact of such laws across the nation shows them to be minimally effective; specifically, the authors analyzed the impact of three-strikes laws in virtually all large cities (188) in the 25 states with such laws and concluded that there was no significant reduction in crime rates due to the laws.

Furthermore, the areas with three-strikes laws typically had higher homicide rates.31

severity of punishment: the assumption that a given punishment must be serious enough to outweigh any potential benefits gained from a crime.

Ultimately, Beccaria’s philosophy on the three characteristics—swiftness, certainty, and severity—that make up a good punishment in terms of deterrence is still highly respected and adhered to in most Western criminal justice systems. Despite its contemporary flaws and caveats, perhaps no other traditional framework is followed as closely as Beccaria’s—with only one exception, as we shall see in the coming sections.


Beccaria’s Conceptualization of Specific and General Deterrence

Beyond the three characteristics of punishment Beccaria emphasized for improving the deterrent effect of punishment, he also developed the concepts of two identifiable forms of deterrence: specific deterrence and general deterrence. Although these two forms of deterrence tend to overlap in most sentences assigned by judges, they can be distinguished in terms of the intended target of the punishment. Sometimes the emphasis is clearly on one or the other, as Beccaria noted in his work.

Although Beccaria did not coin the terms specific deterrence and general deterrence, he makes the case that they are both important. Specifically, regarding punishment, Beccaria stated, “The purpose can only be to prevent

the criminal from inflicting new injuries on its citizens and to deter others from similar acts.”32 The first portion of this statement, involving punishment preventing “the criminal” from reoffending, focuses on the defendant and only the defendant, regardless of any possible offending by others. Punishments that focus on the individual are considered specific deterrence (also referred to as special or individual deterrence). This concept is appropriately labeled because the emphasis is on the specific individual who offended. On the other hand, the latter portion of Beccaria’s quote above emphasizes the deterrence of “others,” regardless of whether the individual criminal is deterred. Punishments that focus primarily on potential criminals, and not on the criminal in the present case, are referred to as general deterrence.

Readers are probably wondering how a punishment would not be inherently both a specific and a general deterrent. After all, in today’s society, virtually all criminal punishments for individuals (i.e., specific deterrence) are decided in court, a public venue; thus, other people are made somewhat aware of the sanctions (i.e., general deterrence). However, at the time in which Beccaria wrote in the 18th century, much if not most sentencing was done behind closed doors and was unknown to the public, thereby having no power to deter potential offenders. Therefore, Beccaria saw much utility in letting the public know what punishments were handed out for given crimes. This fulfilled not only the goal of general deterrence, which was essentially scaring others away from committing criminal acts, but also his previously discussed reforms of assuring the public that fair and balanced justice was being administered.

Despite the obvious overlap, there are some identifiable distinctions between specific and general deterrence in modern sentencing strategy. For example, some judges have chosen to hand down punishments that obligate defendants, as a condition of their probation/parole, to walk along the town’s main streets wearing a sign that says something such as “Convicted Child Molester” or “Convicted Shoplifter.” Other cities have implemented policies whereby pictures and identifying information of individuals arrested for prostitution or for soliciting prostitutes are printed in the paper or even displayed on billboards.

specific deterrence: punishments given to an individual meant to prevent or deter that particular individual from committing crime in the future.

general deterrence: punishments given to an individual meant to prevent or deter other potential offenders from engaging in such criminal activity in the future.


These punishment strategies are likely not much of a specific deterrent. After all, these individuals have now been labeled, so they may be psychologically encouraged to do what the public expects them to do (for more discussion and studies, see Chapter 11). So the specific deterrent effect may not be particularly strong in such cases. However, there is likely a strong general deterrent effect, which is what authorities are counting on in most of these cases. Specifically, they are expecting that many of the people who see these sign-laden individuals walking through the streets or publicly displayed in pictures are going to be frightened away from criminal activity.

Public arrest is a formal sanction due to the embarrassment and trauma of going through the booking process, even if charges are later dismissed. Arrest is a form of both specific deterrence and general deterrence.

REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

On the other hand, numerous diversion programs, particularly for juvenile, first-time, and minor offenders, seek to punish offenders without engaging them in public hearings or trials. The goal of such programs is to hold the individuals accountable and have them fulfill certain obligations without dragging them through the often-public government system. The goal in such cases is specific deterrence, without using the person as a “poster child” for the public, which thus negates any possibility of general deterrence.

So while most judges likely invoke both specific and general deterrence in many of the criminal sentences they hand down, in notable cases either specific or general deterrence is emphasized, sometimes exclusively.


Ultimately, Beccaria seemed to emphasize general deterrence and overall crime prevention, suggested by this statement: “It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them. This is the ultimate end of every good

legislation.”33 In other words, he claimed that it is better to deter potential offenders before they offend rather than imposing sanctions after the fact. Beccaria’s emphasis on prevention (rather than reaction) and general deterrence is also evident in his claim that education is likely the best way to reduce crime, as discussed previously in this chapter. After all, the more educated an individual is regarding the law and potential punishments as well as public cases in which offenders have been punished, the less likely he or she will be to engage in criminal activity. As mentioned previously, Beccaria did not coin the terms specific deterrence and general deterrence; however, his explicit identification of the differential emphases in terms of punishment was

a key element in his work and is still considered important today.


Summary of Beccaria’s Ideas and Influence on Policy

Ultimately, Beccaria summarized his ideas on reforms and deterrence with this statement:

In order for punishment not to be, in every instance, an act of violence of one or of many against a private citizen, it must be essentially public, prompt, necessary, the least possible in the given

circumstances, proportionate to the crimes, dictated by the laws.34

Beccaria is saying here that the processing and punishment administered by justice systems must be known to the public that delegates to the state the authority to make such decisions. Furthermore, he claims that the punishment must be appropriately swift, certain (i.e., necessary), and severe, in keeping with his concept of deterrence. Finally, he reiterates the need to standardize the punishments for given criminal acts as opposed to allowing arbitrary punishments imposed by a judge. These are just some of the many ideas Beccaria proposed, but he apparently saw them as being most important.

Although we, as U.S. citizens, take for granted the rights proposed by Beccaria and reviewed above, they were quite unique in the 18th century. In fact, the ideas Beccaria proposed were so revolutionary then that he published his book anonymously. He was worried that the church would accuse him of blasphemy and the government would persecute him for his views.

Regarding the first worry, Beccaria was right; the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him when the book’s authorship became known. In fact, his book remained on the list of condemned works until relatively recently (the 1960s). On the other hand, the government officials of the time embraced his work. Not only did the Italian government endorse Beccaria’s book; most European and other world officials, particularly dictators, embraced it as well. Specifically, Beccaria was invited to visit many countries’ capitals, even those of the most authoritarian states at that time, to help reform their criminal justice systems. For example, Beccaria was invited to meet with Catherine the Great, empress of Russia during the late 1700s, to help revise and improve that country’s justice system. Most historical records suggest that Beccaria was not an ideal diplomat or representative of his ideas, largely because he was not physically or socially equipped for such endeavors. However, his ideas were strong and stood on their own merit.


Learning Check 3.3 1. According to the text, which element of deterrence did Beccaria believe was the most important in ensuring that individuals were

deterred from committing crime? 1. Swiftness of punishment 2. Certainty of being caught 3. Severity of punishment/sentences 4. All were equally important

2. According to the text, Beccaria claimed which crime was the absolute worst offense? 1. Murder 2. Rape 3. Robbery 4. Treason

3. According to the text, Beccaria’s book was well received by dictators around the world, even in those countries with more draconian criminal justice systems. True or false?

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

It is likely that the reason dictators and authoritarian governments liked his reformatory framework so much was that it explicitly named treason as the most serious crime. Beccaria stated,

The first class of crime, which are the gravest because most injurious, are those known as crimes of lese majeste [high treason]. . . . Every crime . . . injures society, but it is not every crime that aims at its

immediate destruction.35

After all, treason was the criminal offense that most directly violated the government. To clarify, according to Enlightenment philosophy, not only are violations of law criminal acts against the direct victims, but such behaviors directly attack society as a whole by breaking the social contract. As Beccaria stated, the most heinous criminal acts are those that directly violate the social contract—treason and espionage. Therefore, it is not surprising that treason and similar offenses were considered the most serious crimes.

This is likely the reason why dictators of the time invited him to visit and presented him to the citizens as a “reformer” of their systems. These dictators likely saw a chance to pacify the revolutionary citizens, who the dictators could sense were about to overthrow their governments. In many of these cases, it was only a temporary solution. After all, the American Revolution occurred in the 1770s, the French Revolution in the 1780s, and other revolutions soon after this period.

We will see in later sections that governments that tried to apply Beccaria’s ideas to the letter experienced problems, but most European (and American) societies that incorporated his ideas were more fair and democratic in their justice systems than those societies implementing any framework in existence prior to Beccaria. This is why he is, to this day, considered the Father of Criminal Justice.



Impact of Beccaria’s Work on Other Theorists

As discussed above, Beccaria’s work had an immediate impact on the political and philosophical state of affairs in the late 18th century. In addition to being invited to help reform other countries’ justice systems, his propositions and theoretical model of deterrence were incorporated into many countries’ newly formed constitutions, most written after major revolutions. The most notable of these was the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

It is apparent that the many documents constructed before and during the time of the American Revolution in the late 1700s were heavily influenced by Beccaria and other Enlightenment philosophers. Specifically, the concept that our government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people” makes it clear that the Enlightenment idea of democracy and having a voice in the government is of utmost importance in the United States. Another clear example is the emphasis on due process and individual rights in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Specifically, the important concepts of right to trial by jury, right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, right to a speedy trial, requirement that the public be informed of all decisions regarding their justice system (charges, pleas, trials, verdicts, sentences, etc.), and many other rights contained in our Constitution are all products of Beccaria’s work.

Beyond the incredible influence the Enlightenment and Beccaria had on individual rights in the United States via the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the impact of Beccaria’s propositions on the working ideology of our justice system cannot be overstated. Specifically, the public nature of our justice system comes from Beccaria, as does the emphasis on deterrence. After all, our criminal justice system (as well as those of virtually all Western countries) uses the method of increasing the certainty and severity of punishment to reduce crime. This system of deterrence remains the dominant model in criminal justice, in which the goal is to deter potential and previous offenders from committing crime by enforcing punishment that will make them reconsider the next time they think about engaging in such activity. This model assumes a rational thinking human being, as described by Enlightenment philosophy, who can learn from past experiences or from seeing others punished for offenses that he or she is rationally thinking about committing. Thus, Beccaria’s work has had a profound impact on the philosophy and workings of the justice systems in most countries throughout the world.


Jeremy Bentham

Beyond his influence in the workings of justice systems, Beccaria also had a large impact on further theorizing about human decision-making related to criminal behavior. One of the more notable theorists inspired by Beccaria’s ideas was Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) of England, who has become a well-known Classical theorist in his own right, perhaps because he helped spread the Enlightenment/Beccarian philosophy to Britain. His influence in the development of Classical theorizing is debated, with a number of major texts not

covering his writings at all.36 Although he did not contribute a significant amount of theorizing beyond Beccaria’s propositions regarding reform and deterrence, Bentham did further refine the ideas presented by previous theorists, and his legacy is well known.

One of Bentham’s more important contributions was the concept of “hedonistic calculus,” which was essentially the weighing of pleasure versus pain. This, of course, is strongly based on the Enlightenment/Beccarian concept of rational choice and utility. After all, if the expected pain outweighs the expected benefit of committing a given act, the rational individual is far less likely to do it. On the other hand, if the expected pleasure outweighs the expected pain, a rational person will likely engage in the act. Bentham listed a set of criteria that he thought would go into a rational individual’s decision-making process. One analogy for this is a theoretical two-sided balance scale on which the pros and cons of crimes are weighed, with the individual then making a rational decision either to commit the crime or not.

Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), one of the seminal theorists of the Classical and Neoclassical perspectives of criminology, insisted that his body be displayed at University College London. His preserved skeleton, with a wax head, sits there still.


Public domain

Beyond the idea of hedonistic calculus, Bentham’s contributions to the overall assumptions of Classical theorizing did not significantly revise the theoretical model. Perhaps the most important contribution he made to the Classical School was helping popularize the framework in Britain. Bentham became best known for his design of a prison structure, known as the “Panopticon,” that was used in several countries, including


the United States in early Pennsylvania penitentiaries. (This model used a type of wagon-wheel design, in which a post at the center allowed a 360-degree visual observation point for the various “spokes,” or corridors, containing the inmate cells.) Thus, Beccaria remains the primary figure in the formation and articulation of the Classical School, and his conceptualization is the one that persisted for most of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


The Neoclassical School of Criminology

As discussed in prior sections, a number of governments, including the newly formed U.S. government, incorporated Beccaria’s concepts and propositions in the development of their justice systems. However, the government that most strictly applied Beccaria’s ideas—the French government after that country’s revolution in the late 1780s—found that his concepts worked pretty well, with just one exception. Beccaria had claimed that every individual who committed a given act against the law should be punished in the same manner and to the same extent. Although equality in punishment sounds like a good philosophy, what the French quickly realized was that not everyone who commits a given act should be punished identically.

Specifically, the French system found that sentencing a first-time offender the same as a repeat offender did not make much sense, especially if the first-time offender was a juvenile. Furthermore, there were many cases in which malice did not appear to motivate the defendant’s actions, such as when the defendant had limited mental capacity or committed a crime out of necessity. Perhaps most important, Beccaria’s framework specifically dismisses the intent (i.e., mens rea) of criminal offenders and focuses only on the harm done to society by a given act (i.e., actus reus). French society—as well as most modern societies, including the United States—deviated from Beccaria’s framework in considering the intent of offenders, often in a crucial way, such as in determining what types of charges should be filed against those accused of homicide (see the previous discussion on degrees of homicide in this chapter). Therefore, a new school of thought regarding the Classical/deterrence model developed, which became known as the Neoclassical School of criminology.

The only significant difference between the Neoclassical School and the Classical School is that the Neoclassical (“neo” means new) takes into account contextual circumstances of the individual or situation that allow for increases or decreases in the punishment. For example, would a society want to punish a 12-year-old, first-time shoplifter the same way as a 35-year-old, previous offender who shoplifted the same item? Additionally, does a society want to punish a mentally challenged, one-time car thief to the same extent as it would a normally functioning person who has been convicted of stealing more than a dozen cars? The answer to both is, probably not. At least that is what most modern criminal justice authorities, including those in the United States, have decided.

Neoclassical School: assumes that aggravating and mitigating circumstances should be taken into account for purposes of sentencing and punishing an offender.

Why Do They Do It?


The Harpe Brothers The Harpe brothers, also known as the “Bloody Harpes,” were likely the first notable serial killers in the United States and certainly the first sibling team of serial killers, if one marks our beginning as the colonial era. In the late 1700s, Micajah “Big” Harpe and Wiley “Little” Harpe were basically river pirates and highway robbers (in the traditional sense) who were active in various states in the Appalachian region of the southeastern United States, including Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Illinois. Despite the financial gains from their various crimes, they seemed more motivated by the act of kidnapping, raping, and killing. They were known to butcher all their enemies and their enemies’ families, including infants. In one notable incident, Micajah Harpe bashed his own daughter’s head against a tree because of her constant crying. It is claimed that this was the only crime for which he actually showed remorse when he confessed.

The brothers also took part in the kidnap and rape of several teenage girls in North Carolina and pillaged (in every sense of the word) various farms. They later joined several different militias and Native American tribes, such as the renegade Creek and Chickamauga Cherokees (whom they had lived with at certain points), to attack frontier settlements and forts, such as Fort Nashborough (now Nashville, Tennessee). They were also known for kidnapping women and forcing them to become their wives. Given the time when they offended, little can be certain regarding the number of their victims or extent of their offenses, outside of the fact that historical records report they killed no fewer than 40 people and seemed to take great joy in doing so.

Regarding their demise, Micajah Harpe was killed by a revenge posse (after he killed a woman); he died after being shot and then attacked with a tomahawk. Legend has it that his head was hung on a pole at a crossroads known as Harpe’s Head or Harpe’s Head Road in Webster County, Kentucky. Wiley Harpe lived under an alias for a while to elude the local authorities but was captured, tried, and hanged in 1804.

So why did they do it? Aside from the psychological motivation to kidnap, rape, and kill so many people, the primary reason likely was because they could. This sounds crude and harsh, but there have always been evil people in the world. With no systematic formal justice system in the colonial period, especially in the frontier areas of Tennessee, Kentucky, and other pioneer regions in the 1700s, there was likely a sense of “do whatever you want.” At that time, this was the Wild West of the colonies, and even if you violated local norms or rules, who was going to track you down and arrest you? After all, the first official law enforcement department did not form until the early 1800s in Texas (Texas Rangers, 1835), and the first municipal police force did not form until after that (Boston Police, 1838). Although some regions had a constable or similar officer who was supposed to enforce the rules or laws of that area, even such men were likely hesitant to go after two violent brothers who would likely attack anyone who came after them.

Without a certain formal policing authority, individuals can literally get away with murder. We have seen this happen in modern times when there is no stable law enforcement in place, such as in regions undergoing widespread chaos, whether it be Congo, Africa, or New Orleans, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. The bottom line is that any time there is no formal, stable law enforcement authority in place, individuals can get away with any number of crimes without facing sanctions or accountability. This is perhaps why New Orleans recently ranked as the top city in the United States for violent crime; formal structures were thrown into complete chaos after the flooding and resulting disarray from Hurricane Katrina. So it is for this reason—the lack of any stable law enforcement or criminal justice system—that the Harpe brothers were able to get away with as much as they did, until they were finally apprehended by more informal authorities, such as the revenge posse made up of nonsworn individuals and local constables that had limited authority at that time. But by the time they were stopped, they had for years been brutalizing many victims without facing any accountability or formal sanctions for their crimes.


Think About It: 1. Can you think of a theory that would explain why the Harpe brothers committed their crimes? 2. Do you think if formal police authorities had been in that area at that time, the Harpe brothers would not have offended so

much and for so long?

Sources: Musgrave, J. (1998, October 23). Frontier serial killers: The Harpes. American Weekend; Rothert, O. A. (1927). The Harpes, two outlaws in pioneer times. Filson Club Historical Quarterly, 1(4), 155–163.

Applying Theory to Crime: Other Assaults (Simple)

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report Program defines “other assaults,” or “simple assaults,” as “assaults and attempted assaults where no weapon was used or no serious or aggravated injury resulted to the victim. Stalking, intimidation, coercion, and hazing are

included.”37 In 2014, there were a total of 1,093,258 simple assaults. From 2005 to 2014, the number of simple assaults by males

decreased by 18.3%; for the same period, the number of simple assaults by females decreased by 3.7%.38

Based on 2014 National Crime Victimization Survey data, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that there were 3,318,923 victims of simple assault, which means 12.4 simple assaults per 1,000 persons age 12 or older. Comparing this rate with the rate of simple assaults for 2005 (i.e., 19.2) reveals a significant decrease (35.4%). Men and women reported similar rates of victimization (12.8 and 12.1, respectively); however, when examining the relationships between victims and offenders, some interesting differences appear.

For the male victims of simple assault, 39.2% were nonstranger, 52.2% were stranger, and the remaining were “relationship unknown.” Within the 39.2% nonstranger simple assaults, 3.7% involved intimate partners (i.e., current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends), 8.6% involved another relative, and 26.9% were between friends or acquaintances. For the female victims of simple assault, 72.2% were nonstranger, 22.4% were stranger, and the remaining were “relationship unknown.” Within the 72.2% nonstranger simple assaults, 18.5% involved intimate partners, 11.9% involved another relative, and 41.8% were between friends or acquaintances. When examining the rates of intimate partner violence by gender, 0.5 per 1,000 persons age 12 or older were male

victims compared with 2.2 per 1,000 for female victims.39

Police officers are a primary component of deterrence. Without the police, chaos might ensue, as seen during police strikes. However, studies show that concentrating officers in certain neighborhoods doesn’t reduce crime in those areas.


It is essential to stress, however, that the scope and extent of domestic violence varies a great deal depending on the definition used to measure the incidence and prevalence of these assaults. Further, there is a general assumption that both official reports and self- reports understate the problem of domestic assault for a variety of reasons. For instance, a direct question pertaining to past victims or perpetrators of violence may not evoke a positive response. Some individuals may not remember or may not be willing to

acknowledge or admit to illegal or inappropriate behavior.40

One area of study that has explored the application of deterrence theory is that of law enforcement responses to domestic violence. In the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment, Sherman and Berk examined the effects of police responses in deterring domestic

assaults.41 Officers were randomly assigned to respond in one of the following manners: (a) separate the parties and order one of them to leave, (b) inform the parties of various alternatives (e.g., mediating disputes), or (c) arrest the abuser. The results revealed that 10% of those arrested, 19% of those advised of alternatives, and 24% of those ordered to leave subsequently engaged in further violence. Thus, Sherman and Berk concluded that arresting perpetrators of domestic violence has the strongest deterrent effect. Some researchers, however, noted methodological shortcomings of the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment. For instance, some officers involved in the experiment claimed to have prior knowledge of what type of action they were to take when responding

to a domestic violence call. Thus, they would reclassify the offense in an effort to have it omitted from the study.42

The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment had a tremendous policy impact:

Within 1 year of the study’s first publication, almost two thirds of major police departments had heard of the Minneapolis experiment, and three quarters of the departments correctly remembered its general conclusion that arrest was the preferable police response. Similarly, the number of police departments encouraging arrests for domestic violence tripled in 1 year from

only 10% to 31%.43

It has also been suggested that the Minneapolis experiment was favorable among policy makers given the emerging support for deterrence theory. Due to the major policy impact of this experiment, the National Institute of Justice funded six experimental replications of the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment; these have been collectively referred to as the “Replication

Studies.”44 Essentially, these replications failed to confirm the earlier findings of the Minneapolis experiment. Buzawa and Buzawa

contend that there may be a “middle ground.” Specifically, deterrence may result for some offenders but not all offenders.45

To further highlight key aspects of deterrence theory, we apply this perspective to the crime of simple assault, specifically domestic


violence. Doug and Emily have been living together for more than three years. They have a two-year-old son and are expecting their second child in a few months. Throughout their relationship, Doug has become increasingly violent toward Emily. At first, he would shout at and belittle her; soon after, he was pushing and shoving her. Now, Doug has started to hit, slap, and kick Emily. One evening, the violence became so overwhelming, Emily called the police. Following department policy, the officers arrested Doug for simple assault. Doug was convicted and sentenced to probation and mandatory counseling.

Doug’s arrest incorporates the concepts associated with deterrence theory. For instance, the certainty of punishment is supported by the departmental policy to make an arrest in such instances of domestic violence. The concept of swiftness is also evident, with Doug being arrested soon after Emily called the police. One may ask, however, whether the punishment of probation and counseling was too severe or not severe enough. Also, one might consider whether such punishment will deter Doug from assaulting Emily again.


Think About It: 1. How do the rates of simple assault vary between males and females? 2. What did the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment show regarding different ways to deal with cases of domestic

violence? 3. What did the replication studies of domestic violence reveal about the original Minneapolis study on domestic violence?

This was also the conclusion of French society, and although French authorities for some time fully embraced the idea of equal punishment for a given act against society (i.e., equal harm done to society, as Beccaria advised), they quickly realized that the system was neither fair nor effective in terms of deterrence. So they came to acknowledge that circumstantial factors play an important part in how malicious or guilty a defendant is. A number of contextual factors either alleviate or increase the level of malicious intent involved in engaging in criminal activity.

Thus, the French revised their laws to take into account both mitigating and aggravating circumstances. This Neoclassical concept became the standard in all Western societies’ justice systems. Fortunately, the United States also follows this model and considers such contextual factors in virtually all decision-making related to charges and sentences. For example, if a defendant is a juvenile, he or she is processed in a completely different system from the criminal court. Furthermore, first-time offenders are generally given the option of a diversion program or probation, as long as their offense is not serious.

The Neoclassical School is an important caveat to the previously important Classical School. Still, the Neoclassical School assumes virtually all the other concepts and propositions of the Classical School. For example, the Neoclassical School also endorses the idea of the social contract, due-process rights, and rational beings who are deterred by the certainty, swiftness, and severity of punishment. So, with the exception of aggravating and mitigating circumstances in sentencing and punishment, the Neoclassical School is identical to the Classical School. And this Neoclassical School is the model used by all Western societies in their justice systems. Thus, this framework had and continues to have an extremely important influence around the world.


Loss of Dominance of Classical/Neoclassical Theory

For about 100 years after Beccaria wrote his book, the Classical/Neoclassical School was dominant in criminological theorizing. During this time, most governments, especially those in the Western world, shifted their justice frameworks toward the Neoclassical model. This has not changed, even in modern times. After all, virtually every society still uses the Neoclassical/Classical model as the framework for their systems of justice.

However, the Classical/Neoclassical framework lost dominance among academics and scientists in the 19th century, especially after Charles Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species in the 1860s, a book that introduced the concept of evolution and natural selection. This perspective shed new light on other influences of human behavior (e.g., genetics, psychological deficits) beyond that of free will and rational choice (covered in Chapters 5 and 6). Despite this shift in emphasis among academic and scientific circles, it remains true that the actual workings of the justice systems in most Western societies retained use of the Classical/Neoclassical model.


Policy Implications

Even now, when authorities want to crack down on certain crimes such as drugs or gang activity, they focus on law enforcement and enhanced punishments to create more certainty and severity of being caught, respectively. So, although the Classical/Neoclassical perspective fell out of favor with researchers and academics over the past 150 years, it remains the primary model in terms of policy implications favored by most officials in the criminal justice system, legislators, and the general public. Many policies are based on deterrence theory: the premise that increasing punishment sanctions will deter crime. This is seen throughout the system of law enforcement, courts, and corrections.

This is interesting given the fact that Classical/deterrence theory has not been the dominant explanatory model among criminologists for decades. In fact, a recent poll of close to 400 criminologists in the nation ranked Classical theory as 22 out of 24 in terms of being the most valid explanation for serious and persistent

offending.47 Still, given the dominance of Classical/deterrence theory in most criminal justice policies, it is important to discuss the most common strategies.

For example, “three-strikes” laws have become prevalent in many states, as have police department gang units and injunctions (which condemn any observed loitering by or gathering of gang members in a specified region by listing members of established gangs). Furthermore, some states, such as California, have created gang enhancements in which juries decide whether the defendant is guilty of a given crime and also make a separate decision as to whether the person is a gang member. If a jury in California determines that the defendant is a gang member (usually with evidence provided by local police gang units), this automatically adds more time to any sentence assigned by the judge if the individual is convicted of the crime. However, some states are starting to reconsider this hard-line approach to locking up offenders for life for nonviolent felonies, such as in the case of Shane Taylor in California, who was sentenced to life under the “three-strikes” law after being convicted of two burglaries (a property crime, according to the FBI definition) and then possession of 0.14

grams of methamphemine.48

Comparative Criminology: Homicide Rates


Ranking Countries by Rate of Prison Population and Homicide Rates This box continues the book’s theme of comparing the United States with foreign nations in terms of various aspects of criminology and criminal justice (see Comparative Criminology 1.1 in Chapter 1, which provides an introduction to this feature). In this section,

we will examine the findings and conclusions from the eighth United Nations Crime Survey,46 specifically the portion dealing with rates of incarceration compared with rates of homicide in 89 countries. This comparison provides a recent analysis of the extent to which more severe sentences (as indicated by rate of incarceration) correlate with homicide rates in various countries. Readers should note that although most of the inmates in these countries were not convicted of murder, it is assumed that the countries that incarcerate the most offenders are also the most likely to be punitive in terms of a serious offense such as murder—an assumption supported by empirical research.

According to the research findings from the eighth United Nations Crime Survey, the trend is that the higher the ranking of countries in terms of prison population, the higher the homicide rates (see Figure 3.5). As can be seen in the figure, a higher prison population in a given country is strongly and positively associated with the homicide rate in that country. The estimated correlation for this association was significant, and the estimated coefficient was strong to moderate (r = 0.48). To clarify, the rate of incarceration is positively correlated with the occurrence of murder in most of the reporting countries, while the countries that reported the lowest incarceration rates are also the most likely to report the lowest murder rates. For example, the rate of incarceration is highest (of the 89 countries) in the United States, and the rate of homicide is also high. Regarding other countries, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Swaziland, Estonia, Latvia, Panama, Belarus, and Ukraine also have high rates of incarceration, as well as high rates of homicide (see Figure 3.5).

Figure 3.5 Ranking of Countries on Prison Population per 100,000 Population and on Homicide Rates per 100,000 Population


Sources: www.unodc.org; 8th UN Crime Survey; World Prison Population List (Seventh Edition), King’s College, London, UK, 2007.

On the other hand, a number of countries have low rates of incarceration and low rates of murder. Such countries include Japan, Iceland, Indonesia, and Norway (see Figure 3.5). Again, countries that experience low levels of violence likely do not need to lock up such violent offenders; however, this analysis is done per capita, or by rate, so such comparisons are applicable. Of course, this observed association of countries that have the highest rates of murder tending to have the most punitive sanctions could be spurious, in the sense that sanctions in these countries are so punitive because they have higher rates of violence. But the bottom line of this analysis is that despite more punitive sanctions in some countries (e.g., the United States, Russia), there appears to be no deterrent effect among individuals who commit murder. Perhaps this is due to the offenders not actually thinking about the sentences or penalties likely to result from the act of homicide, which will be explored more in the next section of this book.


Think About It: 1. When comparing various countries, how do incarceration rates correlate with homicide rates? 2. Which countries seem to incarcerate the most by rate? How do such nations tend to rank on homicide rates? 3. Which countries tend to have the lowest incarceration rates, and how do such countries rank on homicide rates?

Source: Van Dijk, J. (2008). The world of crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Also, the still-common use of the death penalty and programs such as “scared straight” are based heavily on the deterrence framework of the Classical/Neoclassical perspective, despite much evidence showing that neither tends to be effective in deterring individuals from committing crimes and both may have even led to

more recidivism by participants of such programs.49 Furthermore, in terms of individuals’ decision-making when it comes to crime, formal deterrence elements such as law enforcement or possible severe sanctions for a given act tend to have little impact. This is because such a model assumes people are rational and think carefully before engaging in criminal behavior, whereas most research findings suggest that people often engage in behaviors they know to be irrational or that offenders tend to engage in behaviors without rational decision-making, which criminologists often refer to as “bounded rationality.” This means that individuals

tend to be oblivious to many of the risks that may result from their behavior.50 On the macro or group level, the same can be said for adding more officers to random street patrol in a given neighborhood or area, which

shows negligible effects in crime reduction.51 Rather, most deterrence effects and reductions of crime are more highly influenced by informal elements, such as families and communities having strong ties and “policing” their own neighborhoods, which we discuss in the next chapter.

These are just some examples of how the justice system in the United States, as well as most other Western systems, still relies primarily on deterrence of criminal activity through increased formal controls, such as law enforcement and enhanced sentencing, despite much evidence showing that these changes likely have little impact on individuals’ decisions to engage in illegal behavior. The bottom line is that modern justice systems still base most of their ideology on the ability of individuals to be deterred by the certainty, severity, and swiftness of punishment—namely, the Classical/Neoclassical School of thought—despite the fact that this theoretical framework fell out of favor among scientists and philosophers in the mid- to late 1800s.



This chapter began with a discussion of the dominant perspectives throughout most of human civilization, which were supernatural- or religious-based theories. Once the Age of Enlightenment presented a more logical framework of individual decision-making and rationality in the 18th century, the Classical School of criminological thought became dominant, largely due to the propositions in Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments (1764). Along with many proposed reforms, his perspective focused on the assumption that individuals have free will and make a rational choice to commit a given offense after first considering the risk of getting caught and punished, a proposition that established the deterrence theory of reducing offender behavior. Thus, the goal was to deter individuals from engaging in criminal activities by increasing their likelihood of being caught and/or punished via formal sanctions.

We also started this chapter with a case study of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the “D.C. Madam,” who committed suicide before she could be sentenced for her crimes. Although this is an extreme example, it shows the pressing influence of incarceration on the human psyche. Ms. Palfrey killed herself when facing a prison sentence, and given that she had been incarcerated before, this shows the negative effects of such a sentence. This is proof that there is a lot to be said for the deterrent effect of formal sanctions, which is the keystone of the Classical School. Thus, there is still a case to be made for the deterrent effects of formal sanctions, such as incarceration, among many potential offenders in our society.

The Classical School as originally proposed by Beccaria included some elements that virtually all countries had problems implementing, which led to the Neoclassical perspective that allowed for consideration of contextual aspects in sentencing decisions. This improved Neoclassical framework became the dominant model for close to a century, until the late 19th century, but is still commonly used as the basis for most criminal justice systems in the Western world, especially in the United States. We will see in the next chapter that the concepts and propositions of the Classical/Neoclassical framework were recently expanded to develop a more logically valid and empirically supported theory of offending behavior.


Summary of Theories in Chapter 3


Key Terms

actus reus, 67 Age of Enlightenment, 59 brutalization effect, 69 certainty of punishment, 71 Classical School, 59 deterrence theory, 59 general deterrence, 73 mens rea, 67 Neoclassical School, 77 severity of punishment, 72 social contract, 65 specific deterrence, 73 swiftness of punishment, 70 utilitarianism, 66


Discussion Questions 1. How do pre-Enlightenment perspectives of crime differ from those in the Age of Enlightenment? 2. What Enlightenment philosophy do you feel was most important for criminal policy? 3. Can you think of modern examples of violations of Enlightenment philosophy in criminal justice systems, or in society in general? 4. What concept/proposition of Beccaria’s reforms do you find least practical? Most practical? 5. Which of the three elements of deterrence do you find to be most important? Least important? 6. Do you agree with Beccaria’s assessment of the death penalty? What portions of his reasoning do you most agree or disagree with? 7. Can you define and explain the differences between general and specific deterrence? Give examples of each. 8. How did the Neoclassical school differ from the traditional Classical school? Do you believe it was an improvement? Why or why

not? 9. What modern-day applications and policies do you think were inspired or influenced by Beccaria and Bentham?

Web Resources

For most of human civilization, theories of crime were based on supernatural or spiritual theories, such as “the devil made them do it.”


The Age of Enlightenment established that individuals are rational and make decisions regarding their behavior, breaking from the belief that criminal behavior is caused by demons or other supernatural explanations.


Hobbes was one of the first, and perhaps the most notable, Enlightenment theorists, in his focus on individuals being rational and having free will, thereby placing criminal behavior as a choice to be made and not up to fate.


Beccaria was highly influenced by the Enlightenment and proposed the theory of deterrence and many reforms, which is why he is considered the Father of Deterrence as well as the Father of Criminal Justice and the Father of the Classical School of criminology.


Deterrence is one of the key propositions of the Classical School of criminology and assumes that individuals have free will and weigh out the benefits versus punishments of their behavior.


Bentham extended the ideas and concepts advanced by Beccaria and proposed a hedonistic calculus that further specified how individuals decide whether or not to commit crime based on a cost/benefit ratio.

http://www.utilitarianism.com/bentham.htm http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/who

The Neoclassical School of criminology added the consideration of aggravating and mitigating circumstances to sentencing of offenders, thus putting the context of the offense as a primary consideration, which the Classical School did not.


Student Study Site



Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


The ‘Shock of Confinement’: The Grim Reality of Suicide in Jail

Revisiting the Last Witch Trial

Help Wanted: The Philippines Needs More Exorcists

Deterrence or brutalization: What is the effect of executions?

Boundary-crossing in perceptual deterrence: Investigating the linkages between sanction severity, sanction certainty, and offending

Two hundred and fifty years since the publication of On Crimes and Punishments: The currency of Cesare Beccaria’s thought

Tracey Meares (1 of 6): Understanding Deterrence and Legitimacy in Law Enforcement

Philosophy-Ethics: Utilitarianism, Part 1

Crime and Punishment: Guilty as Charred Tony Robinson

Death in Cell 49: How the Prison System Lost Track of Nelson Rodriguez

Methods of Execution-Death Row: The Final 24 Hours








Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.


4 Contemporary Classical and Deterrence Research


© AP Photo/Joe Amon


Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Explain the various types of research performed from the 1960s to the present to determine whether perceptions of sanctions had a significant impact on individual decisions to commit crimes. Name the components of rational choice theory that were not included or emphasized by traditional Classical/deterrence theory in explaining criminal behavior. Compare and contrast formal and informal sanctions. List the three key elements of routine activities theory and be able to articulate which of the elements you think is most important. Describe which types of individuals are most likely to be deterred from committing most crimes, as well as which types of people are least likely to be deterred. Provide examples of modern-day applications and policies that most apply Beccaria’s principles and the Classical school.



On two separate days in August 2012, 13-year-old Brandon Mathison’s mother forced him to wear a

humiliating sign and walk along a busy intersection in Beaufort, South Carolina.1 She made him do this because she had caught him smoking marijuana with his friends. The rather large placard he wore read, “Smoked pot, got caught! Don’t I look cool? NOT!” on the front. On the back it read, “Learn from me, don’t do drugs.” This type of shaming strategy is an informal form of deterrence that stems from family, friends, and community as opposed to the formal sanctions of law enforcement, courts, and jail or prison. And for most individuals in society, the informal controls are what actually deter and reduce their likelihood of engaging in criminal activity, because they don’t want to risk losing their friends and jobs and they care what their families and others think about them. The various theoretical models that emphasize such informal deterrent elements are examined in this chapter. But first, let’s briefly review the previous chapter and see where we are headed in this one.

In the previous chapter, we examined the early history of theorizing about crime, which included pre– Classical School perspectives (e.g., religious, supernatural explanations) as well as early Classical School theorizing during and just after the Age of Enlightenment. Early theorizing by Cesare Beccaria and others during the late 18th century remained dominant in terms of academics and, more important, policy makers for close to 100 years. But the Classical framework as a model for understanding crime fell out of favor among academics and researchers in the late 19th century.

While the Classical model never stopped being the favorite of policy makers, virtually all dominant theories presented by scientists of the past century have been premised on assumptions and propositions that go against such Classical concepts as deterrence, free will/choice, and rational decision-making. However, Classical School concepts, assumptions, and propositions have experienced a “rebirth” in the past few decades. Furthermore, since the 1980s, several modern theoretical frameworks, such as rational choice, routine activities, and lifestyle perspectives, have given new life to the Classical perspective of criminological theorizing.

We will see that some of these more modern Classical School–based theories emphasize only the potential negative consequences of criminal actions, whereas other theories focus on the possible benefits. Still others concentrate on the opportunities and existing situations that predispose one to engage in criminal activity. Regardless of their differences, all the modern theoretical perspectives discussed in this chapter emphasize a common theme: Individuals commit crime because they identify certain situations and/or acts as beneficial due to the perceived low risk of punishment and perceived likelihood of profits, such as money or peer status. In other words, the potential offender weighs out the possible costs and pleasures of committing a given act and then behaves in a rational way based on this analysis of the situation.



Case Study


Wayne Wayne, raised in an upper-middle-class household in South Florida, was intelligent but also a risk taker, even at an early age. He was charismatic and made friends easily; even his teachers tended to like him, despite his sometimes deviant behavior. In high school, he engaged in many delinquent activities but nothing too serious. Although he had some encounters with police, it was usually for underage drinking or minor offenses, so he was never officially arrested. This is quite common, especially among teenage males.

This pattern took a more serious turn in college, when he was apprehended by police for a couple of incidents. However, these were also relatively minor, such as public intoxication, and even for these incidents, either charges were dismissed or he was never officially charged. But that is what it took to wake him up to the risks he was taking that could possibly jeopardize his future career. He wanted to be a lawyer, and he realized it would be difficult to get into law school, let alone be approved by the state bar association, if he had a criminal record. He was also potentially risking losing the respect of and strong bonds he had with family and friends.

So he realized around his junior year that he had to keep his nose clean and refocus his efforts on school, which he did. He eventually made the grades and test scores needed to gain entry into one of the top-tier law programs in the country, in Washington, DC—perhaps the best place to study law in our nation, given the opportunities and resources of that area. He did fantastically in law school and then moved back to Florida, where he became a respected and effective assistant district attorney. After a few years, he joined a private practice for a while, and within about 10 years he started his own law firm, where he has continued to be successful.

We shall see in this chapter that most individuals in society grow out of teenage tendencies to engage in delinquent or criminal behavior, largely due not to the fear of going to jail but, rather, the fear of losing positive aspects of their lives that they have worked hard for, such as bonds with friends and family and, often most important, a great career.

We will follow up on Wayne at the conclusion of this chapter as a reminder to apply some of the theoretical models and concepts to explaining his change in behavior. These so-called informal elements of deterrence (e.g., family, friends, employers) are the ones that matter most for the vast majority of society—namely, the ones who have much to lose. And it is these types of considerations that the more traditional versions of Classical School/deterrence theory do not specify or take into account. Thus, the more modern versions of deterrence theory, such as rational choice theory, are far more robust and valid. But first, we will examine the rebirth of research in deterrence theory, which led to an evolution of theorizing and testing that resulted in the formation of these more fully specified explanations of criminal offending.


Think About It: 1. Why do you think Wayne did not have to serve a jail term and yet seemed to stop breaking the law? 2. Can you think of someone you know personally who committed minor delinquent/criminal acts when he or she was younger but

eventually grew out of offending, as Wayne did?


The most important distinction of these Classical School theories, as opposed to those discussed in future chapters, is that they emphasize individual decision-making regardless of any extraneous influences on a person’s free will, such as the economy or bonding with society. Although many outside factors may influence an individual’s ability to rationally consider offending situations—and many of the theories in this chapter deal with such influences—the emphasis remains on the individual to consider all influences before making the decision to engage in or abstain from criminal behavior.

Given the focus on individual responsibility in modern times, it is not surprising that Classical School theories are still used as the basis for U.S. policies on punishment for criminal activity. Because they place responsibility on the individual, the modern Classical School theories discussed in this chapter are highly compatible and consistent with the conservative “get tough” movement that has existed since the mid-1970s. Thus, the Classical School still retains the highest influence in terms of policy and pragmatic punishment in the United States, as well as throughout all countries in the Western world. So the theories we examine in this chapter are the modern versions of the important assumptions, concepts, and propositions currently in use in virtually every system of justice in the Western world. Although most practitioners (even the judges who decide on sentences for a given illegal act) are likely not aware of these modern Classical theories of why individuals commit crimes (or do not), these modern perspectives represent the very types of concepts that all practitioners in our criminal justice system use to decide what is deserved or needed to reform an individual who has engaged in criminal activity.


Rebirth of Deterrence Theory and Contemporary Research

As discussed above, the Classical/Neoclassical framework fell out of favor among scientists and philosophers in the late 19th century, largely due to the introduction of Darwin’s ideas on evolution and natural selection. However, virtually all Western criminal systems, particularly that of the United States, retained the Classical/Neoclassical framework for their models of justice. Despite the use of Beccaria’s framework as the model for most justice systems, the ideology of his work was largely dismissed by academics and theorists after the presentation of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the 1860s. Therefore, the Classical/Neoclassical model fell out of favor in terms of criminological theorizing for about 100 years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, the Beccarian model of offending experienced a rebirth.

This rebirth was largely due to scientific reviews showing that the rehabilitation programs popular during the

1960s had virtually no impact in reducing recidivism among offenders, especially chronic offenders.2

Specifically, Walter Bailey’s review of 100 programs in the late 1960s revealed that very few showed beneficial outcomes in reducing offenders’ recidivism. Even more attention was given to Robert Martinson’s review of such rehabilitative programs, which concluded that “nothing works.” Although this conclusion was a bit overstated, it was true that virtually none of the rehab programs significantly reduced offending among participants. Therefore, criminologists returned to their “roots” in focusing more on Classical/deterrence principles.


The Four Waves of Modern Deterrence Research

Aggregate Studies.

In the late 1960s, several studies were published that used aggregate measures of crime and punishment and a

deterrence model for explaining why individuals engage in criminal behavior.3 These aggregate studies revealed a new interest in the deterrent aspects of criminal behavior and further supported the importance of certainty and severity of punishment in deterring individuals from committing crime, particularly homicide. Specifically, evidence showed that increased risk or certainty of punishment was associated with less crime for most serious offenses. Plus, most offenders who are arrested once never get arrested again, which lends some basic support for deterrence.

A traditional electric chair. At one point in American history, electrocution was the primary method of execution, but it has since been largely replaced by lethal injection. Is the death penalty an effective deterrent?


© Public domain (electric chair)

Many of these studies used statistical formulas to measure the degree of certainty and severity of punishment in given jurisdictions. Specifically, the measures of certainty of punishment often were determined by creating a ratio of the crimes reported to police compared with the number of arrests in a given jurisdiction. Another employed measure of certainty of punishment was the percentage of arrests that resulted in convictions, or


findings of guilt, in criminal cases. Although other similar measures were employed, most of the studies showed the same result—namely, that an examination of both measures indicated that the higher the likelihood of arrest given reports of crime, or the higher the conviction rate after arrest, the lower the crime rate in a given jurisdiction. On the other hand, the scientific evidence regarding measures of severity, which such studies generally indicated by the length of the sentence for comparable crimes or a similar type of measure, did not show much impact on crime.

Additional aggregate studies examined the prevalence and influence of capital punishment and crime in given

states.4 The evidence largely showed that the states that had death penalty statutes also had higher murder rates than did non-death-penalty states. Furthermore, these studies showed that murderers in death penalty states who were not executed actually served less time than did murderers in non-death-penalty states. Thus, the evidence regarding increased sanctions, including capital punishment, was mixed. Still, a review by the National Academy of Sciences of the early deterrence studies concluded that there was more evidence for a deterrent effect than against it overall, although the Academy stated this in a tone that lacked confidence—

perhaps cautious of what future studies would show.5

However, it was not long before critics noted that studies incorporating aggregate (i.e., macro-level) statistics are not adequate indicators or valid measures of the deterrence theory framework, largely because the model emphasizes the perceptions of individuals. After all, aggregate/group statistics are unreliable because different regions may have higher or lower crime rates than others, thereby creating bias in the level of ratios for certainty and/or severity of punishment. Further, the group measures produced by these studies provide virtually no information on the degree to which individuals in those regions perceive sanctions to be certain, severe, or swift. Therefore, the emphasis on the unit of analysis in deterrence research shifted from the aggregate level to a more individual level.

Cross-Sectional Studies.

The following phase of deterrence research focused on individual perceptions of certainty and severity of sanctions, primarily drawn at one point in time—known as cross-sectional studies. A number of cross- sectional studies of individual perceptions of deterrence showed that perceptions of the risk or certainty of punishment were strongly associated with intentions to commit future crimes, but individual perceptions of severity of crimes were mixed. Furthermore, it was not clear whether perceptions were causing changes in behavior or whether behavior was causing changes in perception. This led to the next wave of research— longitudinal studies of individual perceptions and deterrence, which measured perceptions of risk and severity

as well as behavior over time.6

aggregate studies: collections of studies, generally on a particular topic.

cross-sectional studies: a form of research design model in which a collection of data is taken at one point in time (often in survey format).

Police conducting a field test with a suspected drunk driver. Driving under the influence is a popular topic in deterrence research because it tends to range across social status and racial/ethnic groups.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Longitudinal Studies.

One of the primary concepts revealed by longitudinal research, which is studies that take certain measures over two or more time periods, was that behavior was influencing perceptions of the risk and severity of punishment more than perceptions were influencing behavior. This was referred to as the experiential effect, appropriately named because an individual’s previous experience highly influences expectations regarding the chances of being caught and the resulting penalties. A common example is people who drive under the influence of alcohol (or other substances).

Studies show that when asked the chances of getting caught driving under the influence, most people who have never driven drunk predict an unrealistically high likelihood of arrest. However, if you ask persons who have been arrested for driving drunk—even those arrested several times for this offense—they typically predict that the chance of being caught is low. The reason for this is that chronic drunk drivers have typically been driving under the influence for many years, mostly without being caught. After all, it is estimated that drunk

drivers traverse more than 1 million miles before one drunk driver is arrested.7 If anything, this is likely a conservative estimate. Thus, people who drive drunk—some doing so every day—are not likely to be deterred even when arrested more than once, largely because they have been driving drunk for years by that time. In fact, H. L. Ross—perhaps the most notable expert on the deterrence of drunk drivers—and his colleagues concluded that drunk drivers who “perceive a severe punishment if caught, but a near-zero chance of being

caught, are being rational in ignoring the threat.”8 Even the most respected scholars in this area admit that sanctions against drunk driving are nowhere certain enough, even if they are growing in severity.


A similar phenomenon is seen among white-collar criminals. Some researchers have used the measure of being caught by authorities for violating government rules—often enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)—as an indication that the organizations in violation will be less likely to commit future

offenses.9 However, organizations in violation of established practices that have been caught once by authorities have likely been committing these offenses for years, so they are more likely to continue doing so in the future than are organizations that have never violated the rules. Like the conclusion made regarding drunk driving, the certainty of punishment for white-collar violations is so low (and many would argue that the severity is also quite low) that it is rational for businesses and business professionals to take the risk.

experiential effect: the extent to which previous experience affects individuals’ perceptions of how severe criminal punishment will be when deciding whether or not to offend again.

It is interesting to note that of the many forms of criminal offending, white-collar crimes and drunk driving should be among the most likely to be deterred, due to their prevalence among citizens of the middle and upper socioeconomic classes. After all, if the extant research on deterrence has shown one thing, it is that individuals who have something to lose are the most likely to be deterred by sanctions. This makes sense because many unemployed, poor individuals will probably not be deterred by incarceration or other punishments, largely because they do not have much to lose. For some persons, particularly those of lower- class minority populations, incarceration does not present a significant departure from the deprived lives they already lead.

The fact that official sanctions are limited in deterring individuals—many of whom have a lot to lose—from drunk driving and white-collar crime is not a good indication of effectiveness for deterrence-based policies. This becomes even more questionable when other populations are considered, particularly the offenders in most predatory street crimes (e.g., robbery, burglary), who typically have nothing to lose because they come from poverty-stricken areas and are often unemployed. One recent study that examined the influence of sanctions showed that arrests had little effect on perceptions of certainty, whereas offending corresponded

with decreases in such perceptions.10

Some individuals do not consider incarceration much of a step down in life, given the three meals a day, shelter, and relative stability entailed. This epitomizes one of the most notable paradoxes of the discipline: The individuals we most want to deter are the least likely to be deterred, primarily because they have nothing to fear. Even going back to early Enlightenment thought, Thomas Hobbes claimed that fear was the tool used to enforce the social contract; however, persons who don’t fear punishment cannot be effectively deterred. Thus, it remains true that the individuals we most need to deter (chronic offenders) are the least likely to be deterred by the threatened punishments of our society, because they have so little to lose.

Along these same lines, studies have consistently shown that official deterrence is highly ineffective against criminal acts that involve immediate payoff, young male offenders, higher risk, low emotional/moral

inhibitions, low self-control, and impulsivity.11 Thus, many factors affect the extent to which official sanctions can deter crime. However, even among the most “deterrable” offenders, official sanctions exhibit failings, particularly when individuals in the highly deterrable categories have experience in the criminal behavior


because they are rarely caught.

Identification and understanding of the experiential effect had a profound influence on evidence regarding the impact of deterrence. After all, any estimation of the influence of perceived certainty or severity of punishment must control for previous behaviors and experiences with such behavior to account for an experiential effect. Identification of the experiential effect was the primary contribution of the longitudinal studies of deterrence, but such studies faced even further criticism.

Longitudinal studies of deterrence provided a significant improvement over the preceding cross-sectional studies. However, such longitudinal studies typically involved designs in which measures of perception of certainty and severity of punishment were collected up to a year apart, including long stretches between the time of the criminal offense and when offenders were asked their perceptions of punishment. After all, psychological studies have clearly established that perceptions of the likelihood and severity of sanctions vary

significantly from day to day, not to mention month to month and year to year.12 Therefore, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new wave of deterrence research evolved that asked study participants to estimate their immediate intent to commit a criminal act in a given situation as well as requesting their immediate perceptions of certainty and severity of punishment in the same situation. This wave of research was known as

scenario research, or vignettes.13

scenario research: studies that involve providing participants with specific hypothetical scenarios and then asking them what they would do in each situation.

vignettes: short, descriptive sketches.

Scenario/Vignette Studies.

Scenario research was created to deal with the limitations of the previous methodological strategies for studying the effects of deterrence on criminal offending. Specifically, the critics of longitudinal research argued that individuals’ perceptions of the certainty and severity of punishment changed drastically from one time to another, especially in different situations. The scenario method dealt with this criticism directly by providing a specific, realistic (albeit hypothetical) situation in which a person engages in a criminal act. The participant in the study was then asked to estimate the chances that he or she would engage in such an activity under the given circumstances as well as to respond to questions regarding his or her perceptions of the risk of getting caught (i.e., certainty of punishment) and the degree of severity of punishment expected.

The vast majority of findings on why people commit crimes are gained through self-report studies. Such studies explore factors (e.g., psychological, family life) that are not present in police reports or victimization studies.


© iStockphoto.com/enis izgi

Another important and valuable aspect of scenario research was that it promoted a contemporaneous (i.e., instantaneous) response regarding perceptions of the risk and severity of possible sanctions. In comparison, previous studies (e.g., aggregate, cross-sectional, longitudinal) had always relied on either group rates or individual measures of perception across long stretches of time. As discussed previously, individuals’ perceptions regarding risk and/or severity of punishment vary significantly by time and situation, but the scenario method eliminates such criticisms. Some argue that the estimated likelihood of committing a crime given a hypothetical situation is not an accurate measure of what one would actually do. However, studies have shown an extremely high correlation between what one reports doing in a given scenario and what one

would do in real life.14 A recent review of criticisms of this method showed that one of the aspects where this research was lacking was in not allowing respondents to develop their own perceptions and costs associated

with each offense.15 Despite such criticisms, the scenario method appears to be the most accurate method we have to estimate the effects of individual perceptions on the likelihood of individuals engaging in a given criminal activity at a given time. This is something the previous waves of deterrence research—aggregate, cross-sectional, and longitudinal studies—could not estimate.


Formal and Informal Deterrence

Ultimately, the studies using the scenario method showed that participants were more affected by perceptions of certainty and less so—albeit sometimes significantly—by perceptions of severity. This finding supported previous methods of estimating the effects of formal/official deterrence (see Figure 4.1), meaning the deterrent effects of law enforcement, courts, and corrections (i.e., prisons and probation or parole). So the overall conclusion regarding the effects of official sanctions on individual decision-making remained unaltered. However, one of the more interesting aspects of scenario research is that it helped solidify the importance of extralegal variables in deterring criminal behavior, which had been neglected by previous methods.

These extralegal variables, called informal deterrence factors, include any factors beyond the formal sanctions of police, courts, and corrections—such as employment, family, friends, and community. These studies helped show that such informal sanctions are what provide most of the deterrent effect for individuals considering criminal acts. These findings coincided with the advent of a new model of deterrence, which became commonly known as rational choice theory.

formal/official deterrence: deterrent effects of law enforcement, courts, and corrections.

informal deterrence: factors like family, church, or friends that do not involve official aspects of criminal justice such as police, courts, and corrections (e.g., prisons).

rational choice theory: a modern, Classical School–based framework for explaining crime that includes the traditional formal deterrence aspects and other informal factors that studies show consistently and strongly influence behavior.


Rational Choice Theory

Rational choice theory is a perspective criminologists adapted from economists, who used it to explain a variety of individual decisions regarding different behaviors. This framework emphasizes all important factors that go into a person’s decision to engage, or not engage, in a particular act. In terms of criminological research, the rational choice model emphasized official/formal forms of deterrence as well as the informal factors that influence individual decisions to engage in criminal behavior. This represented a profound advance in the understanding of human behavior. After all, as studies showed, most individuals are affected more by the influence of informal factors than by official/formal factors.

Although there were several previous attempts to apply the rational choice model to the understanding of criminal activity, the most significant work that brought rational choice theory into the mainstream of criminological research was Derek B. Cornish and Ronald V. Clarke’s (1986) The Reasoning Criminal:

Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending.16 Furthermore, around the same time, Jack Katz (1988) published his work Seductions of Crime, which for the first time emphasized the benefits (mostly the inherent

physiological pleasure) of committing crime.17 Before Katz’s publication, virtually no attention had been paid to the benefits of offending, let alone the “fun” people can have when engaging in criminal behavior. A recent study showed that the publication of Cornish and Clarke’s book, as well as the timing of other publications such as Katz’s, led to an influx of criminological studies based on the rational choice model in the late 1980s

to mid-1990s.18

These studies on rational choice showed that while official/formal sanctions tend to have some effect on individuals’ decisions to commit crime, they almost always are relatively unimportant compared with extralegal/informal factors. Specifically, individual perceptions of how much shame or loss of self-esteem one would experience, even if no one else found out about the crime, was one of the most important variables in

determining whether or not one would commit a crime.19 Additional evidence indicated that females were

more influenced by shame and moral beliefs when deciding to commit offenses than were males.20 Recent studies have shown that levels of certain personality traits, especially low self-control and empathy, are likely

the reason why males and females differ so much when it comes to engaging in criminal activity.21 Finally, the influence of peers has a profound impact on individual perceptions of the pros and cons of offending— namely, by significantly decreasing the perceived risk of punishment when one sees friends getting away with



Learning Check 4.1 1. According to the text, for which type of studies examining deterrence does the “experiential effect” pose the biggest threat of

biased results? 1. Longitudinal studies 2. Aggregate studies 3. Cross-sectional studies

2. According to the text, when looking at the results from the various waves of studies examining deterrence, which element of punishment has shown the most consistent deterrent effect?

1. Perceived certainty of getting caught 2. Perceived severity of the punishment/sentence 3. Perceived swiftness of being punished 4. They are all about equally important

3. According to the text, which type of studies by definition use data collected at one point in time? 1. Longitudinal 2. Aggregate 3. Cross-sectional

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Figure 4.1 Formal Deterrence Versus Informal Deterrence


Applying Theory to Crime: Driving Under the Influence

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program separates criminal offenses into two categories: Part I and Part II crimes. Part I offenses include criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Part II offenses include fraud, vandalism, gambling, and driving under the influence (DUI). The UCR defines DUI as “driving or operating a motor vehicle or common carrier while mentally or physically impaired as the result of consuming an alcoholic beverage

or using a drug or narcotic.”24 According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws defining what constitutes “drunk driving.” These laws designate a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above a certain

level; currently, this level is 0.08% (i.e., 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood).25


The FBI reported a total of 1,117,852 DUI arrests in the United States in 2014, with a national rate of 348.6 arrests per 100,000. When examining these rates by region, the West reported the highest rate (408.6), followed by the Midwest (373.3), the South (318.1), and the Northeast (285.4). Overall, there was a 21.8% decrease in DUI arrests from 2005 to 2014. Specifically, for those

under 18 years of age, there was a 63.5% decrease; for those 18 years of age or older, there was a 26.4 decrease.26

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that every day, almost 28 people in the United States die due to motor vehicle accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver. The annual cost of alcohol-related accidents totals more than $44 billion. At all BAC levels, young people are at a higher risk of being involved in an alcohol-related accident compared with older people. In 2014, three out of every 10 fatal crashes involved someone between 21 and 24 years of age (30%), followed by those between 25 and

34 (29%) and those between 35 and 44 (24%).27

One of the suggestions to prevent death and injury due to impaired driving is to reduce the legal BAC limit to 0.05%. “[The National Transportation Safety Board has] pushed for states to reduce the threshold for DWI/DUI to 0.05 BAC or lower because

research clearly shows that most people are impaired by the time they reach 0.05.”28

Another suggested prevention is to install ignition interlock devices in vehicles. This device is installed in the vehicle, usually in the glove compartment on the passenger’s side. It is then wired to the engine’s ignition system. In a vehicle with such a device installed, the driver has to blow about 1.5 liters of air into a handheld alcohol sensor unit. If his or her BAC is over a preset limit, the car will

not start. While these preset limits vary by state, they are usually between 0.02% and 0.04%.29 All 50 states have some type of ignition interlock law. Twenty-three states have mandatory ignition interlock provisions for all offenses. California currently has a pilot program in four of its largest counties. While Colorado and Maine’s laws are not mandatory for the first conviction, there are

incentives to install the device on the first conviction.30 For instance, in Florida, certain individuals convicted of DUI are required to install an ignition interlock device. The defendant has to contact specific vendors who install approved devices. If the court determines that the offender is unable to pay for the installation of the device, then a portion of the fine paid by the offender can be

reallocated to the costs of the installation.31


Think About It: 1. Do you think these efforts, such as lowering the BAC or requiring offenders to install an ignition interlock program, deter

individuals from driving while under the influence? 2. Do you think if these laws were removed “from the book,” more people would drive while under the influence?

Another area of rational choice research dealt with the influence of an individual’s behavior on other individuals. A recent review and test of perceived social disapproval showed that this was one of the most

important variables in decisions to commit crime.23 In addition to self-sanctions, such as feelings of shame and embarrassment, the perception of how loved ones and friends as well as employers would react is perhaps the most important factor in a person’s decision to engage in criminal activity.

Comparative Criminology: Threats and Assaults


Ranking Countries by Rate of Beer Consumption and Rate of Threats/Assaults In this section, we explore the association between rate of beer consumption and rate of violence—specifically, assaults and threats.

One of the modern versions of deterrence theory is rational choice theory. Rational choice theory assumes that individuals are rational and weigh the potential benefits against the potential costs of engaging in a criminal act. However, modern studies discussed in this chapter have shown that individuals often engage in activities, both legal and illegal, that are not rational. Many of these acts that appear quite irrational are committed by individuals who have been drinking alcohol. This fits a concept known in the field as “bounded rationality,” in the sense that individuals are sometimes not thinking clearly or at the level of the average person—a situation to which alcohol often contributes.

Figure 4.2 Rates of Victimization by Threats/Assaults in 1996-2005 and Beer Consumption (Liters per Head) in Developed Countries (2004)

Sources: Van Dijk, J., van Kesteren, J., & Smit, P. (2007). Criminal victimisation in international perspective: Key findings from the 2004–2005 ICVS and EU ICS. Meppel, Netherlands: Boom Legal Publishers; The Hague, Netherlands: Ministry of Justice, Research and Documentation Center. World Advertising Research Center. (2004). World drink trends. Published in association with Commissie Gedistilleerd (Commission for Distilled Spirits). Henley-on-Thames, UK.



Think About It: 1. What is meant by “bounded rationality,” and can you think of additional factors (other than alcohol) that may cause this? 2. Can you think of a true example of someone you know who appeared to have “bounded rationality” when he or she

committed a delinquent/criminal act?

After all, these are the people we deal with every day, so it should not be too surprising that our perceptions of how they would react strongly affect how we choose to behave. And clearly this applies to the story at the very beginning of this chapter, namely, 13-year-old Brandon Mathison. His mother made him wear a humiliating sign and walk for two days along a busy intersection in his hometown because he smoked marijuana. This is also applicable to the case study we discussed earlier in the chapter, in which Wayne stopped offending due to informal considerations, such as jeopardizing his employment and the disapproval of family and friends if he continued offending.

Figure 4.3 Routine Activities Theory

Perhaps the most important finding of rational choice research was that the expected benefits, particularly the pleasure gained from offending, were one of the most significant influences in decisions to offend. Many other


conclusions have been reached regarding the effect of extralegal/informal factors on criminal offending, but the ultimate conclusion is that these informal deterrent variables typically hold more influence in individual decision-making regarding deviant activity than do the official/formal deterrent factors emphasized by traditional Classical School models of behavior.

The rational choice model of criminal offending became the modern framework of deterrence. Even official authorities acknowledged the influence of extralegal/informal factors, which is seen in modern efforts to incorporate the family, employment, and community in rehabilitation efforts. Such efforts are highly consistent with the current state of understanding regarding the Classical School/rational choice framework— namely, that individuals are more deterred by the impact of their actions on the informal aspects of their lives than by the formal punishments they may face in committing illegal acts.


Routine Activities Theory

Routine activities theory is another contemporary form of the Classical School framework in the sense that it assumes a rational, decision-making offender. The general model of routine activities theory was originally

presented by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson in 1979.32 This theoretical framework emphasized the presence of three factors that come together in time and place to create a high likelihood of crime/victimization. These three factors are (1) motivated offender(s), (2) a suitable target, and (3) lack of guardianship (see Figure 4.3). Overall, the theory is appropriately named in the sense that it assumes that most crime occurs in the daily “routine” of people who happen to see tempting opportunities to commit crime and seize them. Studies tend to support this idea, as opposed to the idea that most offenders leave their homes knowing they are going to commit a crime; such offenders are called “hydraulic” and are relatively rare compared with the opportunistic type.

Excessive alcohol consumption has been strongly linked to criminal offending, especially violent crimes.


As seen in Figure 4.2, there is a strong correlation (r = 0.54) between beer consumption in a given country and the corresponding rates of threats and assaults. For example, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland have relatively high rates of beer consumption and threats and assaults. On the other hand, Italy, Japan, France, and Portugal tend to have relatively low levels of both beer consumption and threats and assaults. Therefore, it is clear that certain countries display far more beer consumption than do other countries and that


this likely contributes to higher rates of violence in those countries. So the bottom line of this analysis is that most of the countries that exhibit high levels of beer consumption, which is very likely to “bound” individuals’ rational thinking before committing illegal acts, tend to show far higher rates of violence as measured by threat and assault rates. This adds to the empirical evidence supporting the limitations of rational choice/deterrence theory in the sense that individuals are not always rational, especially when they have consumed a good amount of beer.

routine activities theory: explanation of crime that assumes crime and victimization are highest in places where three factors come together in time and place: motivated offenders, suitable or attractive targets, and absence of a guardian.


The Three Elements of Routine Activities Theory

Motivated Offender(s).

Regarding the first factor thought to increase the likelihood of criminal activity—a motivated offender—the theory of routine activities does not provide much insight. The model assumes that there are certain individuals who tend to be motivated and leaves it at that. Fortunately, we have many other theories, as discussed previously in this chapter and in the remainder of the book, that can fill this notable absence. The strength of routine activities theory is in its elaboration on the other two characteristics of a crime-prone environment: suitable targets and lack of guardianship.

Suitable Targets.

Suitable targets can include a variety of situations—for example, a house in the suburbs left vacant over summer vacation. After all, data clearly show that burglaries more than double in the summer, when most families are on vacation (see Figure 4.4). Other suitable targets include anything from an unlocked car to a lone female carrying a lot of cash or credit cards and/or having purchased goods at a shopping mall, which is a common setting for victimization. Another likely location to be victimized is a bar or other place that serves alcohol, which has much to do with the fact that offenders have traditionally targeted drunk persons because they are less likely to be able to defend themselves—going back to rolling drunks for their wallets in the early part of the 20th century. This is only a short list of the many types of suitable targets available to motivated offenders in everyday life.

Lack of Guardianship.

The third and final aspect of the routine activities model for increased likelihood of criminal activity is the lack of guardianship. Guardianship is often thought of as an on-duty police officer or security guard, which often is the case. However, there are many other forms of guardianship, such as a household dog, which studies demonstrate can be quite effective in home protection. Even a car or house alarm constitutes a form of guardianship. Furthermore, the presence of an adult, neighbor, or teacher can be quite effective in guarding an area against crime. Recent studies show that just increasing the lighting in an area can help prevent crime, with one study showing a 20% reduction in overall crime in areas randomly chosen to receive improved

lighting compared with control areas that did not.33 Regardless of the type of guardianship, the absence of adequate guardianship sets the stage for crime; on the other hand, each step taken toward protecting a place or person is likely to deter offenders from choosing that target over others. Locations that have a high convergence of motivated offenders, suitable targets, and lack of guardianship are typically referred to as “hot spots.”


Applications of Routine Activities Theory

The Minneapolis Hot Spots Study.

Perhaps the most supportive study of routine activities theory and “hot spots” was that analyzing 911 calls for

service in Minneapolis, Minnesota.34 This study examined all serious calls (as well as total calls) to police in a one-year period. Of the top 10 locations police were called to, half were bars or other places where alcohol was served (see Table 4.1). As mentioned above, establishments that serve alcohol are often targeted by motivated offenders because of a high proportion of suitable targets. Furthermore, many bars have low levels of guardianship in relation to the number of people served. Many readers of this book can likely relate to this situation. After all, most college towns and cities have certain drinking establishments known for being “hot spots” for crime.

Still, the Minneapolis study showed that a lot of other types of establishments made the top 10 or ranked high on the list. These included bus depots, convenience stores, rundown motels and hotels, downtown malls and strip malls, fast-food restaurants, and towing companies. The common theme across these locations and the bars was the convergence of the three aspects described by routine activities theory as being predictive of criminal activity. Specifically, these are places that attract motivated offenders, largely because they feature a lot of vulnerable targets or lack sufficient levels of security or guardianship. The routine activities framework

has been applied in many contexts and places, many of them international.35

Crime Mapping and Geographic Profiling.

One of the many applications of routine activities theory is geographic profiling, which uses satellite positioning systems and is perhaps the most attractive and marketable aspect of criminological research in contemporary times. Essentially, such research applies global positioning systems (GPS) software to identify and plot the exact location of every crime in a given jurisdiction. Such information has been used to solve and/or predict various crimes; serial killers have been caught because victim locations were triangulated to reveal the most likely residence of the killer. Furthermore, such GPS software has also been used to predict where certain chronic offenders or crews/gangs will strike next. In police departments that use geographical mapping software to show where crimes take place or 911 calls for service originate (i.e., “hot spots”), this technology helps policing authorities determine where they should concentrate their efforts, such as where to assign more officers.

Routine activities theory focuses on the presence of suitable or vulnerable targets, such as a female walking alone in a secluded location.


© iStockphoto.com/Darren Mower

The Lifestyles Perspective.

Another theory strongly related to routine activities theory is that of the lifestyles perspective. The lifestyles theory claims that individuals increase their probability of becoming victims (as well as offenders) according to the type of lifestyle they choose. However, some recent reviews of the literature have noted the strong, perhaps even redundant, relationship between lifestyles theory and the more established routine activities

theory.36 To clarify, such reviews have noted that “deviant lifestyles bear more risk of victimization than do

conforming ones.”37 For example, elderly persons are far less likely to be victimized because they tend to stay indoors, especially at night. On the other hand, younger individuals (especially those in their teenage years


and early 20s) are far more likely to be victimized, probably because they tend to go out late at night or hang out with other young persons, which significantly increases their probability of being victimized, since this is the age-group most likely to offend. Still, the bottom line in terms of theorizing about lifestyles is that certain individuals tend to increase the likelihood of their own victimization by associating with the very individuals most likely to commit offenses (e.g., young males), hanging out in locales that tend to serve alcohol, or not taking adequate measures to protect themselves from being victimized. This is a perfect scenario for raising the risk of victimization according to routine activities theory, which shows how lifestyles theory is simply an extension of routine activities theory; by itself, it offers no new revelations for why some individuals are

victimized more than others.38

Figure 4.4 Violent Crime and Temperature

Source: Fox, J. A. (2010, July 6). Heat wave has a chilling effect on violent crime. Boston.com.


Source: Sherman, L., Gartin, P., & Buerger, M. (1989). Hot spots of predatory crime: Routine activities and the criminology of place. Criminology, 27, 27–56.


Learning Check 4.2 1. According to the text, which theorists first proposed the rational choice theory of criminal behavior?

1. Clarke and Cornish 2. Gottfredson and Hirschi 3. Sampson and Laub 4. Cohen and Felson 5. Sykes and Matza

2. According to the text, which theorists first proposed the routine activities theory of crime? 1. Clarke and Cornish 2. Gottfredson and Hirschi 3. Sampson and Laub 4. Cohen and Felson 5. Sykes and Matza

3. According to the text, what is NOT one of the elements of routine activities theory that create a likely crime opportunity when they converge in time and place?

1. Motivated offender 2. Suitable/attractive target 3. Time of day/night 4. Absence of guardianship

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Policy Implications

Numerous policy implications can be derived from the theories and scientific findings discussed in this chapter. In this section, we concentrate on some of the most important policies. The “broken windows” perspective—which shares many assumptions with routine activities and rational choice theories—emphasizes

the need for police to crack down on minor offenses to reduce major crimes.39 Although many cities (such as New York and Los Angeles) have claimed reductions in serious crime after applying this theory, crime was reduced by the same amount across most cities during the same time period (from the late 1990s to the mid- 2000s).

Other policies that can be derived from theories in this section include the “three-strikes-you’re-out” policy, which assumes that offenders will make a rational choice not to commit future offenses if they could go to prison for life after committing three; in such a case, the negatives would certainly outweigh any expected benefits of the third crime. For deterrence to be most effective, punishment must be swift, certain, and severe. Where does the three-strikes policy fit into this equation? The bottom line is that it is much more severe than it is swift or certain. Given Beccaria’s theory and philosophy (see Chapter 3), this policy will probably not work because it is not certain or swift; however, it is severe, in the sense that a person can be sentenced to life for committing three felony offenses over time.

A controversial three-strikes law was passed by voter initiative in California, and other states have adopted similar laws. This law sends third-time felons to prison for the rest of their lives regardless of the nature of that third felony. California first requires convictions for two “strikable” felonies—crimes such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, drug offenses, and so on. Then any third felony can trigger the life sentence. The cases of nonviolent offenders going to prison for life after stealing a piece of pizza or shoplifting DVDs, while rare, do occur.

The question we are concerned with here is, does the three-strikes policy work? As a specific deterrent, the answer is clearly yes; offenders who are imprisoned for life cannot commit more crimes on the street. In that regard, three strikes works well. Some people feel, however, that laws such as three strikes need to include a general deterrent effect to be considered successful, meaning that this law should deter everyone from engaging in multiple crimes. So is three strikes a general deterrent? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this question, because laws vary from state to state, the laws are used at different rates across counties in a given state, and so forth. There is at least some consensus in the literature, however.

Teens can increase the likelihood of being victimized by staying out late at night, hanging with the wrong crowd, or taking part in drinking or risky behavior.



One study from California suggests that three strikes reduced crime,40 but the remaining studies show that

three strikes either has no effect on crime or actually increases crime.41 How could three strikes increase crime? The authors of those studies attributed an increase in homicide, following three strikes, to the possibility that third-strikers have more incentive to kill victims and any witnesses to avoid apprehension. Although this

argument is tentative, it may be true.42 This is just one of the many policy implications that can be derived from this section. We expect that readers of this book will come up with many more, but it is vital that they examine the empirical literature in determining policies’ usefulness in reducing criminal activity. Other policy implications regarding the theories and findings discussed in this chapter are discussed in the final section of this book.

In another strategy strongly based on the rational choice model, a number of judges have started using shaming penalties to deter offenders from recidivating. They have ordered everything from posting pictures of men arrested for soliciting prostitutes to forcing offenders to walk down their towns’ main streets wearing signs that announce their crimes. These are just two examples of an increasing trend that emphasizes the informal or community factors required to deter crime effectively. Unfortunately, to date there have been virtually no empirical evaluations of the effectiveness of such shaming penalties, although studies of expected

shame for committing an act consistently show a deterrent effect.43

During a protest against California’s “three strikes” law, Sequoia, Floyd, and Deonta Earl hold photos of their father, Floyd Earl, who is in jail for a term of 25 years to life. California voters and lawmakers approved the three-strikes law amid public furor over the 1993 kidnap and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by Richard


Allen Davis, a repeat offender on parole at the time of the kidnapping.

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Why Do They Do It?


The Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway was convicted and sentenced in 2003 after many decades of acting as the Green River Killer; he had stabbed his first victim at age 16, in 1965. He confessed to killing 71 victims (although he was convicted of only 48), virtually all of them women. He appeared to live separate lives. In one aspect of his life in the Seattle area, he was the father of a son and husband to his third wife. The other side involved picking up women, mostly prostitutes and strippers, who were willing to engage in sexual activity with him in remote locations.

He claimed that he would hide or bury the bodies of the victims he really “liked” because he knew he would want to go back and have sex with them later, which he did on occasion. He would also place various objects, such as a fish, bottle, or sausage, at the crime scene to throw off authorities, because these objects didn’t match the modus operandi they were expecting to help link the crimes together. So he did appear to plan his crimes, at least in terms of manipulating the crime scenes (whether the primary scene, where the killing took place, or the secondary scene, where the body was dumped).

He also notably said, “I would choke them . . . and I was really good at it.” But when asked by an investigator in an official interview where he ranked on a scale of evil from 1 to 5, he said he was a 3. So there appears to be a disconnect between the way he thinks and the way society at large thinks.

Ridgway was caught after DNA from crime scenes was matched to a saliva test he had taken years before, when authorities had suspected him but didn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest. So he continued his killing spree for many years, until they finally obtained further evidence linking him to some of the murders. Ridgway is now serving 480 years in prison for 48 life sentences, due to a bargain that got him out of the death penalty.

But why did he do it? Obviously, he has some psychological issues. But he passed the psychological test to determine readiness to stand trial, so he was not ruled legally insane. Virtually all his victims easily fit within his lifestyle, as he traveled around in his truck and picked up women in essentially the same area where he worked and lived. He never went far out of his way. In fact, none of his victims seemed to come from outside the Seattle area. And he would almost always dump or bury the bodies within a relatively limited radius in that region—hence his label, “the Green River Killer.”

In one notable instance, he claimed that his son was with him in the truck when he picked up a woman. He had his son stay in the truck while he took the woman a distance away and killed her. But we know that he tended to pick up and kill these women as part of his daily routine, which included working at a truck-painting factory. Thus, this case applies to the routine activities theory and lifestyles perspective covered in this chapter. Also keep in mind that even at the time when he was apprehended for these murders, he had a relatively stable marriage, which is not atypical for serial killers. They often lead separate lives, and both lives can seem fairly routine despite extreme contradictions.


Think About It: 1. What was the Green River Killer’s typical method of operation (MO), or how he carried out most of his killings? 2. How is the Green River Killer’s case a good example of routine activities theory?

Sources: Jensen, J., & Case, J. (2011). Green River Killer: A true detective story. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books.



This chapter reviewed the rebirth of deterrence studies in criminological literature. This reemphasis on deterrence was largely a response to the failure of most rehabilitation programs to lower recidivism in criminals. Specifically, the empirical evidence from studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s regarding various rehabilitation programs showed that they were not effective in reducing recidivism, especially in chronic offenders. The first wave of research in this new focus on deterrence emphasized comparisons of jurisdictions (often various states in the United States) that tend to use more severe punishments than other jurisdictions. The subsequent waves of the rebirth of deterrence focused on longitudinal or panel studies that estimated how perceptions affect behavior, but this was quickly criticized by researchers who noted that the reverse is more likely: Behavior affects perceptions of being caught or punished. This led to the scenario methodology, in which individuals are asked their perceived likelihood of engaging in a specific situation at a given time, which is essentially where the current research on Classical/deterrence models remains.

We also examined more recent forms of Classical/deterrence theory, such as rational choice theory, which emphasizes the effects of informal sanctions (e.g., family, friends, employment) and the benefits of offending (e.g., the “fun” of offending). We also discussed routine activities theory, which explains why victimization tends to occur far more often in certain locations (i.e., “hot spots”) due to the convergence of three key elements in time and place—motivated offender(s), vulnerable target(s), and lack of guardianship—which create an attractive opportunity for crime as individuals go about their everyday activities. Another theory closely related to routine activities theory is the lifestyles perspective. The common element across all these perspectives is the underlying assumption that individuals are rational beings who have free will and thus choose their behavior based on assessments of a given situation, such as the possible risks versus the potential payoff. The bottom line of these various modern theories is that the perceptions and decisions made by individuals often put them at a much higher risk of engaging in criminal acts as well as becoming victims of such crimes.

To follow up on the case study of Wayne at the beginning of this chapter, you should be able to see how his story relates well to some of the theories and concepts presented in this chapter—most notably, rational choice theory. Just to remind you, Wayne had engaged in some delinquent/criminal acts in high school and college; it was nothing violent, but he had come close to being arrested in high school and was apprehended and held by police for a couple of incidents in college (all charges were dropped or dismissed). But he realized that he had a lot to lose, such as all the work he had put toward getting good grades and completing the pre-law curriculum. Furthermore, he realized that he wanted to maintain strong bonds with his family and friends, not to mention relationships with future employers, and they would likely lose some level of respect for him if he continued to be caught for various offenses. So he completely changed his life trajectory by focusing on his studies, career, and family life.

This is a hypothetical (and some may say prototypical) scenario of what the more modern versions of deterrence, such as rational choice theory, offer in terms of explanations for individuals’ decision-making. But it is based on an actual case, according to the history of a good friend of one of the authors of this text. The


point of this example is that each individual has the rationality and free will to examine the potential costs and benefits of his or her behavior and make decisions based on consideration of all major risks—both formal and informal sanctions—as well as perceived benefits. This goes well beyond the traditional Classical version of deterrence, which focused only on formal sanctions, and provides a far more robust and valid model for explaining criminal behavior—or in Wayne’s case, the decision not to engage in such behavior. The assumptions of this type of theorizing will be contradicted in the following chapters, which discuss theories that assume there is virtually no rationality or free will, let alone calculated decision-making, involved in committing a crime.


Summary of Theories in Chapter 4


Key Terms

aggregate studies, 92 cross-sectional studies, 92 experiential effect, 93 formal/official deterrence, 95 informal deterrence, 95 rational choice theory, 95 routine activities theory,100 scenario research, 94 vignettes, 94


Discussion Questions 1. Do you think the deterrence model should have been rebirthed or left for dead? Explain why you feel this way. 2. Regarding the aggregate level of research in deterrence studies, do you find such studies valid? Explain why or why not. 3. In comparing longitudinal studies with vignette/scenario studies, which do you think offers the most valid method for examining

individual perceptions regarding the costs and benefits of offending situations? Explain why you feel this way. 4. Can you relate to the experiential effect? If you can’t, do you know someone who seems to engage in the behavior that results from

this phenomenon? Make sure to articulate what the experiential effect is. 5. Regarding rational choice theory, would you rather be subject to formal sanctions if none of your family, friends, or employers

found out that you engaged in shoplifting, or would you rather face the informal sanctions with no formal punishment (other than being arrested)? Explain your decision.

6. As a teenager, did you or family or friends get a “rush” out of doing things that were deviant or wrong? If so, did that feeling seem to outweigh any potential legal or informal consequences?

7. Regarding routine activities theory, which places, residences, or areas of your hometown do you feel fit this idea that certain places attract more crime than others (i.e., “hot spots”)? Explain how you, friends, or others (including police) in your community deal with such areas. Does it work?

8. Regarding routine activities theory, which of the three elements of the theory do you feel is the most important to address in efforts to reduce crime in “hot spots”?

9. What types of lifestyle characteristics lead to the highest criminal/victimization rates? List at least five factors that lead to such propensities.

10. Find at least one study that uses mapping/geographical (GPS) data and report the conclusions of that study. Do the findings and conclusions fit the routine activities theoretical framework? Why or why not?

11. What types of policy strategies derived from rational choice and routine activities theories do you think would be most effective? Least effective?

Web Resources

The journal article at this site provides a good explanation of the key issues involved in modern longitudinal studies of deterrence, which were discussed in this chapter.


This site is for the Death Penalty Information Center, which is one of the very best sources of facts and reports on the use and cost of capital punishment, as well as its limited effectiveness as a deterrent.


This site is a very thorough discussion by Robert Keel at the University of Missouri about the concepts and propositions that rational choice theory added to the traditional deterrence model.


The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing site has an excellent summary of routine activities theory and discusses its application to their approaches to policing and making high crime places safer.


This PowerPoint slideshow reviews routine activities theory and also discusses how some scholars have claimed that victims often raise the likelihood of their victimization because of their risky lifestyles.


Student Study Site



Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Study Sheds Light on Criminal Activity During Time Change

Training Helps Inmates Build a Bridge to Life Outside Prison Walls

A reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence

Decision making in the crime commission process: Comparing rapists, child molesters, and victim-crossover sex offenders

Lifestyle-routine activities and crime events

Prison Rehabilitation

Teen Who Stole Endures Public Punishment

Jail Keeper Says California Three-Strikes Law Fails to Reduce Crime

Dan Ariely: Crime and Irrationality


The CDC on Drunk Driving

Prison Sentencing


Community Action

Crime Mapping

People V Brock Turner


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.


5 Early Positivism Biological Theories of Crime




Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Describe what distinguishes positivistic perspectives from the Classical/rational choice perspectives in terms of assumptions, concepts, and propositions. Explain how the early, pre-Darwinian theories, such as craniometry and phrenology, are different from (and similar to) later post- Darwinian theories, such as Lombroso’s theory of offending. Identify the key assumptions, propositions, and weaknesses of Lombroso’s theory of atavism and the born criminal. Explain the shift to more psychological areas, namely IQ testing, and how it affected the field in terms of policy and thinking about individuals’ risk for criminality. Evaluate the key propositions, concepts, and weaknesses of Sheldon’s body type theory, and how he measured the various body types of this perspective.



In the early 1940s, Charlie Follett was a teenage resident in California’s Sonoma State Home, a placement facility for individuals deemed by the courts and other authorities to be undesirable, with the common

“medical” terms being feeble-minded or moron.1 This meant he scored relatively low on an IQ test. One day, facility workers told him to lie down on an operating table, and without telling him what was about to happen, they began his vasectomy. He was one of more than 20,000 Californians—most of them female—to be forcibly sterilized by the state from the early 1900s to 1963. Sometimes they never learned of the procedure, and sometimes they were lied to (for example, told that they had an appendectomy or some other medical procedure). This procedure was performed throughout the nation (Virginia had the second highest number of such sterilizations, at about 8,300), with the support of the U.S. Supreme Court via the 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell. Although California governor Gray Davis apologized much later, in 2003, no financial reparations had ever been offered to the victims of this misguided policy. This is one of the ways early theories of criminality were abused in terms of policy, but we discuss many others in this chapter.

This chapter examines the early formulations of scientific criminological testing and theorizing, referred to as the Positive School of criminology. The emphasis on science in criminology started in the mid-1800s and provided a basis for what continues today. First, we examine why criminological theories became the topic of scientists at that time, and then we examine the early explanations of criminal behavior as well as the many criticisms of such models, how such theories were tested, and especially the policy implications. We then discuss how Darwin’s work inspired a giant change in how both academics and society viewed criminals.

We examine how the Father of Criminology developed his theory as well as how IQ testing impacted the field and policies, as noted in the story above. We will also explore how these two models merged to form body type theory. Then we will discuss how such theories inspired future models of criminality, with an emphasis on how such traditional frameworks have contributed to modern-day applications and explanatory frameworks.


Early Biological Theories of Behavior

After many decades of dominance by the Classical School (see Chapter 3), academics and scientists were becoming aware that the deterrence framework was not explaining the distribution of crime. This restlessness led to new explanatory models of crime and behavior. Most of these perspectives focused on the fact that certain individuals or groups tend to offend more than others and that such “inferior” individuals should be controlled or even eliminated. This ideological framework fit a more general stance toward eugenics, which is the study of and policies related to improvement of the human race via control over selective reproduction (policies that were explicitly mandated for certain groups, as we will see). Thus, the conclusion was that there must be notable variations across individuals (and groups) that can help determine those most at risk of offending.


Case Study


Javier Javier was born in an inner-city area in El Paso, Texas. Due to the lack of affordable prenatal and postnatal health care, his mother was largely on her own in taking steps to prevent developmental complications. She neglected to take any prenatal vitamins, and she did not have regular medical checkups to monitor the pregnancy. She gave birth prematurely, in the 34th week (the normal length of gestation is about 40 weeks). Everything seemed to go fine in the delivery, but as Javier grew he displayed many unusual physical features, including small, low-seated ears; a relatively large third toe and webbing between all his toes; a curved “pinky” finger; a cleft lip; and close-set eyes.

He had a relatively good home environment and a healthy diet, and he received constant attention and support from his mother and father. As he grew, he developed an athletic, muscular build. Even early on, his father noticed how athletic Javier was and signed him up for many local and school sports activities (e.g., soccer, football), where he excelled. However, his academic performance was problematic. In elementary and middle school, he performed better than average in math, but his verbal scores were low. Javier did well enough to advance to high school, where he became an outstanding linebacker on the school’s football team.

Still, his verbal scores and grades were very low, and he became frustrated when writing papers and taking higher-level essay exams in high school, which greatly reduced his grade point average. Javier realized that his chances for getting a college scholarship were low, and he began to hang out more with his best friends, also standouts on the team, who had said they could make some money burglarizing homes they knew were unoccupied. He participated in more than a dozen of these crimes before he was caught and arrested, which further harmed his chances of getting a college scholarship, especially since he was kicked off the football team.

However, because Javier got caught only once, he was placed on probation and successfully completed it. He realized he should not commit such crimes in the future and cleaned up his act. While he never received any scholarships, upon graduation from high school, he got a job offer from his father’s friend to work at a local automotive factory, which paid double the hourly minimum wage. So he took the job, and after a few years his good performance earned him a promotion. Ultimately, Javier outgrew his offending behavior streak, got married, and had two children, and he is now living happily with his family in a modest but nice house that he owns.

We discuss Javier again at the end of this chapter, where we apply some of the key theoretical concepts and propositions that specifically pertain to his experience. We also discuss some of the criticisms of these theories that do not seem to fit Javier’s situation.


Think About It: 1. Do you think Javier’s body type played a part in whom he hung out with? 2. How effective do you think probation and other diversion programs are for dealing with cases such as Javier?


So in the early to mid-1800s, several perspectives were offered regarding how to determine which individuals or groups are most likely to commit crime. Many of these theoretical frameworks were based on establishing a method for distinguishing the superior individuals and groups from the inferior individuals and groups. Such intentions were likely related to the increased use of slavery in the world during the 1800s as well as imperialism’s fight to suppress rebellions. For example, slavery was at its peak in the United States during this period, and many European countries had taken over colonies that they were trying to control for profit and domain.

Craniometrists measured the size of brains and skulls and attempted to show that the larger the mass of the brain, the more superior the person or race.


Source: Cicely D. Fawcett and Alice Lee, “A Second Study of the Variation and Correlation of the Human Skull, With Special Reference to the Naqada Crania,” Biometrika, Vol. 1, No. 4. (Aug., 1902).



Perhaps the first example of this theory was represented by craniometry. Craniometry is the belief that the

size of the brain or skull represents the superiority or inferiority of certain individuals or ethnic/racial groups.2

The reason the size of both the brain and the skull were considered is that a person’s skull was believed to perfectly conform to the brain structure; thus, the size of the skull was thought to match the size of the brain. Although modern science has somewhat dismissed this assumption, there is a significant correlation between the size of the skull and the size of the brain. Still, even according to the assumptions of the craniometrists, it is unlikely that much can be gathered from measuring the overall mass of the brain, and certainly not the size of the skull.

The scientists who studied this model would measure the various sizes, or circumferences, of the skull if they were dealing with living subjects. If they were dealing with recently dead subjects, they would measure the weight or volume of the brain itself. When dealing with subjects who had died long before, the craniometrists would pour seeds into the skull and then measure the volume by pouring the seeds into a graduated cylinder. Later, when these scientists realized that seeds were not a valid measure of volume, they moved toward using buckshot or ball bearings.

Most studies by craniometrists showed that subjects of white, Western European descent tended to be far superior to other ethnic groups in terms of larger skull circumference or brain size. Furthermore, the front portion of the brain (i.e., genu) was thought to be larger in the superior individuals and groups, and the hind portion of the brain/skull (i.e., splenium) was predicted to be larger in the lesser individuals and groups. Notably, these researchers typically knew to which ethnic/racial group the skulls/brains belonged before measuring them, making for an unethical and improper methodology of craniometry. Such biased

measurements of brains and skulls continued throughout the 19th century and into the early 1900s.3 These examinations were largely done with the intention of furthering the assumptions of eugenics, which aimed to prove under the banner of “science” that certain individuals and ethnic/racial groups were inferior to others.

Positive School: a perspective that assumes individuals have no free will to control their behavior.

eugenics: the study of and policies related to the improvement of the human race via discriminatory control over reproduction.

craniometry: field of study that emphasized the belief that the size of the brain or skull reflected superiority or inferiority, with larger brains and skulls being considered superior.

This intent of noted craniometrists is supported by subsequent tests of some of these studies, conducted with the researchers not knowing which skulls/brains were from which ethnic/racial groups. These new studies

showed only a small correlation between size of the skull/brain and certain behaviors or personality traits.4

Furthermore, once some of the early “forefathers” of craniometry died, their brains showed average or below- average volume. The existing craniometrists then switched their postulates such that it was the more convoluted or complex structure of brains (those with more fissures and gyri than others) that distinguished

superior brains from inferior ones.5 However, this argument was even more tentative and vague than the


former hypotheses of craniometrists and thus did not last long.

A prototypical mapping of the skull by phrenologists. This shows the various characteristics believed to be influenced by abnormalities in certain parts of the brain.


© iStockphoto.com/Chris Price


So craniometry itself did not last long, likely due to its noticeable lack of validity and the fact that Darwinian theory (not presented until the late 1800s) had not been presented or accepted at that time, so the model lacked a popular framework for basis. However, it is important to note that modern studies show that persons

who have significantly larger brains do tend to score higher on intelligence tests.6



Despite the failure of craniometry to explain the difference between criminals and noncriminals, scientists were not ready to give up the assumption that this phenomenon could be explained by visual differences in the skull (or brain)—and they certainly weren’t ready to give up the assumption that certain ethnic or racial groups were superior or inferior to others. Therefore, the experts of the time developed the perspective of phrenology. Phrenology is the science of determining human dispositions based on distinctions (e.g., bumps) in the skull,

which are believed to conform to the shape of the brain (see photo on this page ).7 Readers should keep in mind that much of the theorizing of phrenologists was still targeted toward supporting the assumptions of eugenics and showing that certain individuals and groups were inferior or superior to others.

It is important to keep in mind that, like the craniometrists, phrenologists assumed that the shape of the skull conformed to the shape of the brain. Thus, a bump or other abnormality on the skull directly related to an abnormality in the brain. This assumption has been entirely refuted by modern scientific evidence, so it is not surprising that phrenology quickly fell out of favor in criminological thought. However, like its predecessor, phrenology did get some things right. Certain parts of the brain are indeed responsible for specific tasks.

phrenology: the science of determining human dispositions based on distinctions (e.g., bumps) in the skull, which is believed to conform to the shape of the brain.

For example, in the original phrenological map (see photo above), “destructiveness” was determined by the presence of abnormalities above the left ear. Modern scientific studies show that perhaps the most vital part of the brain in terms of criminality regarding trauma is that of the left temporal lobe, or the area above the left

ear.8 There are other indications that the phrenologists were right. After all, most readers are well aware of the fact that specific portions of the brain govern the operation of individualized activities in our bodies. For example, a particular portion of the brain governs the action of our hands, whereas other areas govern our arms, legs, and so forth. So the phrenologists weren’t completely wrong, but the extent to which they relied on bumps on the skull to indicate who would be most disposed to criminal behavior was inaccurate.

Figure 5.1 Physiognomists attempted to show that criminals’ facial profiles resembled those of animals, such as monkeys, apes, birds, and lions, implying they were a genetic “throwback” to an earlier, inferior stage of evolution.


Illustration (anonym): The Physiognomist’s Own Book: an introduction to physiognomy drawn from the writings of Lavater, Philadelphia; Pittsburg 1841.


© Charles Le Brun (heads).



After phrenology fell out of favor among scientists, researchers and society still did not want to depart from the assumption that certain individuals or ethnic groups were inferior to others. Therefore, another discipline, known as physiognomy, became popular in the mid-1800s. Physiognomy is the study of facial and other bodily aspects to indicate developmental problems, such as criminality. Not surprisingly, early physiognomy studies focused on contrasting various racial/ethnic groups to prove that certain groups or individuals were

superior or inferior, as illustrated in Figure 5.1.9

physiognomy: the study of facial and other bodily aspects to identify developmental problems, such as criminality.

Using modern understandings of science, it should be obvious from the illustrations in Figure 5.1 that physiognomy did not last long as a respected scientific perspective of criminality. At any time other than the late 1800s, the importance of observed facial and bodily features in determining criminality would not be highly accepted for long, if at all. However, the timing of this theory was on its side. Specifically, Darwin published his work On the Origin of Species in the late 1800s and made a huge impact on societal views regarding the rank order of ethnic groups.

Cesare Lombroso (1836–1909) is considered the Father of Criminology and the Father of the Positive School for his contributions to the field in the late 19th century.


© Cesar Lombroso

Darwin’s model outlined a vague framework that proposed humans had evolved from more primitive beings, and that the human species (as all others) developed with a number of adaptations preferred by natural selection. In other words, some species are selected by their ability to adapt to the environment, whereas others do not adapt so well and die off, or at least become inferior in terms of dominance. This assumption of Darwin’s work, which was suddenly accepted widely by both society and scientists throughout the world, falsely led to an inclination to believe that certain ethnic/racial groups are inferior or superior.

Darwin was not a criminologist, so he is not considered the father or theorist of any major schools of thought. However, he did set the stage for what followed in criminological thought. Specifically, Darwin’s theory laid the groundwork for what would become the first major scientific theory of crime—namely, Cesare Lombroso’s theory of born criminals. Lombroso’s theory also tied together the assumptions and propositions of the disciplines we have discussed in this section: craniometry, phrenology, and physiognomy.



Lombroso’s Theory of Atavism and Born Criminals

Informed largely by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Lombroso (1835–1909) created what is widely considered the first attempt at scientific theory in criminological thought. After all, most previous theorists were not scientists (Cesare Beccaria, for example, was trained in law and never went out to test his propositions) or did not specifically concentrate on explaining levels of criminality (such as the craniometrists and phrenologists). However, Lombroso was trained in medical science and oriented toward documenting his observations and scientific methodology. Furthermore, timing was on his side in the sense that Darwin’s theory was published 15 years prior to the publication of Lombroso’s major work and had time to become immensely popular with both scientists and the public.


Lombroso’s Theory of Crime

The first edition of Lombroso’s The Criminal Man was published in 1876 and triggered an immediate

response from most Western societies in terms of both their ideas and policies related to crime and justice.10

In this work, Lombroso outlined a theory of crime that brought together the pre-Darwinian theories of craniometry, phrenology, and physiognomy, discussed previously. Furthermore, Lombroso’s theory was largely based on certain groups (and individuals) being “atavistic” and likely born to commit crime. Atavism means that a person or particular feature of an individual is a throwback to an earlier stage of evolutionary development. In other words, people who are serious criminals are manifestations of lower forms of humanity in terms of evolutionary progression. For example, Lombroso would likely suggest that chronic offenders are more similar to the earlier stages of humankind, such as the “missing link,” than they are to modern humans.

atavism: belief that certain characteristics or behaviors of a person are throwbacks to an earlier stage of evolutionary development.

Although Lombroso noted that there were other types of offenders, such as the mentally ill and “criminaloids,” who committed minor offenses due to external or environmental circumstances, he specifically claimed that the “born criminals” were the ones who should be singled out in addressing crime. Specifically, Lombroso claimed that born criminals were the most serious and violent criminals in any society—those whom most criminologists now refer to as chronic offenders. Furthermore, Lombroso claimed that born criminals cannot deviate from their natural tendencies to be antisocial.

On the other hand, Lombroso claimed that despite the born criminal’s inevitable tendency to commit crime, there was a way for societies to prevent or reduce these crimes—by identifying born criminals. According to Lombroso, the way for societies to identify born criminals, even early in life, is through stigmata. Stigmata are physical manifestations of the atavism of an individual, with such physical features indicating the prior evolutionary stages of development.

stigmata: the physical manifestations of atavism (biological inferiority), according to Lombroso.


Lombroso’s List of Stigmata

According to Lombroso, the manifestation of more than five stigmata indicates that an individual is atavistic and thus a born criminal. Readers may be wondering what these stigmata are, given the importance of these criteria. This is a great question, the answer to which was constantly changing according to Lombroso’s list of what constitutes stigmata. In the beginning, this list was largely based on Lombroso’s work as a physician and included such things as large eyes and large ears. It is hard to specify what exact criteria were listed as stigmata because Lombroso changed this list as he went along (which can be argued is very poor science), even up until the last edition of his book well into the 1900s.

For the most part, stigmata consisted of facial and bodily features that deviated from the norm—in other words, abnormally small or large noses, abnormally small or large ears, abnormally small or large eyes, abnormally small or large jaws, or almost anything that went outside the “bell curve” of normal physical development in human beings. Beyond deviant physical features, Lombroso also threw in some extraphysiological features, such as tattoos and a history of epilepsy (or other disorders) in the family.

Lombroso’s documentation of some of the tattoos he saw on known criminal offenders included many tattoos that featured female names or some motto such as “born under an unlucky star” or “man of misfortune.” Others were more intriguing, such as a tattoo on the penis of one offender that read “Entra Tutto,” which

means “it all goes in” or “it enters all.”11 Either translation is rather amusing. Although it is likely that these latter features are somewhat correlated to crime and delinquency, is it likely that they caused such antisocial behavior? Given Lombroso’s model that persons are born criminal, it is quite unlikely that these factors are causally linked to criminality. After all, how many babies are born with tattoos? Regardless of the illogical nature of many of the stigmata, Lombroso professed that if a person had more than five of the physical features on his list, that person was indeed a born criminal and should be prevented from offending.

As a physician working for the Italian army, Lombroso examined the bodies of captured war criminals. According to Lombroso, he first realized the nature of the criminal when a particular war criminal was brought in for examination:

This was not merely an idea, but a flash of inspiration. At the sight of that skull, I seemed to see all of a sudden, lighted up as a vast plain under a flaming sky, the problem of the nature of the criminal—an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals. Thus were explained anatomically the enormous jaws, high cheek bones . . . solitary lines in the palms, extreme size of the orbits, handle-shaped ears found in criminals, savages and apes, insensibility to pain, extremely acute sight, tattooing, excessive idleness, love of orgies, and the irresponsible craving of evil for its own sake, the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim, but to mutilate the corpse, tear its

flesh and drink its blood.12

Lombroso provided numerous profile images of criminals and claimed that his list of stigmata could identify a


born criminal by facial features.



While most laugh at his words now, at the time when he wrote this description it likely rang true to most readers, which is perhaps why his book was the dominant text in the criminological field for many decades. In the description above, Lombroso incorporates many of the core principles of his theory—namely, the idea of criminals being atavistic, or biological evolutionary throwbacks, and the stigmata that became so important in his theoretical model. Furthermore, Lombroso’s theory synthesized the themes of craniometry, phrenology, and physiognomy. This theory came just a decade after Darwin, when society was ready to accept such a perspective, which was not too far removed from the dominant perspective of the slavery period in this country. Perhaps this is why his theoretical framework became so popular.

A good example of the popular acceptance of Lombroso’s “scientific” stigmata appears in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in which the physical appearance of the Count (Dracula) is based on “Lombrosian” traits, such as the high bridge of the thin nose, arched nostrils, massive eyebrows, and pointed ears. This reference makes sense given the time when the novel was published (the late 1800s), when Lombroso’s theory was highly dominant in society and science. This is just one indication of this theory’s importance among academics, scientists, philosophers, fiction writers, and criminal justice policy during that period. The theory became popular for other reasons as well.

Not only did Lombroso claim that he could identify born criminals by their stigmata; he also claimed that he could identify certain types of criminals. For example, he claimed that certain stigmata could be identified among groups of anarchists, burglars, murderers, shoplifters, and so forth. Of course, if most readers are confused by their failure to distinguish one kind of offender from another, that is fine; virtually no one can. Lombroso’s stigmata as a way to distinguish certain individuals as born criminals, let alone to identify certain forms of criminals, are quite invalid by modern research standards. However, as mentioned above, Lombroso’s theory became extremely popular throughout the developed Western world, and much of this popularity was due to good timing.


Lombroso as the Father of Criminology and the Father of the Positive School

Lombroso’s theory came a decade and a half after Darwin’s work was published, so Darwin’s views had already spread throughout the Western world. As mentioned previously, Lombroso’s model coincided with much of the Western world’s views on slavery and deportation at that time. Because of this good timing and because he became known as the first individual to test his hypotheses through observation, Lombroso is widely considered the Father of Criminology. This title is not assigned out of respect for his theory (which has been largely rejected) or his methods (which are considered highly invalid by modern standards) but is deserved because he was the first person to gain recognition in testing his theoretical propositions. Furthermore, his theory coincided with political movements popular at that time—the Fascist and Nazi movements of the early 1900s.

Lombroso is also considered the Father of the Positive School of criminology because he was the first to gain prominence in identifying factors beyond free will or free choice (i.e., the Classical School) that were predicted to cause crime. Although previous theorists had presented perspectives that went beyond free will, such as craniometry and phrenology, Lombroso was the first to gain widespread attention due to the popularity of Darwin’s perspective at that time. The pre-Darwinian frameworks had not gained much attention due to the lack of a theoretical perspective conducive to these models. Lombroso’s perspective was timed well (just after Darwin’s), and it gained almost immediate support in all developed countries at that time, which is the most likely reason for why Lombroso is considered the Father of the Positive School of criminology.

It is important to understand the assumptions of positivism, which most experts consider somewhat synonymous with the term determinism. Determinism is the idea that most human behavior is determined by factors beyond free will and free choice (i.e., the Classical School). In other words, determinism (i.e., the Positive School) assumes that human beings do not decide how they will act by rationally thinking through the costs and benefits of a given situation. Rather, the Positive School is based on the fundamental belief that factors outside free will and choice—such as biological, psychological, and sociological variables—determine the choices we make regarding all types of behavior, especially decisions of whether or not to engage in criminal activity.

The majority of readers probably believe they have chosen their career paths as well as most other aspects of their lives. However, scientific evidence shows otherwise. For example, although most people consider religion one of the most important aspects of their lives, studies show that far more than 90% of the world’s population have chosen their religious affiliation (e.g., Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Judaism) based on the religious affiliation of their parents or caretakers. Therefore, it is clear that what most people consider an extremely important decision—namely, what to believe regarding a higher being or force—is almost completely determined by their environment. To clarify, almost no one sits down and goes through a list of descriptions of various religions to decide which fits best. Rather, in almost all cases, religious affiliation is determined by culture, which dismisses the factor of free will/free choice assumed by the Classical School.


The same type of argument can be made regarding the clothes we wear, the food we prefer, and the activities we enjoy.

determinism: the assumption that human behavior is caused by factors outside free will and rational decision-making.

Another way to distinguish positivism and determinism is in the way scientists view human behavior, which can be understood using a chemistry analogy. Specifically, a chemist assumes that if a given element is subjected to certain temperatures, pressures, or mixtures with other elements, it will react in a predictable way. In a highly comparable way, a positivist assumes that when human beings are subjected to poverty, delinquent peers, low intelligence, or other factors, they will react in a predictable way. Therefore, there is virtually no difference between how a chemist feels about the behavior of particles and elements and how a positivistic scientist feels about human behavior.

In Lombroso’s case, the deterministic factor was the biological makeup of individuals. However, we shall see in the next several chapters that positivistic theories focus on a wide range of variables, from biology to psychology to social aspects. For example, many readers likely believe that bad parenting, poverty, and associating with delinquent peers are some of the most important factors in predicting criminality. If you believe that such variables significantly influence decisions to commit crime, then you are likely a positive theorist; you believe that crime is caused by factors above and beyond free choice or free will.


Learning Check 5.1 1. What term means the study of and policies related to the improvement of the human race via control of selective reproduction?

1. Cytogenetics 2. Ethnographics 3. Racionology 4. Eugenics 5. Fascionics

2. What is the 19th-century study of the size of the brain/skull that posited that the bigger the brain, the more superior the person or race?

1. Phrenology 2. Physiognomy 3. Craniometry 4. Skullography 5. Cerebrotology

3. What is the 19th-century study of various bumps on portions of the skull believed to reveal weaknesses in terms of certain cognitive or personality traits?

1. Phrenology 2. Physiognomy 3. Craniometry 4. Skullography 5. Cerebrotology

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Lombroso’s Policy Implications

Beyond the theoretical aspects of Lombroso’s theory of criminality, it is important to realize that his perspective had profound consequences for policy as well. For example, Lombroso was called in to testify in numerous criminal processes and trials to determine the guilt or innocence of suspects. Under the banner of science (in much the same way we view DNA or fingerprint analysis now), Lombroso was called in to

determine the guilt of certain persons in key criminal testimony, often during trial.13 Lombroso even wrote about many of the trials and official identifications he made as an “expert” witness, which often included identifying which suspect (often out of many) had committed a crime. Lombroso based such judgments solely

on the visual stigmata evident in the line of suspects.14 In one such account of Lombroso’s experiences as an expert witness, he noted:

[One suspect] was, in fact, the most perfect type of the born criminal: enormous jaws, frontal sinuses, and zygomata, thin upper lip, huge incisors, unusually large head, tactile obtuseness with sensorial

manicinism. . . . He was convicted.15

Why Do They Do It?


Dr. Harold Shipman Dr. Harold Shipman is one of the top three most prolific serial killers on official record in the Western world. He is known to have killed more than 250 of his patients. The only serial killers on record that exceed him are both from Colombia: Pedro Lopez, the “Monster of the Andes,” believed to have killed 300 people, and Luis Garavito, “Le Bestia” or the beast, believed to have killed more than 400 people, including more than 100 children. However, Shipman could rank number one if you break the list into categories of serial killers. After all, the others were predatory, hedonistic serial killers, but Dr. Shipman was an “Angel of Death.” He was supposed to be helping his patients (indeed, he was paid to do so), but instead he killed them.

Shipman would typically inject his victims, almost always women, with lethal doses of diamorphine (i.e., heroin). It is believed he began killing patients in the late 1970s or early 1980s and continued until he was caught in the late 1990s. Investigators became suspicious when he was named in one of his victim’s wills, which left him about 380,000 pounds. When it was discovered that he had forged this will, it triggered a much larger investigation. However, the desire for money is not believed to be his main motive, because an investigation of the records revealed that this forged will was an isolated case; he had been killing his patients for years without any apparent monetary incentive.

Despite his consistent denials of guilt, in 2000 he was convicted and sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences with recommendation of no release. Notably, he was the only doctor in British legal history to be found guilty of killing his patients. Dr. Shipman hanged himself in his cell at Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire, England, on January 13, 2004.

So why did he do it? BBC News recently released a report examining why he may have done it but essentially gave up trying to understand his motive.

He has never revealed anything about the extent of his murderous career, and probably never will. . . . The experience of killing was personal and private to him, and he is never going to give that up. . . . We are never going to know the truth.

The best guess is from some of those present when he was tried in Preston Crown Court. They claimed that he likely “enjoyed exercising the power over life and death.”


This explanation probably doesn’t seem satisfactory to most readers, but the truth is that many serial killers kill simply because they enjoy it. A large part of that enjoyment is the power–control factor they hold over their victims. Fortunately, there are not many doctors who feel this way. But doctors are people, too. And where you have people, you will have killers.

Although this high-profile case is not specifically linked to any theories described in this chapter, it is presented here because the Father of Criminology, Lombroso, was also a medical doctor. In fact, it was during one of his criminal autopsies that he formulated his theoretical model.


Think About It: 1. What was the basic method of operation for Harold Shipman in how he killed his victims? This would make him what type

or category of serial killer? 2. What is the best guess for why he committed his many killings?

Sources: The secret world of Harold Shipman. (2001, January 5). BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1102270.stm; Smith, J. D. (2004). 100 most infamous criminals. New York, NY: MetroBooks.

When Lombroso was not available for such “scientific” determinations of guilty persons, his colleagues or students (often referred to as “lieutenants”) were often sent. Some of these students, such as Enrico Ferri and Raphael Garrofalo, became quite active in the Fascist regime of Italy in the early 1900s. This model of government, like the Nazi party in Germany, sought to remove the “inferior” groups from society. Thus, Lombroso’s theory was timed well in terms of both societal and governmental ideologies. This was another reason why Lombroso gained such prominence throughout the Western world throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Another policy implication that was implemented in some parts of the world was identifying young children on the basis of observed stigmata, which tend to manifest in the first 5 to 10 years of life. This led to tracking or isolating certain children based on such criteria, largely physiological features. Although many readers may consider such policies ridiculous, modern medicine has supported the identification, documentation, and importance of certain physical features as indications of high risk for developmental problems.

For example, modern medicine identifies a number of what are termed minor physical anomalies (MPAs) that indicate developmental problems. These MPAs include

head circumference out of the normal range, malformed ears, low-set ears, excessively large gap between the first and second toes, webbing between toes or fingers, no earlobes, curved fifth finger, asymmetrical ears, furrowed tongue, and

simian crease (see Figure 5.2).16

Given the practice of correlating such visible physical aspects with developmental problems, including criminality, it is obvious that Lombroso’s model of stigmata as predictors of antisocial problems has implications to the present day. Perhaps surprisingly, such implications are more accepted by modern medical science than they are in the criminological literature. For example, such minor physical anomalies (MPAs) are still used to diagnose and predict future development of young children. Such MPAs relate to the case study


of Javier presented at the beginning of this chapter. Furthermore, some modern scientific studies have shown

that being unattractive predicts criminal offending, which somewhat supports Lombroso’s theory of crime.17


Learning Check 5.2 1. Who is considered the Father of Criminology, as well as the Father of the Positive School of criminological thought?

1. Beccaria 2. Binet 3. Lombroso 4. Sheldon 5. Hirschi

2. What did the Father of Criminology say was a way to identify the most dangerous, chronic criminals? 1. Those with bad parents 2. Those who were poor 3. Those who had delinquent peers 4. Those who had stigmata 5. Those who had weak ties to conventional society

3. What does the Positive School of criminology assume that clearly distinguishes it from the Classical School of criminology? 1. Free will/free choice 2. Rational decision-making in choosing behavior 3. Determinism 4. Hedonism 5. Utilitarianism

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

minor physical anomalies: physical features, such as asymmetrical or low-seated ears, that are believed to indicate developmental problems.

About three decades after Lombroso’s original work was published, and after a long period of dominance during that time, criminologists began to question his theory of atavism and stigmata. Furthermore, it became clear that there was more involved in criminality than just the way people looked, such as psychological aspects of individuals. However, scientists and societies were not ready to depart from theories, such as Lombroso’s, that assumed that certain people or groups of people were inferior to others, so they simply chose another factor to emphasize—intelligence, or IQ.

Figure 5.2 The simian crease is one of many minor physical anomalies recognized by modern medical science as manifestations of early developmental disorders.


National Park Service Digital Image Archives


After Lombroso: The IQ-Testing Era

Despite the evidence presented against Lombroso, his theorizing remained dominant until the early 1900s, when criminologists realized that stigmata and the idea of a “born” criminal were not valid. However, even at that time, theorists and researchers were not ready to give up the assumption that certain ethnic or racial groups were superior or inferior to others. Thus, a new theory emerged based on a more quantified measure originated by Alfred Binet in France. This new measure was IQ, which represents an individual’s intelligence quotient. At that time, IQ was calculated as chronological age divided by mental age, which was then multiplied by 100—the average score being 100. This scale has changed enormously over time, but the bottom line is determining whether someone is above or below the base score of average (100).

Binet had good intentions in creating the concept of IQ scores in France, which he formulated to identify youth who were not performing up to par in educational skills. Binet was explicit in stating that IQ could be changed, which is why he proposed a score to identify slow learners so that they could be trained to raise their

IQs.18 However, when Binet’s work on developing the idea and methods of scoring IQs was brought to the United States, his basic assumptions and propositions were twisted. One of the most prominent individuals who utilized Binet’s IQ test in the United States for purposes of deporting, incapacitating, sterilizing, and otherwise ridding society of low-IQ individuals was H. H. Goddard.


Goddard’s IQ Test

Goddard is generally considered the leading authority on the use and interpretation of IQ testing in the

United States.19 Goddard used the IQ test he adopted from Binet’s model to examine immigrants coming into the United States. It is important to note that Goddard proposed quite different assumptions regarding intelligence or IQ than did Binet. To clarify, Goddard believed and claimed that IQ was static or innate, meaning that such levels could not be changed, even with training. The assumption of Goddard’s perspective of intelligence was that it was passed from generation to generation, from parents to offspring.

Goddard is known for labeling this low IQ feeble-mindedness, which actually became a technical, scientific term in the early 1900s referring to those who had significantly below-average levels of intelligence. Of course, being a scientist, Goddard specified certain levels of feeble-mindedness, which were ranked based on the degree to which the score was below average. In order from highest to lowest intelligence, the first group were the “morons,” the second group were the “imbeciles,” and the lowest group were the “idiots.”

feeble-mindedness: technical, scientific term in the early 1900s meaning those who had significantly below-average levels of intelligence.

According to Goddard, from a eugenics point of view, the biggest threat to the progress of humanity was not the idiots. Rather, he believed the morons were the biggest threat to the genetic pool. In Goddard’s words,

The idiot is not our greatest problem. He is indeed loathsome. . . . Nevertheless, he lives his life and is done. He does not continue the race with a line of children like himself. . . . It is the moron type that

makes for us our great problem.20

According to Goddard, of the three categories of feeble-mindedness, the morons are the group smart enough to slip through the cracks and reproduce, thus posing the biggest threat to humanity.

Goddard received many grants to fund his research, and he took his research team to Ellis Island in the early 1900s to identify the feeble-minded as they attempted to enter the United States. Much of his team was made up of women, who he believed were better at distinguishing the feeble-minded by sight:

After a person has had considerable experience in this work, he almost gets a sense of what a feeble- minded person is so that he can tell one afar off. The people who are best at this work, and who I believe should do this work, are women. Women seem to have closer observation than men. It was quite impossible for others to see how . . . women could pick out the feeble-minded without the aid of the

Binet test at all.21

Although Goddard never provided a good reason why, he insisted that women could pick out the feeble- minded better than men could, so he included them on his team of scientists stationed on Ellis Island.


Immigrants walk across pier from bridge on Ellis Island, where a large portion of immigrants were processed into the United States. Many of these immigrants were tested by Goddard and his research team for potentially being “feeble-minded.

Library of Congress


Policy Implications

Regarding policy implications of his work, Goddard was proud of the increase in the deportations of potential immigrants to the United States. For example, Goddard enthusiastically reported that deportations for the reason of mental deficiency increased by 350% in 1913 and 570% in 1914 from the average of the preceding

five years.22 However, over time Goddard realized that his policy recommendations of deportation, incarceration, and sterilization were not based on accurate science.

Specifically, after consistently validating his IQ test on immigrants and mental patients, Goddard finally tested his intelligence scale on a relatively representative cross-section of American citizens—namely, draftees for military service during World War I. The results showed that many of these recruits scored as feeble- minded (i.e., lower than a mental age of 12) on the given IQ test. Therefore, Goddard changed (lowered) the criteria of what determined a person’s feeble-mindedness; specifically, the criteria changed from a mental age of 12 to a mental age of 8. Although this appears to be a clear admission that his scientific method was inaccurate, Goddard continued to profess his model of the feeble-minded for many years, and societies utilized his ideas.

Toward the end of his career, Goddard did admit that intelligence could be improved, despite his earlier

assumptions that it was innate and static.23 In fact, Goddard actually claimed that he had “gone over to the

enemy.”24 However, despite Goddard’s admission that his assumptions and testing were not determinant of individuals’ intelligence, the snowball had been rolling for too long and had gathered too much strength to fight even the most notable theorist’s admonishment concerning the perspective.


Specifically, the sterilization of individuals, mostly females, based on scores from intelligence tests continued in the United States. Often, the justification was based not on the intelligence scores of the person being sterilized but on the scores of that person’s mother or father. After all, as Goddard had proclaimed, the “germ-plasm” that determined feeble-mindedness was passed on from one generation to the next, so it inevitably resulted in feeble-minded offspring as well. Thus, the U.S. government typically sterilized individuals—again, mostly women—based on their parents’ IQ scores.

This issue came to the highest court in the 1920s. The case of Buck v. Bell made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927, and the court discussed the issue of sterilizing individuals who had scored, or whose parents had scored, as mentally deficient on intelligence scales. The majority opinion, written by one of the court’s most respected jurists, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., stated,

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the state for these lesser

sacrifices. . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough.25


Thus, the highest court in the United States upheld the use of sterilization for the purposes of limiting reproduction among individuals deemed feeble-minded by a test score that even the creator and administrator of the test admitted was not valid or accurate.

Due to this approval from the court, such sterilizations continued for many years, up to the 1970s. Governors of many states, such as North Carolina, Virginia, and California, have since delivered public apologies for these policy practices. For example, in 2003 the governor of California, Gray Davis, apologized for the state law passed almost a century before that resulted in the sterilization of about 19,000 women in California.

Although this aspect of U.S. history is often hidden from the public, it did occur and it is important to acknowledge this blot on our nation’s history, especially since it occurred at a time when we were supposed to be fighting the Nazis’ and other regimes’ abuses of civil rights.


Reexamining Intelligence

Ultimately, the sterilizations, deportations, and incarcerations based on IQ testing contributed to an embarrassing period in U.S. history. So for many decades, criminological researchers realized the atrocities that had been committed in the name of this theory, as well as the “Nazi” mentality of its assumptions, and IQ was not researched or discussed much in the literature. However, in the 1970s, an important study was

published in which Travis Hirschi and Michael Hindelang examined the effect of intelligence on youths.26

Hirschi and Hindelang found that even among youths in the same race and social class, intelligence has a significant effect on delinquency and criminality. This study, as well as others, showed that the IQs of

delinquents or criminals are about 10 points lower than those of noncriminals.27

This study led to a rebirth in research regarding intelligence testing in criminological research. A number of recent studies have shown that certain types of intelligence are more important than others. Specifically, several studies have shown that low verbal intelligence has the most significant impact in predicting

delinquent and criminal behavior.28

Modern studies have shown a strong tie between low IQ, particularly verbal intelligence, and delinquency and criminality.

© Creatas/Thinkstock

This tendency makes sense because verbal skills are important in virtually all aspects of life, from everyday interactions with significant others to filling out forms at work to dealing with people in the workplace and so on. In contrast, most people do not have to display advanced math or quantitative skills in their jobs or in day-


to-day interactions, let alone spatial and other forms of intelligence that are more abstract. Thus, low verbal IQ is the type of intelligence that represents the most direct prediction of criminality, most likely due to the general need for such skills in routine daily activities. After all, persons who lack communication skills will likely find it hard to obtain or retain employment or to deal with family and social problems.

This rebirth in studies of the link between intelligence and criminality seemed to reach a peak with the

publication of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve in 1994.29 Although this publication eschewed the terminology of moron, imbecile, and idiot in favor of relatively benign terms (e.g., cognitively disadvantaged), their argument was consistent with that of the feeble-mindedness researchers of the early 20th century. Specifically, Herrnstein and Murray argued that persons with low IQ scores are somewhat destined to be unsuccessful in school, become unemployed, produce illegitimate children, and commit crime. They also suggested that IQ or intelligence is primarily innate, or genetically determined, with little chance of improvement. These authors also noted that African-Americans tend to score the lowest, whereas Asians and Jewish persons tend to score the highest. They provided results from social indicators that support their argument that these intelligence levels result in relative success in life in terms of group-level statistics.

Their book inspired a public outcry, resulting in symposiums at major universities and other venues during which the authors’ postulates were largely condemned. As noted by other reviews of the impact of this work,

some professors at public institutions were actually sued in court over their use of this book in their classes.30

The book also received blistering reviews from other scientists.31 However, none of these scientific critics have fully addressed the undisputed fact that African-Americans consistently score low on intelligence tests and that Asians and Jewish people score high. Furthermore, none have adequately addressed the issue that even within these populations, low IQ scores (especially on verbal tests) predict criminality. For example, in samples of only African-Americans, the group that scored lowest on verbal intelligence consistently committed more crime, and even among this population, the persons who scored low on IQ (especially the verbal portions) were more likely to become delinquent or criminal. So despite the harsh criticism of The Bell Curve, it is apparent that the authors’ arguments carry some validity.

Applying Theory to Crime: Burglary

At the beginning of this chapter, we presented the case study of Javier. We will not repeat his history here, but as his major crime was burglary, we will discuss some facts about burglary.

The FBI (or Uniform Crime Reports) defines burglary as “the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft” and classifies it as a serious Index Crime. Although burglaries are nonviolent by definition, they certainly pose much risk for becoming violent— for example, if the residents return while the burglary is taking place. Although some people may believe that burglary occurs only during the night, most police departments and certainly the FBI have moved beyond that common-law definition of this crime.

Despite a steady decrease in burglaries over the past decade, the FBI recorded over 1.7 million burglaries in 2014. The vast majority of these burglaries involved some form of forced entry, and most were of home residences. Most burglaries occur during the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., when residents are most likely to be out. Still, even when victims do not encounter the burglar, the experience can be traumatic, given that victims know an offender has intruded into their home, often considered a place of refuge and security. In 2014, the average monetary/property loss of burglary per incident for a residence was $2,229; the average monetary/property loss of burglary per incident for a nonresidence was $2,312.


According to arrest reports, the vast majority (more than 80%) of burglary offenders are male, and a notable number (although not the majority) are under 18. Notably, the likelihood of an offender being caught for burglary is extremely low, perhaps because of the categorization of burglary as a property crime as well as the fact that there are no witnesses (unlike most violent crimes). This is reflected in the low national clearance rate/arrest rate for burglary, which was less than 14% in 2014.

Burglary rates have decreased over the past decade, but this crime is still occurring millions of times each year.


In an example of burglary’s low priority with police, the San Diego Police Department wrote a press release in 1998 informing citizens that police would no longer investigate home burglaries. The department claimed that the low likelihood of catching anyone (i.e., the low clearance rate), as well as burglary’s status as a nonviolent property crime, led them to decide they would rather spend their resources on more serious cases or those they had a greater chance of solving. In 2013, the Chicago Police Department officially stated that they would not actively investigate motor vehicle thefts home burglaries, and several other crimes in their

jurisdiction due to their low priority compared to more violent offenses.32 Although alarming, this reflects the opinion of many other police and sheriff departments throughout the country regarding incidents of burglary; specifically, most law enforcement officers find burglaries incredibly hard to solve, even when reported, because they typically involve no witnesses or hard evidence.

In the case study at the beginning of this chapter, Javier realized he did not have much going for him in terms of education, so he decided to follow his friends in committing a number of burglaries. Javier was not a violent person, so he engaged in a property offense that he hoped would not result in violence. However, had he known the high potential for violence in a burglary—if, for instance, someone were sleeping in the back of the house or a homeowner returned unexpectedly—he may have thought twice.


Think About It: 1. What theoretical perspective discussed in this chapter best explains Javier’s criminal behavior? 2. What aspects of this theoretical perspective in the previous question do not adequately apply to Javier’s criminal behavior?

Sources: Associated Press. (1999, July 28). San Diego police may stop routine home burglary investigations. Lodi News-Sentinel, p. 8; Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Crime in the United States, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice; Walsh, A., & Ellis, L. (2007). Criminology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Comparative Criminology: Burglary


Ranking Regions/Countries as Most Likely for Burglary In this section, we examine the findings and conclusions of various studies of burglary, which involves attempted or actual breaking and entering for the purpose of stealing goods, money, and so forth. What distinguishes burglary from larceny is that burglary, by definition, involves trespassing on property where the offender has no permission to enter, whereas larceny does not include trespassing (e.g., shoplifting). Furthermore, burglary can be distinguished from robbery, which by definition involves a threat of or actual violence in taking someone’s possessions, whereas burglary does not involve violence, according to FBI and most other

definitions.33 The findings of recent studies regarding the prevalence of burglary across various regions and countries are enlightening in several ways.

The key measure of the prevalence of burglary in the world is the International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS), a databank that collects and standardizes police reports from more than 70 countries around the world. This measure has been conducted since 1987. It does have some weaknesses, but it is currently the best international measure of crime for such cross-national comparisons.

Figure 5.3 Percentages of the Public in Urban Areas Victimized by Household Burglary During the Past 12 Months, by World Region

Source: International Crime Victimization Surveys (ICVS) 1996–2005.

The ICVS has collected many years’ worth of data on burglary. Van Dijk synthesized the ICVS data on burglary for the years 1996

to 2005.34 As seen in Figure 5.3, the countries with by far the highest percentages of households victimized by burglary in urban areas were countries in Africa. Distant second and third highest ranking were, respectively, countries in the region of Latin America/the Caribbean and Oceania (the islands near Southeast Asia and Australia).

It is not too surprising that burglary tends to be more common in some of the most deprived areas of the world, such as Africa and various Latin American/Caribbean countries. After all, in extreme poverty, many individuals are driven to commit such crimes to survive. However, the results from the ICVS reveal that burglary happens quite a bit in all regions of the world, so burglary is alive and well throughout virtually all societies, such as the United States (see Figure 5.4).

Figure 5.4 Burglary Rate in 2014—U.S. Cities


Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Crime in the United States, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice

Note: Rate out of 100,000 population for cities with populations of 40,000 and higher


Think About It: 1. Would you have identified Monroe, Louisiana, as having the highest rate per 100,000 of burglaries in the United States? 2. How does this rate differ from the actual number of burglaries in the United States?


Body Type Theory: Sheldon’s Model of Somatotyping

Although numerous theories in the late 1800s and early 1900s were based on body types, such as Lombroso’s theory and those of other criminal anthropologists, none of these perspectives had a more enduring impact than that of William Sheldon. In the mid-1940s, this new theoretical perspective merged the concepts of biology and psychology. Sheldon claimed that in the embryonic and fetal stages of development, there is an

emphasis on the development of certain tissue layers.35 According to Sheldon, these varying degrees of emphasis are largely due to heredity, which leads to the development of certain body types and temperaments or personalities. This theory, also known as somatotyping, became the best-known body type theory, for reasons we will discuss below.

According to Sheldon, all embryos must develop three distinct tissue layers, which are still acknowledged by perinatal medical researchers. The first layer of tissue is the endoderm, which is the inner layer of tissues and includes the internal organs, such as the stomach, large intestine, and small intestine. The middle layer of tissue, called the mesoderm, includes the muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. The ectoderm is the outer layer of tissue and includes the skin, capillaries, and much of the nervous system sensors.

somatotyping: the area of study, primarily linked to William Sheldon, that links body type to risk for delinquent and criminal behavior. Also, as a methodology, it is a way of ranking body types based on three categories: endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy.

endoderm: medical term for the inner layer of tissue in our bodies.

Sheldon used these medical facts regarding the three tissue layers to propose that some individuals tend to emphasize certain tissue layers relative to others, typically due to inherited dispositions. In turn, Sheldon believed that such emphases led to certain body types, such that persons who had a focus on their endoderm in development would inevitably become endomorphic, or obese. In the same way, individuals who had an emphasis on the middle layer of tissue typically became mesomorphic, or of an athletic or muscular build. Finally, someone who had an emphasis on the third layer of tissue in embryonic development would end up having an ectomorphic, or thin, build (see Figure 5.5).

Sheldon and his research team would grade each subject on three dimensions, corresponding respectively to the body types described above. Each body type was measured on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest. Obviously, no one could score a 0 for any body type, because we all need our internal organs, bone/muscular structure, and outer systems (e.g., skin, capillaries). As stated above, each somatotype always had the following order: endomorphy, mesomorphy, ectomorphy.

So the scores on a typical somatotype might be 3-6-2 (a similar example is seen in Figure 5.5), which would indicate that this person scored a 3 (a little below average) on endomorphy, a 6 (high) on mesomorphy, and a 2 (relatively low) on ectomorphy. According to Sheldon’s theory, this hypothetical subject would be a likely candidate for criminality, because he or she scored relatively high on the mesomorphy scale. In fact, the results from his data—as well as those from all studies that have examined the association of body types and


delinquency and criminality—would support this prediction.

Perhaps most important, Sheldon proposed that these body types matched particular personality traits or temperaments. Specifically, Sheldon claimed that individuals who were endomorphic (obese) tended to be more jolly or lazy. The technical term for this temperament is viscerotonic. In contrast, persons who were mesomorphic (muscular) typically had a risk-taking and aggressive temperament, called somatotonic. Last, individuals who were ectomorphic (thin) tended to be introverted and shy, a personality type referred to as cerebrotonic. Obviously, it was the middle group, the mesomorphs, who had the greatest propensity for criminality, due to their risk-taking and aggressive dispositions.


Learning Check 5.3 1. According to the text, which theorist invented IQ testing in France in the early 1900s?

1. Lombroso 2. Binet 3. Goddard 4. Sheldon 5. Hirschi

2. According to the text, which theorist was one of the key proponents of IQ testing in the United States in the early 1900s and had his research team identify “feeble-minded” persons at Ellis Island, New York City?

1. Lombroso 2. Binet 3. Goddard 4. Sheldon 5. Hirschi

3. According to the text, which level of “feeble-mindedness” was considered the highest level of the feeble-minded and the biggest threat to society?

1. Moron 2. Idiot 3. Imbecile 4. Stupid 5. Retarded

4. According to the text, what U.S. Supreme Court case (decided in 1927) ruled it constitutional for individuals to be sterilized based on IQ scores?

1. Miranda v. Arizona 2. Buck v. Bell 3. Mapp v. Ohio 4. McKeiver v. Pennsylvania 5. Breed v. Jones

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

mesoderm: medical term for the middle layer of tissue in our bodies.

ectoderm: medical term for the outer layer of tissue in our bodies.

endomorphic: type of body shape associated with an emphasis on the inner layer of tissue (endoderm) during development.

mesomorphic: type of body shape associated with an emphasis on the middle layer of tissue (mesoderm) during development.

ectomorphic: type of body shape associated with an emphasis on the outer layer of tissue (ectoderm) during development.

Figure 5.5 These three body types have been shown to have an influence on both temperament or personality and risk for criminality, with the mesomorph being at highest risk for delinquency or crime.


Interestingly, many current and recent politicians were subjects in Sheldon’s research. Specifically, most entering freshmen in Ivy League schools, especially Harvard, were asked to pose in the three positions for photos in Sheldon’s studies. Many politicians who have been in the news in the past few years were participants in his studies. According to most sources, these subjects were told that posing naked in this way was for their own good (i.e., to check for medical conditions, such as scoliosis), when it was actually for

Sheldon and his colleagues’ research.36

Sheldon tested his theory using poor methodology. Specifically, he based his measures of individuals’ body types on what he subjectively observed from three perspectives of each subject. He also had his trained staff view many of the photos and score these individuals in each body type category. Reliability among these scores was weak, meaning that the trained staff did not tend to agree with Sheldon or among themselves on the somatotype of each participant.

This is not surprising given the high level of variation in body types and the fact that Sheldon and his colleagues did not employ the technology used today, such as caliper tests and submersion in water tanks, that provides virtually all the information needed. After all, many readers have probably radically altered their weight and have gone from an ectomorphic or mesomorphic build to a more endomorphic form, or vice versa.


Presented with the argument that individuals often alter their body types via diet and exercise, Sheldon’s position was that he could tell what the “natural” body type of each individual was from the three pictures taken. This position is not a strong one, further confirmed by the poor interrater reliability shown among his staff. Therefore, Sheldon’s methodology is questionable and raises concerns regarding the entire theoretical framework.

Despite the problematic issues of his methodology, Sheldon clearly showed that mesomorphs, or individuals who have muscular builds and tend to take risks, are more delinquent and criminal than are individuals of

other body types/temperaments.37 Furthermore, other researchers, even those who despised Sheldon’s theory, found the same associations between mesomorphy and criminality as well as between related temperaments

(i.e., somatotonia) and criminality.38 Specifically, subsequent studies showed that mesomorphic boys were far more likely to have personality traits predictive of criminality, such as aggression, short temper, self- centeredness, and impulsivity.

Even recent theorists have noted the obvious link between an athletic, muscular build and the highly

extroverted, aggressive personality often associated with that body type.39 In fact, some recent theorists have gone so far as to claim that chronic offenders can be identified early in life by the shape of the muscles in their pelvic region. Specifically, these theorists claim that the most likely criminals (both male and female) can be

identified by their “v-shaped” pelvic structure as opposed to a “u-shaped” pelvic structure.40 The v-shaped pelvis, in both males and females, is seen to be an indication of a relatively high level of androgens (male hormones, such as testosterone) in their system, which predisposes individuals to crime. On the other hand, a more u-shaped pelvis is indicative of relatively low levels of androgens and, therefore, a lower propensity for aggression and criminality. Using this logic, it may be true that the more hair on an individual’s arms (whether male or female), the higher that person’s likelihood of committing crime. However, no research exists to address this particular factor.

Regarding the use of body types/characteristics to explain crime, many of the hard-line sociologists who have attempted to examine or replicate Sheldon’s results have not been able to refute the association between mesomorphs and delinquency and criminality or the association between mesomorphy and somatotonic

temperament toward risk-taking or aggression.41 Thus, the association between being muscular or athletically built and engaging in criminal activities is undisputed and assumed to be true. Still, sociologists have taken issue with determinations of what causes this association.

Whereas Sheldon claimed this association was due to inherited traits for a certain body type, sociologists claimed it was due to societal expectations for muscular male youth to engage in risk-taking and aggressive behavior. For example, if a young male has an athletic build, he will be expected to be aggressive and will be encouraged to join sports teams and engage in high-risk behavior. After all, who would be most desirable to gangs? More muscular, athletic individuals are assumed to be better at fighting and other acts that require a certain degree of physical strength and stamina.

Ultimately, it is now established that mesomorphs are more likely to commit crime.42 Furthermore, the


personality traits linked to having an athletic or muscular build are dispositions toward risk-taking and aggressiveness, and few scientists dispute this correlation. No matter which theoretical model is adopted— whether it be that of the biopsychologists or the sociologists—the fact of the matter is that mesomorphs are indeed more likely to be risk-taking and aggressive and, thus, more likely to commit crime than individuals of other body types.

viscerotonic: the type of temperament or personality associated with an endomorphic (obese) body type; these people tend to be jolly, lazy, and happy-go-lucky.

somatotonic: the type of temperament or personality associated with a mesomorphic (muscular) body type; these people tend to be risk-taking and aggressive.

cerebrotonic: the type of temperament or personality associated with an ectomorphic (thin) body type; these people tend to be introverted and shy.

However, whether the explanation is biological or sociological is a question that shows the importance of theory in criminological research. After all, the link between mesomorphy and criminality is undisputed, but the explanation for why this link exists is still up for debate. Is it the biological influence or the sociological influence? The answer is up to readers, and we hope they will be able to make their own determination—if not now, then later, after we have discussed other theories of crime.

Our position is that the answer is likely both biology and social environment, which interact with each other. Thus, it is most likely that both “nature and nurture” are at play in this association between mesomorphy and crime. This would mean both Sheldon and some of his critics were correct. There is often a middle ground to be found in theorizing on criminality, but people don’t often see theory as such. It is important to keep in mind that theories in criminology, as a science, are always subject to falsification and criticism and can always be improved. Therefore, our stance on the validity and influence of this theory, as well as others, should not be surprising.


Learning Check 5.4 1. According to the text, which theorist developed the most prominent theory on body types, known as somatotyping?

1. Lombroso 2. Binet 3. Goddard 4. Sheldon 5. Hirschi

2. According to the text, which body type is a muscular/athletic build and the most likely among individuals who tend to be delinquent or criminal?

1. Ectomorphic 2. Endomorphic 3. Mesomorphic 4. Klectomorphic 5. Candomorphic

3. According to the text, which type of personality is correlated with an ectomorphic body type? 1. Jolly/happy-go-lucky 2. Aggressive/extroverted 3. Shy/introverted 4. None of the above

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Policy Implications

A variety of policy implications can be derived from the theories presented in this chapter. First, one could propose more thorough medical screening at birth and in early childhood, especially regarding MPAs such as Javier’s in our hypothetical case study. The studies reviewed in this chapter implicate numerous MPAs in developmental problems (mostly originating in the womb). These MPAs are red flags signaling problems,

especially in cognitive ability, which are likely to significantly impact criminal behavior.44

Other policy implications derived from the theories and findings of this chapter involve implementation of same-sex classes to allow for more focus on deficiencies shown to be specific to young boys or girls. For example, numerous school districts now have policies that prescribe same-sex math courses for female students. This same strategy might be considered for male students in English or literature courses, because males are biologically predisposed to have a lower aptitude in this area of study. Furthermore, far more screenings should be done regarding the IQ and aptitude levels of young children to identify which children require extra attention, because studies show that early intervention can make a big difference in improving IQ/aptitude.

A recent summary of the extant literature addressing what types of programs work best for reducing the long- term impact of early physiological risk factors for criminality noted the importance of diagnosing early head trauma and further concluded that the most consistently supported programs for at-risk children are those

that involve weekly infant home visitations.45 Another obvious policy implication derived from biosocial theory is mandatory health insurance for pregnant mothers and children, which is likely the most efficient way to reduce crime in the long term. Finally, all youth should be screened for abnormal levels of hormones,

neurotransmitters, and toxins (especially lead).46 These and other policy strategies are discussed in the last section of the book.


Case Study Revisited: Javier

At the beginning of this chapter, we discussed the case of Javier, who had engaged in more than a dozen burglaries when he was in high school. As you may recall, Javier had numerous MPAs (minor physical anomalies) that became evident as he grew up, such as small, low-seated ears; a relatively large third toe and webbing between all his toes; a curved “pinky” finger; a cleft lip; and narrow-set eyes. All these characteristics are currently used by medical doctors and researchers as “red flags” or predictors of developmental problems that begin in the womb or during delivery. They are also key indicators or predictors of future criminality,

especially when more than five are present in one individual.43 These MPAs, as well as Javier’s history of offending, to some extent support the propositions of early positivistic theorists, such as physiognomists and, later, Lombroso, who claimed that physical features predict criminality.

In addition, Javier’s low verbal aptitude supports the early “feeble-mindedness” theory researchers, such as Goddard, and even more modern research that implicates verbal/reading comprehension in predicting illegal behavior. In fact, modern studies show that verbal IQ scores have the greatest influence on criminality, which makes sense because we tend to use verbal and communication skills continuously, as opposed to mathematical skills, which are used more sporadically (and which Javier scored high in).

Finally, Javier developed an athletic, muscular physique. According to Sheldon, individuals (especially males) who are more muscular tend to be more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Whether it is due to an inherent aggressive or risk-taking temperament (as Sheldon claimed) or to being associated with or recruited by peers to engage in criminal activity (as more sociologically oriented theorists have claimed), Javier seemed to have both an aggressive personality (as an outstanding linebacker) and deviant peers (from his football team). Thus, Javier’s experience seems to fit well with the body type perspective claiming that more muscular/athletic individuals will be more criminal on average.

However, you will also recall that Javier stopped his offending by the time he graduated high school. This defies virtually all the assumptions and propositions of the theories presented in this chapter. Specifically, all the theories assume that whether it be physical traits, IQ aptitude, or body type, individuals cannot change or reform from what they are destined to be. Javier’s case study shows that, like many offenders, he actually did change the trajectory of his life and no longer offends. This happens more often than not and is perhaps the most important criticism of these theoretical perspectives. These early theories of the Positive School did not allow much room for the possibility of reform, because if a person has such physical anomalies, low IQ, or a certain body type, he or she is not likely to change much over time. Thus, these early theories do not hold much weight, in the sense that a vast majority of people who offend in their teenage or young adult years actually mature and stop committing crimes.

What are some policy implications that could help reduce the predictive effects of minor physical anomalies (MPAs)?

Why does Javier’s growing out of offending pose a very important criticism or limitation of the theories


presented in this chapter (e.g., low IQ, body types)?



This chapter discussed the early formation of the Positive School of criminology, which was a giant departure from the Classical School paradigm. The Classical School assumes free will/choice in criminal behavior, whereas the Positive School assumes that free will is not involved at all. Rather, according to the Positive School, our behavior is determined by factors other than free will/choice, such as bad parenting, poverty, and low intelligence. We started this chapter by discussing the earliest positive perspectives, which included craniometry, phrenology, and physiognomy. Thus, the early formation of criminology was largely based on examinations of the skull and brain (e.g., craniometry) in the early 1800s. But these disciplines did not become popular then, because Darwin had not yet presented his theory of evolution. The post-Darwinian explanations of the late 19th century, on the other hand, became very popular, largely because society was ready to accept them.

Once Darwin’s theory spread worldwide, the ground was more fertile for a theory of crime that claimed that certain individuals (or groups) were more likely to become criminals, which led to a eugenics movement among both scientists and society as a whole. By far the most notable of these theories are Lombroso’s (the Father of Criminology) and Goddard’s theory of feeble-mindedness and IQ testing. Early policy implications of these perspectives were also examined. These studies ultimately inspired far more focus on the influence of inheritance and genetics in predisposing certain individuals to criminal activity (which we also cover in the next chapter). This was supported by more recent studies on IQ testing and minor physical anomalies (MPAs) that show that individuals with low IQ scores and numerous MPAs do indeed engage in more criminal behavior than do their counterparts without MPAs.

Also, this chapter examined the connections between various body types, temperaments, and criminality, with recent research supporting a link between certain body types and criminal behavior. To some extent, these body type theories provide a bridge between the early emphasis on physical features (e.g., skull, stigmata, etc.) and the focus on psychological factors (e.g., temperament, personality). Thus, the body type theories appeared to advance the knowledge in criminological literature by emphasizing more than one dimension. Furthermore, most studies have supported the claim that body type actually does predict criminality, as well as the corresponding temperament or personality associated with certain body types most likely found among delinquents and criminals.

However, there are many criticisms of such early Positive School perspectives of crime. The next chapter sheds much more light on how valid these perspectives are, especially in terms of the empirical validity of the idea that biological or physiological factors influence criminality. Readers will likely be surprised by the results of these modern studies.


Summary of Theories in Chapter 5


Key Terms

atavism, 116 cerebrotonic, 130 craniometry, 113 determinism, 119 ectoderm, 129 ectomorphic, 130 endoderm, 129 endomorphic, 130 eugenics, 111 feeble-mindedness, 123 mesoderm, 129 mesomorphic, 130 minor physical anomalies, 122 phrenology, 114 physiognomy, 115 Positive School, 111 somatotonic, 130 somatotyping, 129 stigmata, 117 viscerotonic, 130


Discussion Questions 1. What characteristics distinguish the Positive School from the Classical School regarding criminal thought? Which of these

schools do you lean toward in your own perspective of crime, and why? 2. Name and describe the various positivistic theories that existed in the early to mid-1800s (pre-Darwin), as well as the influence

they had on later schools of thought regarding criminality. Do you see any validity in these approaches (because modern medical science does)? Why or why not?

3. What was the significant reason(s) these early positivistic theories did not gain much momentum in societal popularity? Does this lack of popularity relate to the neglect of biological perspectives of crime in modern times?

4. What portion of Lombroso’s theory of criminality do you find least valid? Which do you find most valid? 5. Most readers have taken the equivalent of an IQ test (e.g., SAT or ACT). Do you believe that this score is a fair representation of

your knowledge as compared with others? Why or why not? Do your feelings reflect the criticisms of experts regarding the use of IQ in identifying potential offenders, such as in the feeble-mindedness theory?

6. In light of the scientific findings that show verbal IQ to be a consistent predictor of criminality among virtually all populations or samples, can you provide evidence from your personal experience for why this occurs?

7. Regarding Sheldon’s body type theory, what portion of this theory do you find most valid? What do you find least valid? 8. If you had to give yourself a somatotype (e.g., 3-6-2), what would it be? Explain your choice, and note whether this score would

make you a likely criminal in Sheldon’s model. 9. Provide a somatotype for five of your family members or best friends. Does each somatotype have any correlation with criminality

according to Sheldon’s predictions? Describe your findings. 10. Ultimately, do you believe some of the positive theoretical perspectives presented in this section are valid, or do you think they

should be entirely dismissed in terms of understanding or predicting crime? State your case. 11. What types of policies would you implement, if you were in charge, given the theories and findings in this chapter?

Web Resources


This site is an amazing and thorough review of phrenology, from its history to current usage to practical examples (Julius Cesar, Rasputin, etc.):


A brief review of craniometry is presented, with some images:

http://skepdic.com/cranial.html Cesare Lombroso

A concise, albeit detailed, biography of Lombroso:

http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n01/frenolog/lombroso.htm IQ Testing/Feeble-Mindedness

This site provides a review of eugenics and gives details of the use of IQ testing and “feeble-mindedness” in that context:

http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/static/themes/9.html Body Type Theories/Somatotyping

A review providing more details and insight into the methodology of Sheldon’s research on body types:


A more current, applied approach to viewing different body types in everyday life:



Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Can Software That Predicts Crime Pass Constitutional Muster?

IQ Isn’t Set in Stone, Suggests Study That Finds Big Jumps, Dips in Teens

Neurobiological determinism: Human freedom of choice and criminal responsibility

IQ, handedness, and pedophilia in adult male patients stratified by referral source

Crime and Violence: The Biological Behind Murder

Cesare Lombroso, Left Handedness, and the Criminal Mind

Phrenology- Studying the Shape of the Head

Social Darwinism





Scientific Racism


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.


6 Modern Biosocial Perspectives of Criminal Behavior



Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Evaluate the role of nature and nurture in exploring risk factors for offending. Describe the various types of cytogenetic disorders and which type(s) puts a person at highest risk for criminality. Identify the hormones that play a key role in individuals who tend to engage in chronic offending. Make sure to consider females and the gender gap in offending as you read this chapter. Explain how neurotransmitters differ from hormones, and note which of the former are the most often implicated in criminality at either high or low levels. Identify the regions of the brain that criminological studies implicate for both structural trauma and functioning disorders. Compare and contrast the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system and identify the ways both systems play an important part in individuals’ decisions to engage in criminal activity.



In 1996, a pair of identical twin sisters in Orange County, California, made headlines because, despite their remarkable similarities—both were co-valedictorians of their high school, and both had criminal records for

stealing from family and friends—one of the pair conspired to kill the other when they were 22 years old.1

Sunny and Gina Han, both originally from South Korea, were virtually identical in terms of looks, personality, and criminality. But at a certain point, one wanted the other dead. Gina hatched a plot with two teenage boys to kill her sister. Sunny was tied up, forced to sit in a bathtub, and threatened for a while. Sunny survived, and Gina was later convicted and sentenced to 26 years to life in prison; after that, an appellate court upheld her

sentence. During her sentencing hearing, she infamously said through tears, “Sunny is my flesh and blood.”2

This chapter examines the modern perspectives on the biological aspect of criminality by exploring modern factors and theories of biosocial positivism in the current criminological literature. First, we will go back in time and explore some of the early waves of studies that specifically examined the influence of biology versus environment (i.e., nature vs. nurture), which include studies of identical twins such as the pair in the story above as well as family and adoption studies. We shall see that virtually all these studies support a more integrative approach of genetics/physiology via environment (i.e., nature via nurture). Then we will examine randomly occurring chromosomal mutations as well as discussing which mutations seem most likely to predict criminality among individuals.

Next, we will discuss the influence of various hormones, such as testosterone, and the level and activity of neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, serotonin) in how we behave in terms of criminality. Then we will discuss various parts of the brain that are most likely to show a high correlation to criminality when traumatized or otherwise hindered in performance. In relation to brain trauma, we will then explore the extreme importance of the functioning of the central nervous system, in which the brain plays a vital part. We will also review the findings from various studies regarding the autonomic nervous system, which is vital in many aspects of our everyday lives—especially in making decisions related to illegal behavior.

Finally, we will discuss in this chapter the integration of both physiology and environment in what are called interaction effects, which modern studies show have the greatest impact on our behavior, whether in illegal activities or more conventional activities. But before we dive into the actual theories, let’s discuss a case study that applies some of the theoretical concepts, propositions, and criticisms presented in this chapter.


Nature Versus Nurture: Studies Examining the Influence of Genetics and Environment

In the early 1900s, researchers became highly interested in testing the influence of heredity versus environment to see which of these two components had the strongest effect on predicting criminality in people. This type of testing produced four waves of research: family studies, twin studies, adoption studies, and in recent years, studies of identical twins separated at birth. Each of these waves of research, some more than others, contributed knowledge to our understanding of how much criminality is inherited from our parents (or other ancestors) versus how much is due to cultural norms, such as family, community, and so forth. Ultimately, all have shown that the interaction between these two aspects—genetics and environment— is what causes crime among individuals and groups in society.


Case Study


Faith and Hope Two identical twin girls, Faith and Hope, were born to a poor, teenage, single mother from Chicago’s South Side. Their mother smoked and drank heavily throughout the pregnancy—somewhat due to stress and frustration at the father of the babies, who was completely absent (both physically and financially), and also ignorance regarding the damage she was doing to the babies. When the twins were born, they both had relatively low diagnostic scores on breathing, responsiveness, color, and so forth (i.e., Apgar scores). Still, their mother wanted to do her best to raise the twins.

After only a month, their mother realized she could not handle the burden of two babies, so she gave Hope up for adoption. This realization came after she accidently dropped Faith on her head while changing the girls’ diapers on a bathroom counter. Hope was adopted relatively quickly by an upper-middle-class family living in the affluent northwest side of Chicago. Their mother readily signed off on this adoption, because she knew Hope was going to a good environment. Faith stayed with her mother and grew up without knowing she had an identical twin.

Faith showed many problems in early development, with low scores and grades in virtually all topics in school. School-mandated medical checkups found that she had a significantly lower heartbeat than most children her age. Furthermore, in middle school—with her mother working two full-time, minimum-wage jobs to support them—Faith ate an unhealthy diet of fast food and gained far more weight than normal for her age. This led to her becoming obese by age 11, at which time she also entered puberty, largely due to high levels of fats and proteins in her system. Faith developed breasts and quickly caught the attention of teenage boys at school. Following her mother’s guidance, she avoided these boys’ advances until she was in high school. When she was a freshman, a junior asked her to the junior prom, and she was so flattered and infatuated that she had sex with him in his car after the event.

Faith made him wear a condom, but as their relationship continued, she grew less cautious. She was pregnant by the end of her sophomore year. Once he found out, the father of the baby broke off all contact with Faith, so she explored other options to finance the cost of keeping the baby. She realized she would likely have to quit school and find a job because her mother’s two minimum-wage jobs were not bringing in enough. Faith began stealing small items from local department stores and selling them online or to people she met. Not only did this not raise enough money, but she was caught by local police and arrested. The charges were dismissed because this was her first offense.

One of Faith’s friends told her that she could make more money in one day distributing drugs than in an entire week at a minimum-wage job, so she met with a local gangster and he put her to work. She quickly began making some money, but she also ended up taking some of the methamphetamine they were selling so she could stay awake for the calls from her “boss” and “customers” who came at all times of the night. At one point, she got into an altercation with a customer who tried to take the drugs without paying. Because Faith knew she would have to pay her boss if she didn’t get the money for the meth, she hit the customer in the head with a tree branch. The customer then called the police. Faith was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. Once the police interviewed the customer, she dropped the charges because she realized she had much to lose in the eyes of the court. Still, being charged with aggravated assault weighed heavily on Faith, because she never saw herself as a violent person.

After a couple of months, Faith realized that her baby was in jeopardy and that she had become addicted to methamphetamine. She aborted the child and then tried to go back to high school through a continuation program. She graduated and is currently living with a relatively steady boyfriend and one child in an apartment in Chicago. We will revisit Faith at the end of this chapter as well as apply various theoretical concepts and propositions to her situation. We will also hear what happened to Hope, her twin sister.


Think About It: 1. How did very early physiological experiences lead to different developmental paths between the two sisters? 2. How did the social environment further compound the effects of such physiological differences between Faith and Hope?



Family Studies

The most notable family studies were done in the early 1900s by Richard L. Dugdale, in his work with the

Jukes family, and by the previously discussed researcher H. H. Goddard, who studied the Kallikak family.3

These studies were intended to test the proposition that criminality is more likely to be found in certain families, which would indicate that crime is inherited. Due to the similarity of the results from the two studies, we will focus here on Goddard’s work with the Kallikak family.

The Hatfield clan poses in April 1897 at a logging camp in southern West Virginia. This family clan is part of the most infamous feud in American folklore, the long-running battle between the Hatfields and McCoys. Criminality tends to cluster in certain families, as the first wave of nature-versus nurture-studies showed.

Goddard’s study of the Kallikak family showed that a high proportion of children from that family became criminals. Furthermore, Goddard claimed that many of the individuals (often children) from the Kallikak family actually looked like criminals, which fit Cesare Lombroso’s theory of stigmata. In fact, Goddard had many members of this family photographed to back up these claims. However, follow-up investigations of Goddard’s “research” show that many of these photographs were altered to make the subjects appear more sinister or evil—specifically by altering their facial features, most notably their eyes, to fit Lombroso’s



Despite the despicable methodological problems with Goddard’s data and subsequent conclusions, two important conclusions can be made from the family studies done in the early 1900s. The first is that criminality is indeed more common in some families; in fact, no study has ever shown otherwise. However, this tendency cannot be shown to be a product of heredity or genetics. After all, individuals from the same family are also products of a similar environment (often a bad one), so this conclusion of the family studies does little to advance knowledge regarding the relative influence of nature versus nurture in predicting criminality.

The second conclusion of family studies was more insightful and interesting. Specifically, the family studies showed that criminality in the mother (or head female caretaker) had a much stronger influence on future criminality of the children than did the father’s criminality. This is likely due to two factors. The first is that the father is often absent while the children are being raised. But perhaps more important, it takes much more for a woman to transgress social norms and become a convicted offender, which indicates that the mother is highly antisocial and gives some (albeit limited) credence to the argument that criminality is inherited. Despite this conclusion, it should be apparent from the weaknesses in the methodology used in family studies that this finding did not hold much weight in the nature-versus-nurture debate. Thus, a new wave of research soon emerged that did a better job of measuring the influence of genetics versus environment—twin studies.

family studies: studies that examine the clustering of criminality in a given family.


Twin Studies

After family studies, the next wave of tests was called twin studies. These studies were specifically meant to determine, through examination of identical twin pairs versus fraternal twin pairs, the relative influence of nature and nurture on criminality. Identical twins are also known as monozygotic twins because they come from a single (hence “mono”) egg (or zygote); they are typically referred to in the scientific literature as MZ (monozygotic) twins. Such twins share 100% of their genotype, meaning they are identical in terms of genetic makeup. On the other hand, fraternal twins are typically referred to as dizygotic twins because they come from two (hence “di”) separate eggs (or zygotes); they are known in the scientific literature as DZ (dizygotic) twins. DZ twins share 50% of the genes that can vary, which is the same amount that any siblings from the same two parents share. DZ twins can be of different genders and may look and behave quite differently, as many readers have probably observed.

Members of the extended Kallikak family. Family studies such as Goddard’s research on the Kallikak family were among the first attempts to examine the influence of genetics on deviant behavior.

Source: Henry H. Goddard‘s The Kallikak Family, 1912.

It follows that the goal of the twin studies was to examine concordance rates of delinquency for MZ twin pairs versus DZ twin pairs. Concordance is a count based on whether two people (or a twin pair) share a certain trait (or lack of a certain trait); for our purposes, the trait is criminal offending. Regarding a count of concordance, if one twin is an offender, then we look to see if the other is also an offender. If he or she is, then there is concordance given that the first twin is also a criminal offender. If neither of the twins is an offender, that also is concordant because they both lack the trait. However, if one twin is a criminal offender and the other is not, this is discordant because one has a trait that the other lacks.


Thus, the twin studies focused on comparing the concordance rates of MZ twin pairs with those of DZ twin pairs, with the assumption that any significant difference in concordance could be attributed to the similarity of the genetic makeup of the MZ twins (100%) to that of the DZ twins (50% [of what can vary in humans]). In other words, if genetics play a major role in determining the criminality of individuals, then MZ twins will be expected to have a significantly higher concordance rate for criminal offending than will DZ twins. After all, it is assumed that both the MZ twin pairs and DZ twin pairs compared in these studies were raised in the same relative environments, since they were raised in the same families at the same time.

The studies that have compared the concordance rates of MZ twins versus DZ twins clearly showed that MZ twins were far more similar in the trait of criminality than were DZ twins. Specifically, a number of studies were performed in the early and mid-1900s that examined the concordance rates between MZ and DZ twin pairs. These studies clearly showed that identical twins had far higher concordance rates than did fraternal (DZ) twins, with most studies showing twice as much or more concordance for MZ twins, even for serious


twin studies: studies that examine the relative concordance rates for monozygotic versus dizygotic twins.

monozygotic twins: twin pairs that come from a single egg (zygote) and thus share 100% of their genetic makeup.

dizygotic twins: twin pairs that come from two separate eggs (zygotes) and thus share only 50% of the genetic makeup that can vary.

concordance rates: rates at which twin pairs share either a trait (e.g., criminality) or lack of the trait.

However, these studies regarding comparisons between the twins were strongly criticized for reasons most readers see on an everyday basis. Specifically, identical twins, who look almost exactly alike, are typically dressed the same by their parents as well as treated the same by the public. In other words, they are not only treated the same by society but are generally expected to behave the same. This can be observed in any large public space, such as the local shopping mall or a theme park. When you see identical twins, they are often dressed the same, treated the same, and expected to act the same. However, this is not true for fraternal twins, who often look very different and quite often are of different genders.

Twin studies are vital in building an understanding of the influence of genetics on criminal behavior.


© iStockphoto.com/Richard Upshur

This produced the foundation for criticisms of the twin studies, mainly that the higher rate of concordance among MZ twins could have been due to the extremely similar way they were treated, or were expected to behave, by society. Another criticism of the early twin studies pertained to identification of twins as fraternal

or identical, which was often determined by sight in the early tests.6 Although these criticisms were seemingly valid, the most recent meta-analysis, which examined virtually all the twin studies conducted up to the 1990s,

concluded that the twin studies showed evidence of a significant hereditary basis for criminality.7 Still, the criticisms of such studies were valid, so researchers in the early to mid-1900s involved in the nature-versus- nurture debate attempted to address these criticisms by moving on to another methodological approach for examining this debate—adoption studies.


Learning Check 6.1 1. According to the text, family studies showed that the past criminality of which family member was the best predictor of whether

or not others in the family would become criminals? 1. Male siblings 2. Grandfather 3. Mother 4. Father 5. All of the above

2. According to the text, which type of twins share 50% of their genotype? 1. MZ twins 2. DZ twins 3. XZ twins 4. ZZ twins

3. According to the text, studies have consistently shown that which type of twins have the highest concordance rates in terms of criminality (as well as virtually all other behaviors and traits)?

1. MZ twins 2. DZ twins 3. XZ twins 4. ZZ twins

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Adoption Studies

Due to the valid criticisms leveled at twin studies in determining the relative influence of nature (biology) versus nurture (environment), researchers in this area moved on to adoption studies that examined the predictive influence of the biological parents of adopted children versus that of the adoptive parents who raised the children from infancy to adulthood. It is important to realize that in such studies, the adoptees were typically given up for adoption prior to six months of age, meaning that these children had relatively no interaction with their natural parents; rather, they were raised almost completely from infancy by the adoptive parents.

Although there have been many adoption studies, perhaps the most notable was done by Sarnoff Mednick and his colleagues, who examined male children born in Copenhagen between 1927 and 1941 and adopted

early in life.8 In this study, as well as in other similar analyses, the findings can be considered as a 2-by-2 matrix, containing four cells that represent adoptees in various circumstances in terms of the criminality of their biological and/or adoptive parents (see Table 6.1).

As can be seen from Table 6.1, the primary questions posed in such studies regarding each adoptee are whether the biological parents are criminal (yes or no) and whether the adoptive parents are criminal (yes or no). The final question is what percentage of youths in each of these four cells end up becoming criminal.

* Note: The numbers in parentheses are the numbers of cases in each cell, for a total sample of 4,065 adopted males. Sources: Adapted from Mednick, S. A., Gabrielli, W. F., & Hutchings, B. (1984). Genetic influences in criminal convictions: Evidence from an adoption cohort. Science, 224, 891–894. Also reported in Wilson, J. Q., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1985). Crime and human nature. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, p. 96.


This study, as well as virtually all others that have examined adoptees in this light, found that the highest predictability for future criminality by far was for adopted youths whose biological parents and adoptive parents were both convicted criminals. On the other hand, the adopted children for whom neither set of parents was criminal were the least likely to become criminal. Although these results should be the highlight for the studies, the researchers did not portray the results in these terms. Readers should realize that these findings support the major contentions of the authors of this textbook, because they fully back up the “nature- via-nurture” argument as opposed to the “nature-versus-nurture” argument; they support the idea that both biological and environmental factors contribute to the future criminality of youth.

Unfortunately, the researchers who performed these studies focused on the other two groups (or cells) of youth—namely, only those who had either criminal biological parents or criminal adoptive parents. As can be seen in Table 6.1, the adoption studies found that the adoptees who had only criminal biological parents had a much higher likelihood of becoming criminal compared with the youths who had only criminal adoptive parents. In other words, when the influence of biological versus adoptive parents was compared, the biological parents had far more influence on the youth’s future criminality. This was used to support the genetic influence in predisposing one toward criminality; however, this methodology was subject to criticism.

Perhaps the most notable criticism of adoption studies was that adoption agencies typically incorporated a policy of selective placement. Selective placement is when adoptees are placed with adoptive families similar to their biological parents in terms of demographics and background. Such selective placement of adoptees could bias the results of the adoption studies. However, recent analyses that have examined the impact of such bias have concluded that even when accounting for the influence of selective placement, the ultimate findings

of the adoption studies are still somewhat valid.9 Specifically, the biological parents of adopted children likely have more influence on the children than do the adoptive parents who raise the child from infancy to adulthood. Still, the criticism of selective placement was strong enough to encourage a fourth wave of research in the nature-versus-nurture debate—studies on identical twins separated at birth.

adoption studies: studies that examine the criminality of adoptees as compared with the criminality of their biological and adoptive parents.

selective placement: the argument that adoptees tend to be placed in households that resemble those of their biological parents; for example, adoptees from rich biological parents are placed in rich adoptive households.


Twins Separated at Birth

The fourth, and final, wave of research that examined the relative influence of biological and environmental influences on individuals’ criminality was twins separated at birth studies. Until recently, studies of identical twins separated at birth were virtually impossible because it was so difficult to find enough identical twins separated early in life. But since the early 1990s, such examinations have been possible. Readers should keep in mind that for many of the identical twin pairs studied in these investigations, the individuals did not know they had a twin. Furthermore, the environments in which they were raised were often extremely different, such as one twin being raised by a poor family in an urban environment while the other twin was raised by a middle- to upper-class family in a rural environment.

Some of the most advanced twin studies examine identical twins who were separated as infants, grew up in different environments, and yet often ended up sharing many personality traits and behavior patterns.

Ronna Gradus/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images

The studies on identical twins separated at birth—the most notable of these conducted at the University of


Minnesota—found that the twin pairs often showed extremely similar tendencies for criminality, sometimes

more than those seen in concordance rates for identical twins raised together.10 This finding supported the profound influence of genetics and heredity, which is not surprising to most well-read scientists who now acknowledge the extreme importance of the inheritance of physiological and psychological aspects of human behavior. Perhaps more surprising was why separated identical twins who never knew they had a twin, and who were often raised in extremely different circumstances, had just as similar or even more similar concordance rates than did identical twins raised together.

The leading theory for this phenomenon is that identical twins who are raised together go out of their way to deviate from their natural tendencies in an effort to form their own identity separate from that of their identical twin, with whom they have spent their entire life. No significant criticism of this methodology has been presented. Thus, at this point, it is somewhat undisputed in the scientific literature that the studies of identical twins separated at birth have shown that genetics has a significant impact on human behavior, especially regarding criminal activity.

Ultimately, taking all the nature-versus-nurture methodological approaches and subsequent findings together, the best conclusion that can be made is that genetics and heredity both have a significant impact on criminality. After all, environment simply cannot account for all the consistent results from comparisons of identical twins and fraternal twins, nor for those of identical twins separated at birth, nor for those of adoptees with criminal biological parents versus those with noncriminal biological parents. Despite the taboo nature of and controversial response to the findings of such studies, it is quite clear that when nature and nurture are compared, biological factors, rather than environmental factors, tend to have the most influence on the criminality of individuals. Still, the authors of this book hope that readers will emphasize the importance of the interaction between nature and nurture (better stated as nature via nurture). After all, we hope that we have shown quite convincingly through scientific study that the interplay between biology and the environment is what is most important in determining human behavior.

twins separated at birth studies: studies that examine the similarities between identical twins who were separated in infancy.

Perhaps in response to this nature-versus-nurture debate, a variety of new theoretical perspectives were offered in the mid- to late 1900s that merged biological and psychological factors in explaining criminality. Although leaning more toward the “nature” side of the debate, critics would use this same perspective to promote the “nurture” side; thus, this framework was useful in promoting the interaction between biological and sociological factors. One of the first of the various biosocial factors that will be examined is mutations of chromosomes (called cytogenetic abnormalities), which interact with environmental factors to increase the likelihood of criminality.


Learning Check 6.2 1. According to the text, numerous adoption studies have shown which category of adoptees to have the highest likelihood of

becoming criminals, based on the criminality of their biological and adoptive parents? 1. Biological parents criminal/adoptive parents criminal 2. Biological parents NOT criminal/adoptive parents criminal 3. Biological parents criminal/adoptive parents NOT criminal 4. NEITHER biological nor adoptive parents criminal

2. According to the text, numerous adoption studies have shown which of the following two categories of adoptees to have the highest likelihood of becoming criminals?

1. Biological parents NOT criminal/adoptive parents criminal 2. Biological parents criminal/adoptive parents NOT criminal 3. Both categories have about the same rates of adoptees becoming criminals

3. According to the text, many studies have shown that identical twins separated at birth have far lower concordance rates in terms of criminality than do identical twins raised together. True or false?

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Cytogenetic Studies: The XYY Factor

Beyond the body type theories, in the early 1900s another theory was proposed regarding biological conditions that predispose individuals toward crime: cytogenetic studies. Cytogenetic studies of crime focus on the genetic makeup of individuals, with a specific focus on abnormalities in their chromosomal makeup. Specifically, chromosomal abnormalities that occur randomly in the population are the primary focus of these types of studies. Many of the chromosomal mutations that have been studied (such as XYY) are typically not hereditary but rather largely due to random mutations in chromosomal formation.

First, we should begin with the basics of chromosomal makeup, which is probably a review for most readers but may be necessary for some. The normal chromosomal makeup for women is XX, which represents an X from the mother and an X from the father. The normal chromosomal makeup for men is XY, which represents an X from the mother and a Y from the father. However, as in many species of animals, genetic mutations often occur in human beings. Consistent with evolutionary theory, virtually all possible variations of chromosomes have been found in the human population, such as XXY, XYY, and many others. We will focus our discussion on the chromosomal mutations that have been most strongly linked to criminality.

cytogenetic studies: studies of crime that focus on the genetic makeups of individuals, with a specific focus on abnormalities in chromosomal makeups.

One of the first chromosomal mutations recognized as a predictor of criminal activity was that of XYY. In 1965, Patricia A. Jacobs and her colleagues presented the first major study showing that this mutation was far

more common in a Scottish male population of mental patients than in the general population.11 Specifically, in the general population, XYY occurs in about 1 of every 1,000 males.

The first major study that examined the influence of XYY sampled about 200 men in the mental hospital, which would have predicted (assuming general population occurrences) about 1 occurrence. However, the study found 13 individuals who were XYY, which suggested that individuals who have mental disorders are more likely to have XYY chromosomes than those who do not have mental disorders. In other words, males who have XYY are at least 13 times (or 1,300%) as likely to have behavioral disorders as are those without this chromosomal abnormality. Subsequent studies examining this association have not been able to dismiss the effect of XYY on criminality but have concluded that this mutation is more linked with property crime than

with violent crime.12

Figure 6.1 The Structure of DNA: Studies consistently show that our genetics play an important role in how we think and behave.


Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science. (2016). Biological and Environmental Research (BER). Retrieved from science.energy.gov/ber/

However, even knowing this relationship, can this help in policies regarding crime? Probably not, considering that 90% of the male mental patients in the study discussed above were not XYY. Still, this study showed the importance of looking at chromosomal mutations as a predictor of criminal behavior.

Such mutations include numerous chromosomal abnormalities, such as the following:

XYY—A male is given an extra Y chromosome, which makes him more “male-like.” These individuals are often very tall but slow in terms of social and intelligence skills. XXY—Otherwise known as Klinefelter’s syndrome, this mutation results in a higher likelihood for homosexuality and other behaviors but is not typically linked to criminality. XXX—Otherwise known as triple X syndrome, this mutation is a form of chromosomal variation characterized by the presence of an extra X chromosome. The condition occurs only in females. Females with triple X syndrome have three X chromosomes instead of two, and this occurs about once in every 1,000 female births. Unlike most other chromosomal mutation conditions, there is typically no distinguishable difference between women with triple X syndrome and the rest of the female population. This mutation has not been consistently linked with criminality. XO—Commonly referred to as Turner’s syndrome, this is a mutation in which females are missing an


entire sex chromosome. This is typically accompanied by physical mutations (such as a webbed neck) but has not been consistently linked with criminal behavior.

One study examined the relative criminality and deviance of a group of individuals in each of these groups of

chromosomal mutations (see Figure 6.2).13 This study found that the more the chromosomal mutation produced male hormones (androgens), the more likely the individuals were to commit crimes and deviant acts. On the other hand, the more the chromosomal mutation produced feminine hormones, the less likely the individuals were to commit criminal acts. Ultimately, all these variations in chromosomes show that there is a continuum of degrees of “femaleness” and “maleness” and that the more male-like the individual is in terms of chromosomes, the more likely he or she will be to engage in criminal behavior.

Figure 6.2 Hypothetical Scattergram Relating Masculinity/Androgen Level (Designated by Karyotype) to Deviance

Source: Tibbetts, S., & Hemmens, C. (2010). Criminological theory: text/reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, p. 254.

Ultimately, the cytogenetic studies showed that somewhat random abnormalities in an individual’s genetic makeup can profoundly influence that person’s level of criminality. Whether or not this can or should be used in policy related to crime is another matter, but the point is that genetics do indeed contribute to dispositions toward criminality. Furthermore, most of the associations seen in these chromosomal mutations directly


address the influence of increased male hormones or androgens, which predict a high level of criminal traits. This leads to the next section, which discusses the effects of hormones on behavior.


Hormones and Neurotransmitters: Chemicals That Determine Criminal Behavior

Various chemicals in the brain and the body determine how we think, perceive, and react to a range of stimuli. Hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, carry chemical signals to the body as they are released from certain glands and structures. Some studies have shown that a relative excess of testosterone in the body is

consistently linked to criminal or aggressive behavior, with most studies showing a moderate relationship.14

This relationship is seen even in the early years of life.15 On the other side of the coin, studies have also shown that hormonal changes in females can cause criminal behavior. Specifically, studies have shown that a high proportion of the women in prison for violent crimes committed those crimes during their premenstrual cycle, at which time women experience a high level of hormones that make them more “male-like” due to relatively

low levels of estrogen compared with progesterone.16

Applying Theory to Crime: Aggravated Assault

Assault, especially aggravated assault, is a serious crime in terms of FBI/Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) standards and is categorized as an Index crime. After all, an aggravated assault is typically considered an unsuccessful murder, in the sense that it usually involves an inherent intent to do serious harm, such as use of a weapon or infliction of major bodily injury. This leads us to the FBI/UCR definition of aggravated assault as being “the unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury on another.”

According to recent reports by the FBI, aggravated assaults range from approximately 725,000 to 760,000 each year. The National Crime Victimization Survey reported between 850,000 and over 1,000,000 in recent years, but that is consistent with differences in methodology and accounts for the “dark figure of crime,” as discussed in previous chapters. Reports of such assaults were highest in urban areas, which is not surprising since that is where homicide rates are highest. Some reviews have noted that aggravated assault occurs most often during the summer months, when people (including offenders) are more likely to be out and about.

One significant difference between most aggravated assaults and homicides is that the largest proportion of the former includes blunt objects, such as baseball bats, sticks, and so forth, as opposed to firearms, which is probably why the victims of aggravated assault do not die in the attack. Like most other Index crimes, assault rates have dramatically decreased over the past two decades. Although most of the time there is a living victim, the clearance rate of aggravated assault is close to or less than 50% for most years. This is likely due to victims not wanting to contribute to the investigation, because usually their attacker is a family member, good friend, or other associate. Also, the attacker may be a gang member or person in the community from whom the victim fears retaliation. Regardless of the reasons, aggravated assault is not typically reported when it happens, and even when it is, the offender is typically not formally prosecuted.

Relating back to our case study at the beginning of this chapter, Faith was charged with aggravated assault because she used a weapon—a tree branch she picked up off the street—to hit a drug “customer.” Although it wasn’t premeditated, the use of this weapon seemed to exhibit an intent to inflict bodily harm, so it does fit the definition of aggravated assault. That is why Faith was charged with this crime. Still, intent is subjective, so if this case went to trial—which it did not—a jury would have to decide if such severe bodily harm was intended, if Faith was simply trying to retrieve her money or drugs, or if she was acting in self-defense.


Think About It: 1. Do the recent national data indicate that aggravated assaults have increased or decreased over the past 20 years? 2. Given the FBI definition of aggravated assaults, do you think a jury would have found Faith guilty of this crime?

Source: FBI. (2015). Crime in the United States, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

If anyone doubts the impact of hormones on behavior, they should examine the scientific literature regarding performance on intelligence tests taken at different times of day. Virtually all individuals perform better on spatial and mathematical tests early in the day, when they have relatively high levels of testosterone and other male hormones in their bodies. On the other hand, virtually all individuals perform better on verbal tasks in the afternoon or evening, when they have relatively high levels of estrogen or other female hormones in their

systems.17 Furthermore, studies have shown that individuals given shots of androgens (male hormones) before math tests tend to do significantly better on spatial and mathematics tests than they would otherwise. Studies show the same is true for persons given shots of female hormones prior to verbal/reading tests.

Comparative Criminology: Assault


Ranking Regions/Countries in Terms of Prevalence of Assault In this section, we will examine the findings and conclusions of various studies regarding assault, which is defined by the International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS) as personal attacks or serious threats without the purpose of stealing (Van Dijk, 2008, p. 78). The findings of recent studies regarding the prevalence of assault across various regions and countries of the world are enlightening in several ways.

The key measure of prevalence of assault in the world is the ICVS, a data bank that collects and standardizes police reports from more than 70 countries around the world. This measure has been conducted since 1987. It does have some weaknesses, but it is currently the best international measure of crime for such cross-national comparisons.

The ICVS has collected many years’ worth of data on assault. Van Dijk (2008) synthesized the data from the ICVS regarding assault from the years 1996 to 2005. As seen in Figure 6.3, the countries with by far the highest percentages of persons victimized by assaults were those in Africa. Tied in a distant second and third were, respectively, countries in North America and Oceania (the islands near Southeast Asia and Australia).

It is not too surprising that assault tends to be more common in some of the most deprived nations in the world, such as Africa, given the studies that have linked poverty to violence. In such extreme poverty, many individuals appear to be frustrated and take out their stress on others. After all, similar results are seen for homicide rates across countries, with Southern Africa having by far the highest rates (see Chapter 9). However, the results from the ICVS reveal that assault happens frequently in all portions of the world, so assault is somewhat prevalent in virtually all societies, especially in inner-city, poor areas.


Think About It: 1. Why do you think African nations have the highest rates of assault compared to other regions of the world? 2. What types of policies do you think could be used to reduce high rates of assault in countries that have such a significant

problem with this type of offense?

Figure 6.3 Percentages of the Public Victimized by Assaults in Urban Areas, by World Region

Source: International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS), 1996–2005.

Source: Van Dijk, J. (2008). The world of crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Figure 6.4 The Role of Neurons: Neurons are the basic cell in the functioning of our nervous system, and studies have shown that levels of neurotransmitters (the chemicals that transfer the electric message across neural paths) are consistently linked to criminal behavior.


Source: U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging.

It is important to realize that this process of differential levels of hormones begins very early in life, specifically in about the fifth week after conception. It is at that time that the Y chromosome of the male tells the developing fetus that it is a male and to stimulate production of higher levels of testosterone. So even during


the first few months of gestation, the genes on the Y chromosome significantly alter the course of genital, and

thus hormonal, development.18

Not only does this level of testosterone alter the genitals of the fetus/embryo through gestation, but the changes in the genital area later produce profound increases in testosterone in the teenage and early adult

years. This produces not only physical differences but also huge personality and behavioral alterations.19 High levels of testosterone and other androgens tend to “masculinize” the brain toward risk-taking behavior, while

lower levels typically found in females tend to result in the default feminine model.20 These high levels of testosterone result in numerous consequences, such as lowered sensitivity to pain, enhanced seeking of sensory stimulation, and a right-hemisphere shift of dominance in the brain, which has been linked to higher levels of spatial aptitude but lower levels of verbal reasoning and empathy. This has profound implications for criminal

activity and has been found to be more likely in males than females.21

Ultimately, hormones have a profound effect on how individuals think and perceive their environment. It should be apparent that all criminal behavior, whether it is something we do or don’t do, comes down to cognitive decisions in our 3-pound brain. So it should not be surprising that hormones play a highly active role in this decision-making process. Although hormones are a key part of the criminal process, they probably are secondary in terms of levels of neurotransmitters, which we will now discuss.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain and body that help transmit electric signals from one neuron to another. They can be distinguished from hormones in the sense that hormones carry a signal that is not electric, whereas the signals neurotransmitters carry are indeed electric. Specifically, neurotransmitters are chemicals released when a neuron, which is the basic unit of our nervous system, wants to send an electric message to a neighboring neuron(s) (see Figure 6.4). When a message is sent from somewhere in the brain or body, it requires that the neural pathways be told of this message, which inherently necessitates that neurotransmitters be activated in processing the signal. Specifically, in immediate time, this requires that healthy levels of various neurotransmitters be allowed to pass messages from one neuron to the next across gaps between neurons. These gaps between neurons are called synapses, and the passing of the electric message across these gaps is dependent on a multitude of neurotransmitters.

neurotransmitters: nervous system chemicals in the brain and body that help transmit electric signals from one neuron to another.

Although there are many types of neurotransmitters, the most studied in relation to criminal activity are dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most commonly linked to feeling good. For example, dopamine is the chemical that tells us when we are experiencing good sensations, such as delicious food, sex, and other pleasurable activities. Most illicit drugs elicit a pleasurable sensation through enhancing the level of dopamine in our systems. Specifically, cocaine and methamphetamine work to raise the level of dopamine in the body by telling the body to produce more dopamine or by inhibiting the enzymes that typically “mop up” the dopamine in our system after it is used.

Although a number of studies show that low levels of dopamine are linked to high rates of criminality, other

studies show no association or even a positive link between dopamine and criminal behavior.22 However, it is


likely that there is a curvilinear relationship between dopamine and criminal behavior, such that both extremely high and extremely low levels of dopamine are associated with deviance. Two of the most recent reviews of the literature on dopamine levels, by Wright, Tibbetts, and Daigle (2008) and Beaver (2008), have supported this curvilinear effect, as well as previous reviews such as Raine’s (1993) archetypal review of the

biological research up to the early 1990s.23 Unfortunately, no conclusion can be drawn at this point about dopamine levels due to the lack of scientific evidence regarding this chemical. However, there have been a number of more recent studies by Kevin Beaver and his colleagues regarding various receptor genes of the dopaminergic system that have been shown to be associated with criminological behaviors, especially given

certain alleles on an individual’s genotype.24 Furthermore, such studies by Beaver and his colleagues have shown how receptor genes of the dopaminergic system interact with environmental factors, thus creating a

biosocial effect.25

On the other hand, a clear conclusion can be reached about the other major neurotransmitter that has been implicated in criminal offending: serotonin. Specifically, studies have consistently shown that low levels of

serotonin are linked with criminal offending.26 Serotonin is important in virtually all information processing, whether it be learning, emotional processing, and the like; thus, it is vital in most aspects of interactions with the environment. Those who have low levels of serotonin are likely to have problems in everyday communication and life in general. Therefore, it is not surprising that low levels of serotonin are strongly linked to criminal activity.

dopamine: a neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for good feelings in the brain; it is increased by many illicit drugs (e.g., cocaine).

serotonin: a neurotransmitter that is key in information processing and most consistently linked to criminal behavior in its deficiency; low levels are linked to depression and other mental illnesses.


Brain Injuries

Another area of physiological problems associated with criminal activity is that of trauma to the brain. As mentioned before, the brain is responsible for virtually every criminal act an individual commits, so any problems related to this structure have profound implications regarding behavior, especially deviance and criminal activity.

Studies have consistently shown that damage to any part of the brain increases the risk of crime in the future. However, trauma to certain portions of the brain tends to have more serious consequences than trauma to other portions. Specifically, damage to the frontal lobe or temporal lobe (particularly on the left side) appears

to have the most consistent associations with criminal offending.27 These findings make sense, primarily because the frontal lobe (which includes the prefrontal cortex) is the area of the brain largely responsible for

higher-level problem-solving and “executive” functioning.28 Thus, the frontal lobe, and especially the left side of the frontal lobe, is the area that processes what we are thinking and is in charge of inhibiting us from doing what we are emotionally charged to do. After all, most of us have desires and emotional responses, but our (pre)frontal lobe, located just behind the forehead, inhibits us from acting on many of our natural instincts. Thus, any moral reasoning is reliant on this executive area of the brain because it is the region that considers

long-term consequences of behavior.29 Therefore, if there is damage to the frontal lobe, we will be far more inclined to act on our emotional urges without any logical inhibitions.

In a similar vein, the temporal lobe regions are highly related to the memory and emotional structures of the brain. To clarify, the temporal lobe covers and communicates almost directly with certain structures of the brain’s limbic system. Certain limbic structures largely govern our memories (hippocampus) and emotions (amygdala). Any damage to the temporal lobe, which is generally located above the ear, is likely to damage these structures or the effective communication of these structures with other portions of the brain. Therefore, it is understandable why trauma to the temporal region of the brain is linked to future criminality.

frontal lobe: the frontal region of the brain; most of the executive functions of the brain, such as problem solving, take place here.

temporal lobe: a region of the brain (on either side of the head) responsible for a variety of functions and located right above many primary limbic structures that govern our emotional and memory functions.


Learning Check 6.3 1. According to the text, which type of cytogenetic mutation has been most linked to criminality?

1. XXY 2. XXX 3. XYY 4. XX

2. According to the text, which type of neurotransmitter, when at low levels, has been consistently linked by virtually all studies to criminality?

1. Norepinephrine 2. GABA 3. Serotonin 4. Dopamine 5. None of the above

3. According to the text, which type of neurotransmitter is likely to have a curvilinear effect on criminality, meaning that both very high and very low levels have been linked to deviant, antisocial behavior?

1. Norepinephrine 2. GABA 3. Serotonin 4. Dopamine

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Recent studies of brain structure and activity—using the latest, most sophisticated brain-scanning techniques

(the most current form of functional MRI)—have investigated the brain as it makes moral choices.30 These studies have shown that certain regions of the brain tend to be more active in making moral decisions (e.g., the medial frontal gyrus, an area related to the emotional portion/system of the brain) versus more rational, calculated decisions (e.g., the prefrontal cortex, the decision-making portion of the brain). Of course, it depends on the situation, but when it comes to crime, it is likely that both portions of the brain play a part. The criminal acts an individual finds morally offensive will likely be governed by the emotional centers of the brain, such as the medial frontal gyrus, whereas the crimes he or she finds less morally offensive will be governed by the higher-level, rational parts of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex. It is likely that the latter instance is more about whether the individual can get away with the act, whereas the former is so deeply based in a personal moral code that the person likely wouldn’t commit the act even if he or she knew there was no

chance of getting caught.31 This is highly consistent with studies showing that moral beliefs typically trump

any perceptions of getting caught for a given crime, no matter what the benefits or payout.32 These types of brain activities, or lack thereof, are key in the next section we will discuss.

Figure 6.5 The Primary Lobes of the Brain: The four primary lobes of the brain, located in what is referred to as the cerebrum or cerebral cortex. Trauma to these lobes, especially the frontal and temporal lobes, has been consistently linked to criminality.


Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.


Central and Autonomic Nervous System Activity

As has been mentioned in this chapter, the 3-pound mass that makes up our brain largely governs our decisions regarding whether to engage in criminal behavior. The brain is a key player in two different types of neurological systems that have been linked to criminal activity. The first we will discuss is the central nervous system, which encompasses our brain and spinal column and governs our voluntary motor activities.

Slices of brain from the autopsy of John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer who murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men.



The central nervous system (CNS) consists mostly of the brain and spinal column, which are largely responsible for what we as individuals choose to do, meaning our voluntary activities (see Figure 6.6). For example, that you are actually reading this sentence means you are in control of this brain-processing activity. Empirical studies of the influence of CNS functioning on criminality have traditionally focused on brain wave patterns, with most using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Although EEGs do not do a good job of describing


which areas of the brain are active or inactive, they do reveal how much the brain as an entire organ is performing at certain times.

central nervous system: the portion of the nervous system that largely consists of the brain and spinal column and is responsible for our voluntary motor activities.

Why Do They Do It?


Charles Whitman

©iStockphoto.com/Gregg Mack

Charles Whitman’s shooting spree is legendary and notorious for many reasons. He killed 15 people and injured 28 others from a landmark university tower at the University of Texas–Austin (the UT flagship campus). But what is almost more fascinating is his life story up until that fateful day.

Whitman was, by most accounts, a great person and a good soldier. He was one of the youngest Eagle Scouts ever to earn the honor. He graduated near the top of his class in high school and then went on to become a stellar member of the U.S. Marine Corps, earning the rating of sharpshooter. He used this skill when he went on his shooting rampage on August 1, 1966. It should be noted that the day before, he killed his wife and mother and left some letters (which will come up later). Then he planned out his attack on the university for the following day.

The day after Whitman killed his wife and mother, he proceeded to the main tower at UT–Austin, killed the receptionist, ascended the tower, and waited for classes to break; he then opened fire on the crowd of students. It is notable that he had taken with him a variety of materials that imply he was in it for the long haul. These items included toilet paper, spray deodorant, water canteens, gasoline, rope, and binoculars as well as a variety of weapons, such as a machete, a hatchet, a .357 Magnum revolver, a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, two rifles (one with a telescopic sight), 700 rounds of ammunition, and other weapons.

Whitman was shooting people on the run and in places only a trained sharpshooter could hit. He shot a pregnant woman, who later gave birth to a stillborn baby. He also shot a person crossing a street 500 yards away. This is the type of shot glorified in Full Metal Jacket, a Stanley Kubrick film that examined the Marine boot camps of the late 1960s. There is no doubt that Whitman was an expert sharpshooter and that the Marine Corps trained him well. Unfortunately, in this case his training was used against innocent targets. Whitman continued his mass killing for a couple of hours until several police officers were able to find a way through ground tunnels and then up to the top of the tower, where they shot and killed Whitman.

But why did he do it? The best guess we have, which directly relates to this chapter, began with one of his last letters. He wrote, “After my death, I wish an autopsy on me to be performed to see if there is any mental disorder.” An autopsy was performed, and as Whitman sort of predicted, he did not simply have a mental disorder but a large brain tumor (about the size of a golf ball). As we examine how vulnerable our brain functioning can be to trauma, imagine the likely effects of a large tumor on thinking and


processing skills.


Think About It: 1. Do you believe Whitman was insane? Give your reasons why you believe so or not. 2. Given how much planning went into his attack, how much of an effect do you believe his tumor had on him at the time of

the attack?

Sources: Holmes, R. M., & Holmes, S. T. (2000). Mass murders in the United States. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; Smith, J. D. (2003). 100 most infamous criminals. New York, NY: MetroBooks.

Figure 6.6 Contrast Between the Central Nervous System (Primarily Brain and Spinal Cord, Voluntary Motor Activities) and the Autonomic Nervous System (Fight-or-Flight Responses, Involuntary Motor Activities)

Specifically, studies have emphasized comparing brain wave patterns of known chronic offenders (i.e., psychopaths, repeat violent offenders) with those of “normal” persons (i.e., those who have never been charged

with a crime).33 These studies consistently show that the brain wave patterns of chronic offenders are abnormal compared with the normal population, with most studies showing slower brain wave patterns in

psychopaths compared with normals.34 Specifically, there are four types of brain wave patterns found in

individuals. From slowest to fastest, they are delta, theta, alpha, and beta.35 Delta waves are often seen when


people sleep, whereas theta waves are typically observed in times of lower levels of wakefulness, such as

drowsiness. Relatively, alpha waves (which tend to be divided into “slow alpha” and “fast alpha” wave patterns, as are beta waves) tend to be related to more relaxed wakefulness, and beta waves are observed with high levels of wakefulness, such as in times of extreme alertness and particularly in times of excited activity.

The studies that have compared brain wave patterns among chronic offenders and “normals” have shown significant differences. Psychopaths tend to have more activity in the theta (or sometimes “slow alpha”) patterns, whereas normals tend to show more activity in the “fast alpha” or beta types of waves. These consistent findings reveal that the cortical arousal of chronic offenders tends to be significantly slower than that of persons who do not typically commit crimes. Thus, it is likely that chronic offenders generally do not have the mental functioning that would dispose them toward making accurate assessments about the consequences of criminal behavior. For a recent review of various forms of brain trauma, as well as the effects

of such trauma on the functioning of the CNS, see Boots,36 who concluded that regarding traumatic brain injury (TBI), “there is compelling evidence of a connection between TBI, antisocial behaviors, and mental

health disorders that has been produced over the past two decades.”37 Consistent with these relatively low levels of cortical activity in the CNS are the findings of studies examining the autonomic nervous system.

A child experiencing a temper tantrum, which can often happen among children who have a low-functioning autonomic nervous system.



The second area of the nervous system that involves the brain and has been most linked to criminal behavior is


the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is primarily responsible for involuntary motor activities, such as heart rate, dilation of pupils, electric conductivity in the skin, and so forth (see Figure 6.6). This is the type of physiological activity that can be measured by a polygraph machine, or lie detector test. Polygraph measures capitalize on the inability of individuals to control these physiological responses to anxiety, which occur in most normal persons when they lie, especially regarding illegal behavior. However, such measures are not infallible, because the individuals who are most at risk of being serious, violent offenders are also the most likely to pass such tests even when they are lying (this will be further discussed below).

Consistent with the findings regarding CNS arousal levels, studies have consistently shown that individuals

who have a significantly low level of ANS functioning are far more likely to commit criminal acts.38 For example, studies consistently show that chronic violent offenders tend to have much slower resting heartbeats than do normal persons, with a number of studies estimating this difference at 10 heartbeats per minute

slower for offenders.39 This is a highly significant gap that cannot be explained away by alternative theories, such as that offenders are less excited in laboratory tests. However, one recent review by Armstrong argued that the lower heart rate among serious violent criminals may not be causal but, rather, a spurious effect from

a more limited ability to regulate emotions via brain functioning.40 But even if this position is true, Armstrong admits that criminality still likely relates back to brain functioning, which is perhaps the most important component in ANS theory.

Furthermore, persons who have such low levels of ANS arousal tend to experience what is known in the psychological literature as “stimulus hunger.” Stimulus hunger is a phenomenon in which individuals who have a low level of ANS arousal constantly seek out experiences and stimuli that are risky and often illegal. Most readers have probably known children who could never seem to get enough attention, with some even seeming to enjoy being spanked or receiving other forms of harsh punishment. In other words, individuals who have a low level of ANS arousal constantly seek out stimuli, to the point that they feel no anxiety from punishment (even corporal punishment) and thus do not adequately learn right from wrong through normal forms of discipline. This is perhaps one of the reasons why children who are diagnosed with attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a higher likelihood of becoming criminal than do their peers.

autonomic nervous system: the portion of the nervous system that consists of our anxiety levels, such as the fight-or-flight response, as well as our involuntary motor activities (e.g., heart rate).

After all, persons who are accurately diagnosed with ADHD have a neurological abnormality; specifically, they have a significantly low level of ANS arousal. This is why doctors prescribe stimulants (e.g., Ritalin) for such youths. Although it may seem counterintuitive to prescribe a “hyperactive” person a stimulant, what the medication does is boost the individual’s ANS functioning to a normal level of arousal. This enables such individuals to experience a healthy level of anxiety related to wrongdoing. Assuming that the medication is properly prescribed and at the correct dosage, such persons tend to become more attuned to the discipline they face if they violate the rules.

All readers of this book have likely encountered children who do not seem to fear punishment at all. In fact, some of them do not feel anxiety even when being physically punished (e.g., spanked). Such children are likely


to have lower-than-average levels of ANS functioning and are also likely to become chronic offenders if this disorder is not addressed. This is largely due to their lack of response to discipline and inability to consider long-term consequences of risky behavior. After all, if human beings do not fear punishment or negative consequences, what will stop them from engaging in selfish, greedy behavior? So it is important to address this issue when it becomes evident that children and teenagers do not seem to be deterred by traditional forms of punishment. On the other hand, children will be children, and ADHD and other disorders have been overdiagnosed in recent years. So it is up to a well-trained physician to determine whether an individual has such a low level of ANS functioning that medication and/or therapy is required to curb deviant behavior.

Individuals with significantly low levels of ANS arousal are likely to pass lie detector tests because they feel virtually no anxiety when they lie, so it is no surprise that many of these persons lie constantly. Thus, the very people that lie-detecting measures are meant to capture are the most likely to pass such tests, which is probably why these tests are typically not admissible in court. Only through medication and/or cognitive behavioral therapy can such individuals develop the ability to consider the long-term consequences of their decisions.

It is notable that individuals with low levels of ANS functioning are not always destined to become chronic offenders. In fact, some evidence has shown that persons with low levels of ANS arousal often become successful corporate executives, decorated military soldiers, world-champion athletes, and high-level politicians. After all, most of these occupations require persons who seek out exciting, risky behavior, and others require the ability to lie constantly and convincingly. So there are many legal and productive outlets for the natural tendencies of individuals with low levels of ANS functioning. These individuals could perhaps be steered toward such occupations and opportunities when they present themselves. It is clearly a better option than committing antisocial acts.


Learning Check 6.4 1. According to the text, which area of the brain seems most important in terms of trauma when considering the likelihood of

criminality? 1. Occipital lobe 2. Parietal lobe 3. Frontal lobe 4. Cerebellum

2. According to the text, which type of nervous system deals with the involuntary motor skills and is key in the “fight-or-flight” responses we have when in danger?

1. Central nervous system 2. Gastronomic nervous system 3. Autonomic nervous system 4. Cerebral nervous system

3. According to the text, many studies have consistently shown that individuals who have a __________ heart rate and brain waves are more likely to be criminals.

1. slower 2. faster

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Ultimately, abnormalities in the CNS and ANS systems are physiological aspects that contribute greatly to individuals’ decisions regarding criminal activity, the general conclusion being that low levels of cortical arousal—in terms of both voluntary (CNS) and involuntary (ANS) activities—are clearly linked to a predisposition toward criminal activity. However, modern medical research and societal opportunities exist to help such individuals divert their tendencies toward more prosocial uses, often giving them an advantage in our competitive society.


Biosocial Approaches to Explaining Criminal Behavior

Perhaps the most important, and most recent, perspective on how criminality is formed is that of biosocial approaches to explaining crime. Specifically, if any conclusion can be made regarding the previous theories and research in this chapter, it is that both genetics and environment influence behavior, particularly the interaction between the two. After all, even the most fundamental aspects of life can be explained by these two

groups of factors.41

For example, we can predict with a great amount of accuracy how tall a person will be by looking at the individual’s parents and other ancestors, because much of height is determined by a person’s genotype. However, even for something as physiological as height, the environment plays a large role. As many readers will observe, individuals who are raised in poor, underdeveloped areas (e.g., Mexico, Asia) are shorter than U.S. citizens. However, individuals who descend from parents and relatives in these underdeveloped areas but are raised in the United States tend to be just as tall as (if not taller than) U.S. citizens. This is largely due to diet, which is an environmental factor.

In other words, genotype provides a certain range or “window” that determines the height of an individual, which is based on ancestral factors. But the extent to which an individual grows toward the maximum or minimum of that range is largely dependent on what occurs in the environment as he or she develops. This is why biologists make a distinction between genotype, which is directly due to genetics, and phenotype, which addresses the factors that are a manifestation of genetics interacting with the environment. Thus, diet influences height, as well as behavior, in human beings. The same type of biosocial effect is seen in connection with criminal behavior.

Over the past decade, a number of empirical investigations have examined the extent to which physiological variables interact with environmental variables, and the findings of these studies have shown consistent effects regarding criminality. Such studies have been more accurate than those that rely separately on either physiological/genetic variables or environmental factors. For example, findings from a cohort study in Philadelphia showed that individuals with a low birth weight were more likely to commit crime, primarily if

they were raised in a lower-income family or a family with a weak social structure.42 To clarify, if a person had a low birth weight but was raised in a relatively high-income household or a strong family structure, then the person was not likely to become criminal. Rather, it was the coupling of both a physiological deficiency (i.e., low birth weight) and an environmental deficit (i.e., weak family structure or low income) that had a profound effect on criminal behavior.

phenotype: an observed manifestation of the interaction of genotypical traits with the environment, such as height.

Consistent with these findings, other studies have shown that pre- and perinatal problems alone do not predict violence accurately. However, when perinatal problems were considered along with environmental

deficits, such as weak family structure, this biosocial relationship predicted violent, but not property, crime.43

Other studies have shown the effects on criminality of a biosocial interaction between the impact of


physiological factors within the first minute of life, called Apgar scores, and environmental factors, such as

exposure to cigarette smoke.44 Additional studies have found that the interaction of maternal cigarette smoking and father’s absence in the household, especially early in life, is associated with criminal behavior,

which is one of the biggest predictors of chronic offending in the future.45 One of the most revealing studies showed that although only 4% of a sample of 4,269 individuals had both birth complications and maternal rejection, this relatively small group of persons accounted for more than 18% of the total violent crimes

committed by the whole sample.46 So studies have clearly shown that the interaction of biological factors and environmental deficiencies is the most consistent predictor of criminality.

Exposure to secondhand smoke during infancy has been consistently linked to future criminal behavior.



© iStockphoto.com/Igor Skrbic


Behavioral Genetics Studies

Another more modern approach to using identical twins to examine the influence of genetics and physiology on crime is the behavioral genetics approach, which estimates both the environmental and genetic influences

on a given phenotype, such as criminal behavior.47 These studies estimate heritability based on percentages derived from the variance of scores among identical versus fraternal twin pairs on a variety of characteristics and behaviors. This provides an approximate percentage of the influence in a given phenotype accounted for by genetic factors, shared environmental factors (i.e., the same across both twins in the pair, such as growing up in the same family), and nonshared environmental factors (i.e., accounting for different peer groups, significant events [e.g., employment, college education, arrests, etc.], and other nonshared environmental


The meta-analyses (a methodological tool used to summarize all the studies on a particular topic) of the 80- plus studies of behavioral genetics regarding criminality or antisocial behaviors consistently show that

heritability/genetic factors explain about 50% of the variance in antisocial behavior.49 It is notable that this conclusion is based on several meta-analyses, which examined studies that included thousands of twin pairs. One further insightful conclusion from these studies is that heritability estimates appear to fluctuate over the life course, with such estimates being very high during early childhood, relatively low during adolescence (during which time peer and environmental influences, and sometimes parents, are likely to have their greatest

influence), and much stronger again in adulthood.50 It should also be noted that while the heritability estimates show about half of the variation in antisocial behavior and criminality, environmental factors—such as peer, familial, and community influence—also explained about half of such variation across these many studies. This finding goes a long way toward supporting a nature-via-nurture perspective as opposed to a nature-versus-nurture model—the latter of which was the dominant model for most of the history of criminological theorizing. As a recent summary in 2011 stated, the former perspective of biosocial interactions between physiology/genetics and environmental factors is the most accurate and current theoretical framework

we have and can help us develop more fully specified models of criminality.51



In addition, studies have shown that when incarcerated juveniles were assigned to diets with limited levels of simple carbohydrates (e.g., sugars), their reported violations during incarceration declined by almost half

(45%).52 Such recent reviews of the existing studies on nutrition and criminal offending concluded that dietary deficiencies in iron, zinc, protein, riboflavin, and omega-3 are significantly related to criminality. Furthermore, other studies have reported that various food additives and dyes, such as those commonly found in processed foods, can also have a significant effect on criminal behavior. Thus, the old saying “You are what you eat” appears to have some scientific weight behind it, at least regarding criminal behavior.



Additional studies have found that high levels of certain toxins, particularly lead, cadmium, and manganese, can have a profound effect on behavior, including criminality. Recent studies have found a consistent, strong connection between criminal behavior and exposure to high levels of lead. Unfortunately, medical studies have also found many everyday objects that contain lead, such as the play jewelry many children wear. Also unfortunate is that children, as with virtually every toxin, are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning and the most likely to be exposed to it. Even more unfortunate is that the populations (e.g., poor, urban, etc.) most susceptible to biosocial interactions are also the most likely to be exposed to high levels of lead, largely due to

old paint in their homes and other household products that contain dangerous toxins.53 Exposure to toxins and nutritional problems are some of the best examples of the biosocial nature of criminality; specifically, the way our environments impact our physiology has the greatest impact on how we will behave, including our decisions regarding criminal behavior.


Case Study Revisited: Faith (and Hope)

At the beginning of this chapter, we discussed the case of Faith and how she had engaged in a number of larcenies after she dropped out of high school, later participating in the distribution of methamphetamine and eventually becoming addicted to it. As you may recall, she started life in deprived circumstances, as a twin born to a poor, inner-city mother in Chicago. And after their mother dropped Faith on her head while changing their diapers, she gave up Faith’s identical twin sister, Hope, for adoption.

Cheap play jewelry has often been found to contain lead, a toxin that has been linked to criminality.


That Faith suffered an early head trauma may have had a significant impact on her subsequent behavior. Studies reviewed in this chapter show that the brain, at only 3 pounds, is even smaller and more vulnerable in early life, especially in the first few months of infancy. It is likely that Faith’s early head injury affected her grades in school, which as you may recall were poor from even the earliest years of schooling. Such brain


trauma, especially at an early age, is likely to impact the functioning of the CNS (central nervous system), which is key in governing one’s voluntary motor skills.

During her elementary and middle school years, Faith was also found to have a very low heart rate, which is a key indicator of a low-functioning ANS (autonomic nervous system). Deficiencies in this ANS functioning are likely to have a vital impact on the discipline and development of individuals, because persons with low ANS functioning are far less likely to feel anxiety regarding punishment as well as more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, such as illegal acts. Faith exhibited this type of behavior in suddenly quitting high school, committing acts of theft, and engaging in selling methamphetamine—not to mention using this drug. All these behaviors were acted out without any consideration for future consequences or long-term plans, which is often the case in individuals who have a lower-functioning ANS, as Faith appeared to have.

Faith was also raised by a single mother, who was largely absent because she had to work two jobs to make up for the father being physically and financially absent. This creates the prototypical interaction effect, whereby nurturing (or the environment) is weak and the nature (or physiological) portion is also weak. When an individual has weak support in terms of both nature and nurture, it creates a “perfect storm” of factors that increase that person’s likelihood of becoming a criminal.

Many household paints contain lead, a toxin that has been linked to criminal behavior. Such tainted paint is more commonly found in older homes, especially inner-city, urban homes.


Another example of this nature-via-nurture effect was seen in Faith becoming obese, largely from her fast- food diet. This obesity led to the early onset of puberty at age 11, which is a physiological factor. But this in turn led to the sociological factor of teenage males starting to seek her company, which increased the likelihood that she would engage in illegal behaviors (because teenage males have the highest rates of criminal offending in all societies). Thus, Faith’s early menstruation (physiology) contributed to more attention from males (environment), which greatly increased her risk of criminality—thereby exemplifying the nature-via- nurture interaction.

Faith’s identical twin sister, Hope, grew up fine in her upper-middle-class adoptive family. Although she, too, showed a relatively low heart rate in her medical checks and, like Faith, had problems with her grades early in school, she seemed to have a much easier time through high school and graduated on time. Hope did experiment with some drugs and alcohol, and she did find herself in one physical altercation with a classmate in her sophomore year (for which she was suspended from school for two days), but overall she did well in her teenage years and never earned a formal criminal record. She did not go to college but secured a job with the Chicago city government and is currently living in a small row house with a man and their child together. So Hope turned out to be in a similar situation as her identical twin sister, which supports the studies on identical twins reared apart. After all, both ended up taking drugs, engaging in violence, and so forth, but the social context for each was different. Ultimately, nature or biological factors tend to have an impact on behavior, often far more than the nurturing or environmental factors. All studies have been consistent in showing that. But the social environment always makes a large difference, especially in the way the same types of behaviors are handled (which will be discussed further in a later chapter).


Policy Implications

Various policy implications have been introduced throughout this chapter, appropriate to the various biological or biosocial factors presented in each section. However, we feel that it is appropriate to emphasize one policy implication in particular—maternal/infant health care at all stages, including prenatal, postnatal, and in the first years of life. After reviewing all the extant research as well as other experts’ reviews of this literature, there is no doubt that providing adequate health care for expecting mothers, as well as extended care for infants in their first years of life, is the most cost-effective way for any society to reduce future criminality. If such maternal health care during pregnancy is not available, the risk of a multitude of birth and

delivery complications rises.54

In fact, we know of very few respected researchers in medicine, psychology, or any other field who do not believe that this policy recommendation should be followed. For every dollar spent on such maternal/infant health care, studies show that not only will many dollars in criminal justice processing and prison time be saved but many lives will be as well, due to the reduction in violence. There are many other policy implications, some discussed in this chapter, but we stand by maternal/infant health care in the perinatal stage as being the number-one priority for any society in preventing biological or biosocial factors that influence future criminality.



This chapter has examined a large range of explanations for criminal behavior that place most of the blame on biological and/or psychological factors, which are typically intertwined. These types of explanations were primarily popular in the early years of the development of criminology as a science but have also been shown in recent years to be quite valid as significant factors in individual decisions to commit crime. Specifically, this chapter discussed the early studies that explored the relative influence of nature versus nurture, such as the early family studies as well as the more robust subsequent wave of twin studies, adoption studies, and studies of identical twins raised apart. These studies revealed not only an answer to the nature-versus-nurture argument but also that “nature via nurture” should be emphasized when it comes to predicting criminality.

This chapter then examined the influence of hormones (e.g., testosterone) on human behavior, as well as the effect of variations in chromosomal mutations (e.g., XYY). Recent research has supported both of these theories in showing that persons with high levels of male androgens are far more likely to commit crime than are those who do not have high levels of these hormones. The link between brain trauma and criminality was also discussed, with an emphasis on the consistent association with damage to the left and/or frontal parts of the brain as well as trauma to special limbic structures involved in emotions and memory.

This chapter also examined theories regarding variations in levels of functioning of the CNS and the ANS, and all empirical studies have shown that low levels of functioning in these systems have links to criminality. Next, we explored the extent to which the interaction between physiological factors and environmental variables contributes to the most consistent prediction of criminal offending (hence, the importance of nature via nurture). Finally, we discussed how diet and nutrition as well as exposure to dangerous toxins have furthered our understanding of how the environment interacts with physiology to predict future criminality. Ultimately, it is interesting that the very theories that were key in the early years of criminology as a science, such as brain structure/functioning and other early diagnostics from the first year(s) of life (e.g., Apgar scores), are now showing strong evidence of being a primary influence on criminal behavior.


Summary of Theories in Chapter 6


Key Terms

adoption studies, 143 autonomic nervous system, 157 central nervous system, 154 concordance rates, 142 cytogenetic studies, 146 dizygotic twins, 142 dopamine, 152 family studies, 141 frontal lobe, 153 monozygotic twins, 142 neurotransmitters, 151 phenotype, 159 selective placement, 144 serotonin, 152 temporal lobe, 153 twins separated at birth studies, 145 twin studies, 142


Discussion Questions 1. Is there any validity to family studies in determining the role of genetics in criminal behavior? Why or why not? 2. Explain the rationale of studies that compare the concordance rates of identical twins and fraternal twins who are raised together.

What do most of these studies show regarding the influence of genetics on criminal behavior? What are the criticisms of these studies?

3. Explain the rationale of studies that examine the biological and adoptive parents of adopted children. What do most of these studies show regarding the influence of genetics on criminal behavior? What are the criticisms of these studies?

4. What are the general findings in studies of identical twins separated at birth? What implications do these findings have for the importance of genetics or heritability regarding criminal behavior? Can you think of a criticism for such findings?

5. Explain what cytogenetic disorders are, and describe the related disorder that is most linked to criminal behavior. What characteristics of this type of disorder seem to be driving the higher propensity toward crime?

6. What types of hormones have been shown by scientific studies to be linked to criminal activity? Give specific examples that show this link to be true.

7. Explain what neurotransmitters are, and describe which neurotransmitters are key in predicting criminal offending. Provide support from previous scientific studies.

8. Which areas of the brain have shown the greatest vulnerability to trauma in terms of criminal offending? Does the lack of healthy functioning in these areas/lobes make sense? Why?

9. How do brain wave patterns differ between chronic, violent criminals and normal people? Does this make sense in biosocial models of criminality?

10. How does the autonomic nervous system differ between chronic, violent criminals and normal people? Does this make sense in biosocial models of criminality?

11. What types of policy implications would you support based on the information provided by empirical studies reviewed in this chapter?

Web Resources

Family/Twin/Adoption Studies

This site provides a concise historical review of twin studies, including some of the earliest in the late 19th century:


This site provides an excellent review of adoption, family, and twin studies:

http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/haimowitz.html Cytogenetics

This site presents a study and findings regarding Klinefelter’s syndrome, and more importantly XYY chromosomal mutation:


A good review of both past and modern cytogenetic studies and conclusions:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytogenetics Hormones and Neurotransmitters

This site provides a discussion of the link between testosterone and aggression:


This site examines the disadvantages and advantages to using chemicals to castrate pedophiles:


In-depth review of how low levels of serotonin predict criminality:



This site reviews several competing approaches to explaining the causes of criminality, particularly the interactions among different factors:


This search provides a list of some of the best sources of reviews of the link between low central nervous system functioning and criminality:

https://www.google.com/#q=cns+criminality Brain Trauma and Crime

This site reviews recent research that further supports a link between brain injury and criminality in young individuals:


This site reviews research in which it was found that 60% of sampled prisoners had had traumatic brain injuries in their past:


Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Great Pause’ Among Prosecutors as DNA Proves Fallible

Wild Chimps, Stick Dolls: What’s at Play Here?

The familial concentration and transmission of crime

Adolescence: Does good nutrition = good behavior?

UNM Study Probes Criminal Pattern

Nature or Nurture? Twin Studies Provide Answers

The Flight-or-Fight Response


Jim Fallon: Exploring the Mind of a Killer

Texas University Clock Tower Sniper 1966

The Brain and Personality

The Link Between the Brain and Morality

Phineas Gage

Modern-Day Lessons from Phineas Gage

Brain Scans and Criminal Activity


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.


7 Psychological/Trait Theories of Crime



Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Identify the general principles of psychoanalysis and how psychoanalysis applies to criminal behavior. Describe the three dimensions associated with Hans Eysenck’s theory of crime and personality. Identify some of the key distinctions of the various stages of moral development. Describe some of the essential features of attachment theory. Referring to James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein, describe the three factors associated with street crime and human nature. List and describe the key features that distinguish a psychopath from other criminal offenders. Distinguish the M’Naghten rule, irresistible impulse test, Durham test, and American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code.



Most sociological theories of crime focus on shared factors that influence offenders rather than factors that are unique to individuals:

Individual difference variables are relegated to a minor, if not trivial, status in favor of influences that are thought to homogenize a collection of individuals into a population that is at risk for crime. At-risk populations are produced when social-cultural conditions combine to lower some groups’ endorsement of

legal norms and prohibitions.5

In contrast to sociological theories, psychological theories of crime focus on the influence of individuals’

experiences or their emotional adjustment as well as on their personality traits and types.6

This chapter highlights various psychological theories, beginning with early psychological perspectives such as the theories developed by Sigmund Freud, Hans Eysenck, Lawrence Kohlberg, and John Bowlby. The next portion of this chapter reviews what are considered more contemporary psychological theories of criminal behavior. This section begins with a brief discussion on the controversial perspective concerning intelligence (e.g., IQ) and criminality. This section also discusses the theoretical perspective developed by James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein. While these scholars never formally labeled their theory, one researcher suggested the name operant-utilitarian theory of criminality. Although Wilson and Herrnstein suggested that various factors influence criminal behavior, the most controversial aspect of their perspective was the biological factors, which include gender, low intelligence, impulsiveness, and body type. The following section explores research that has linked psychopathy with criminality. The last section in this chapter examines issues pertaining to mental illness and the criminal justice system. Specifically, we briefly discuss treatment, mental health courts, and the insanity defense.


Early Psychological Theorizing Regarding Criminal Behavior


Freud’s Model of the Psyche and Implications for Criminal Behavior

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) originated psychoanalysis, which is founded on the perception of resistance used

by individuals when therapists attempt to make them conscious of their unconscious.7 The psychoanalytic perspective is both complex and extremely systematized. This discussion provides an overview of the general principles of psychoanalysis.

First, an individual’s behavior is presumed to be due to the three aspects of his or her personality: the id, ego,

and superego. The id is the source of instinctual drives; it contains everything that is present at birth.8

Essentially, there are two types of instinctual drives: constructive and destructive. Constructive drives are usually sexual in nature. These drives make up the libido. Freud used the term sex in a broader context; thus, sex included those things, such as painting, that give people pleasure. The other type of instinctual drive is

destructive. Destructive drives refer to such things as aggression, destruction, and death.9

psychoanalytic perspective: an individual’s behavior is presumed to be due to the three aspects of his or her personality: the id, ego, and superego; anxiety, defense mechanisms, and the unconscious are also key principles of the psychoanalytical perspective.

id: a subconscious domain of the psyche, according to Freud, with which we are all born; it is responsible for our innate desires and drives (such as libido [sex drive]) and it battles the moral conscience of the superego.

ego: the only conscious domain of the psyche, according to Freud, it functions to mediate the battle between the id and superego.

superego: a subconscious domain of the psyche, according to Freud; it is not part of our nature but must be developed through early social attachments.


Case Study


Albert Fish Albert Fish has been dubbed “America’s boogeyman.” From his physical appearance, many considered him a gentle, kind old man. Soon, it was revealed that this man was a serial killer, committing numerous depraved and unspeakable acts against children. Fish was brought to the attention of law enforcement after the 1928 kidnapping of a 12-year-old girl named Grace Budd. After befriending her parents, Fish told them that his niece was having a birthday party and asked if Grace would like to attend. Not suspicious of Fish’s intentions, Mr. and Mrs. Budd gave their permission. Fish then escorted Grace to an isolated house in a northern suburb of New York City. He proceeded to strangle her and later mutilated her body and engaged in cannibalism.

The crime remained unsolved for six years. A New York City detective, William King, did not let up on the hunt for Grace’s killer. He continued to question Fish during this time. Some contend that Fish would have gotten away with Grace’s murder but was caught due to his arrogant and brazen behavior. In 1934, Fish sent a letter to Mrs. Budd, Grace’s mother. The letter described, in gruesome detail, what he had done to Grace. Subsequently, King was able to link the letter to Fish.

While Fish was in custody, it soon became apparent that he was “a killer of unimaginable depravity, one who had spent his whole lifetime

inflicting pain—on himself as well as others.”1 He considered the children he mutilated and murdered to be sacrificial offerings to the Lord. During his confession, Fish stated that he wanted to kill Edward Budd, but when he saw Edward’s sister, Grace, he decided he

wanted to kill her instead.2 He later confessed to killing many children and molesting hundreds. Dr. Fredric Wertham, a New York City psychologist assigned to examine Fish, noted that he had engaged in “every sexual perversion known” as well as a few others that no one

had heard of before that time.3

Albert Fish, nicknamed “America’s boogeyman,” was a notorious serial killer in the 1930s.


© Ferdinand Schmutzer

While the jurors at his trial acknowledged that Fish was insane, they maintained that he should be executed. Fish was executed in January 1936 in Sing Sing Prison. He was 65 years old. It was reported that prior to his electrocution, Fish stated, “What a thrill it will be to die

in the electric chair! It will be the supreme thrill—the only one I haven’t tried.”4


Think About It: 1. How would you explain Fish’s criminal behavior? Some would maintain that his behavior exceeds other types of murder because of

the brutal, perverse nature of his crimes as well as the fact that he preyed on children. 2. Why do you think Fish enjoyed inflicting pain? 3. How should the criminal justice system handle offenders like Fish (e.g., punishment, treatment)?


The ego is the moderator between the demands of an instinct (i.e., the id), the superego, and reality. When discussing the relationship between the id and the ego, Freud noted that the ego characterizes what is referred to as reason and sanity, while the id refers to passions. Further, there are no conflicts in the id, whereas in the

ego, conflicts between impulses need to be resolved.10 The superego is also designated as a conscience. This evolves during the course of an individual’s development, during which he or she learns the restrictions, mores, and values of society.

Second, anxiety, defense mechanisms, and the unconscious are also key principles of the psychoanalytical perspective. In terms of anxiety, this is considered a warning of looming danger or a painful experience. This results in the individual attempting to correct the situation. In most instances, the ego can cope with this anxiety through rational measures. When this does not work, however, the ego uses irrational measures, such

as rationalization. These are referred to as ego-defense mechanisms:11 (e.g., a woman harassed by her boss at

work initiates an argument with her husband)11 Discharging pent-up feelings, often of hostility, on objects

less dangerous than those arousing the feelings, is an example of a defense mechanism.12

Freud maintained that large portions of the ego and superego can remain unconscious (see Figure 7.1).

Further, it takes a great deal of effort for individuals to recognize their unconscious.13 The unconscious can include disturbing memories, forbidden urges, and other experiences that have been repressed or pushed out of the conscious. While individuals may be unaware of their unconscious experiences, they continue to seek some form of expression, such as in fantasies and dreams. Until these unconscious experiences are brought to

awareness, the individual could engage in irrational and destructive behavior.14

In reference to criminal behavior, Freud stated the following:

I must work out an analogy between the criminal and the hysteric. In both we are concerned with a secret, with something hidden. . . . In the case of the criminal, it is a secret which he knows and hides from you, but in the case of the hysteric it is a secret hidden from him, a secret he himself does not


One of the most well-known psychoanalysts to apply psychoanalysis to criminal behavior was August


Aichhorn.16 While most applications of psychoanalysis treated nervous disorders, he attempted to apply this method to uncover the unconscious motives of juveniles engaging in delinquent behavior. Aichhorn

distinguished between manifest and latent delinquency. Delinquency is considered manifest when it results in antisocial behavior; latent delinquency is when the same state of mind exists but has not yet expressed itself

through such behavior.17

Since Aichhorn, there have been various adaptations of Freudian theory to understanding delinquency; some of these adaptations differ a great deal from the work of Freud and Aichhorn. For instance, Erik Erikson examined adolescents struggling to discover their own ego identity while negotiating, learning, and

understanding social interactions as well as developing a sense of morality and right and wrong.18 David Abrahamsen maintained that criminal behavior is a symptom of more complex personality distortions; there is a conflict between the ego and superego as well as the inability to control impulsive and pleasure-seeking drives, because these influences are rooted in early childhood and later reinforced through reactions to familial

and social stresses.19 Like these theories, other psychoanalytic perspectives focused on family experiences that resulted in unconscious, internal conflicts during early childhood. These conflicts can explain why one engages

in delinquent behavior.20

Figure 7.1 Freud’s Conception of the Human Psyche (The Iceberg Metaphor)

*Note: Ego is free-floating in all three levels



Hans Eysenck: Theory of Crime and Personality

For more than 20 years, Hans J. Eysenck developed a theory that linked personality to criminality.21 Often, discussions of this theory emphasize that human personality can be viewed in three dimensions (i.e., the PEN model). He developed the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to measure individuals on these three dimensions (see Table 7.1). The first dimension is psychoticism. Individuals considered to have high psychoticism are associated with being aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, impulsive, antisocial, unempathic, creative, and tough-minded; individuals with low psychoticism are characterized as being

empathic, unselfish, altruistic, warm, peaceful, and generally more pleasant.22

The second dimension is extroversion, with the associated traits of being sociable, lively, active, assertive, sensation-seeking, carefree, dominant, surgent, and venturesome. Introverts are usually characterized with the opposite type of traits (e.g., passive, cautious). Most individuals, however, are not exclusively extroverted or introverted; rather, these personality dimensions and associated traits are more on a continuum, with a majority of individuals being in the middle and not at the extremes. The last dimension is neuroticism, or instability, which is linked with such traits as anxiety, depression, guilty feelings, low self-esteem, tension,

irrationality, shyness, moodiness, and emotionality.23

Nicole Hahn Rafter provided an insightful description of Eysenck’s evolving development of linking

criminality and personality.24 Initially, Eysenck focused on two personality dimensions: neuroticism and extroversion. During this stage of theoretical development, he emphasized the extroversion dimension. Subsequently, he incorporated the psychoticism dimension. Thus, he moved “from his original concept of

criminals as extroverts to identifying them with arch-villainous psychopaths.”25 In an effort to explain individual differences in criminality, Eysenck maintained that these can be understood in terms of biology. He offered three arguments: (1) genetics, (2) Pavlovian conditioning, and (3) neurophysiology.

PEN model: discussions of this theory emphasize that human personality can be viewed in three dimensions: psychoticism, extroversion, and neuroticism.

psychoticism: individuals considered to have high psychoticism are associated with being aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, impulsive, antisocial, unempathic, creative, and tough-minded; individuals with low psychoticism are characterized as being empathic, unselfish, altruistic, warm, peaceful, and generally more pleasant.

extroversion: in reference to the PEN model, traits associated with extroversion include being sociable, lively, active, assertive, sensation-seeking, carefree, dominant, surgent, and venturesome.

In terms of genetics, or heredity, Eysenck drew on data collected from twins. He stated that “these data . . . demonstrate, beyond any question, that heredity plays an important, and possibly a vital part, in predisposing

a given individual to crime.”26 This type of assertion, however, is what made many critics distrustful of

Eysenck’s conclusions.27 The second argument, Pavlovian conditioning, is an essential part of his biological explanation, which is that

socialized and altruistic behavior had to be learned and that this learning was mediated by means of


Pavlovian conditioning. The newborn and the young child have no social conscience and behave in a

purely egocentric manner. They have to acquire a “conscience” through a process of conditioning.28

The argument was that it is more difficult to condition extroverts than introverts. Further, he maintained that classical conditioning is associated with moral behavior. Referring to various studies, Eysenck argued that

“conscience is . . . a conditioned reflex.”29 The last type of argument was initially based on brain physiology. When he raised this argument, it was relatively undeveloped. Later, he noted that the differences between extroverted and introverted behavior were due to cortical arousal. Eysenck maintained that cortical arousal differs among individuals “with respect to the ease or difficulty with which their level of arousal can be increased (arousability), their usual level of arousal, and the ease with which this arousal level can be


Source: Miles, J., & Hempell, S. (2004). The Eysenck personality scales: The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire–Revised (EPQ-R) and the Eysenck Personality Profiler (EPP). In M. J. Hilsenroth, D. L. Segal, & M. Hersen (Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of psychological assessment: Personality assessment (Vol. 2, pp. 99–100). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

These two examples illustrate how an extrovert and an introvert would react to staying home.


© 2012 Max Mag Theme

According to Eysenck, extroverts are characterized by a low level of cortical arousal. To achieve an ideal level of arousal, extroverts need more excitement and stimuli in their environment. Further, they are less susceptible to pain and punishment and experience less fear and anxiety. For neurotics, the biological link is in the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system, which involves the fight and flight reactions. Finally, the cortical arousal level is also associated with psychoticism. Like those scoring high on extroversion, those scoring high on psychoticism have low levels of cortical arousal and are more difficult to condition as well as

more prone to developing antisocial behavior.31

Eysenck’s model of personality and criminality has received mixed support.32 For instance, individuals scoring high on psychoticism are often linked to criminal behavior regardless of the methodology (e.g., self-report among the general population or offender samples). Compared with the general population, neuroticism is higher among criminal offender samples. When employing self-report methods, extroversion is usually higher

among the general population but not among criminal offender samples.33

neuroticism: in reference to the PEN model, neuroticism is often linked with such traits as being anxious, depressed, tense, irrational, shy, moody, and emotional and having guilty feelings and low self-esteem.


Lawrence Kohlberg: Moral Development

A central feature of Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory is that moral development occurs in stages.34 According to Kohlberg, moral judgment evolves in children in a three-level progression, each level consisting of two stages (see Table 7.2). The preconventional level of morality is characteristic of designating what is considered “right” and “wrong”—for instance, “telling on your brother is wrong because it is ‘tattling,’ breaking into the

druggist’s store is wrong because ‘you’re not supposed to steal.’”35 What is deemed “right” and “wrong” is defined by those in authority. Within this level, Stage 1 is characterized as a “punishment and obedience orientation”; rewards and punishments are key components of this stage. An individual follows the rules for

his or her benefit as well as to avoid punishment.36 Stage 2 is when one develops moral relativity. A person

recognizes that different people have varying, yet just as valid, justifications for their claims of justice.37 Thus, an individual views justice as an equal exchange of favors, such as “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Or

one may view justice as a “settling of scores,” such as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”38

Stages 3 and 4 on the conventional level of morality are what Kohlberg considered the normal adult approaches used to maintain the family and social order. At Stage 3, individuals begin to understand and live by the principle of the golden rule; they appreciate such acts as generosity for those in need and forgiving those who do wrong. At Stage 4, these values of justice are expanded to the social order, such as establishing

good citizenship, instilling a strong work ethic, and following the laws of society.39 Kohlberg identified various types of justice as corrective justice (i.e., impartiality in the application of the law and the offender paying his or her debt to society) and commutative justice (i.e., the importance of contractual agreements for maintaining social order). Below is an example of commutative justice:

Question—Is it important to keep a promise to someone you don’t know well? Answer—Yes. Perhaps even more so than keeping a promise to someone you know well. A man is often judged by his actions in such situations, and to be described as being a “man of honour,” or a “man of

integrity” is very fulfilling indeed.40

On the postconventional level of morality, at Stage 5 an individual considers such “meta-ethical” issues as “why one should be moral.” There is an attempt to establish a balance between an individual’s rights and

societal rules; this is considered a “social contract” perspective of morality.41 Kohlberg designated Stage 6 “the moral point of view.” A key aspect to this stage is that a person takes equal consideration of each individual’s point of view in terms of the moral decision to be made. Various principles are characterized by Stage 6, such as the principle of the maximum quality of life for each, equity or fairness in the distribution of goods and

respect, and the principle of utility or benevolence.42 Below is an example of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.

preconventional level of morality: level of morality characteristic of designating what is considered “right” and “wrong.”

conventional level of morality: level of morality considered the normal adult approach used to maintain the family and social order, such as the principle of the golden rule and appreciating social order.


postconventional level of morality: when a person attempts to establish a balance between individual rights and societal rules.

Heinz’s Dilemma.

Heinz’s wife was dying from cancer. Doctors said a new drug might save her. This drug had been discovered by a local chemist. Heinz desperately attempted to buy the drug, but the chemist was charging 10 times the money it cost to make the drug, and this was much more than Heinz could afford.

Even after family and friends tried to help Heinz, he could only raise half the money. He explained to the chemist that his wife was dying and asked if he could have the drug cheaper or pay the rest of the money later.

The chemist refused, saying that he had discovered the drug and was going to make money from it. The husband was desperate to save his wife, so later that night he broke into the chemist’s and stole the drug.

Source: Adapted from Kohlberg, L. (1969). Stage and sequence: The cognitive-developmental approach to socialization. In D. A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally; as cited in Lickona, T. (Ed.). (1976). Moral development and behavior. New York, NY: Holt.

An interesting facet to understanding moral development was Carol Gilligan’s work, which explored gender

differences in terms of moral orientations.43 Gilligan distinguished between the moral orientations toward


“care” and those toward “justice”:

In early childhood, girls often gravitate towards the morality of care, whereas boys often gravitate towards the morality of justice. . . . Males and females alike can develop an awareness of both care and justice; but because of widespread patterns of early experience, girls often orient more towards the former and boys

towards the latter.44

Gilligan notes that women may construct a problem differently than do men. Thus, women may fail to

develop within the constraints of Kohlberg’s system of moral development.45 She noted that Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development were based on a study of 84 boys whose development Kohlberg followed for

more than 20 years.46


John Bowlby: Attachment Theory

Development of attachment theory is the combined work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby formulated the basic propositions of the theory; the roots of Bowlby’s interest in studying separation are in his

own early childhood and in his clinical experiences while training as a psychoanalyst prior to World War II.47

Ainsworth implemented innovative methodology to test some of Bowlby’s concepts as well as to further refine the perspective. While these scholars initially worked independently of each other, both were influenced by

the work of Freud and other psychoanalytic theorists.48 In discussing attachment theory, reference is often made to research examining the effects of separation on mother and infant monkeys. Bowlby cited this research and noted that these types of studies “show plainly not only that the attachment behaviour of young non-human primates is very similar to the attachment behaviour of young children but that their responses to

separation are very similar also.”49

attachment theory: there are seven essential features of this theoretical perspective focusing on attachment: specificity, duration, engagement of emotion, course of development, learning, organization, and biological function.

Source: Adapted from Kohlberg, L. (1986). The just community approach to corrections. Journal of Correctional Education, 37, 57–58.

Bowlby maintained that this theoretical perspective has seven essential features:

Specificity—Attachments are selective or “choosy”; these attachments are often focused on one or more individuals, usually with some order of preference. Duration—Attachments are enduring and persistent; these attachments can sometimes last throughout a person’s life.


Engagement of emotion—Some of the most intense and passionate emotions are associated with attachment relationships. Course of development—In the first nine months of an infant’s life, he or she develops an attachment to a primary figure. This primary figure is the person who provides the most fulfilling and pleasing social interaction. Learning—While learning does have some influence on a person’s attachments, the key component is social interaction. Organization—Attachment behavior follows cognitive development as well as interpersonal maturation from birth. Biological function—Attachment behavior has a biological function in terms of survival, which is

supported by research on various species.50

For example, in terms of engagement of emotion, Bowlby discussed the emotion of fear:

In the presence of a trusted companion, fear of situations of every kind diminishes; when, by contrast, one is alone, fear of situations of every kind is magnified. Since in the lives of all of us our most trusted companions are our attachment figures, it follows that the degree to which each of us is susceptible to

fear turns in great part on whether our attachment figures are present or absent.51

Bowlby’s interest in early parent–infant interactions evolved from his clinical work with young offenders; his

theoretical framework evolved from this work.52 From 1936 to 1939, Bowlby assessed and treated 88 children between the ages of 5 and 16 at the London Child Guidance Clinic. In his study, “Forty-Four Juvenile Thieves,” he stressed the importance of studying the mother–child relationship. As Bowlby noted, inquiries were made into not only the mother’s conscious attitude but also her unconscious attitude. He developed a classification procedure to distinguish the various character types. Of the 44 juveniles in his study, 14 were classified as affectionless, followed by 13 classified as hyperthymic (i.e., children who tend toward constant

overactivity) and 9 designated as depressed.53 Below is a case history of one of the youths designated as affectionless.


©iStockphoto.com/Ruslan Dashinsky


Example Case History: Derek B.


History. He was the second of two boys, the elder being a cheerful, normal lad who had never got into trouble. He lived with his mother and father, whose marriage was happy and who appeared to treat the children sensibly and kindly and without discriminating between them. On enquiry into his early history it was found that he was a wanted child and had been breast- fed for three months, after which he throve on the bottle. Indeed he was said to be a happy normal child until the age of 18 months, when he got diphtheria. Because of this he was away in [the] hospital for nine months, during the whole of which he remained unvisited by his parents. In [the] hospital he was said to have been adored by everyone, but when he returned home he was a “little stranger.” He refused all food and finally was left to starve for a while. His mother described how “it seemed like looking after someone else’s baby. He did not know us, he called me ‘nurse’ and seemed to have no affection for us at all.” She said it was fully 18 months before he settled down, although to an external eye it appeared that in fact he had never done so yet. Personality. He seemed not to care for anyone except possibly his elder brother, but even with him there were spells of unreasonable temper. Usually he was happiest when playing alone. He was markedly undemonstrative and his schoolteacher commented that emotionally he was “very controlled for a young boy.” The mother also remarked on this, saying that he was quite unmoved by either affection or punishment, and she had come to regard him as hard-boiled. On the other hand he was always fighting and was at times destructive of both his own and his brother’s toys. The teacher complained particularly of his untruthfulness, “wanton destructiveness” and habits of annoying other children. Stealing and Truanting. He began school at 4 1/2 and liked it at first. But later he disliked the teacher and wanted his brother’s teacher. This led to truanting on and off for about a month. The pilfering was noticed soon after his beginning school. It seems to have been quite undiscriminating, for he was said to pilfer from children’s pockets, the teacher’s desk, from shops and from his mother. Any money he obtained he spent on sweets which he would share with his brother and other children, but not with his parents. He had been repeatedly beaten both by school authorities and at home for stealing, but the beating had no effect on him beyond making him cry for a few moments. Examination. On tests he was found to have an [IQ] of 125 and to be slow, careful and deliberate in his work. To the psychiatrist he gave the impression of being an engaging, sociable kid. But in his play there was much violent destructiveness. On many occasions he pilfered toys from the Clinic. Diagnosis. His superficial geniality was misleading at first. As time went on it was clear that his mother’s and school- teacher’s accounts of his detachment represented the truth. In view of this, his destructiveness, his hard-boiledness, and his unresponsiveness, he seemed to be a typical case of Affectionless Character. This was clearly related to his prolonged



Think About It: 1. Applying Bowlby’s attachment theory, what are some essential features that resulted in Derek being “affectionless”? 2. What are some possible treatments that could help Derek?

Source: Bowlby, J. (1944). Forty-four juvenile thieves: Their character and home-life. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 25, 40– 41.


Modern Versions of Psychological Perspectives of Criminality


IQ and Criminal Behavior

As noted in an earlier chapter, in the early 1900s, French psychologist Alfred Binet, along with his colleague Theodore Simon, developed what was considered a more quantified measure of intelligence—the intelligence quotient (IQ). Binet noted that this new approach was a “metric scale of intelligence.” The Binet-Simon

Intelligence Test was initially developed to study intellectual disabilities among French schoolchildren.55 A Stanford University professor of educational psychology, Lewis M. Terman, revised the Binet-Simon Intelligence Test. Since its publication in 1916, it has been known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test. Two American psychologists often considered Terman’s rivals in the area of developing a scaled mental test

were Henry H. Goddard and Robert Yerkes.56

intelligence quotient (IQ): a quantified measure of intelligence.

Goddard is credited with bringing intelligence testing to the United States.57 He translated and adapted Binet’s model to study immigrants who were coming into the United States. An interesting difference between Goddard’s and Binet’s assumptions about intelligence or IQ was that Goddard maintained that intelligence or IQ was static or innate; thus, an individual’s IQ could not change. He argued that intelligence was passed from generation to generation; intelligence was inherited from parents. As noted earlier in this book, Goddard labeled low IQ as “feeble-mindedness.” There were specified levels of feeble-mindedness, such

as moron, imbecile, and idiot.58 Goddard’s The Kallikak Family: A Study in Hereditary Feeble-Mindedness has been considered one of the major contributions to the menace, or threat, myth considered to be linked to feeble-mindedness, as well as to the eugenic prescriptions suggested to address such problems of poverty and crime.

Between 1888 and 1915, various researchers administered intelligence tests to prisoners and boys in reform schools. For instance, in the early 1900s, the Ohio Board of Administration was convinced that more than 40% of the juveniles incarcerated in the state reformatories were “definitely feeble-minded.” Further, the board maintained that it was “folly” to try to reform these juveniles because they were not immoral; rather,

they were unmoral.59 There were critics, however, of such research and the subsequent findings. Edwin Sutherland maintained that the intelligence tests administered were inadequate and that there were too many variations of such tests. He also maintained that delinquency is associated more with social and environmental

influences than with IQ or intelligence.60


Learning Check 7.1 1. According to Freud, which of the following is also designated as a conscience?

1. Ego 2. Superego 3. Libido 4. Id

2. According to Kohlberg, which level of morality is characteristic of designating what is considered “right” and “wrong”? 1. Preconventional 2. Conventional 3. Postconventional 4. Nonconventional

3. According to Eysenck, which of the following is not associated with one of the three dimensions linked to criminality? 1. Psychoticism 2. Extroversion 3. Anxiety 4. Neuroticism

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein: Crime and Human Nature

In their book Crime and Human Nature, Wilson and Herrnstein reviewed a considerable number of

criminological studies that examined the influence of genetic and familial factors on criminal behavior.80

Lawrence Wrightsman noted that such a shift in focus may be due to the changing political climate. During the 1960s, the dominant liberal political climate was one of optimism; there was a perception that any social problem could be solved. Environmental or sociological explanations of crime were more “palatable,” while biological explanations “lost favor” among many social scientists. In the 1980s, however, there was a political shift to a more conservative perspective. Wrightsman maintained that this pendulum shift was more tolerant

of hereditary factors being considered to explain criminal behavior.81 In this vein, conservatives are more likely to consider causes of crime within the individual as well as to blame the behavior on the criminal’s lack of moral sense; liberals are more likely to consider the causes of crime in society, such as unequal distribution of wealth. Thus, “conservatives are much more likely to see criminals as different from normal citizens, while liberals are more likely to see them as people who have simply reacted differently to different situations they

find themselves in.”82

Applying Theory to Crime: Rape

Many feminists maintain that when placing rape in a historical context, one needs to realize that women have historically been considered the property of either their fathers or their husbands and thereby denied equal status within patriarchal societies. Thus, rape has been considered only within the realm of the male’s perspective (i.e., a violation of his property) rather than within the

realm of a female’s perspective (i.e., a violation of her body).61 In ancient history, according to lex talionis—or the “an-eye-for-an- eye” philosophy when dealing with offenders—the father of a raped daughter was allowed to rape the rapist’s wife. “Bride capture”

involved a man raping a woman to establish a permanent relationship with her.62

Some feminists argue that the 19th-century approaches to protecting women (e.g., chivalry) were actually efforts among the middle class to control the activities of women working in the public sphere as opposed to the private sphere (i.e., the home). Anne Clark maintains that such efforts perpetuated the myth that as long as “proper” women remained in the home rather than “roaming the

streets,” they would not be vulnerable to rape.63 During this time, it was even more difficult if women attempted to involve the court system to seek justice for the crime of rape.

Some have maintained “that the victim of a sexual assault is actually assaulted twice—once by the offender and once by the criminal

justice system.”64 Since the increasing public awareness of rape in the 1970s, various legislative reforms have been enacted in an effort to modify rape statutes. Changes in the legal definitions of rape reflect society’s changing attitudes regarding this crime. These changes have been especially influenced by the feminist movement. In 1975, the state of Michigan led the country in reforming rape laws. First, it replaced the term rape with criminal sexual conduct. Second, it identified four degrees of criminal sexual conduct, which were differentiated by the amount of force used, resulting injury, and the age as well as mental state of the victim. This change emphasized the force or coercion used by the perpetrator rather than focusing on the resistance (or lack thereof) of the victim. This shift in perspective incorporated rape with other violent offenses. For instance, a prosecutor does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a robbery victim did not consent to the offense; thus, why should the prosecutor have to prove beyond a

reasonable doubt that a rape victim did not consent to the offense?65

A key issue in the definition of rape is whether to include the term sexual. One perspective maintains that it is essential to take the “sex out of” rape; rather, rape should be viewed as a crime of violence. Rape is no different than other crimes of violence such as murder and robbery. Another perspective argues that rape is essentially sexual in nature but also violent (i.e., sexual violence). Thus,

“to take the sex out of rape is to make it something it is not.”66


These variations have two important implications regarding measuring rape in the United States. First, because of these differing definitions and procedures, state comparisons are difficult. Second, while some states may have similar legal definitions, the

enforcement, prosecution, and conviction procedures may emphasize different legal and possibly extralegal factors.67

In reference to the definition issues pertaining to rape, as noted in Chapter 2, the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) changed the definition of rape starting in 2013. Previously the definition was for forcible rape: “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Attempts or assaults to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included.” Since 2013, the definition has been “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Attempts or assaults to commit rape are included, but statutory rape and incest

are excluded.68 In 2014, 84,041 rapes (legacy definition) were reported to law enforcement agencies. This was approximately 2.4% higher than in 2013.

The Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI has attempted to provide a classification of rapists. Researchers have also attempted to

categorize various types of rapists.69 One such typology was developed by Raymond Knight and Robert Prentky.70 They classified rapists into four categories: compensatory, displaced-anger, exploitive, and sadistic rapists (see Table 7.4 for a more detailed description of each type).

Ian could be characterized as an exploitive rapist (see Table 7.4). As with many of these types of rapists, Ian was raised in various foster homes from the age of two. During this time, he was physically abused and neglected. In his adult years, Ian had difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships, especially with women. He had two failed marriages; he had three children by these two women but was not actively involved in their lives. He had a tendency to meet women in situations that did not involve a great deal of emotional intimacy, such as in clubs or casual dating online websites.

After his first failed marriage, Ian committed his first rape. He met the woman, Darlene, in a club. They were talking in the club and drinking quite heavily. Once the club closed, he suggested that Darlene meet him at his house. She agreed. Soon after they arrived at his house, Ian attacked Darlene. Ian later acknowledged that he never “planned” on raping Darlene. Rather, he stated that it was more of an impulsive act—in the “spur of the moment.” He had no ill feelings toward Darlene; in fact, Ian stated that “he had no feelings toward her whatsoever.”


One theoretical perspective that could possibly be applied to this offense is Bowlby’s attachment theory. Due to Ian’s unstable childhood, he was unable to form healthy attachments, especially with his mother. Further, these attachments lacked specificity given the various foster homes he was placed in throughout childhood. Related to this, the attachments lacked duration; they were short-lived and sporadic, at best. The problems associated with Ian establishing healthy attachments in childhood were reflected during his adulthood. He had difficulty developing strong relationships, especially with women. This may also have contributed to his ability to rape by perceiving the victim as having “little or no psychological meaning.”


Think About It: 1. Are there any other essential features of Bowlby’s theory that could apply to Ian’s behavior? 2. What approaches could be implemented to enhance Ian’s relationships, especially with women?

Wilson (at the time, a Harvard University political scientist) and Herrnstein (a Harvard University

psychologist) never explicitly “named” their theory,83 but Jack Gibbs has suggested that they use the label

operant-utilitarian theory of criminality, since they often use concepts associated with operant psychology.84

They maintained that there had been an overemphasis on sociological explanations for criminal behavior:

The existence of biological predispositions means that circumstances that activate criminal behavior in one person will not do so in another, that social forces cannot deter criminal behavior in 100 percent of a population, and that the distributions of crime within and across societies may, to some extent, reflect underlying distributions of constitutional factors. Perhaps the simplest thing to say at this point is that crime cannot be understood without taking into account individual predispositions and their biological roots [italics


Wilson and Herrnstein attempted to explain street crime by demonstrating how human nature develops and evolves from the interaction of three factors:

1. Social environment. While broad societal values have often been neglected as explanations, they maintained that the shift in American culture from valuing restraint and discipline to the recent narcissistic “me-first” orientation has a strong influence on the individual level and has contributed to the increasing crime rate during the previous two decades.

2. Family relationships. Parents who are uncaring, inconsistent in the treatment of their children, or unskilled in dispensing rewards and punishments contribute to their children’s criminal behavior. Further, being from a broken home or a single-parent household is not necessarily an influential factor; rather, it is the parent’s failure to teach the child the consequences of his or her actions.

3. Biological makeup. Qualities considered influential include gender, low intelligence, impulsiveness, and

body type. These are at least partly hereditary.86

Comparative Criminology: Sexual Offenses


Ranking of Countries According to Sexual Offenses or Incidents Against Women Sexual assault/rape offenses are some of the most difficult crimes for which to obtain accurate numbers. This is especially problematic when comparing such offenses across various countries. Specifically, “perceptions as to what is unacceptable sexual

behavior may differ significantly across countries, even in the current era of increasingly globalized norms and values.”77 One question on the International Crime Victimization Survey asked the following:

People sometimes grab, touch, or assault others for sexual reasons in a really offensive way. This can happen either at home or elsewhere, for instance, in a pub, the street, at school, on public transport, in cinemas, on the beach, or at one’s workplace. Over

the past five years has anyone done this to you?78

In terms of victimization, only those incidents that occurred in the previous year were included. It is essential to stress that this item covers a broad range of behaviors; these range from rape and attempted rape to less serious offenses. Table 7.5 summarizes the rates of sexual offenses or incidents against women among the various countries.

Van Dijk (2008) highlighted a few key findings from these analyses. In the group with the highest rates, the first 10 countries are considered to be “low gender equality.” Low gender equality is when the social position of women is rather weak; women are often considered inferior in various social contexts, such as the family and the workplace. When looking at countries such as Finland, Denmark, the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Germany, and New Zealand, their rates

are relatively high considering that these countries are deemed to have higher gender equality. Citing Kangaspunta’s work,79 Van Dijk states that this may be because individuals living in countries with a more liberal view of women are more likely to report such sexual incidents or crimes.

Sources: Van Dijk, J. (2008). The world of crime: Breaking the silence on problems of security, justice, and development across the world. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, p. 85; ICVS, 1996–2005.



Think About It: 1. What are some of the reasons that sexual assault/rape offenses are so difficult to measure and compare across

countries/cultures? 2. How do varying levels of gender equality play a role in rates of sexual assault? 3. Did any of the countries in the rankings surprise you by how high (or low) their rates of sexual assault were compared to

those of other countries?

The third factor, biological makeup, is considered the most controversial aspect of Wilson and Herrnstein’s theoretical perspective. They stressed that this theory was not one of predestination. Rather, they argued that the question of whether criminals are “born or made” is poorly phrased. The word born implies that some part of criminality may be due, categorically and permanently, to assigned constitutional factors (e.g., genetics); the word made implies that some aspect of criminality may be due, categorically and permanently, to social factors. They maintained that such a viewpoint “neglects, obviously, the complex interactions that exist between those


Wilson and Herrnstein contend that at any time, a person can choose between committing a crime and not committing a crime. The consequences of committing a crime consist of rewards and punishments. The greater the ratio of net rewards of crime to net rewards of noncrime, the greater the tendency to commit the

crime.88 Further, constitutional factors, such as intelligence and impulsivity, can influence an individual’s ability to judge future and immediate rewards and punishments. Thus, “aggressive and impulsive males with low intelligence are at a greater risk for committing crimes than are young males who have developed ‘the bite

of conscience,’ which reflects higher cognitive and intellectual development.”89 In reference to intelligence, Wilson and Herrnstein argued that social scientists have maintained that individuals identified as offenders have an average IQ of 92, which is about 8 points below the population average. Further, they contend that a low IQ may result in offenders’ inability to think past “short-term” situations or difficulty understanding

society’s rules and the consequences of their actions.90

There have been various criticisms of Wilson and Herrnstein’s theoretical perspective.91 One is that they failed to empirically test their terms, such as ratio of rewards. Specifically, they did not adequately operationalize these terms; this makes it difficult for researchers to test their theory. Another concern was the focus on street and predatory crimes, such as murder, robbery, and burglary. They did not include other

offenses such as white-collar crimes. As Gibbs asked, “Are some white-collar crimes predatory?”92 Some argued that while Wilson and Herrnstein objectively selected and presented relevant literature, they may have actually selectively reviewed literature that supported their theory. Thus, “although readers were given the impression that the authors’ arguments were based on solid science and, therefore, should be believed, critics

asserted that, in more than one instance, these arguments were based on shaky evidence.”93



Psychopathy and Crime

David Lykken distinguished between the terms sociopath and psychopath. Sociopath refers specifically to antisocial personalities attributed to social or familial dysfunction. Psychopath refers to individuals whose antisocial behavior may be a result of a defect or abnormality within themselves, rather than in their rearing or socialization. In his classic book Mask of Sanity, Hervey Cleckley maintained that psychopaths are intelligent, self-centered, glib, superficially charming, verbally shallow, and manipulative. In terms of emotions, these individuals lack essential human characteristics such as empathy and remorse. Behaviorally, psychopaths engage in irresponsible behavior, are prone to seek novelty and excitation, and often engage in moral

transgressions or antisocial acts.94

While there were various attempts to develop an assessment tool measuring psychopathy, it was not until the mid-1980s that major advances were made. Robert Hare developed the Psychopathy Checklist–Revised (PCL-R) to examine psychopathy in adult samples. His scale adapted some of Cleckley’s concepts of psychopathic individuals as well as including such factors as impulsivity and criminological components (e.g.,

criminal versatility).95 The Hare PCL-R includes scales measuring two factors: (1) the callous, selfish,

remorseless use of others, and (2) a chronically unstable and antisocial lifestyle.96

sociopath: refers specifically to antisocial personalities that are due to social or familial dysfunction.

psychopath: refers to individuals whose antisocial behavior may result from a defect or abnormality within themselves rather than in their rearing or socialization.

While a majority of the research on psychopathy has considered it as one construct, other studies in the adult

literature have focused on possible subtypes or subgroups of psychopathy.97 One subgroup is consistent with Cleckley’s original concept of the primary psychopath:

[An individual] who displays certain characteristics that are maladaptive and pathological (e.g., lack of conscience, irresponsibility, failure to learn from experience)—as well as key traits that appear ostensibly adaptive, or at least nonpathological (e.g., low anxiety, interpersonal charm, absence of irrational


Another subgroup also has many of the same maladaptive traits as the primary psychopath. However, this subtype, or secondary psychopath, seems to be more prone to exhibit extensive symptoms of psychological turmoil and emotional reactivity. Also, these individuals tend to be more reactive, antagonistic, and impulsive; they are also more at risk for engaging in self- and other-destructive behavior such as drug use/abuse, suicidal

ideation/gestures, and interpersonal aggression.99

Various theories have attempted to explain psychopathy. Lykken suggested the low fear-quotient theory. He maintained that all individuals have an innate propensity to fear certain stimuli, such as loss of support, snakes, or strangers. Individuals subsequently associate, or condition, fear of stimuli and situations that they


have previously experienced with pain or punishment. This is referred to as an innate fear quotient; this fear

quotient varies from person to person. Primary psychopaths are at the low end of this fear-quotient continuum. Further, most of the normal socialization process relies on punishing antisocial behavior.

However, “someone who is relatively fearless will be relatively harder to socialize in this way”100 (see Box 7.1).

Box 7.1

Lykken provided the following example of a child who demonstrated fearlessness. The letter was written by the mother of a teenage daughter in response to an article Lykken wrote for a popular magazine:

Your article on fearlessness was very informative. I was able to identify with many of the traits. However, being thirty-six and a single parent of three children, I have managed to backpack on the “edge” without breaking my neck. I have a 14-year-old daughter who seems to be almost fearless to anything in her environment. She jumps out second-story windows. When she was in first grade, I came home from work one afternoon and found her hanging by her fingers from our upstairs window. I “calmly” asked her what she was doing. She replied that she was “getting refreshed.” Later, she stated that she did things like that when she needed a lift—that she was bored and it made her feel better. Nancy is bright, witty, attractive, charismatic, and meets people easily. She tends to choose friends who are offbeat, antisocial, and into dope, alcohol, etc. During her month’s visit here

with me, she stole money from my purse, my bank card, etc., etc.101


Think About It: How would you explain the link between this girl’s “fearlessness” and her criminal behavior?

Referring to Lykken's low fear-quotient theory, do you think this woman is more at the low- or high-end of the fear-quotient continuum?



Another explanation of psychopathy is inhibitory defect or underendowment. Some psychopathic individuals seem to act impulsively without assessing the situation, appreciating the dangers, or considering the consequences. This perspective maintains that lesions in certain areas of the brain can cause a decrease in


inhibitory control in animals as well as humans. This view does not argue that all psychopaths have lesions or qualitative defects in their frontal cortex areas; rather, frontal lesions can produce a syndrome similar to


The interpersonal and affective factors associated with psychopathy often are related to a socially deviant lifestyle, including irresponsible and impulsive behavior; these behaviors tend to ignore or violate social rules and mores. While not all psychopaths have any type of formal contact with the criminal justice system, the interpersonal, affective, and behavioral features of psychopathy place them at a high risk for aggression and

violence.103 With the widespread adoption of the PCL-R to assess psychopathy, there is empirical evidence

on the association between psychopathy and criminal behavior.104 Research has revealed that while psychopathy occurs in about 1% of the general population, these individuals make up a significant proportion

of the prison population.105

Hare stressed that while psychopathy is closely associated with antisocial and criminal behavior, it should not

be confused with criminality in general.106 He noted that psychopaths are qualitatively different from other individuals involved in criminal behavior. Specifically, he noted that psychopaths have a distinct criminal career in terms of the number and type of antisocial behaviors as well as the ages when they engage in these behaviors. Also, the motivation to engage in these antisocial behaviors differs between psychopaths and nonpsychopaths.

In terms of treatment of psychopaths, most clinicians and researchers are less than optimistic about successful outcomes. A major reason is that unlike most other types of offenders, psychopaths do not experience personal distress and do not appreciate the problems associated with their attitudes and behavior. Further, when they do seek treatment, it is usually in an effort to benefit their situation, such as seeking probation and parole, rather than to improve themselves. Thus, “it is not surprising that they derive little benefit from traditional treatment programs, particularly those aimed at the development of empathy, conscience, and interpersonal



Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System

The proportion of male and female jail detainees with a mental health disorder is significantly higher than the

proportion of people with a mental health disorder in the general population.108 Some have referred to the “in

and out” of prison and/or jail among offenders with mental health disorders as “the revolving door.”109

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center:

Prisons and jails have become America’s “new asylums”: The number of individuals with serious mental illness in prisons and jails now exceeds the number in state psychiatric hospitals tenfold. Most of the mentally ill individuals in prisons and jails would have been treated in the state psychiatric hospitals in the years before the deinstitutionalization movement led to the closing of the hospitals, a trend that continues even today. The treatment of mentally ill individuals in prisons and jails is critical, especially since such individuals are vulnerable and often abused while incarcerated. Untreated, their psychiatric

illness often gets worse, and they leave prison or jail sicker than when they entered.110

Various issues are associated with mental health and the criminal justice system. In this section, we briefly present some of these issues, beginning with treatment approaches.


Learning Check 7.2 1. Goddard maintained that intelligence or IQ:

1. was influenced by one’s environment. 2. was influenced by one’s socialization. 3. was static or innate. 4. did not influence criminality.

2. Wilson and Herrnstein argued that street crime is associated with human nature and maintained that human nature develops and evolves from the interaction of three factors. Which of the following is NOT one of those three factors?

1. Social environment 2. Peer relationships 3. Family relationships 4. Biological makeup

3. According to Cleckley, which of the following is an individual who displays certain characteristics that are maladaptive and pathological, as well as key traits that appear ostensibly adaptive or at least nonpathological?

1. Primary 2. Secondary 3. Sociopath 4. Nonpsychopath

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e



Different types of treatment methods have been implemented to address problems linked to criminality, including coping and problem-solving skills, conflict resolution, empathy, and relationships with peers, parents, and other adults.

For instance, in 1997 the Thinking for a Change program was developed by Bush, Glick, and Taymans in cooperation with the National Institute of Corrections. Thinking for a Change is an integrated cognitive behavioral change program that includes cognitive restructuring, social skill development, and development of problem-solving skills. The program was designed to be used with offender populations in prisons, jails,

community corrections, and probation and parole settings.111 Generally, cognitive intervention is

an approach that focuses on the ways that offenders think. Thinking includes a wide array of skills and processes, such as problem-solving skills, the ability to empathize with others and victims, the ability to formulate and then achieve plans for the future, and the ability to foresee the consequences of one’s own


A major impetus to developing this program was based on the experience that criminal behavior was more vulnerable to positive social change when offenders were able to apply, and incorporate, both cognitive

restructuring and cognitive skills programs.113

Thinking for a Change: an integrated cognitive behavioral change program that includes cognitive restructuring, social skill development, and the development of problem-solving skills.

Why Do They Do It?


Ariel Castro On May 6, 2013, the world learned of the horrific ordeal three young women endured at the house of Ariel Castro on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. The first woman, Michelle Knight, was abducted on August 23, 2002. She was 21 years old at the time. The second young woman, Amanda Berry, disappeared on April 21, 2003; she was almost 17 years of age at the time. The third

adolescent, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, went missing on April 2, 2004. She was 14 years old.116 All three women suffered unimaginable sexual, physical, and emotional abuse for years. Amanda Berry described the conditions of her imprisonment. She was forced to sleep on a filthy mattress and had only a bucket for using the bathroom, resulting in a despicable odor. Castro would give her a bag of chips or crackers or some other food. However, this, along with other essentials such as a shower, was given at a price. Berry also mentioned that one of the cruelest deeds was when Castro would play “mind games.” DeJesus stated that Castro made her play “Russian roulette.”

On Christmas Day, 2006, Amanda Berry gave birth to a little girl, Jocelyn. As she grew older, Castro allowed Jocelyn certain freedoms that were not given to Knight, Berry, or DeJesus. While Jocelyn was often locked in with the three women, on occasion, Castro would allow her to go outside to play in the backyard or the park or attend Sunday services. Berry stated that “she loved him and he loved her.” However, she was nervous because she was never sure if he would sexually abuse Jocelyn.

After 10 years, the women finally escaped. One day, Berry realized that the bedroom door was unlocked and Castro was not in the home. A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, helped Berry free herself from the padlocked storm door. Subsequently, Berry called 911. On August 1, 2013, Ariel Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years. He pled guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape. On

September 3, 2013, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell.117

Findings from a report by a prison mental health clinician prior to Castro’s suicide revealed that he believed that his victims were equally to blame for his crimes. He stated that his behavior was due to his addiction to pornography. The report noted that Castro was a deeply troubled man who was simultaneously pompous, demanding, happy, paranoid, and frustrated. While in prison, he was warned on numerous occasions to wear clothes in his cell when female corrections officers were present. He would ask for clean underwear and bedding while claiming, “Still nothing gets done. I don’t know if I can take this neglect anymore, and the way I’m being treated. . . . I feel as though I’m being pushed over the edge, one day at a time.” Castro was diagnosed with narcissistic

personality disorder with antisocial features. However, he was not considered a high suicide risk.118


Think About It: 1. What should the criminal justice system do for offenders such as Castro? 2. Do you think there is a strong link between individuals with mental health issues and criminal behavior? 3. Should there be more coordination and collaboration between the criminal justice and mental health systems?

In reference to studies evaluating the Thinking for a Change program, Golden, Gatchel, and Cahill’s study

revealed some “mixed” results concerning recidivism.114 They concluded that the program does improve problem-solving skills among those who have completed the program. These skills may subsequently deter them from engaging in future criminal activity. The researchers also noted that future research might consider exploring whether “booster sessions,” such as an aftercare group or relapse prevention measures, could further deter future criminal behavior. While cognitive behavioral approaches have been applied to various types of programs such as case management, psychologically oriented treatments, and psychoeducational programs, such applications have, according to Wilson, resulted in there being no differences between offenders who

participate in a problem-solving skills development program and those who do not.115

Six areas of treatment that have demonstrated some evidence of effectiveness for treatment offenders with mental illness include the following:

Collaborative psychopharmacology— symptoms of mental illness improve when clients are included in the medical decision-making process. Assertive community treatment—providing services to clients in their community as opposed to a clinical setting such as an outpatient clinic or psychiatric hospital. Family psychoeducation—educating family members about mental illness as well as the effects of mental illness, enhancing interpersonal relations, and encouraging a supportive support system. Supported employment—assisting clients to obtain competitive employment and provide assistance when needed (e.g., skill development). Illness management and recovery—supporting clients to take responsibility for their recovery in an effort to manage their illness. Integrated dual disorders treatment—focusing on issues of mental illness and substance abuse

simultaneously in an integrated approach.119

The home of Ariel Castro.


Bill Pugliano/Getty Images


Mental Health Courts

The concept of mental health courts developed from the drug court model in the late 1980s. The first mental health court was created in 1997 in Broward County, Florida. In 2000, President Clinton signed the America’s Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project bill. This bill authorized the establishment of up to

100 mental health courts and allocated $10 million a year, for up to four years, to maintain these courts.120 As with drug courts, a major reason for establishing mental health courts was to address the large proportion of individuals with mental illnesses involved in the criminal justice system. Thus, “like drug courts and other ‘problem-solving courts,’ . . . mental health courts move beyond the criminal court’s traditional focus on case

processing to address the root causes of behaviors that bring people before the court.”121 The goals of mental health courts include increasing public safety for communities, increasing treatment participation and quality

of life for offenders, and enhancing the use of resources in various communities.122

Based on a “working definition,” mental health courts share some common features. First, this is a specialized court for offenders with mental health illnesses. Second, as noted above, this court focuses more on problem- solving approaches. Third, participants in this court are identified through a series of mental health screenings and assessments. Fourth, these offenders voluntarily participate in a judicially supervised treatment plan.

Finally, there are incentives for adherence to the treatment as well as sanctions for nonadherence.123 There are, however, variations among the different mental health courts, such as target population, charge accepted (i.e., misdemeanor or felony), plea arrangement, intensity of supervision, program duration, and type of treatment available.

mental health courts: courts established to address the large proportion of individuals involved in the criminal justice system who have mental illnesses.

Most of the mental health court participants suffer from serious mental illnesses. The term mental illness covers a broad range of psychological disorders. Within the group of disorders considered serious are those illnesses that are severe and persistent, such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, severe depression, and anxiety disorders (see Figure 7.2). Most states, when determining the criteria for participating in mental health courts, consider offenders’ level of functioning as well as “severe and persistent” disorders to prioritize their access to mental health services. Some mental health courts accept individuals with a broad range of mental conditions.

Figure 7.2 Types of Mental Issues Among State and Federal Inmates


Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/04/more-than-half-of-prisoners-are-mentally- ill/389682/but data from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf


Insanity Defense

Society has often been challenged with the idea that a mentally ill person should not be held criminally

responsible for his or her actions.124 The idea of excusing offenders for their criminal actions due to a mental

disease has been in existence for centuries.125 Insanity is not a medical term; rather, it is a legal term. In this context, questions such as the following are raised:

insanity: the idea—which has been in existence for centuries—of excusing offenders for their criminal actions due to a mental disease; the term is not a medical term but rather a legal term.

Is the person so insane that he or she cannot make a valid will? Is the person so insane that he or she should be civilly committed?

Is the person so insane that he or she cannot be tried for his or her alleged crime?126

Mental health courts, modeled after drug courts, attempt to address the issues that bring a person to court.

Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post/Getty Images

The general rationale for an insanity defense is that a person should not be punished for engaging in a criminal act if he or she could not refrain from committing the act. The law is established to punish those individuals who make the wrong choices; thus, those people who do not have free choice, due to a mental

illness, should not be punished for such acts.127

The standards for establishing an insanity defense vary extensively among the different states. Four states— Kansas, Montana, Idaho, and Utah—do not allow for an insanity defense. However, Montana, Idaho, and


Utah do have a provision under which an offender can receive a guilty but insane, or mentally ill, verdict.128

Among the states that do allow an insanity defense, there are essentially four types of tests—again, with modified versions as well. These include the M’Naghten rule, irresistible impulse test, Durham test, and American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code (see Table 7.6). Table 7.7 is a brief summary of defenses related to mental health that have been attempted by defense attorneys.

Source: Morris, N. (n.d.). Crime file: Insanity defense. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, p. 3. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/100742NCJRS.pdf.

The M’Naghten Rule.

This is the oldest rule for determining insanity.129 The M’Naghten case introduced the modern concept of insanity into English Common Law, which later influenced law in the United States. In 1843, Daniel M’Naghten shot Edward Drummond, who was the secretary to the British prime minister, Sir Robert Peel. M’Naghten thought that Peel, along with the “Tories,” was involved in a conspiracy against him. He believed that the only feasible way to resolve this issue was to kill Peel. Unfortunately, M’Naghten mistook Drummond for Peel. The issue of insanity was formally introduced in M’Naghten’s trial. He was subsequently

acquitted by a jury on the grounds of insanity.130 As noted in Table 7.6, the legal standard is that “he didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t know it was wrong.” Specifically, the M’Naghten rule is as follows:

1. Every person is presumed sane unless the contrary can be proven. 2. A person suffering a “partial” delusion should be dealt with as if the circumstance of the delusion was

real. 3. To establish a defence on the grounds of insanity, it must be clearly proved that


at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing and if he did know it (the nature and quality of the act he was doing), that he did not know what he was

doing was wrong.131

The Irresistible Impulse Test.

In 1897, the federal courts, and subsequently many state courts, included the irresistible impulse test with the M’Naghten “right–wrong” test. With this test, offenders can claim that, due to a mental disease, they were

unable to control their behavior.132 The standard for this test is that the individual could not control his or her conduct. One well-known case that used this defense was that of Lorena Bobbitt. In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt severed her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife.

During the testimony, Mrs. Bobbitt stated that minutes after her drunken husband raped her, she was drinking a glass of water in the kitchen. It was at this time that she noticed a 12-inch knife. She picked up the knife and cut off her husband’s penis while he was sleeping. She further testified that she had not realized what she had done until later. She noticed the knife in one hand and her husband’s penis in the other. The defense argued that, given the abuse from her husband and also her various mental illnesses, after her husband

raped her, Mrs. Bobbitt experienced an “irresistible impulse” to retaliate against him.133

M’Naghten rule: the legal standard that “he didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t know it was wrong” resulting from the M’Naghten case, which introduced the modern concept of insanity into English Common Law.

irresistible impulse: one standard for the insanity defense; offenders can claim that, due to a mental disease, they were unable to control their behavior.

The Durham Rule.

In the 1954 case Durham v. United States, the court included a volitional or free-choice component to the insanity defense. Thus, according to the Durham rule, offenders are not criminally responsible, even if they

are aware of their conduct, if this behavior was the “product of mental disease or defect.”134 Judge David Bazelon noted that the M’Naghten rule was too narrow. The court argued that the test should incorporate the

situation in which psychopathic disorders are qualifying conditions.135

Durham rule: offenders are not criminally responsible, even if they are aware of their conduct, if this behavior was the “product of mental disease or defect.”

American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code.

About one year after the Durham decision, the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code (ALI/MPC) developed the substantial capacity test. Due to vague and contradictory rules about insanity, a number of states


adopted the ALI test. The test includes the following, in Section 4.01 of the Model Penal Code:

A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) or his

conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.136

American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code (ALI/MPC): one standard for the insanity defense; the ALI/MPC test stipulates that the offender demonstrate a lack of substantial capacity.

A key difference between the M’Naghten and ALI/MPC tests is that the M’Naghten test stipulates that the offender must demonstrate total mental impairment; the ALI/MPC test stipulates that the offender must demonstrate a lack of substantial capacity.


Policy Implications of Psychological/Trait Theories

Although precise estimates on the number of offenders with mental disorders vary, the number of these

individuals is quite high and has been increasing in recent years.137 As noted earlier, some have referred to the “in and out” of prison and/or jail among offenders with mental health disorders as “the revolving door.” Thus, a major policy implication would be to address this “revolving door.” One suggested approach would be to implement primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention programs. Generally, primarily prevention focuses on

eliminating influences that could potentially result in someone engaging in criminal activity.138 For instance, teachers, employers, and family may make referrals to family therapy organizations, substance abuse clinics,

and mental health associations.139 Secondary prevention focuses on intervening for individuals who

demonstrate a tendency toward criminal behavior.140 In reference to mental health, these types of prevention

programs can provide treatment such as psychological counseling to at-risk individuals.141 Tertiary prevention

deals with eliminating recidivistic behavior of offenders.142 For offenders with mental health problems, tertiary prevention programs may involve requirement of a probation order or diversionary sentence as well as

an aftercare program at the end of a prison sentence.143

The “Wanted” poster for Ethan Couch. Couch’s attorney argued that he was suffering from “affluenza” and should not be held accountable for his actions. Should this be a viable defense?


Morgan and his colleagues examined various studies that focused on the treatment effects of service providers to offenders with mental illness. The results revealed that interventions with these types of offenders lessened symptoms of distress as well as improved offenders’ ability to cope with their problems. These effects resulted in offenders demonstrating improved institutional adjustment and behavioral functioning. Further, these interventions revealed significant reductions in psychiatric and criminal recidivism. Morgan et al. noted that these results should be of great interest to policy and decision makers: “[T]he results of this review suggest

that improvements in the co-occurring dimensions of mental illness and criminalness are possible [italics added].”144


Learning Check 7.3 1. Some have referred to the “in and out” of prison and/or jail among offenders with mental health disorders as:

1. the downward spiral 2. the revolving door 3. the elevator system of justice 4. the inverted sieve

2. Mental health courts were modeled after: 1. the American Psychological Association’s Model Health Court 2. civil court procedures 3. drug courts 4. family courts

3. For this standard, the court included a volitional or free-choice component to the insanity defense: 1. M’Naghten rule 2. Irresistible impulse 3. Durham 4. ALI/MPC

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e



This chapter summarized theories that focus on psychological aspects of criminality rather than sociological aspects. According to Mischel, there are various fundamental assumptions of psychological theories of

criminality.145 Some of these assumptions include the following:

1. Personality is the major motivational element within individuals because it is the seat of drives and the source of motives.

2. Crimes result from abnormal, dysfunctional, or inappropriate mental processes within the personality. 3. Criminal behavior, although condemned by the social group, may be purposeful for the individual

insofar as it addresses certain felt needs. 4. Normality is generally defined by social consensus. 5. Defective, or abnormal, mental processes may have a variety of causes, including a diseased mind,

inappropriate learning or improper conditioning, the copying of inappropriate role models, and

adjustment to inner conflicts.146

This chapter started with early psychological perspectives such as psychoanalysis, dimensions of an individual’s personality (e.g., psychoticism, extroversion, and neuroticism) and criminal behavior, moral development, and attachment to significant others. The following section presented more current psychological perspectives, beginning with the controversial discussion concerning intelligence and criminality. Next, we reviewed the theoretical perspective some have named operant-utilitarian theory of criminality, which maintains that various factors influence criminal behavior, including biological factors such as gender, low intelligence, impulsiveness, and body type. We concluded this section with various issues pertaining to mental health in the criminal justice system.

At the beginning of this chapter, we presented the case of Albert Fish. It is interesting to note that while the jurors acknowledged that Fish was insane, they still argued he should be executed. This raises some interesting questions in terms of mental health and the criminal justice system. While this case was heard more than 70 years ago, these issues are central to many horrific crimes we read about in the newspaper or see on the news today. Can a person be insane but still guilty of committing a crime?


Summary of Theories in Chapter 7


Key Terms

American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code (ALI/MPC), 190 attachment theory, 174 conventional level of morality, 172 Durham rule, 190 ego, 167 extroversion, 170 id, 167 insanity, 188 intelligence quotient (IQ), 176 irresistible impulse, 189 mental health courts, 187 M’Naghten rule, 189 neuroticism, 170 PEN model, 170 postconventional level of morality, 172 preconventional level of morality, 172 psychoanalytic perspective, 167 psychopath, 182 psychoticism, 170 sociopath, 182 superego, 167 Thinking for a Change, 185


Discussion Questions 1. What are some of the key principles of Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective? 2. How did Aichhorn apply some of these principles to juvenile offenders? 3. What is the PEN model? 4. How would you distinguish the various levels of moral development? 5. What are the key features of attachment theory? 6. What are some of the main issues regarding the link between intelligence and criminality? 7. According to Wilson and Herrnstein, what are the three factors associated with street crime and human nature? 8. How would you distinguish between a psychopath and other criminal offenders? 9. What are the key differences between the M’Naghten, irresistible impulse, Durham, and ALI/MPC tests?

Web Resources

The American Bar Association provides various resources on this website, such as publications including periodicals and the ABA Journal:


This website provides information on mental health courts for over 30 states:


Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Along With Assault and Arson, FBI Starts to Track Animal Abuse

Gun Violence and Mental Health Laws, 50 Years After Texas Tower Sniper

Reliability of scores from the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire: A reliability generalization study

Adolescent parricide and psychopathy

People with serious mental illness in the criminal justice system: Causes, consequences, and correctives


Cannibal ‘Albert Fish’ Documentary

Science Bulletins: Attachment Theory-Understanding the Essential Bond

Treatment or Lockup: Criminal Justice System Grapples with Mentally Ill

Violent Minds: Standing at the Crossroads of Mental Health, Public Safety

Exclusive: Rape in America: Justice Denied

Albert Fish

Dr. Petiot

Weird Crimes at Walmart

Attachment Theory

Criminal Insanity


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.


8 Social Structure Theories of Crime I Early Development and Strain Models of Crime




Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Distinguish social structure theories from other models or perspectives presented in this book. Explain what contributions and conceptual development Émile Durkheim added to the evolution of this perspective around the turn of the 19th century. Describe how his studies showed a significant breakthrough in social science. Explain why Robert K. Merton’s theory of strain become popular when it did, as well as how his conceptualization of “anomie” differed from Durkheim’s. Identify some of the revisions or variations of strain theory presented a couple of decades later and how they differ from Merton’s original theory. Specifically, explain types of elements that these derivative theories emphasized that Merton’s model did not include and what types of categories of individuals or gangs were labeled in these later models. Evaluate how Robert Agnew’s proposed model of general strain added more sources of strain to Merton’s original framework. Identify some ways the various models of strain theory have informed policy making in attempts to reduce criminality.



This chapter will examine explanations of criminal conduct that emphasize the differences among varying groups in societies, particularly in the United States. Such differences among groups are easy to see in everyday life, and many theoretical models have been developed that place the blame for crime on observed inequalities and/or cultural differences among groups. In contrast to the theories presented in previous chapters, social structure theories disregard any biological or psychological variations across individuals. Rather than emphasizing physiological factors, social structure theories assume that crime is caused by the way societies are structurally organized.

These social structure theories vary in many ways, most notably in what they propose as the primary constructs and processes causing criminal activity. For example, some structural models place an emphasis on variations in economic or academic success, whereas others focus on differences in cultural norms and values. Still others concentrate on the actual breakdown of the social structure in certain neighborhoods and the resulting social disorganization that occurs from this process (which we will examine in the next chapter). Regardless of their differences, all the theories examined in this chapter emphasize a common theme: Certain groups of individuals are more likely to break the law due to disadvantages or cultural differences resulting from the way society is structured.

The most important distinction of these social structure theories, as opposed to those discussed in previous chapters, is that they emphasize group differences instead of individual differences. In other words, structural models tend to focus on the macro level of analysis as opposed to the micro level (note: these units of analysis were discussed in the first chapters of this text). Therefore, it is not surprising that social structure theories are commonly used to explain the propensity of certain racial/ethnic groups to commit crime as well as the overrepresentation of the lower class in criminal activity.

As you will see, these theoretical frameworks were presented as early as the 1800s and reached their prominence in the early to mid-1900s, when the political, cultural, and economic climate of society was most conducive to such explanations. Although social structural models of crime have diminished in popularity in

recent decades,1 there is much validity to propositions in the theories discussed in this chapter, and there are numerous applications for social structure theories in contemporary society.


Early Theories of Social Structure: Early to Late 1800s


Early European Theorists: Comte, Guerry, and Quetelet

Most criminological and sociological historians trace the origin of social structure theories to the research done in the early to mid-1800s by a number of European researchers, the most important including Auguste

Comte, Andre-Michel Guerry, and Adolphe Quetelet.2 Although we will not discuss the various concepts, propositions, and research findings from their work, it is important to note that all their work was largely inspired by the social dynamics that resulted from the Industrial Revolution (defined by most historians as beginning in the mid-1700s and ending in the mid-1800s), which was in full swing at the turn of the 18th century and continued throughout most of the 1800s. Societies were quickly transitioning from primarily agriculture-based economies to more industrial-based economies, and this transition inevitably led to populations moving from primarily rural farmland to dense urban cities, which seemed to cause an enormous increase in social problems. These social problems ranged from failure to properly dispose of waste and garbage, to constantly losing children and not being able to find them, to much higher rates of crime (which continue to grow in urban areas compared with suburban and rural areas).


Case Study


The Black Binder Bandit A recent news story reported on a jobless man who was arrested for committing a dozen bank robberies across the Phoenix valley. The man, Cristian Alfredo Urquijo, 39, told authorities that he did it to survive and that “desperation was a great motivator.” He was accused of robbing at least a dozen banks between 2010 and 2011. The criminal complaint noted that he had been laid off from work, was unable to find employment, and robbed the Phoenix-area banks to survive. He went on to say, “It’s pretty simple. It’s black and white. I don’t have a job, I had to work, and I rob to survive.” During his crime spree, authorities called him “The Black Binder Bandit” because he typically hid a revolver in a black binder and also would usually place the stolen money in this binder.

Urquijo pleaded guilty to nine counts of bank robbery, three counts of armed bank robbery, and one count of use of a firearm in a crime of violence, which carries an enhanced sentence. He had originally been charged with 16 counts of bank robbery, but as often happens in plea negotiations, the counts were reduced. He did admit that he had robbed at least 12 banks and also that he had obtained more than $49,000 from these bank robberies.

It is obvious that this man committed these crimes because he wanted to provide for himself in an economic recession. This is just one of many examples of individuals who are strongly motivated to commit crimes—even the major federal crime of bank robbery—to deal with the economic strain or frustration of not being able to “get ahead” or achieve the American Dream of success. This chapter discusses the evolution of theories that address this concept of trying to provide for oneself or succeed while dealing with societal and economic dynamics in American society. Specifically, this chapter reviews the development of anomie/strain theory, starting with its origins among early social structure theorists, such as Durkheim, and moving to its further development by Merton. The chapter also examines the development of various strain models of offending as well as the most modern versions of strain theory (e.g., general strain theory). We will also examine the empirical research findings on this perspective, which reveal that this framework remains one of the dominant theoretical explanations of criminal behavior in modern times. We will finish this chapter by examining the policy implications suggested by this perspective for explaining criminal behavior, and we will further discuss the case of “The Black Binder Bandit” toward the end of this chapter.

As surveillance photos show, Urquijo typically carried into the bank a black binder, in which he hid a revolver and the money he acquired from the bank robbery.


Public domain

It should be noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) typically assigns nicknames (such as “The Black Binder Bandit”) to serial bank robbers. The FBI does so for a very important reason: The public is more likely to take note of serial bank robbers when there is a catchy moniker or nickname attached to them. Apparently, this strategy is useful, because bank robbery actually has a much higher clearance rate than other types of robbery. Other notable nicknames of serial bank robbers in the past few years are the “Mesh-Mask Bandit” (still at large in Texas; wears a mesh mask), the “Geezer Bandit” (still at large in Southern California; authorities believe that the offender may be a young person disguising himself as an elderly person), and the “Michael Jackson Bandit” (still at large in Southern California; wears one glove during robberies). Although all these bank robbery suspects are still “at large,” many others have been caught as a result of making their nicknames notable to the public.


Think About It: 1. Can you articulate why the “Black Binder Bandit” seems to be a good example of Merton’s strain theory? 2. Based on what he said to the police and his behavior, what adaptation of strain would you say best fits him? 3. Outside the nicknames already listed in this discussion, do you know of any other robbers the authorities have nicknamed and the

reason(s) the robbers were given that moniker?


The problems associated with such fast urbanization, as well as the shift in economics, led to a drastic change in basic social structures in Europe as well as the United States. In addition to the extraordinary implications of the Industrial Revolution on the Western world, other types of revolutions were also affecting social structure. One of the first important theorists in the area of social structure theory was Auguste Comte (1798– 1857); in fact, Comte is widely credited with coining the term sociology, because he was the first to be recognized for emphasizing and researching concepts based on more macro-level factors, such as social

institutions (e.g., economic factors).3 Although such conceptualization is elementary by today’s standards, it had a significant influence on the sociological thinking that followed.

Soon after, the first modern national crime statistics were published in France in the early 1800s, and a French lawyer named André-Michel Guerry (1802–1866) published a report that examined these statistics and

concluded that property crimes were higher in wealthy areas but violent crime was much higher in poor areas.4

Some experts have claimed that this report likely represents the first study of scientific criminology,5 and this was later expanded and published as a book. Ultimately, Guerry concluded that opportunity, in the sense that the wealthy had more to steal, was the primary cause of property crime. Interestingly, this conclusion is supported by recent U.S. Department of Justice statistics that show that property crime is just as common, if

not more so, in middle- to upper-class households but that violent crime is not.6 It is clear, as Guerry stated centuries ago, that there is more to steal in the wealthier areas and that poor individuals will use opportunities to steal goods and currency from wealthy households or establishments.

Adolphe Quetelet (1796–1874) was a Belgian researcher who, like Guerry, examined French statistics in the mid-1800s. Besides showing relative stability in the trends of crime rates in France, such as in age distribution and female-to-male ratios of offending, Quetelet also showed that certain types of individuals were more

likely to commit crime.7 Specifically, Quetelet showed that young, male, poor, uneducated, and unemployed

individuals were more likely to commit crime than were their counterparts,8 which has also been supported by modern research. Similar to Guerry, Quetelet concluded that opportunities, in addition to the demographic characteristics, had a lot to do with where crime tended to be concentrated.

However, Quetelet added a special component by identifying that greater inequality or gaps between wealth and poverty in the same place tend to excite temptations and passions. In other words, areas that exhibited large differences in wealth, with many poor and many wealthy in close proximity, had the biggest problems.


This is a concept referred to as relative deprivation and is a quite distinctive condition from that of just a state of poverty.

relative deprivation: the perception that results when relatively poor people live in close proximity to relatively wealthy people.

For example, a number of deprived areas in the United States do not have high rates of crime, likely because virtually everyone is poor, so people are generally content with their lives relative to their neighbors. However, in areas of the country where there are very poor people living in close proximity to very wealthy people, this causes animosity and feelings of deprivation compared with others in the area. Studies have supported this

hypothesis,9 and this is one of the likely explanations for why Washington, DC, which is perhaps the most powerful city in the world but also has a large portion of severely rundown and poor areas, has such a high

crime rate compared with any other jurisdiction in the country.10 Modern studies have also supported this hypothesis in showing a clear linear association between higher crime rates and localities with more relative deprivation. For example, in more modern times, David Sang-Yoon Lee found that crime rates were far higher in cities that had wider gaps in income; specifically, the larger the gap between the 10th and 90th

percentiles, the greater the crime levels.11

People window-shopping and passing by a woman begging for money.

Richard Baker/In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

In addition to the concept of relative deprivation, Quetelet showed that areas with the most rapidly changing economic conditions also showed high crime rates (this will be discussed later in the chapter when we review Durkheim). Quetelet is perhaps best known for this comment: “The crimes . . . committed seem to be a


necessary result of our social organization. . . . Society prepares the crime, and the guilty are only the

instruments by which it is executed.”12 This statement makes it clear that crime is a result of societal structure and not of individual propensities or personal decision-making. Thus, it is not surprising that Quetelet’s position was controversial at the time when he wrote (when most theorists were focusing on free will and deterrence) and that he was rigorously attacked by critics for removing all decision-making capabilities from his model of behavior. In response, Quetelet argued that his model could help lower crime rates by leading to social reforms that address the inequalities of the social structure (such as those between the wealthy and the


One of the essential points of Guerry’s and Quetelet’s work is the positivistic nature of their conclusions. Specifically, they both concluded that the distribution of crime is not random; rather, it is the result of certain types of persons committing certain types of crime in particular places, largely due to the way society is structured and distributes resources. This perspective of criminality strongly supports the tendency of crime to be clustered in certain places as well as among certain persons in these places. Such findings support a structural, positivistic perspective of criminality through which criminality is seen as being deterministic and, thus, caused by factors outside an individual’s control. So in some ways, the early development of structural theories was in response to the failure of the Classical approach to crime control. We will see that as the 19th century drew to a close, Classical and deterrence-based perspectives of crime fell out of favor, while social structure theories and other positivistic theories of crime, such as the structural models developed by Guerry and Quetelet, attracted far more attention.


Durkheim and the Concept of Anomie

Although influenced by earlier theorists (e.g., Comte, Guerry, and Quetelet), Émile Durkheim (1858–1916)

was perhaps the most influential theorist in modern structural perspectives on criminality.14 As discussed above, like most other social theorists of the 19th century, he was strongly affected by the political (e.g., American and French) revolutions and the Industrial Revolution. In his doctoral dissertation (1893) at the University of Paris—the first sociological dissertation at that institution—Durkheim developed a general model of societal development largely based on the economic/labor distribution, in which societies are seen as evolving from a simplistic mechanical society toward a multilayered organic society (see Figure 8.1).

As outlined in Durkheim’s dissertation, titled The Division of Labor in Society, primitive mechanical societies exist as those in which all members essentially perform the same functions, such as hunting (typically males) and gathering (typically females). Although there are a few anomalies (e.g., medicine men), virtually everyone experiences essentially the same daily routine. Such similarities in daily routine and constant interaction with like members of the society lead to a strong uniformity in values, which Durkheim called the collective conscience. The collective conscience is the degree to which individuals of a society think alike, or as Durkheim put it, the totality of social likenesses.

Due to very little variation in the distribution of labor in these primitive mechanical societies, or those with “mechanical solidarity,” the individuals in such societies tend to share similar norms and values, which creates a simple-layered social structure with a strong collective conscience. Because people have more or less the same jobs and mostly interact with similar individuals, they tend to think and act alike, which creates a strong solidarity among members. In mechanical societies, law functions to enforce the conformity of the group. However, as societies progress toward more modern, organic societies in the Industrial Age (most historians mark the Industrial Revolution as beginning in the 1750s and ending in the 1860s), the distribution of labor becomes more highly specified. There is still a form of solidarity in organic societies, called “organic solidarity,” because people tend to depend on other groups in the society through the highly specified division of labor, and law’s primary function is to regulate interactions and maintain solidarity among the groups.

For example, modern researchers at universities in the United States tend to be trained in extremely narrow topics, some as specific as the antennae of certain species of ants. On the other hand, some individuals are gathering trash from cans on the same streets every single day. The antennae experts probably have little interaction with or in common with the garbage collectors. According to Durkheim, moving from such universally shared roles in mechanical societies to such extremely specific roles in organic societies results in huge cultural differences, which leads to giant contrasts in normative values and attitudes across such groups. Thus, the collective conscience in such societies is weak, largely because there is little agreement on moral beliefs or opinions. Therefore, the preexisting solidarity among the members breaks down and the bonds are weakened, which creates a climate for antisocial behavior.

collective conscience: according to Durkheim, the extent to which people in a society share similarities or likeness; the stronger the collective conscience, the less crime in that community.


mechanical societies: in Durkheim’s theory, these societies were rather primitive, with a simple distribution of labor (e.g., hunters and gatherers) and thus a high level of agreement regarding social norms and rules because nearly everyone was engaged in the same roles.

organic societies: in the Durkheimian model, those societies that have a high division of labor and thus a low level of agreement about societal norms, largely because everyone has such different roles in society.


Learning Check 8.1 1. Which early social structure theorist emphasized the concept of “relative deprivation”?

1. Merton 2. Guerry 3. Durkheim 4. Comte 5. Quetelet

2. Which early social structure theorist is credited with coming up with the term sociology? 1. Merton 2. Guerry 3. Durkheim 4. Comte 5. Quetelet

3. Early studies by social structure theorists/researchers found that there were higher rates of property crime in __________ neighborhoods but higher rates of violent crime in __________ neighborhoods (which still holds true in modern times).

1. poor/wealthy 2. wealthy/poor

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Durkheim was clear in stating that crime is not only normal but necessary in all societies. Because Durkheim saw even crime as needed in society, his theory is often considered a good representation of functionalism, which assumes that virtually all types of behaviors or groups (such as crime and criminals) serve some important role in a given community. Specifically, he claimed that all social behaviors, especially crime, provide essential functions in a society. To clarify, Durkheim claimed that crime was needed for several reasons. First, crime is important because it defines the moral boundaries of societies. Few people know or realize what is against the societal laws until they see someone punished for a violation. This reinforces their understanding of both what the rules are and what it means to break the rules. Furthermore, the identification of rule breakers creates a bond among the other members of the society, perhaps through a common sense of self-righteousness or superiority.

This type of urban decay and deterioration is key in theories that emphasize neighborhood environment and how it contributes to high crime rates in certain city areas.


© iStockphoto.com/Denis Jr. Tangney

Figure 8.1 Durkheim’s Continuum of Development From Mechanical to Organic Societies


In later works, Durkheim explained that this need for bonding is what makes crime so necessary in a society. Given the possibility that a community does not have any law violators, the society will change the legal definitions of what constitutes a crime to define some of its members as criminals. Examples of this are prevalent, but perhaps the most convincing is that of the Salem witch trials, in which hundreds of individuals were accused and tried for an almost laughable offense and more than a dozen were executed. Although this case is hard to relate to, Durkheim would say it was inevitable because crime was so low in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (historical records confirm this) that the society had to come up with a fabricated criterion for defining certain members of the population as offenders.

Émile Durkheim’s (1858–1916) theories on the progression of societies from mechanical to organic, as well as the “collective conscience” and “anomie,” have heavily influenced many modern theories of crime.


Public domain

Other examples are common in everyday life, but the most readily apparent are those in which a group of people are thrown together. The fastest way for such a group to bond is to unite over a common enemy, which often means forming into cliques and ganging up on others in the group. As college students can usually relate to, in a group of three or more roommates, two or more of the individuals will quickly join together and complain about the others in the housing unit. This is an inevitable phenomenon of human interaction and


group dynamics that has always existed throughout the world across time and place. As Durkheim said, even in

a society of saints . . . crimes . . . will there be unknown; but faults which appear venial to the layman will create there the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary consciousnesses. . . . This society

. . . will define these acts as criminal and will treat them as such.15

This is why law enforcement should always be cautious in “cracking down” on gangs, especially during relatively inactive periods, because crackdowns will likely make the gangs stronger by giving members a common enemy. Like all societal groups, when a common enemy rears its head, the persons in the group (even those who do not typically get along) will come together and “circle the wagons” to protect themselves via strength in numbers. This usually produces a powerful bonding effect, and one that many sociologists and

especially gang researchers have consistently observed.16

While traditional (mostly mechanical) societies could count on relative consensus in regard to moral values and norms, this sometimes led to too much control and stagnation of creative thought. However, Durkheim claimed that progress typically depends on deviating from established moral boundaries in a society, especially one in the more mechanical stage. There are many examples of this, including virtually all religious icons. For example, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed were all criminally persecuted for deviating from societal norms in the times when they preached. Political heroes have also been prosecuted and incarcerated as criminals, such as Mahatma Gandhi in India, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States. Perhaps one of the most compelling cases is that of scientist and astronomer Galileo, who proposed a theory that Earth was not the center of the universe. Even though he was right, he was persecuted for this theory because of the demand for strict adherence to the beliefs of his society. It is obvious that Durkheim was accurate in saying that the normative structure in some societies is so strong that it hinders progress and that crime is the price societies pay for progress.

In contrast to the problems of more primitive mechanical societies, modern societies do not have such extreme restraint against deviations from the established norms. Rather, almost the opposite is true; there are too many differences across groups because the division of labor is highly specialized. Thus, the varying roles in society, such as farmers versus scientific researchers, have become quite different due to the natural transition from primitive societies to more modern, specialized groups found in our contemporary societies. This leads to extreme differences in the cultural values and norms of the various groups. In other words, there is a breakdown in the collective conscience because there is really no longer a “collective” nature in society. Therefore, law no longer is primarily interested in defining the norms of society but rather is focused on governing the interactions that take place among the different classes. According to Durkheim, law provides a service in regulating such interactions as societies progress toward more organic (more industrial) forms.

Importantly, Durkheim emphasized that human beings, unlike other animal species that live according to their spontaneous needs, have no internal mechanism to signal when their needs and desires are satiated.


Therefore, the selfish desires of humankind are limitless, and the more an individual has, the more he or she wants. In other words, people are greedy by nature, and without something to tell them what they need and

deserve, they will never feel content.17 According to Durkheim, it is society that provides the mechanism for limiting human individuals’ insatiable appetite for more and more. Specifically, he claimed that only society has the power necessary to create laws that tell citizens where the limits are drawn on their selfishness and passions.

Durkheim also noted that in times of rapid change, society fails in this role of regulating desires and expectations. This rapid change can be due to numerous factors, such as war or social movements (such as the changes seen in the United States in the 1960s). For Durkheim, the transitions he likely had in mind were those that affected the time in which he wrote—namely, just after the American and French Revolutions, and also immediately following the Industrial Revolution. Durkheim claimed that with rapid change, the ability of society to serve as a regulatory mechanism breaks down and the selfish, greedy tendencies of individuals are uncontrolled, causing a state Durkheim called anomie, or “normlessness.” Societies in such anomic states would experience increases in many social problems, particularly criminal activity.

Durkheim was clear that it really did not matter whether the rapid change was for good or bad; either way, it would have negative effects on society. For example, whether the U.S. economy was improving (such as in the late 1960s) or quickly tanking (such as in the 1930s, during the Great Depression), according to Durkheim both of these would produce more criminal activity due to the lack of stability in regulating human expectations and desires. Interestingly, both of these periods (the late 1960s and 1930s) showed the greatest

crime waves of the 20th century, particularly for murder.18 Another fact that supports Durkheim’s predictions is that middle- and upper-class individuals have higher suicide rates than those from lower classes. This is consistent with the idea that it is better to have stability, even if it means always being poor, than it is to have instability at higher levels of income.

In his most widely known work, Suicide, Durkheim applied his theoretical model to an act that was (and often still is) considered an individual decision—namely, the taking of one’s own life. This was a major step for several reasons. First, Durkheim took an act—suicide—that would seem to be the ultimate form of free choice or free will, and he showed that this decision to take one’s own life is largely determined by external, social factors. To clarify, Durkheim claimed that suicide was a “social fact,” meaning that it was a product of meanings and structural aspects that result from interactions among persons.

Specifically, Durkheim showed that the rate of suicide was significantly lower among individuals who were married, young, and adherents of religions that were more interactive and communal (e.g., Judaism). All these characteristics boil down to one aspect: The more social interaction and bonding with the community, the less suicide. So Durkheim concluded that variations in suicide rates are due to differences in social solidarity or bonding to society. Examples of this are still seen today, as in the recent reports of high rates of suicide among persons who live in extremely rural areas, such as Alaska (which has the highest rate of juvenile suicide), northern portions of Nevada, and Wyoming and Montana. Another way of looking at the implications of Durkheim’s conclusions is that social relationships are what make people feel happy and fulfilled. If we are


isolated or have weak bonds with society, we will likely be depressed and discontent with our lives.

The second reason Durkheim’s examination of suicide was important was that he showed that in times of both rapid economic growth and rapid decline, suicide rates increased. Although researchers later argued that

crime rates did not always follow this pattern,19 he used quantified measures to test his propositions as the positivistic approach recommended. In the least, Durkheim created a prototype of how theory and empirical research could be combined in testing differences across social groups. This theoretical framework would be drawn on heavily for one of the most influential and accepted criminological theories of the 20th century— strain theory.

anomie: a concept originally proposed by Durkheim, which meant normlessness or the chaos that takes place when a society (e.g., economic structure) changes very rapidly.


Learning Check 8.2 1. Durkheim’s model emphasized the evolution of more primitive __________ types of societies to more advanced __________

types of societies. 1. mechanical/organic 2. organic/mechanical

2. Durkheim’s proposed theory included the concept of “anomie,” which can best be defined as: 1. stability. 2. normlessness. 3. status quo. 4. deprived. 5. ritualistic.

3. Durkheim wrote an entire book on what type of behavior? 1. Murder 2. Robbery 3. Rape 4. Burglary 5. Suicide

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Merton’s Strain Theory

The one thing that all forms of strain theory have in common is their emphasis on a sense of frustration in crime causation, hence the name “strain” theory. Although the theories differ regarding what exactly is causing the frustration as well as in the way individuals cope (or don’t) with such stress and anger, they all identify the strain placed on individuals as the primary causal factor in the development of criminality. Another common feature of strain theories is that they all trace their origin to the seminal theory of Durkheim as well as to Robert K. Merton’s theoretical framework.

When formulating his theory of structural strain in the 1930s, Merton drew heavily on Durkheim’s idea of

anomie.20 As we shall see in this chapter, although Merton altered the way anomie was defined, it is apparent that Durkheim’s theoretical framework was a vital influence in the evolution of strain theory. By combining Durkheimian concepts and propositions with an emphasis on American culture, Merton’s structural model became one of the most popular perspectives in criminological thought in the early 1900s and remains one of the most cited theories in the criminological literature.


Cultural Context and Assumptions of Strain Theory

Some have claimed that Merton’s seminal piece in 1938 was perhaps the most influential theoretical

formulation in the criminological literature and one of the most frequently cited papers in sociology.21

Although partially due to its strong foundation in previous structural theories, the popularity of Merton’s strain theory is likely more related to the timing of its publication. As we have discussed previously, virtually every theory addressed in this book became popular when it did because the political and social climate at the time desired that type of theory for its fit with the current perspective on how the world works. Perhaps no theory better represents this phenomenon than strain theory.

Virtually all Americans are raised to believe in the American Dream, in which we are led to believe that if we just work very hard we will gain financial success. However, this is certainly not the case, especially for those who are not given the educational and occupational opportunities that others are given, typically via heredity.

©iStockphoto.com/Craig McCausland

Virtually all historians would agree that the most significant social issue in the 1930s was the economy. The Great Depression, largely a result of the stock market crash in 1929, affected virtually every aspect of life in the United States. Not only did unemployment and extreme poverty soar, but suicide rates rose and crime

rates skyrocketed, particularly murder rates.22 So it is not surprising that there was fertile ground in American society for a theory of crime that placed virtually all the blame on the economic structure in the United States.

Not only was society ready for a perspective such as strain theory, but on the other side of the coin, Merton was highly influenced by what he saw happening to the country during the Great Depression. Specifically, he


observed how much the economic institution impacted almost all other social factors, particularly crime. He watched how the breakdown of the economic structure drove people to kill themselves or others, not to mention the rise in property crimes, such as theft. After all, many individuals who had once been successful were now poor, and some felt driven to crime for survival. Notably, Durkheim’s hypotheses regarding crime and suicide were supported during this time of rapid change, and Merton apparently realized that the framework simply had to be updated and supplemented.

One of the key assumptions distinguishing strain theory from Durkheim’s perspective is that Merton altered his version of what “anomie” means, a definition we will explore below. Specifically, Merton discussed the nearly universal socialization of the American Dream in U.S. society. To clarify, this is the idea that as long as someone works hard and pays his or her dues, that person will achieve every goal in the end. According to Merton, the socialized image of the goal is material wealth, whereas the socialized concept of the means of achieving the goal is hard work (e.g., education, labor). So the conventional model of the American Dream was consistent with the Protestant work ethic of working hard for a long time and knowing you will be repaid in the distant future.

Furthermore, Merton claimed that nearly everyone is socialized to believe in the American Dream, no matter what economic class they are raised in. There is some empirical support for this belief, which makes sense because virtually all parents, even if they are poor, want to instill in their children a hope for the future, particularly if one is willing to work hard in school and/or at a job. In fact, parents and society usually use celebrities as examples of this process—namely, those individuals who started off poor and rose to wealth. Modern examples include former secretary of state Colin Powell, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Oscar winner Hilary Swank, and Hollywood director/screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, not to mention Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went from teenage immigrant to Mr. Olympia and governor of California.

These stories epitomize the American Dream, but parents and society do not always teach the reality of the situation. As Merton points out, while a small percentage of persons can rise from the lower class to become materially successful, the vast majority of poor children really don’t have much chance of ever obtaining such wealth. So it is this near-universal socialization of the American Dream, without it being obtainable in most cases, that causes most of the strain and frustration in American society. Furthermore, Merton claims that most of the strain and frustration is due not necessarily to the failure to achieve conventional goals (i.e., wealth) but rather to the differential emphasis placed on the material goals and the deemphasis of the importance of the conventional means.

Merton’s Concept of Anomie and Strain.

Merton claimed that an ideal society would feature an equal emphasis on the conventional goals and means in society. However, in many societies, one of these aspects would be emphasized more than the other. Merton claimed that the United States epitomized the type of society that emphasizes goals far above means. This disequilibrium in emphasis between the goals and means of societies is what Merton called anomie. So, like Durkheim’s, Merton’s anomie was a negative state for society; however, the two men had different explanations for how this state of society came about. While Durkheim believed that anomie was primarily


caused by a society transitioning too fast to maintain its regulatory control over members, for Merton, anomie represented too much focus on the goals of wealth in the United States at the expense of the conventional means.

There are numerous examples of how the goals are emphasized more than the means in our society, but perhaps the best way to illustrate this is through hypothetical situations. Which of the following two men would be more respected by youth (or even adults) in our society: (1) John, who has his PhD in physics but lives in a one-bedroom apartment because he can find only a job as a postdoctoral student for a stipend of $25,000 a year, or (2) Joe, who is a relatively successful drug dealer who owns a four-bedroom home, drives a Hummer, dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and makes about $90,000 a year? In years of asking this question in our classes, the answer, with few exceptions, is usually Joe, the drug dealer. After all, he appears to have obtained the American Dream.

Still another way of supporting Merton’s idea that America is too focused on the goal of material success is to ask you, the reader, to think about why you are taking the time to read this chapter and/or to attend college. Specifically, the question is this: If you knew for a fact that you would not get a better employment position by studying this book or, furthermore, by earning a college degree, would you be learning this material just for your own edification? In more than a decade of posing this question to about 10,000 students in university courses, one of the authors of this book found that only about 5% (usually less) of respondents said yes. Interestingly, when asked the reason they would put all this work into attending classes, many of them said they would do it for the partying or social life. Ultimately, it appears that most college students would not be engaging in the hard work it takes to educate themselves if it weren’t for some payoff at the end of the task. In some ways, this supports Merton’s claim that the emphasis is on the goals, with little or no intrinsic value placed on the work itself (i.e., the means). This phenomenon is not meant to be disheartening or a negative statement; after all, it is only meant to exhibit the reality of American culture and to show that it is quite common in our society to place an emphasis on the goal of financial success as opposed to hard work for hard work’s sake.

Merton went on to say that individuals, particularly those in the lower class, eventually realize that the ideal of the American Dream is a lie, or at least a false illusion for the vast majority of people. For example, people can work very hard in school and then get stuck in jobs that will never produce the type of material success promised them via the dream they were socialized to believe in. This revelation of the truth will likely take place when people are in their late teens to mid-20s, the time when crime tends to peak.

According to Merton, this is when the frustration or strain is evident, which is consistent with the peak of offending at the approximate age of 17. Therefore, some individuals begin to innovate ways that they can achieve the goals of society (i.e., material success) without having to use the conventional means of attaining them. Obviously, this is often through criminal activity. However, not all individuals deal with strain in this way; after all, most people who are poor do not resort to crime. To Merton’s credit, one of the good things about his theory is that he explained that individuals deal in different ways with the limited economic structure of society. Merton referred to these variations in dealing with the revelation of the economic


structure as adaptations to strain.

adaptations to strain: as proposed by Merton, the five ways that individuals deal with feelings of strain; see conformity, innovation, rebellion, retreatism, and ritualism.

Adaptations to Strain.

There are five adaptations to strain, according to Merton. The first of these is conformity, in which persons buy into the conventional goals of society but also buy into the conventional means of working hard in school

or labor.23 This would include the vast majority of the readers of this book, in the sense that, like most of you, conformists want to achieve material success and are willing to do so by conventional means such as educational effort and diligent work. As the label suggests, these individuals are conforming to the goals and means that society suggests. Another adaptation to strain is ritualism. Ritualists do not seek to achieve the goals of material success, probably because they know they don’t have a realistic chance of obtaining such success. However, they do buy into the conventional means in the sense that they like to do their jobs or are happy just making ends meet. For example, studies have shown that some of the most content and happy people in society are those that don’t seek to become rich; rather, they are quite content with their blue-collar jobs and often have a strong sense of pride in the work they do, even if it is sometimes menial. To clarify, such a person considers his or her work a type of ritual and performs it without a goal in mind; rather, the work itself is a form of intrinsic goal. Ultimately, conformists and ritualists tend to be at low risk for offending, in contrast to those who adopt other adaptations to strain.

The other three adaptations to strain are far more likely to lead to criminal offending: innovation, retreatism, and rebellion. Perhaps most likely to become predatory street criminals are the innovators, who Merton claimed greatly desire the conventional goals of material success but are not willing to engage in conventional means of obtaining those goals. Obviously, drug dealers and professional auto thieves, as well as many other variations of chronic property criminals (e.g., bank robbers), fit this adaptation. To clarify, as their name suggests, they are innovating ways to achieve material goals without doing the hard work usually needed to succeed. However, innovators are not always criminals. In fact, many of them are the most respected individuals in our society. For example, some entrepreneurs have used the capitalistic system of our society to produce useful products and services (e.g., the men who designed Google for the Internet) and have made a fortune at young ages without advanced college educations or years of work at a company. Another example is successful athletes who sign multimillion-dollar contracts at age 18. So it should be clear that not all innovators are criminals.

The fourth adaptation to strain is retreatism, in which individuals do not seek to achieve the goals of society or buy into the idea of conventional hard work. There are many varieties of this adaptation, such as persons who become homeless by choice or persons who isolate themselves in desolate places without human contact. A good example of a retreatist is Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who left a good position as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, to live in an isolated Montana cabin, which had no running water or electricity, and did not interact with humans for many months at a time. Other types of retreatists, perhaps


the most likely to be criminal, are those who actively disengage from social life and try to escape via psychologically altering drugs. All these forms of retreatists seek to drop out of society altogether, thus refusing to buy into the means or goals of society.

conformity: in strain theory, an adaptation to strain in which an individual buys into the conventional means of success and also buys into conventional goals.

ritualism: in strain theory, an adaptation to strain in which an individual buys into the conventional means of success (e.g., work, school, etc.) but does not buy into the conventional goals.

innovation: in strain theory, an adaptation to strain in which an individual buys into the conventional goals of success but does not buy into the conventional means for getting to the goals.

retreatism: in strain theory, an adaptation to strain in which an individual does not buy into the conventional goals of success and also does not buy into the conventional means.

rebellion: in strain theory, an adaptation to strain in which an individual buys into the idea of conventional means and goals of success but does not buy into the current conventional means or goals.

The last adaptation to strain, according to Merton, is rebellion—the most complex of the five adaptations. Interestingly, rebels buy into the idea of societal goals and means, but they do not buy into the conventional goals and means currently in place. Most true rebels are criminals by definition, largely because they are trying to overthrow the established societal structure. For example, the founders of the United States were all rebels because they actively fought the governing state (English rule) and clearly committed treason in the process. Had they lost or been captured during the American Revolution, they would have been executed as the criminals they were by law. However, because they won the war, they became heroes and presidents. Another example is Karl Marx, who will be discussed later in this text. He bought into the goals and means of society, just not those of the current American culture. Rather, he proposed socialism/communism as a means to the goal of utopia. So there are many contexts in which a rebel can become a criminal, but sometimes rebels end up becoming heroes.

Merton also noted that one individual can represent more than one adaptation to strain. Perhaps the best example is the Unabomber, who started out as a conformist in that he was a respected professor at University of California, Berkeley, well on his way to tenure and promotion. He then seemed to shift to a retreatist state, isolating himself from society (as mentioned above). Later, he became a rebel who bombed innocent people in his quest to implement his own goals and means—as described in his manifesto, which he coerced several national newspapers to publish (and which subsequently resulted in his apprehension, because his brother read it and informed authorities that he thought his brother had written it!).

Finally, some have applied an athletic analogy to these adaptations, which often helps in translating them to

actual, everyday behavior.24 In a basketball game, conformists will play to win, but they will always play by the rules and won’t cheat to win. Ritualists will play the game just because they like to play, and they don’t care about winning. Innovators will play to win, and they will break any rules they can to triumph in the game. Retreatists don’t like to play and obviously don’t care about winning. Finally, rebels will not like the rules on the official court, so they will try to steal the ball and play by their own rules on another court. Although this


is a somewhat simplistic analogy, it is likely to help readers remember the adaptations and perhaps enable them to apply these ways of dealing with strain to everyday situations, such as resorting to criminal activity.


Learning Check 8.3 1. According to Merton’s theory, which type of individual deals with strain by emphasizing the conventional goals of success without

any consideration for the conventional means of gaining such success? 1. Ritualists 2. Conformists 3. Retreatists 4. Rebels 5. Innovators

2. According to Merton’s theory, which type of individual deals with strain by emphasizing the conventional means of gaining success without any consideration for the conventional goals of such success?

1. Ritualists 2. Conformists 3. Retreatists 4. Rebels 5. Innovators

3. According to Merton’s theory, which type of individual deals with strain by emphasizing the conventional goals of success as well as strongly considering the conventional means for gaining such success?

1. Ritualists 2. Conformists 3. Retreatists 4. Rebels 5. Innovators

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Evidence and Criticisms of Merton’s Strain Theory

Although Merton’s framework, which emphasized the importance of the economic structure, appeared to have a high degree of face validity during the Great Depression, many scientific studies showed mixed support for strain theory. While research that examined the effects of poverty on violence and official rates of various crimes has found relatively consistent support (albeit weaker effects than strain theory implies), a series of studies of self-reported delinquent behavior found little or no relationship between social class and

criminality.25 Furthermore, the idea that unemployment drives people to commit crime has received little


On the other hand, some experts have argued that Merton’s strain theory is primarily a structural model of

crime that is more a theory of societal groups than of individual motivations.27 Therefore, some modern studies have used aggregated group rates (i.e., macro-level measures) to test the effects of deprivation as opposed to using individual (micro-level) rates of inequality and crime. Most of these studies provide some support for the hypothesis that social groups and regions with higher rates of deprivation and inequality have

higher rates of criminal activity.28 Furthermore, the case study provided at the beginning of this chapter, that of Cristian Alfredo Urquijo or the “Black Binder Bandit,” clearly shows that in some cases economic desperation is a primary motivation in committing robberies for financial survival. In sum, there appears to be some support for Merton’s strain theory when the level of analysis is the macro level and official measures are being used to indicate criminality.

However, many critics have claimed that these studies do not directly measure perceptions or feelings of strain, so they are only indirect examinations of Merton’s theory. In light of these criticisms, some researchers have focused on the disparity in what individuals aspire to in various aspects of life (e.g., school, occupation,

social life) versus what they realistically expect to achieve.29 The rationale of these studies is that if an individual has high aspirations (i.e., goals) but also has low expectations of actually achieving the goals due to structural barriers, then that individual is more likely to experience feelings of frustration and strain. Furthermore, it was predicted that the larger the gap between aspirations and expectations, the stronger the sense of strain. Of the studies that examined discrepancies between aspirations and expectations, most did not find evidence linking a large gap between these two levels with criminal activity. In fact, several studies found that for most antisocial respondents, there was virtually no gap between aspirations and expectations. Rather, most of the subjects (typically young males) who reported the highest levels of criminal activity tended to report low levels of both aspirations and expectations.

Surprisingly, when aspirations were high, it seemed to inhibit offending, even when expectations to achieve those goals were unlikely. One interpretation of these findings is that individuals who have high goals will not jeopardize their chances for obtaining such aspirations, even when they realize their chances are slim. On the other hand, individuals who don’t have high goals are likely to be indifferent to their future and, in a sense, have nothing to lose. So without a stake in conventional society, this predisposes them to crime. While this conclusion supports social control theories (discussed in the following chapters), it does not provide support


for strain theory.

Some critics have argued that most studies on the discrepancies between aspirations and expectations have not been done correctly. For example, Farnworth and Leiber claimed that it was a mistake to examine the differences between educational goals and expectations, or differences between occupational goals and

expectations, which is what most of these studies did.30 Rather, they proposed testing the gap between economic aspirations (i.e., goals) and educational expectations (i.e., means of achieving these goals). Not only does this make sense, but Farnworth and Leiber found support for a gap between these two factors being predictive of criminality. However, they also report that persons who reported having low economic aspirations were more likely to be delinquent, which supports the previous studies they criticized. Another criticism of this type of strain theory study is that it is possible that simply reporting a gap between expectations and aspirations does not necessarily mean that the individuals actually feel strained; rather, researchers have simply, and perhaps wrongfully, assumed that a gap between the two measures indicates

feelings of frustration.31

Other criticisms of Merton’s strain theory include some historical evidence and its failure to explain the age– crime curve. Regarding the historical evidence, it is hard to understand why some of the largest increases in crime took place during a period of relative economic prosperity—namely, the late 1960s. Crime increased more than ever before (that we have measures for) between 1965 and 1973, which were generally good economic years in the United States. Therefore, if strain theory is presented as the primary explanation for criminal activity, it would probably have a hard time explaining this historical era. On the other hand, it can be argued that the growth in the economy in the 1960s and early 1970s may have caused even more disparity between rich and poor, thereby producing more relative deprivation.

The other major criticism of strain theory is that it does not explain one of the most established facts in the field: the age–crime curve. Specifically, in virtually every society in the world, across time and place, predatory street crimes (e.g., robbery, rape, murder, burglary, larceny, etc.) tend to peak sharply in the teenage years to early 20s and then drop off quickly, certainly before age 30. However, most studies show that feelings of stress and frustration tend to continue rising after age 30 and do not diminish significantly. For example, suicide rates tend to be just as high or higher as one ages, with persons over 55 showing the highest rates of suicide.

On the other hand, it can be argued that the reason why strain continues or even increases as one ages but the rates of crime go down is that individuals develop coping mechanisms for dealing with their frustrations. This idea seems to make sense, and while Merton never discussed (outside the adaptations) actual methods of coping with strain, a variation of Merton’s theory—general strain theory—did emphasize this concept. Before we cover general strain theory, we will discuss two other variations of Merton’s theory that were developed within a five-year period (1955–1960) to explain gang formation and behavior using a structural strain framework.



Variations of Merton’s Strain Theory


Cohen’s Theory of Lower-Class Status Frustration and Gang Formation

In 1955, Albert Cohen presented a theory of gang formation that used Merton’s strain theory as a basis for

why individuals resort to such group behavior.32 In Cohen’s model, young males from lower classes are at a disadvantage in school because they lack the normal interaction, socialization, and discipline instituted by educated parents of the middle class, which is in line with Merton’s original framework of a predisposed disadvantage among underclass youth. According to Cohen, such youths are likely to experience failure in school due to this lack of preparation in conforming with middle-class values, so they fail to live up to what is considered the “middle-class measuring rod,” which emphasizes factors such as motivation, accountability, responsibility, deferred gratification, long-term planning, respect for authority and property, and controlling emotions.

Like Merton, Cohen emphasized the youths’ internalization of the American Dream and fair chances for success, leading to frustration when they fail to be successful according to this middle-class standard. This strain that they feel due to failure in school performance and respect among their peers, often referred to as “status frustration,” leads them to develop a system of values that is contrary to middle-class standards and values. Some have claimed that this represents a Freudian defense mechanism known as reaction formation, which involves adopting attitudes or committing behaviors that are the opposite of what is expected—a form of defiance and avoidance of guilt for not living up to the assumed standards. According to Cohen, these lower-class male youths will adopt a normative value system that defies the very values they are expected to live up to. Specifically, instead of abiding by middle-class norms of obedience to authority, school achievement, and respect for authority, these youths change their normative beliefs to value the opposite characteristics: Namely, they value malicious, negativistic, and nonutilitarian delinquent activity.

For example, these youths will begin to value destruction of property and skipping school, not because these behaviors lead to a payoff or success in the conventional world but simply because they defy the conventional order. In other words, they turn the middle-class values upside down and consider activity that violates the conventional norms and laws, thereby psychologically and physically rejecting the cultural system placed on them without benefit of equal preparation and fair distribution of resources. Furthermore, Cohen claimed that while these behaviors do not appear to have much utility or value, they are quite valuable and important from the perspective of the strained youth. Specifically, they do these acts to gain respect from their peers (those who have gone through the same straining experiences and reactionary formation), which they could not gain through school performance and adherence to middle-class normative culture.

Cohen stated that he believed this tendency to reject middle-class values is the primary cause of gangs, because a number of these lower-class individuals who have experienced the same strains (i.e., status frustration) and experiences form a group—a classic example of “birds of a feather flock together.” Cohen claimed that not all lower-class males resort to crime and join a gang in response to this structural disadvantage. Other variations, beyond that of the delinquent boy, are the college boy and the corner boy. The “college boy” responds to his disadvantaged situation by dedicating himself to overcoming the odds and


competing in the middle-class schools despite his unlikely chances for success. On the other hand, the “corner boy” responds to the situation by accepting his place in society as a lower-class individual who will somewhat passively make the best of life at the bottom of the social order.

As compared with Merton’s original adaptations, Cohen’s delinquent boy is probably most similar to rebellion, because the delinquent boy rejects the means and goals (middle-class values and success in school) of conventional society and replaces them with new means and goals (negativistic behaviors and peer respect in a gang). Some would argue that delinquent boys should be seen as innovators, because their goal is ultimately the same: peer respect. But the peers involved completely change, so we argue that through the reaction formation process, the delinquent boy actually creates his own goals and means that go against the conventional, middle-class goals and means. Regarding the college boy, the adaptation that seems to fit best is conformity, because the college boy continues to believe in the conventional goals (i.e., financial success/achievement) and means (i.e., hard work via education/labor) of middle-class society. Finally, the corner boy probably best fits the adaptation of ritualism, because he knows that he likely will never achieve the goals of society, so he essentially resigns himself to not obtaining financial success. At the same time, he does not resort to predatory street crime but, rather, holds a stable blue-collar job or makes ends meet in other typically legal ways. Some corner boys who end up simply collecting welfare and giving up on work altogether may actually become more like the adaptation of retreatism, because they have virtually given up on the conventional means (hard work) of society as well as the goals.

reaction formation: a Freudian defense mechanism applied to Cohen’s theory of youth offending, which involves adopting attitudes or committing behaviors that are opposite of what is expected.

delinquent boy: a type of lower-class male youth, identified by Cohen, who responds to strains and status frustration by joining with similar others in a group to commit crime.

college boy: a type of lower-class male youth who has experienced the same strains and status frustration as his peers but responds to his disadvantaged situation by dedicating himself to overcoming the odds and competing in the middle-class schools despite his unlikely chances for success.

corner boy: a type of lower-class male youth who has experienced the same strains and status frustration as others but responds to his disadvantaged situation by accepting his place in society as someone who will somewhat passively make the best of life at the bottom of the social order. As the label describes, such youth often hang out on corners.

At the time when Cohen developed his theory, official statistics showed that virtually all gang violence—and most violence, for that matter—was concentrated among lower-class male youths. However, with the development of self-report studies in the 1960s, his theory was shown to be somewhat overstated in the sense

that middle-class youths were well represented in committing delinquent acts.33 Other studies have also been critical of Cohen’s theory, particularly the portions that deal with his proposition that crime rates will increase after youths drop out of school and join a gang. Although the findings are mixed, many studies have found that delinquency is often higher before the youths drop out of school and may actually decline once they drop

out and become employed.34 Some critics have pointed out that such findings discredit Cohen’s theory, but this is not necessarily true. After all, delinquency may be peaking right before the youths drop out because that is the time when they feel most frustrated and strained, whereas delinquency may be decreasing after they


drop out because some of the youths are raising their self-esteem by earning a wage and taking pride in holding a job.

Organized crime syndicates are typically found in neighborhoods with more structured criminal organizations, which mentor youth in these neighborhoods and result in a prevalence of criminal gangs.

© iStockphoto.com/PointImage

Still, studies have clearly shown that lower-class youths are far more likely to have problems in school and that

school achievement is consistently linked with criminality.35 Furthermore, there is little dispute that much of delinquency represents malicious, negativistic, and nonutilitarian activity. For example, what do individuals have to gain from destroying mailboxes or tagging walls? This is an act that will never gain much in the lines of money or any other form of payoff aside from peer respect. So, ultimately, it appears that there is some face validity to what Cohen proposed, in the sense that some youths engage in behavior that has no other value than earning peer respect, even though that behavior is negativistic and nonutilitarian according to the values of conventional society. Regardless of some criticisms of Cohen’s model, he provided an important structural strain theory of the development of gangs and lower-class delinquency.


Cloward and Ohlin’s Theory of Differential Opportunity

Five years after Cohen published his theory, Richard A. Cloward and Lloyd E. Ohlin presented yet another

structural strain theory of gang formation and behavior.36 Similar to Merton and Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin assumed that all youths, including those in the lower class, are socialized to believe in the American Dream and that when they realize they are blocked from conventional opportunities, they become frustrated and strained. What distinguishes Cloward and Ohlin’s theory from the previous strain theories is that they emphasized three different types of gangs that form based on the characteristics of the social structure in the neighborhood. To clarify, the nature of gangs varies according to the availability of illegal opportunities in the social structure. So whereas previous strain theories focused only on lack of legal opportunities, Cloward and Ohlin’s model emphasized both legal and illegal opportunities, and the availability (or lack) of these opportunities largely determined what type of gang would form in that neighborhood—hence the name differential opportunity theory. Furthermore, the authors acknowledged Edwin Sutherland’s (see Chapter 10) influence on their theory, and this influence is evident in their focus on the neighborhood associations that largely determine what type of gang will form. According to differential opportunity theory, the three types of gangs are criminal gangs, conflict gangs, and retreatist gangs.

Criminal gangs are those that form in lower-class neighborhoods that have an organized structure of adult criminal behavior. Such neighborhoods are so organized and stable that the criminal networks are often known and accepted by the conventional portion of individuals in the area. The adult gangsters in these neighborhoods mentor the youth and take them under their wing. This can pay off for the adult criminals, too, because youth can often be used to do the “dirty work” for the criminal enterprises in the neighborhood without risk of serious punishment if caught. The successful adult offenders supply the youth with the motives and techniques for committing crime. So while members of criminal gangs are blocked from legal opportunities, they are offered ample opportunities in the illegal realm.

Due to the strong organization and stability of such neighborhoods, criminal gangs tend to reflect this high degree of organization and stability. Therefore, criminal gangs primarily commit property or economic crimes, with the goal of making a profit through illegal behavior. These crimes can range from “running numbers” as local bookies to “fencing” stolen goods to running businesses that are a front for vice crimes (e.g., prostitution, drug trading). Regardless of the type, they all involve making a profit illegally, and there is often a system or structure in which the criminal activity takes place. Furthermore, these criminal gangs are most like the Merton adaptation of innovation (discussed previously in this chapter) because the members still want to achieve the goals of conventional society (financial success). Because of the strong organizational structure of these gangs, they are not as conductive to individuals who are highly impulsive or uncontrolled as they are to those who have self-control and are good at planning for the future.

Examples of criminal gangs are seen in movies depicting highly organized neighborhoods (often consisting of primarily one ethnicity)—movies such as The Godfather, A Bronx Tale, State of Grace, Sleepers, New Jack City, Clockers, Goodfellas, Better Luck Tomorrow, and many others that were partially based on real events. All these


depictions involve a highly structured hierarchy in a criminal enterprise, which is largely a manifestation of the organization of the neighborhood. The Hollywood motion pictures also involve stories about the older criminals in the neighborhood taking younger males from the neighborhood under their wing and training them in the ways of the criminal network. Furthermore, virtually all ethnic groups have examples of this type of gang/neighborhood; for example, in looking at the list of movies above, there are Italian-American, Irish- American, African-American, and Asian-American representations. Thus, criminal gangs can be found across the racial and ethnic spectrum, largely because all groups have certain neighborhoods that exhibit strong organization and stability.

Conflict gangs are another type of gang that Cloward and Ohlin identified. Conflict gangs tend to develop in neighborhoods that have weak stability and little or no organization. In fact, the neighborhood often seems to be in a state of flux because people are constantly moving in and out of the area. Because the youth in the neighborhood do not have a solid crime network or adult criminal mentors, they tend to form together as a relatively disorganized gang. Due to this disorganization, they typically lack the skills and knowledge to make a profit through criminal activity. Therefore, the primary illegal activity of conflict gangs is violence. This violence is used to gain prominence and respect among themselves and the neighborhood, but due to the disorganized nature of the neighborhood as well as the gang itself, conflict gangs never quite achieve the respect and stability of criminal gangs. The members of conflict gangs tend to be more impulsive and lack self-control compared with members of criminal gangs, largely because there are no adult criminal mentors to control them.

criminal gangs: a type of gang identified by Cloward and Ohlin that forms in lower-class neighborhoods with an organized structure of adult criminal behavior. Such gangs tend to be highly organized and stable.

conflict gangs: a type of gang identified by Cloward and Ohlin that tends to develop in neighborhoods with weak stability and little or no organization; gangs are typically relatively disorganized and lack the skills and knowledge to make a profit through criminal activity.

According to Cloward and Ohlin, conflict gangs are blocked not only from legitimate opportunities but also from illegitimate opportunities. If applying Merton’s adaptations, conflict gangs would probably fit the category of rebellion best, largely because none of the other categories fits well. But it can be argued that conflict gangs have rejected the goals and means of conventional society and implemented their own values, which emphasize violence. Examples of motion pictures that depict this type of breakdown in community structure and result in a mostly violent gang culture include Menace to Society, Boyz n the Hood, A Clockwork Orange, Colors, The Outsiders, and others that emphasize the chaos and violence that results when neighborhood and family organization is weak.

Many gangs thrive more on violence than on profit-making activities. Such gangs, called conflict gangs, tend to be more territorial and are often found in neighborhoods lacking the structure provided by established crime syndicates.


Getty Images: 103460946

Finally, if an individual is a “double failure” in both the legitimate and illegitimate worlds, meaning he or she can’t achieve success in school or status in a local gang, that person may join other such people to form a retreatist gang. Retreatist gangs are made up of those individuals who have failed to succeed in the conventional world and also could not achieve status in the criminal or conflict gangs of their neighborhoods. Because members of retreatist gangs are no good at making a profit from crime (like criminal gang members) or at using violence to achieve status (like conflict gang members), their primary form of offending is usually drug usage. Like Merton’s retreatist adaptation to strain, members of retreatist gangs often simply want to escape from reality. Therefore, the primary activity of the gang is usually getting high, which is well represented in such movies as Trainspotting, Drugstore Cowboy, and Panic in Needle Park. In all these movies, the only true goal of the gangs is to get stoned and escape from the world in which they have failed.

There were a number of empirical studies and critiques of Cloward and Ohlin’s theory, with much of the criticism being similar to that of Merton’s strain theory—specifically, that there is little evidence that gaps between what lower-class youth aspire to and expect to achieve are predictive of feelings of frustration and

strain, or that such gaps are predictive of gang membership or criminality.37 Another criticism of Cloward and Ohlin’s theory is the inability to find empirical evidence that supports their model of the formation of three types of gangs and their specialization in offending. While some research supports the existence of gangs that appear to specialize in certain forms of offending, many studies find that the observed specialization of gangs

is not exactly the way Cloward and Ohlin proposed.38 Additional studies have shown that many gangs tend not to specialize but, rather, engage in a wider variety of offending behaviors.


Despite the criticisms of Cloward and Ohlin’s model of gang formation, their theoretical framework inspired policy, largely due to the influence of their work for Attorney General Robert Kennedy. In fact, Kennedy asked Ohlin to assist in developing federal policies regarding delinquency, which resulted in the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1961. Cloward and Ohlin’s theory was a major influence on the Mobilization for Youth project in New York City, which along with the federal legislation stressed creating education and work opportunities for youth. Although evaluations of this program showed little effect in

reducing delinquency,39 it was impressive that such theorizing about lower-class male youths could have such a large impact on policy interventions.

Ultimately, the variations of strain theory presented by Cohen and Cloward and Ohlin provided additional revisions that seemed at the time to advance the validity of strain theory. However, as discussed above, most of these revisions were based on official statistics that showed lower-class male youths as committing the most

crime, which were later shown by self-reports to be exaggerated.40 Due to the realization that most of the earlier models of strain were not empirically valid for most criminal activity, strain theory became unpopular for several decades. But during the 1980s, another version of strain was devised by Robert Agnew, who rejuvenated the interest in strain theory by devising a theory that made the theory more general and applicable to a larger variety of crimes and forms of deviance.

retreatist gangs: a type of gang identified by Cloward and Ohlin that tends to attract individuals who have failed to succeed in both the conventional world and the criminal or conflict gangs of their neighborhoods.


General Strain Theory

In the 1980s, Robert Agnew proposed general strain theory, which includes a much larger range of behavior due to not concentrating on simply the lower class and provides a more applicable model for the frustrations

that all individuals feel in everyday life.41 Unlike other strain theories, which all assumed the internalization of the American Dream and the resulting frustration when it was revealed as a false promise to those of the lower classes, general strain theory does not necessarily rely on this assumption. Rather, this theoretical framework assumes that people of all social classes and economic positions deal with frustrations in routine daily life, which virtually everyone can relate to.

Specifically, previous strain theories, such as the models proposed by Merton, Cohen, and Cloward and Ohlin, focused on individuals’ failure to achieve positively valued goals that they had been socialized to work toward. Like these previous models, general strain theory also focuses on this source of strain; however, general strain theory emphasizes two additional categories of strain: presentation of noxious stimuli and removal of positively valued stimuli (see Figure 8.2). In addition to the failure to achieve one’s goals, Agnew claimed that the presentation of noxious stimuli (i.e., bad things) in one’s life could cause major stress and frustration. Examples of noxious stimuli would include an abusive parent, a teacher who always picks on one student, or a boss who puts undue strain on one employee. These are just some of the many negative factors that can exist in one’s life, and the examples of this category of strain are endless.

Figure 8.2 Model of General Strain Theory

Why Do They Do It?



Christopher Dorner In early February 2013, Christopher Dorner went on a killing spree in Southern California that resulted in four people dead, including two police officers, and three officers wounded. His intent was to murder as many law enforcement officers as possible, especially those whom he blamed for losing his job with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), where he had served as an officer from 2005 to 2008. One of the initial victims of his killing spree included the daughter (and her fiancé) of the LAPD captain who unsuccessfully represented him in his appeal of charges of misconduct while on patrol.

Dorner made his intentions quite clear in a “manifesto” he wrote and posted on his Facebook page just before he began his killing spree. In this manifesto, he listed many individuals he planned to stalk and kill, as well as celebrities and others whom he claimed to admire, such as the actor Charlie Sheen. He also made very clear in the manifesto that his goal was to get the LAPD to admit that his termination was in retaliation for reporting excessive force by a fellow officer. After his initial killings, he fled to Big Bear, California, in San Bernardino County, where he burned his truck and holed up in a vacant residence.

Dorner’s rampage led to one of the largest manhunts in LAPD history, involving many other agencies in the search. These agencies included the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office and several federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife agency, whose agent finally spotted Dorner and exchanged gunfire with him just before the siege that took place at the cabin near the small town of Angelus Oaks, California, in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Despite Dorner’s killing of innocent victims, many people came out to support him for taking a stand against the LAPD. Although the authors of this book find it hard to believe, he did gain much support in stalking and killing police officers and their family members. Perhaps Dorner gained this support by articulating his reasons, albeit sometimes delusionally (e.g., praising drug-addicted, sex-crazed celebrities), in his manifesto.

Christopher Dorner went on a shooting spree, killing police officers and innocent victims in retaliation for his termination from the LAPD.

U.S. Marshals Service photo

Dorner shot himself in the head during the mountain siege, after an intense gun battle that killed two more officers. (It is notable that one of the coauthors of this book [Tibbetts] lives in Angelus Oaks. The official population, according to the 2010 Census, is 535.) Law enforcement authorities used incendiary devices to force Dorner out of the cottage, which elicited an outcry from some of


Dorner’s supporters, who saw this as an attempt to kill the suspect by whatever means available. Regardless of the motives of law enforcement officers, Dorner was neutralized.

So why did Dorner do it? Given the reasons laid out in his manifesto, he likely was feeling frustrated or strained after being fired from the LAPD as well as being relieved from his service in a U.S. Naval Reserve unit on February 1, 2013. So in addition to an unstable psychological state (which his manifesto reveals, along with documented past domestic issues with several of his former romantic partners), he was likely acting out a deep-seated anger that stemmed from his being fired by the LAPD. Thus, general strain theory, which places a focus on anger, as well as lack of more conventional coping mechanisms is likely the best theory for explaining why Dorner took out his frustrations by killing both law enforcement officers and innocent family members of persons against whom he wanted to exact revenge.


Think About It: 1. Can you articulate reasons why Dorner’s case is a good example of strain/general strain theory? 2. Do you see any justification to Dorner’s actions, based on the issues in his past and his frustrations?

Sources: Cart, J., & Stevens, M. (2013, February 12). Dorner manhunt: Fish and Wildlife officers make the big break. Los Angeles Times. Lloyd, J., Ebright, O., Pamer. M., & Tata, S. (2013, February 28). Charred human remains found in rubble of Big Bear–area cabin. NBC News.

Individuals experience stressors every day, and general strain theory emphasizes the importance of stress and anger in increasing the likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior, especially when individuals have not developed healthy coping mechanisms.




The other strain category Agnew identified was the removal of positive stimuli (i.e., good things), which is likely the largest cause of frustration. Examples of removal of positively valued stimuli include the loss of a good job, loss of the use of a car for a period of time, or loss of a loved one. Like the other two sources of strain, examples of removal of positive aspects are infinite, and these may have varying degrees of influence depending on the individual. To clarify, one person may not feel much frustration from losing a job or divorcing his or her spouse, whereas another person may experience severe anxiety or depression from such events.

Ultimately, general strain theory proposes that these three categories of strain (failure to achieve goals, noxious stimuli, and removal of positive stimuli) will lead to stress and a propensity to feel anger. Anger can be seen as a primary mediating factor in the causal model of the gender strain framework. In other words, it is predicted that to the extent that the three sources of strain cause feelings of anger in an individual, that individual will be predisposed to commit crime and deviance. However, Agnew was clear in stating that if an individual can somehow cope with this anger in a positive way, then such feelings do not necessarily have to result in criminal activity. These coping mechanisms vary widely across individuals, with certain strategies working better for some people than for others. For example, some people destress by working out or running, whereas others do so by watching television or a movie. One type of activity that has shown relatively consistent success in relieving stress is laughter, which psychologists are now prescribing as a release of stress. Another is yoga, which largely includes simple breathing techniques such as taking several deep breaths, which is physiologically shown to enhance release of stress (see any studies on stress reduction done in the past few decades).

Although he did not originally provide details on how coping mechanisms work or explore the extant psychological research on these strategies, Agnew specifically pointed to such mechanisms in dealing with anger in prosocial ways. The primary prediction regarding coping mechanisms is that individuals who find ways to deal with their stress and anger in a positive way will no longer be predisposed to commit crime, whereas individuals who do not find a healthy, positive outlet for their anger and frustrations will be far more likely to commit crime. Obviously, the goal is to reduce the use of antisocial and negative coping with strain, such as drug usage, aggression, and so forth, which are either criminal in themselves or increase the likelihood of offending.


Evidence and Criticisms of General Strain Theory

Fortunately, recent research and theoretical development have more fully examined various coping mechanisms and their effectiveness in reducing anger and, thus, preventing criminal activity. Obviously, in focusing on individuals’ perceptions of stress and anger as well as their personal abilities to cope with such feelings, general strain theory places more emphasis on the micro level of analysis. Still, due to its origins in structural strain theory, it is included in this chapter and is typically classified as belonging to the category of strain theories that includes the earlier, more macro-level-oriented theories. Additionally, recent studies and revisions of the theory have attempted to examine the validity of general strain theory propositions at the

macro, structural level.42

Since general strain theory was first proposed in the mid-1980s, there has been a vast amount of research

examining various aspects of the theory.43 For the most part, studies have generally supported the model. Specifically, most studies find a link between the three categories of strain and higher rates of criminality as well as a link between the sources of strain and feelings of anger or other negative emotions (e.g., anxiety,

depression).44 However, there have been criticisms of the theory, and especially of the way the theory has been tested.

For example, similar to the problems with using objective indicators to measure perceptions of deterrence (as discussed in previous chapters), it is important for strain research to measure subjects’ perceptions and feelings of frustration, not simply the occurrence of certain events themselves. Unfortunately, some studies have

looked only at the latter, and the validity of such findings is questionable.45 Fortunately, a number of other

studies have directly measured subjective perceptions of frustration as well as personal feelings of anger.46

Such studies have found mixed support for the hypothesis that certain events lead to anger47 but less support

for the prediction that anger leads to criminality, and this link is particularly weak for nonviolent offending.48

On the other hand, the most recent studies have found support for the links between strain and anger as well

as between anger and criminal behavior, particularly when coping variables are considered.49 Still, many of the studies that do examine the effects of anger incorporate indicators of anger using time-stable “trait” measures, as opposed to incident-specific “state” measures that would be more consistent with the situation-specific

emphasis of general strain theory.50 This is similar to the methodological criticism, discussed in other chapters in this text, that has been leveled against studies of self-conscious emotions, particularly shame and guilt; namely, when it comes to measuring emotions such as anger and shame, criminologists should choose their measures carefully and make sure the instruments are consistent with the theory they are testing. Thus, future research on general strain theory should employ more effective, subjective measures of straining events and situational states of anger.

Regardless of the criticisms of general strain theory, it is hard to deny its face validity. After all, virtually everyone can relate to the tendency to react differently to similar situations based on what type of day they are having. For example, we all have days when everything seems to be going great—it is Friday, you receive


accolades at work, and you are looking forward to a nice weekend with your friends or family. If someone says something derogatory to you or cuts you off in traffic on such a day, you will probably be inclined to let it go. On the other hand, we also all have days when everything seems to be going horribly wrong—it is Monday, you get blamed for mishaps at work, and you have a fight with your spouse or significant other. On a day such as this, if someone yells at you or cuts you off in traffic, you may be more inclined to respond aggressively. Or perhaps more commonly, you will overreact and snap at a loved one or friend when he or she didn’t do much to deserve it; this is a form of displacement in which a cumulative buildup of stressors causes us to lash out. In many ways, this supports general strain theory and its prevalence in everyday life.


Learning Check 8.4 1. According to Agnew, which of the following is NOT one of the key reasons why individuals become strained or frustrated?

1. Failure to acquire goals/expectations 2. Dealing with negative stimuli 3. Loss of positive stimuli 4. Low self-control

2. Which type of adaptation to strain did Cohen NOT label/identify in his theory? 1. Corner boy 2. Drug boy 3. College boy 4. Delinquent boy

3. Which of the following types of gangs did Cloward and Ohlin NOT label/identify in their theory of gangs? 1. Ritualistic gangs 2. Conflict gangs 3. Criminal gangs 4. Retreatist gangs

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Why Do They Do It?


Gang Lu Gang Lu was a PhD graduate at the University of Iowa in 1991 when he entered a meeting of his former academic department and shot and killed several faculty members (including the chair of his PhD dissertation committee and two other committee members). He also shot and killed a student, his former roommate and winner of the elite Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize—awarded to an outstanding PhD candidate for exemplary research in the field of physics, including a $2,500 reward and nomination as a candidate for a prize on the national level. After Lu shot these people, he proceeded to another building, where he shot and killed the associate vice president for academic affairs and the campus grievance officer, to whom Lu had made numerous complaints about not being nominated/chosen as a candidate for the Spriestersbach prize. In addition to the prize money, Lu believed that winning this award would have helped him get hired as a tenure-track professor.

He also shot a temporary student employee in the grievance office; she was paralyzed but survived the attack. Apparently, the president of the university was also on Lu’s “hit list,” but he happened to be out of town the day of the shootings. Lu was later found dead in a campus room, where he had shot himself in the head. Lu used a .38-caliber revolver in the attack.

So why did Lu perform this massacre? It is likely that one of the primary reasons can be explained by both traditional and general strain theories examined in this chapter. Specifically, he failed to obtain positively valued goals (the dissertation award) despite high expectations, which is consistent with the original version of strain theory proposed by Merton. However, anger over not winning the award and his complaints going unaddressed was clearly a key factor in his actions, and this anger is best explained by Agnew’s general strain theory, which was also discussed in this chapter as a more recent and robust framework regarding how strain and frustration can increase propensities to commit crimes. Lu obviously did not deal or cope with this frustration and anger in a healthy way, which is also key in general strain theory; those with healthy coping mechanisms to strain and stress are typically fine, but those who can’t deal with it in a positive way are likely to be predisposed to violence or other illegal activity.

A movie—titled Dark Matter—starring Meryl Streep and Aiden Quinn and largely based on this event was released in 2007 and won the Sloan Prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. It is not a factual depiction of what occurred in this case, but it hits close to the mark in portraying why Lu might have committed this act.


Think About It: 1. Can you articulate why Gang Lu’s case appears to be a good example of general strain theory? 2. Do you see a way that there could have been some early predictors or interventions that could have prevented Gang Lu’s


Sources: Beard, J. A. (1997, June 24). The fourth state of matter. New Yorker. Eckhardt, M. L. (2001, November 1). 10 years later: U. Iowa remembers fatal day. Daily Iowan; Marriott, M. (1991, November 3). Gunman in Iowa wrote of plans in five letters. New York Times.

Applying Theory to Crime: Bank Robbery

Bank robbery is a special type of robbery that, unlike the everyday “street” robberies we discussed in a previous chapter, is within the jurisdiction of the FBI as opposed to local police authorities. Robbery is defined by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) as “the taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or putting the victim in fear.” Thus, bank robbery is a special form of robbery but robbery nonetheless. A working definition of bank robbery is the act of entering a bank when it is open (or when some person is on the premises) to take money or other goods, and then taking them by force or threat of force. It should be noted that if a break-in occurs at a bank and no one is there, it is typically defined as a burglary (see Chapter 5).

Each year, the FBI puts together a comprehensive review of the many thousands of bank robberies in the United States, which we will review below. But first, it is important to mention that there is no established, systematically collected database of bank robberies for other countries throughout the world. In fact, virtually all other countries simply include bank robberies with other types of robbery that occur in a given year. That said, the United States likely is well represented in the world in terms of bank robbery. We say that with confidence given the data from the FBI.

In 2015, the FBI reported that at least 4,030 bank robberies were committed in the United States. Notably, this did not include more than 50 bank burglaries (those occurring when the bank was closed); as you may recall from a previous chapter, robberies are inherently violent, so someone must be present for a robbery to occur.

Some interesting statistics about these bank robberies in 2015 (largely because such distributions do not tend to differ much from year to year) include gender and race of the offender, day of the week, time of day, type of bank, areas of the bank involved, and modus operandi. Regarding gender, the vast majority of bank robbers were male (4,388; note: this number exceeds the number of incidents because sometimes there are multiple offenders in these bank robberies) versus female (359). This statistic backs up data previously reviewed in the text showing that males commit the overwhelming majority of violent crimes; in this case, females made up less than 8% of all bank robbers. In terms of race, black robbers (2,121) outnumbered white offenders (1,919), despite making up only about 13.3% of the general population. This is likely due to their high rates of poverty in our nation, which makes sense especially in terms of the theories reviewed in this chapter.

Another notable factor in the etiology of bank robbery in the United States is that of day of the week as well as time of day. The modal category for day is Friday (789), which makes sense because offenders may be thinking about getting money for weekend activities. Friday is followed by Tuesday (710) followed by Monday (672) and Wednesday (672), perhaps because offenders didn’t have the foresight to anticipate the weekend but feel that they need to make up for what they spent on the weekend (just an educated guess), or perhaps they believe the banks have the most money on hand those days. Consistent with this theory, Saturday is the least likely day for bank robberies.

One of the more consistent predictors of bank robbery is the time of day when most robbers hit banks. In the report, as well as for the past few decades, bank robbers were most likely to offend between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., with the highest peak coming in the hour between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. A theory for why offenders seem to choose this time most often is that they want some of the money that flows in during the first hour (with most banks opening at 9 a.m.) but want to avoid the “lunch-hour” banking rush, when there are many witnesses.

Another factor highlighted by the FBI’s 2015 report is that of the type of bank location robbed. In 2015, the main office was rarely


robbed, whereas the primary robberies were among branch offices (3,926 robberies), with other locations such as in-store branches and other remote facilities being robbed infrequently. Also, in 2015, metropolitan banks were robbed far more often (1,940 robberies) than were banks in suburbs, small cities, or rural locations. Additionally, in 2015, nearly all the bank robberies were carried out at the bank counter (3,920 robberies) as opposed to the vault/safe, safe deposit boxes, office area, drive-in/walk-up, armored vehicles, or other areas.

Finally—and this may come as a surprise, given the current Hollywood depictions of “takeover robberies,” such as in the movies Heat and The Town—the vast majority of bank robberies in 2015 (as well as for every year in the past few decades) were committed by a demand note (2,416) followed by an oral demand (2,146), usually presented to the teller at the counter.

It is likely that bank robbery is largely driven by unemployment and/or poverty, especially during hard economic times. In one notable recent incident, a jobless man was arrested for committing a dozen bank robberies across the Phoenix valley. The man, Cristian Alfredo Urquijo, discussed in the case study at the beginning of this chapter, told authorities that he did it to survive and that “desperation was a great motivator.”

Urquijo’s case is reflective of some of the various theories discussed in this chapter, especially those regarding strain theory. After all, we are talking about a man who, up to that time, appeared to have a clean record. However, when he was suddenly unemployed, he innovated a new way to obtain the money he needed to survive. In addition, according to general strain theory, when positive stimuli are removed (such as a stable job), individuals are more likely to engage in criminal offending, especially when such illegal acts are attempts to replace the lost positive stimuli (in this case, income from work).


Think About It: 1. How do peak times of bank robberies differ from that of other robberies? Can you provide a reason or reasons for this? 2. Why do you think “takeover” bank robberies are far rarer than “oral command” or “passing note to the teller” bank robberies?

Sources: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2016). Bank crime statistics 2015: Federally insured financial institutions, January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2015. Washington, DC: Author; Jobless Arizona bank robber says he “stole to survive.” (2011, August 23). Reuters.


Summary of Strain Theories

The common assumption found across all variations of strain theory is that crime is far more common among individuals who are under a great degree of stress and frustration, especially those who can’t cope with or handle such stress in a positive way. The origin of most variations of strain theory can be traced to Durkheim’s and Merton’s concepts of anomie, which essentially means a state of chaos or normlessness in society due to a breakdown in the ability of societal institutions to regulate human desires, thereby resulting in feelings of strain.

Although different types of strain theories were proposed and gained popularity at various points throughout the 20th century, they all became accepted during eras that were politically and culturally conducive to such perspectives, especially regarding the differences across the strain models. For example, Merton’s formulation of strain, which emphasized the importance of the economic institution, was developed and became popular during the Great Depression. Then, in the late 1950s, two strain theories that focused on gang formation were developed by Cohen and by Cloward and Ohlin; they became popular among politicians and society due to the focus on official statistics suggesting that most crime at that time was being committed by lower-class, inner-city male youths, many of whom were gang members. Finally, Agnew developed his general strain model in the mid- to late 1980s, during a period when a number of general theories of crime were being developed (e.g., Gottfredson and Hirschi’s low self-control theory and Sampson and Laub’s developmental theory); thus, such models were popular at that time, particularly those that emphasized personality traits (such as anger) and experiences of individuals. So all the variations of strain, like all the theories discussed in this book, were manifestations of the periods in which they were developed and became widely accepted by academics, politicians, and society.


Policy Implications of Strain Theory

Although this chapter deals with a wide range of theories regarding social structure, the most applicable policy implications are those suggested by the most recent theoretical models of this genre. Thus, we will focus on policies that are most relevant in contemporary times and are key factors in the most modern versions of this perspective. Specifically, the factors that are most vital for policy regarding social structure are those involving educational and vocational opportunities and programs that develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress.

Comparative Criminology: Bank Robbery


Ranking U.S. States on Bank Robbery and Notable Findings From Other Nations There is no systematic database for occurrences of bank robbery across various nations. Thus, we are largely going to compare various states and regions of the United States and then discuss some findings from other foreign nations.

First, it must be said that bank robbery in the United States has declined significantly over the past two decades, which is consistent with other violent crimes (e.g., homicide) during this most recent time period. For the most recent year for which preliminary data are available (2010), bank robberies once again declined. In 2010, there were just over 5,600 bank robberies (a significant decrease [by about 400] from 2009), in which the offenders got away with about $42 million (of that, authorities recovered about $8 million). As in previous years, the vast majority of these offenses were committed at the bank counter via a demand note. Of course, there are many other types of bank robberies, such as “takeover” robberies (which usually include more than one armed offender forcing everyone in the bank to “get down”). But regardless of type or modus operandi of the robberies, they are all counted the same in most FBI data because they are all attempted or true bank robberies.

In 2010, California, as usual, recorded by far the most bank robberies, at 805 for the year; Texas was a distant second at 464. It should be said that California does have more people than any other state, but even when accounting for the population, California remains overrepresented in bank robberies compared with virtually all states. The other primary states that had high bank robbery numbers were Ohio (263) and Florida (243). Just for comparison among U.S. states, it is notable that North Dakota had only two bank robberies in 2010. Once again, it is important to note that North Dakota has a far lower population than the other states discussed above, but even when standardizing the rates per capita, North Dakota is far lower in bank robberies than those other jurisdictions.

Virtually no foreign nations keep, or at least release publicly, records on bank robbery (at least on the government level) as the FBI does in the United States. Rather, most countries tend to lump incidents of bank robbery in with other types of robbery. Therefore, in this comparative section, we will simply examine some of the statistics and findings that have been provided regarding bank robberies in various countries.

As in the United States, bank robberies in Canada in recent years took place in more urban areas. In fact, banks in only seven cities in Canada were responsible for about 66% of all bank robberies despite having only about 30% of bank branches. The same can be said for the United Kingdom; London has only about 10% of bank branches but reported about 39% of the bank robberies in the whole United Kingdom. The concentration of bank robberies in urban areas is largely attributed to their location, especially in terms of the nearby highways or freeways that allow for more opportunity to escape via fast-moving traffic. Furthermore, a recent study showed that one third of the banks robbed in the United Kingdom were robbed again soon after, specifically in the following three months. However, the same can be said for banks in the United States; if a particular bank is robbed, it greatly increases its chances of being robbed again, especially if the first robbery was successful (i.e., the offenders were not caught).

A study by the Australian Institute of Criminology examined more than 800 bank robberies that occurred in Australia between 1998 and 2002. It was found that the majority (55%) of the incidents were committed by a lone offender, similar to incidents in the United States. This study also found that pairs or multiple offenders inflicted the most injuries on victims at the scene and used disguises most often.

Overall, the trends regarding bank robberies in other similar, industrialized countries seem highly consistent with the trends in the United States. It is important to note that recent developments in crime prevention (e.g., bulletproof teller windows) and biometric technology (e.g., video, fingerprint scanners) make it much harder to access the vaults of various banks in the countries we have discussed. Perhaps this is why bank robberies have fallen dramatically in most of these countries, especially in the United States— even in Southern California, where bank robberies occur less than half as often as they did two decades ago.

Ultimately, although the rates of bank robberies vary across nations, many of the countries that are most like the United States (e.g., Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia) appear to have the same trends in the way bank robberies are committed. So perhaps the most intriguing conclusion is that offenders tend to think the same way across various countries. Still, given that most of the countries in the world do not report specific data on bank robberies, we are going only on what official data have been reported by the countries discussed above. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more readiness among nations to report rates and characteristics


of bank robbery.


Think About It: 1. Are there more similarities or differences between other countries and the United States in terms of various issues regarding

bank robberies? What specific factors are you examining to make your conclusion? 2. Do you think it is important to have a more systematic collection of data regarding bank robberies in countries around the

world, or do you think the cultural differences are too different to compare them?

Sources: Australian Institute of Criminology. (2003, July). Bank robbery in Australia. Canberra, Australia: Author. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2010). Bank crime statistics 2009: Federal insured financial institutions, January 1, 2009–December 31, 2009. Washington, DC: Author; Home Office. (n.d.). Policy: Reducing and preventing crime. Richey, W. (2011, April 5). Which state has the most bank robberies? FBI releases its annual report. Christian Science Monitor.

Empirical studies have shown that intervention programs that focus on educational and/or vocational training and opportunities are needed for high-risk youths, because those that do not have much motivation for such

endeavors can have a significant impact on reducing their offending rates.51 Specifically, providing an individual with a job, or the preparation for such, is key to building a more stable life, even if the position is not a high-paying job. Thus, the individual is less likely to feel stressed or “strained.” In modern times, people are lucky to have a stable job, and this must be communicated to our youth. And ideally they will find some intrinsic value in the work they perform.

Another key area of recommendations from this perspective involves developing healthy coping mechanisms to strain. After all, every individual deals with stress virtually every day. The key is not to avoid stress or strain, because that is impossible. Rather, the key is to develop healthy, legal ways to cope with such strain. Many programs have been created to train individuals on how to develop coping mechanisms for handling such stress without resorting to antisocial behavior. There has been some success in such “anger-management” programs, particularly the ones that take a cognitive-behavioral approach, which teaches individuals to think

before they act and often involves role playing.52



This chapter examined the theories that emphasize inequitable social structure as the primary cause of crime. We examined early perspectives that established that societies vary in the extent to which they are stratified, as well as the consequences that result from inequalities and complexities of such structures. Early European researchers showed that certain types of crimes were clustered in different areas based on their socioeconomic levels. These early models set the stage for later theoretical development in social structure models of crime, especially strain theories.

Our examination of strain theories explored theoretical models stating that individuals and groups who are not offered equal opportunities for achieving success can experience feelings of stress and frustration and, in turn, develop dispositions toward committing crime. There have been many versions of strain theories proposed by scholars over the past century, with some focusing on economics and others emphasizing school performance, neighborhood dynamics, or many other factors beyond economic ones that can also produce frustration among individuals.

We also examined the policy recommendations suggested by the various strain theoretical models, which included the need to help provide individuals with educational and job opportunities as well as helping them to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the daily stressors we all face. Some of these programs have shown success in reducing the level of criminality from stress and frustrations, especially recent programs that have helped high-risk individuals develop better coping mechanisms to deal with their stressors. These programs hold much promise for future interventions.

Finally, we followed up on our initial case study of a jobless man—Cristian Alfredo Urquijo, or the “Black Binder Bandit”—arrested for committing a dozen bank robberies across the Phoenix valley. He confessed to authorities that he engaged in these bank robberies to survive and that “desperation was a great motivator,” as he had been laid off and could not find a stable job. This “Black Binder Bandit,” so nicknamed because he often hid a revolver in a black binder, is a good representation of some of the theories discussed in this chapter, especially those regarding strain theory.


Summary of Theories in Chapter 8


Key Terms

adaptations to strain, 208 anomie, 204 collective conscience, 201 college boy, 212 conflict gangs, 214 conformity, 208 corner boy, 212 criminal gangs, 214 delinquent boy, 212 innovation, 208 mechanical societies, 201 organic societies, 201 reaction formation, 212 rebellion, 208 relative deprivation, 199 retreatism, 208 retreatist gangs, 215 ritualism, 208


Discussion Questions 1. How does sociological positivism differ from biological or psychological positivism? 2. Which of the early sociological positivism theorists do you think contributed the most to the evolution of social structure theories

of crime? Why? Do you think their ideas still hold up today? 3. Can you think of modern examples of Durkheim’s image of mechanical societies? Do you think such societies have more or less

crime than modern organic societies? 4. What type of adaptation to strain do you think fits you most? Least? What adaptation do you think best fits your professor? Your

postal delivery worker? Your garbage collector? 5. Do you know people you went to school with who fit Cohen’s model of status frustration? What did they do in response to the

feelings of strain? 6. How would you describe the neighborhood where you or others you know grew up in terms of Cloward and Ohlin’s model of

organization/disorganization? Can you relate to the types of gangs they discussed? 7. If you were the attorney general of the United States, what types of policy recommendations would you give to help alleviate some

of the financial (or other types of) strain on individuals or disadvantaged groups?

Web Resources

Émile Durkheim

A brief, but very insightful, review of Durkheim’s personal and professional life:


Strain Theory

This site provides a concise synopsis of key factors in Merton’s strain theory:

https://www.boundless.com/sociology/textbooks/boundless-sociology-textbook/deviance-social-control-and-crime-7/the- functionalist-perspective-on-deviance-62/strain-theory-how-social-values-produce-deviance-375-6183/

This bibliographical site provides a basic introduction as well as a list of the key publications for classic strain theory and general strain theory:


Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Ban the Box Laws,’ Do They Help Job Applicants With Criminal Histories?


In Panama, Restoring Streets and Reforming Gangs at the Same Time

The maximizer: Clarifying Merton’s theories of anomie and strain

An intersectional analysis of differential opportunity structure for community-based anticrime efforts

Toward an understanding of the emotional and behavioral reactions to stalking: A partial test of general strain theory

SOCIOLOGY - Émile Durkheim

Robert Agnew on Strain Theory and the American Society for Criminology

Christopher Dorner Manhunt: Search for Ex-LAPD Cop Goes On Amid California Snowstorms

A Community Safety Net to Prevent Rampage Shootings: Bernice Pescosolido at TEDxBloomington

Law Enforcement Tries to Curb Increasing Gang Violence in La, OC Counties

The Great Moldovan bank robbery

Strain theory

Extreme Body Modification



Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.



9 Social Structure Theories of Crime II Social Disorganization and Subcultures

© iStockphoto.com/andrearoad


Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Describe how the ecological principles of invasion, domination, and succession among animals or plants apply to the growth of cities and cause different crime rates among varying regions of a city. Explain how the model presented by Chicago theorists explains the city (or cities) where you live or have lived, and identify such zones in cities you have lived in or visited and the increased risk factors in certain areas. Discuss Shaw and McKay’s theory of social disorganization. Identify some current, modern-day examples of specific cultures or subcultures in the United States, especially in the region where you live or work, and how they relate to crime. Evaluate the criticisms of cultural theories of crime.



This chapter will continue our survey of key social structure theories that have been proposed by criminologists to explain criminal behavior. The previous chapter discussed early social structure theories that evolved in Europe in the 19th century as well as more modern versions of strain theory. In this chapter, we will focus on a different type of social structure framework that emphasizes the risk factors and social dynamics in certain neighborhoods. Specifically, we will examine the Chicago School of criminology, which is otherwise known as the Ecological School or theory of social disorganization, for reasons that will become clear by the end of this chapter. The Chicago School perspective places a high emphasis on the impact of the neighborhood where a youth lives in determining his or her criminal behavior.

The Chicago School evolved in that location because the city at that time (late 19th century to early 20th century) desperately needed answers to dealing with its exponentially growing problem of delinquency and crime. Thus, this became a primary focus in the city. A significant portion of the Chicago perspective involved the transmission of cultural values to other peers and even intergenerational transmission, as the older youths relayed their antisocial values and techniques to the younger children. Thus, the cultural/subcultural perspective is also a key area of this theoretical model. This cultural aspect of the Chicago model will also be examined in this chapter, as will other subculture frameworks of offending behaviors.


The Ecological School and the Chicago School of Criminology

Despite its name specifying one city, the Chicago School of criminology represents one of the most valid and generalizable theories we will discuss in this book in the sense that many of its propositions can be readily applied to the growth and evolution of virtually all cities around the world. The Chicago School, which is often referred to as the Ecological School or the theory of social disorganization, also represents one of the earliest examples of balancing theorizing with scientific analysis, along with guiding important programs and policy implementations that still exist and thrive in contemporary times. Perhaps most important, the development of the Chicago School of criminology was the epitome of using theoretical development and scientific testing to help improve conditions in society when it was most needed, which can be appreciated only by understanding the degree of chaos and crime that existed in Chicago in the late 1800s and early 1900s.


Cultural Context: Chicago in the 1800s and Early 1900s

Experts have identified 19th-century Chicago as the fastest-growing city in the history of the United States.2

Census data show the town growing from about 5,000 people in the early 1800s to more than 2 million people

by 1900; put another way, the population more than doubled every decade during the 19th century.3 This massive rate of growth, which was much faster than that seen in other large U.S. cities such as Boston, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, was due to Chicago’s centrally located geographic position; in other words, it was in many ways “landlocked,” because although it sits on Lake Michigan, there was no water route to the city from the Atlantic Ocean until the Erie Canal opened in 1825, which opened the Great Lakes region to shipping (including migration of people). Three years later, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad—the first U.S. passenger train with a route from a mid-Atlantic city to central areas—started operating. These two transportation advancements created a continuous stream of (im)migration to the Chicago area, which only increased with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, linking both

coasts with the midwestern portions of the country.4


Case Study


Los Angeles Gangs Although most case studies we review in this book are about individuals, in this case we concentrate on groups, which is fitting for this chapter because virtually all the theories we will cover in this section are macro- or group-level theories. A recent scientific study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that when Los Angeles gangs and incidents of gang activities are

mapped, the places with the highest frequency of violence are on the borders between two or more rival gangs.1

This 2012 report showed that, contrary to popular belief, the most dangerous places to be in Los Angeles are not the regions deeply within the territory of a dominant gang but rather on the boundaries of gang territories, perhaps due to turf disputes or the increased likelihood of encountering rival factions. We shall see that this recently observed phenomenon among established gang territories was to some extent predicted and explained by Chicago School theories of crime and city growth proposed more than half a century ago. We will follow up on this case study toward the end of this chapter.

Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images


Think About It: Why do you think the most violent areas of Los Angeles are those on the borders of rivaling gangs as opposed to regions that are strongly dominated by a single gang?


This type of run-down residential area was key in early theories of crime, such as the Chicago School of criminology, also known as the theory of social disorganization or Ecological School.

National Archives and Records Administration (Chicago 1930s)

It is important to keep in mind that in the early to mid-1800s, many large U.S. cities had virtually no formal social agencies such as we have today to handle problems of urbanization. For example, there were no social workers, building inspectors, garbage collectors, or even police officers. Once police agencies did start in some of these cities, their duties often included tasks we associate with other agencies, such as finding lost children and collecting garbage, primarily because there weren’t other agencies to perform these tasks. Therefore, communities were largely responsible for solving their own problems, including crime and delinquency. However, by the late 1800s, Chicago was largely made up of citizens who did not speak a common language and did not share one another’s cultural values. This phenomenon is consistent with Census Bureau data from that era that show 70% of Chicago residents were foreign-born and another 20% were first-generation


American. Thus, it was almost impossible for these citizens to organize themselves to solve community

problems, because in most cases they could not even understand one another. This resulted in the type of chaos and normlessness that Durkheim predicted would occur when urbanization and industrialization occurred too rapidly (see previous chapter); in fact, Chicago represented the archetypal example of a society in an anomic state, with almost a complete breakdown in control. There were many manifestations of this breakdown in social control, but one of the most notable was that children were running wild on the streets in gangs, with little intervention from the adults in the neighborhoods. So delinquency was soaring, and it appeared that the gangs were controlling the streets as much as any other group.

So the leaders and people of Chicago needed theoretical guidance to develop solutions to their problems, particularly regarding the high rates of delinquency. This was a key factor in why the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago became so important and dominant in the early 1900s. Essentially, modern sociology developed in Chicago because the city needed it to solve its social problems. Thus, Chicago became a type of laboratory for the sociological researchers, and they developed a number of theoretical models of crime and other social ills that are still empirically valid today.

Chicago School of criminology: theoretical framework of criminal behavior that emphasizes the environmental impact of living in a high-crime neighborhood, applies ecological principles to explain how cities grow, and highlights levels of neighborhood organization to explain crime rates.


Ecological Principles in City Growth and Concentric Circles

In the 1920s and 1930s, several new perspectives of human behavior and city growth were offered by sociologists at the University of Chicago. The first relevant model was proposed by Robert E. Park, who claimed that much of human behavior, especially the way cities grow, follows the basic principles of ecology

that had been documented and applied to wildlife for many years at that point.5 Ecology is essentially the study of the dynamics and processes through which plants and animals interact with the environment. In an application of Darwinian theory, Park proposed that the growth of cities follows a natural pattern and evolution.

Kudzu covers other plants and hogs their sunlight. The Ecological/Chicago School of criminology applied this type of natural process to show how a criminal element invades and comes to dominate certain areas.


Specifically, Park claimed that cities represent a type of complex organism that has a sense of unity formed from the interrelations among citizens and groups in the city. Park applied the ecological principle of symbiosis to explain the dependency of the various citizens and units on one another: Everyone is better off working together as a whole. Furthermore, Park claimed that all cities contain identifiable clusters, which he called natural areas, where the group has taken on a life or organic unity by itself. To clarify, many cities have neighborhoods that are primarily made up of one ethnic group or are distinguished by certain features. For example, Hell’s Kitchen, Times Square, and Harlem represent areas of New York City that have each taken on a unique identity; however, each of them contributes to the whole—namely, the makeup and identity of


the city. The same can be seen in other cities, such as Baltimore, which in a 2-mile area has the Inner Harbor, Little Italy, and Fells Point, with each area complementing the others. From Miami to San Francisco to New Orleans, all cities across America—and throughout the world, for that matter—contain these identifiable natural areas.

Applying several other ecological principles, Park also noted that some areas (or species) may invade and dominate adjacent areas (species), causing the recession of previously dominant areas (species). The dominated area or species can either recede and migrate to another location or die off. In wildlife, this can be seen in the incredible proliferation of a weed called kudzu. Kudzu grows at an amazing pace and has large leaves. It grows on top of other plants, trees, fields, and even houses, covering everything in its path and stealing all the sunlight. Introduced in the 1800s at a world exposition, this weed was originally used to stop erosion but got out of control, especially in the southeastern region of the United States. Now this weed costs the government more than $350 million each year in destruction of crops and other fauna. This is a good example of a species that invades, dominates, and causes the recession of other species in the area. As is often the case, kudzu was not a completely natural phenomenon; it was synthetically introduced to this country at a world expo.

A similar example is the introduction of buffalo on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California, in the 1930s. About three dozen buffalo were originally imported to the island for a movie shoot and the producers decided not to spend the money to remove them afterward, so they have remained and multiplied. Had this occurred in many other parts of the United States, it would not have caused a problem; however, the largest mammal native to the island before the buffalo “invaded” was a 4-pound fox. So the massive buffalo, which have multiplied into the many hundreds (to the point where officials recently deported several hundred to their native Western habitat), have destroyed much of the environment, driving to extinction some plants and animals unique to Catalina Island. Similar to the invasion of kudzu, the buffalo came to dominate the environment, and other species died off.

natural areas: the Chicago School’s idea that all cities contain identifiable clusters, such as a Chinatown or Little Italy, and neighborhoods that have low or high crime rates.

Park claimed that a similar process occurs in cities, where some areas invade other zones or areas and the previously dominant area must succeed or die off. This is easy to see in modern times with what is known as urban sprawl. Geographers and urban planners have long acknowledged the detriment caused to traditionally stable residential areas when businesses move in. Some of the most recent examples involve the battles of longtime homeowners against the introduction of malls, businesses, and other industrial centers in a previously zoned residential district. The media have documented such fights, especially with the proliferation of such establishments as Walmart and Super Kmarts in areas where residents perceive (and perhaps rightfully so) their presence as an invasion. Such an invasion can create chaos in a previously stable residential community due to increased traffic, a transient population, and, perhaps most important, crime. Furthermore, some cities are granting power to such development through eminent domain, in which the local government can take land from the homeowners to rezone and import businesses.


The American buffalo was introduced to Catalina Island for a movie shoot in the 1930s and destroyed much of the native plant life. This is an example of a foreign element creating chaos and destruction, as crime does in residential areas when they are invaded by industries or other factors.

© Stefan Didam (bison)

At the time when Park developed his theory of ecology, he observed the trend of businesses and factories invading the traditionally residential areas of Chicago, which caused chaos and breakdown in stability in those areas. Readers, especially those who were raised in suburban or rural areas, can likely relate to this, in that when they go back to where they grew up or even currently live, they can often see fast growth. Such development can devastate the informal controls (i.e., neighborhood networks, family ties, etc.) in these areas due to the “invasion” of a highly transient group of consumers and residents who do not have strong ties to the area.

This leads to a psychological indifference toward the neighborhood, in which no one cares about protecting the community any longer. Those who can afford to leave the area do, and those who can’t afford to leave will simply remain until they can save enough money to move. After all, especially in the time when Park presented his theory of ecology in the 1920s, when factories moved into the area, it often meant a lot of smoke billowing out of chimneys. No one wanted to live in such a state, particularly at a time when there was no real understanding of pollution and virtually no filters on such smokestacks. In fact, certain parts of Chicago, as well as all other cities in America, were perpetually covered by smog from these factories. In highly industrial areas, it appeared to be always snowing or overcast due to the constant and vast coverage of smoke and


pollutants across the sky. So it is easy to see how such “invasions” by factories and businesses can completely disrupt the previously dominant and stable residential areas of a community.

Park’s ideas became even more valid and influential with the complementary perspective offered by Ernest W.

Burgess.6 Burgess proposed a theory of city growth in which cities were seen as growing not simply on the edges but from the inside outward. To clarify, while it is easy to see cities growing on the edges, as in the example of urban sprawl described above, Burgess claimed that the source of the growth is in the center of the city. Specifically, the growth of the inner city puts pressure on the adjacent zones of the city, which in turn begin to grow into the next adjacent zones (following the ecological principle of “succession” identified by Park). This type of development is referred to as “radial growth,” meaning it begins on the inside and ripples


An example of radial growth can be seen by watching a drop of water fall into the center of a bucket filled with water. The waves from the impact will form circles that ripple outward. This is exactly how Burgess claimed that cities grow. Although the growth of cities is most visible on the edges, largely due to development of businesses and homes where only trees or barren land existed before, the growth on the edges originates from pressure forming in the very heart of the inner-city area. Another good analogy is the “domino effect,” because pressure from the center leads to pressure to grow in the next zone, which leads to growth in the adjacent zones, and so forth.

The Chicago/Ecological model proposed that as factories invaded and dominated residential areas, the residents who could afford to leave did and those left were the poor and deprived, which increased the risk of crime.

© Stefan Didam (bison)


To his credit, Burgess also specified the primary zones all cities appear to have, which include five pseudo- distinctive natural areas (in a constant state of flux due to growth). Burgess exhibited these zones as a set of concentric circles (see Figure 9.1). The first, center circle was called Zone I, the central business district (on the chart, it is labeled “The Loop” because that is what downtown Chicago is called, even today). This area of a city contains the large business buildings (modern skyscrapers), which include banking establishments, chambers of commerce, the courthouse, and other essential business and political centers such as police headquarters and the post office. The adjacent area, just outside the business district, is the “factory zone” (unnumbered), which is perhaps the most significant in terms of causing crime, because it invaded the previously stable residential zones in Zone II—identified as the transition zone or zone in transition. Zone II is appropriately named, because it was truly in a state of transition from residential to industrial, primarily because this was the area of the city where businesses and factories were invading residential areas. Zone II was the area most significantly subjected to the ecological principles suggested by Park—namely, invasion, domination, recession, and succession. This is the zone subsequent theorists focused on in criminological theorizing, and it is based on the encroachment of factories and/or businesses in areas that were previously stable residential communities.

According to Burgess’s theory of concentric circles, Zone III was the “workingmen’s homes,” largely made up of relatively modest homes and apartments; Zone IV consisted of higher-priced family dwellings and more expensive apartments; and Zone V was considered the suburban or commuter zone. These outer three zones identified by Burgess were of less importance in terms of distinction, primarily because as a general rule, the farther a family could move out of the city, the better in terms of social organization and the lower the rate of social ills (e.g., poverty, delinquency). The important point of this theory of concentric circles is that the growth of each inner zone puts pressure on the next zone to grow and push on the next zone.

It is easy for readers to see examples of this model of concentric circles. Whether you live on the East Coast, the West Coast, or in the middle regions of the United States, all you have to do is drive on a highway that enters a major city to see real-life evidence of the validity of this perspective. For example, whether you drive on Interstate 95 through Baltimore or Interstate 10 through Los Angeles, you will see the same pattern of structures as you travel through the city. As you approach each of the cities, if you look closely you will see suburban wealth in the homes and buildings (often hidden by trees off the highway). As you get closer to the cities, you will see the homes and buildings deteriorate in terms of value. From the raised highway system near Baltimore and Los Angeles, it is readily apparent when you enter Zone II, due to the prevalence of factories and the highly deteriorated nature of these areas. Many of the factories developed through the 20th century have been abandoned or are limited in use, so many of these factory zones feature rusted-out or demolished buildings. This is also often the location of subsidized or public housing. In other words, this is where the people who can’t afford to live anywhere else live. Finally, as you enter the inner-city area of skyscrapers, the conditions improve drastically, because this is where the major businesses have invested their money; it appears to be a relative utopia compared with Zone II.

zone in transition: in the Chicago School, this zone (Zone II) was once residential but is becoming more industrial because of invading factories; it tends to have the highest crime rates.


concentric circles: model proposed by Chicago School theorists that assumes that all cities grow in a natural way with the same five zones.

Figure 9.1 Major Zones of the City of Chicago

This theory does not apply just to U.S. cities, and we challenge readers to find any major city throughout the world that did not develop this way. In modern times, some communities have tried to plan their development, and other communities have experienced the convergence of several patterns of concentric circles due to central business districts (i.e., Zone I) starting in what were previously suburban areas (i.e., Zone V). However, for the most part, the theoretical framework of concentric circles still has a great deal of support. In fact, even cities found in Eastern cultures have evolved this way. Therefore, Park’s application appears to be correct: Cities grow in a natural way across time and place and abide by the natural principles of ecology.


Shaw and McKay’s Theory of Social Disorganization

Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay drew heavily on their colleagues at the University of Chicago in devising

their theory of social disorganization, which became known as the Chicago School theory of criminology.8

Shaw had been producing excellent case studies on the individual (i.e., micro) level for years before he took on

theorizing on the macro (i.e., structural) level of crime rates.9 However, once he began working with McKay, he devised perhaps the most enduring and valid model for why certain neighborhoods have more social problems, such as delinquency, than others.

In this model, Shaw and McKay proposed a framework that began with the assumption that certain neighborhoods in all cities have more crime than other parts of the city—most of them located in Burgess’s Zone II, which is the zone in the transition from residential to industrial, due to the invasion of factories. According to Shaw and McKay, the neighborhoods that have the highest rates of crime typically have at least three common problems (see Figure 9.2): physical dilapidation, poverty, and heterogeneity (which is a fancy way of saying a high cultural mix). Shaw and McKay noted other common characteristics, such as a highly transient population, meaning that people constantly move in and out of the area, as well as unemployment among the residents of the neighborhood.

As noted in Figure 9.2, other social ills are included as antecedent factors in the theoretical model. The antecedent social ills tend to lead to a breakdown in social organization, which is why this model is referred to as the theory of social disorganization. Specifically, it is predicted that the antecedent factors of poverty, heterogeneity, and physical dilapidation will lead to a state of social disorganization, which in turn will lead to crime and delinquency. This means that the residents of a neighborhood that fits the profile of having a high rate of poor, culturally mixed residents in a dilapidated area cannot come together to solve problems, such as delinquency among the neighborhood’s youth.

One of the most significant contributions of Shaw and McKay’s model was that they demonstrated that the prevalence and frequency of various social ills—be they poverty, disease, low birth weight, or other problems —tend to overlap with higher delinquency rates. Regardless of what social problem is measured, higher rates of social problems are almost always clustered in the zone in transition. It was in this area that Shaw and McKay believed there was a breakdown in informal social controls and that children began to learn offending

norms from their interactions with peers on the street through what they called “play activities.”10 Thus, the breakdown in the conditions of the neighborhood leads to social disorganization, which in turn leads to delinquents learning criminal activities from older youth in the neighborhood. Ultimately, the failure of the neighborhood residents to organize themselves allows the older youth to govern the behavior of the younger children. Basically, the older youth in the area provide a system of organization where the neighborhood cannot, so younger children follow them instead.

Figure 9.2 Model of Shaw and McKay’s Theory of Social Disorganization


Shaw and McKay supplied data to support these theoretical propositions. Specifically, they demonstrated through data from the U.S. Census and city records that neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, physical dilapidation, and a high cultural mix also had the highest rates of delinquency and crime. Furthermore, the high rates of delinquency and other social problems were consistent with Burgess’s framework of concentric circles, in that the highest rates were observed for the areas in Zone II, the zone in transition. However, there was an exception to the model; the Gold Coast area along the northern coast of Lake Michigan was notably absent from the high rates of social problems, particularly delinquency, that existed throughout the otherwise consistent model of concentric circles and neighborhood zones.


Learning Check 9.1 1. In Shaw and McKay’s theoretical model, which zone was predicted to be the highest in crime and delinquency rates, largely due to

other social problems there? 1. Central business district 2. Zone in transition 3. Zone VI 4. Zone V

2. Which unit of analysis does Shaw and McKay’s theory focus on? 1. Macro level 2. Micro level 3. Situational level

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

So Shaw and McKay’s findings were as predicted, in the sense that high delinquency rates were apparent in the area of the city where factories were invading the residential district. Furthermore, Shaw and McKay’s longitudinal data showed that it did not matter which ethnic groups lived in Zone II (zone in transition), because all groups (with the exception of Asians) who lived in that zone had high delinquency rates while they lived there. On the other hand, once most of each ethnic group moved out of Zone II, their delinquency rates decreased significantly.

This finding rejects the notion of social Darwinism, because it is obvious that the culture is not what influences crime and delinquency but, rather, the criminogenic nature of the environment. After all, if ethnicity or race made a difference, the delinquency rates in Zone II would fluctuate based on who lived in that area, but these rates did not differ. Rather, the zone determined the rates of delinquency regardless of what ethnic or racial groups were living there at the time.


Reaction and Research for Social Disorganization Theory

Over the past few decades, the Chicago School theoretical framework has experienced an enormous amount

of attention from researchers.11 Virtually all the research has supported Shaw and McKay’s version of social disorganization and the resulting high crime rates in neighborhoods that exhibit such deprived conditions. Modern research has supported the theoretical model proposed by Shaw and McKay, specifically in terms of the high crime rates in disorganized neighborhoods. Also, it is quite true that virtually every city that one can drive through on an elevated highway (e.g., Richmond, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; Los Angeles, California) supports Shaw and McKay’s model of crime in concentric circles. Specifically, one can see while driving into almost all cities that the pattern of dilapidated structures surrounds the inner-city area, which is the zone of transition. Preceding (and following) this layer of dilapidated structures, one encounters a layer of houses and residential areas that seem to increase in quality as the driver gets closer to (or farther away from) the inner-city area.

However, critics have raised some valid concerns regarding the original model. Specifically, it has been argued that Shaw and McKay’s original research did not actually measure their primary construct: social disorganization. Although this criticism was accurate in calling out Shaw and McKay on not measuring their primary intervening variable, recent research has shown that the model is valid even when measures of social

disorganization are included in the model.12 Such measures of social disorganization include simply asking members of the neighborhood how many neighbors they know by name or how often they observe unsupervised peer groups in the area.

Additional criticisms of Shaw and McKay’s formulation of social disorganization also focus on the emphasis the theory places on the macro, or aggregate, level of analysis. After all, while their theory does a good job predicting which neighborhoods will have higher crime rates than others, the model does not even attempt to explain why most youths in the worst areas do not become offenders. Furthermore, their model does not attempt to explain why some, albeit a very small amount of, youths in the best neighborhoods (in Zone V) choose to commit crime. However, the previous case studies completed and published by Clifford Shaw attempted to address the individual (micro) level of offending.

Also, there was one notable exception to Shaw and McKay’s proposition that all ethnic/racial groups would have high rates of delinquency and crime while they lived in Zone II. Evidence showed that when Japanese residents made up a large portion of residents in this zone in transition, they had very low rates of delinquency. Thus, as in most theoretical models in social science, there was an exception to the rule.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of Shaw and McKay’s theory, which has yet to be adequately addressed, deals with their blatant neglect in targeting the most problematic source of criminality in the Zone II—transitional zone—neighborhoods. Their findings seem to point undoubtedly to the invasion of factories and businesses into residential areas as a problem, yet the researchers did not focus on slowing such invasions as a recommendation. This is likely due to political and financial concerns, being that the owners of the factories and businesses were financing their research and later funded their primary policy implementation.


Furthermore, this neglect is represented in their failure to explain the exception of the Gold Coast in their results and conclusions.

Despite the criticisms and weaknesses of the Chicago School perspective on criminology, this theory resulted in one of the largest programs to date attempting to reduce delinquency rates. Clifford Shaw was put in charge of establishing the Chicago Area Project, which established centers in the most crime-ridden neighborhoods of Chicago. These neighborhood centers sought to create activities for youth as well as to establish ties between parents and officials in the neighborhood. Although this program was never scientifically evaluated, it still exists, and many cities have implemented programs based on this model. For

example, Boston implemented a similar program that was evaluated by Walter Miller.13 This evaluation showed that while this project was effective in establishing relationships and interactions between local gangs and community groups as well as providing more educational and vocational opportunities, the program appeared to fail in reducing delinquent or criminal behavior. Thus, the overall conclusion reached by experts was that the Boston project and other similar programs, such as the Chicago Area Project, typically fail to

prevent criminal behavior.14

Applying Theory to Crime: Stalking

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, as designated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Although this suggests an unprecedented interest in stalking—including the first-ever national survey sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998)—the number of studies on stalking is still limited. Despite a recent surge in laws to combat stalking passed in virtually every state and the District of Columbia, very little is known about the most common stalkers, how much stalking occurs, and so forth.

To define it, stalking generally refers to threatening or harassing behavior an individual repeatedly engages in (e.g., making harassing phone calls, following a person, leaving numerous messages, continuously appearing at a person’s home or place of work). Unfortunately, legal definitions vary from state to state. However, regardless of the definition, there is a strong link between stalking and other forms of violence in intimate relationships (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998), with 81% of women who were stalked by a current or former partner also having been physically abused by that person.

Women are significantly more likely to be stalked, with recent estimates showing that females are twice as likely as males to be victimized in this way (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). A recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Baum, Catalano, & Rand, 2009) concluded that a pattern of decreasing risk for such stalking victimization is evident for persons in higher-income households. This study also showed that a large portion of stalking victims experienced some form of cyberstalking, such as e-mail or text messages, and almost half (46%) of all victims felt fear of not knowing what would happen next. Importantly, more than half of stalking victims lost more than a week of work due to this victimization.



These findings relate to the theories covered in this chapter in the sense that with the advancement of technology and media, there seems to be a certain cultural element that encourages stalking. After all, Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites enable the “following” of individuals, and some individuals, given their unstable state, tend to have problems drawing appropriate lines regarding intrusion into others’ lives. Much more study must be done to determine how to discourage and decrease the recent surge in stalking, because the current increase in such cyber-related networking will likely only increase stalking in the near future. For example, a story from 2009 showed how a Bronx man was sentenced to 40 years in prison for international stalking, harassment, and so forth (see the FBI report for this case here: http://www.fbi.gov/newyork/press-releases/2009/nyfo091609.htm).


Think About It: To what extent do you think social media and other modern technologies are increasing the risk for stalking? Do you know people who were stalked this way?

Sources: Baum, K., Catalano, S., & Rand, M. (2009). Stalking victimization in the United States. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (1998). Stalking in America: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.


Cultural and Subcultural Theories of Crime

Cultural/subcultural theories of crime assume that there are unique groups in society that socialize their children to believe that certain activities that violate conventional law are good and positive ways to behave. Although it is rather difficult to find large groups of people or classes that fit this definition, it is somewhat likely that there are subcultures or isolated groups of individuals who buy in to a different set of norms than the conventional, middle-class set of values.

Cultural/subcultural theorists claim that residents in such environments have a different normative code or moral values than do those in mainstream society, which often are counter to the law and conventional culture.

Aaron Huey/National Geographic/Getty Images


Early Theoretical Developments and Research in Cultural/Subcultural Theory

One of the key developments of cultural theory has been largely attributed to the 1967 work of Franco Ferracuti and Marvin E. Wolfgang, who examined the violent themes of a group of inner-city youths from

Philadelphia.15 Ferracuti and Wolfgang’s primary conclusion was that violence is a culturally learned adaptation to deal with negative life circumstances and that learning such norms occurs in an environment

that emphasizes violence over other options.16 These researchers based their conclusion on an analysis of data that showed great differences in rates of homicide across racial groups. However, Ferracuti and Wolfgang were clear that their theory was based on subcultural norms. Specifically, they proposed that no subculture can

be totally different from or totally in conflict with the society of which it is a part.17 This cultural/subcultural theory brings the distinction of culture and subculture to the forefront.

The distinction between a culture and a subculture is that a culture represents a distinct, separate set of norms and values among an identifiable group of people that are summarily different from those of the dominant culture. For example, communism is distinctly different from capitalism because it emphasizes equality over competition, and it values utopia (i.e., everyone gets to share all profits) over the idea that the best performer gets the most reward. So it can be said that communists have a different culture than capitalists. However, there is a substantial difference between a culture and a subculture, which is typically only a pocket of individuals who may have a set of norms that deviate from conventional values. Therefore, what Ferracuti and Wolfgang concluded is not so much a cultural theory as a subcultural theory.

This is also seen in the most prominent (sub)culture theory, which was presented by Walter Miller.18 Miller presented a theoretical model that proposed that the entire lower class had its own cultural value system. In this model, virtually everyone in the lower class believed in and socialized the values of six focal concerns: fate, autonomy, trouble, toughness, excitement, and smartness. Fate was the concern of luck, or whatever life dealt you; it disregarded responsibility and accountability for one’s actions. Autonomy was the value of independence from authority. Trouble was the concern of staying out of legal problems, as well as getting into and out of personal difficulties (e.g., pregnancy). Toughness was maintaining your reputation on the street in many ways. Excitement was the engagement in activities (some illegal) that helped liven up an otherwise mundane existence of being lower class. Smartness was an emphasis on “street smarts” or the ability to con others. Miller claimed that these six focal concerns were emphasized and taught by members of the lower class as a culture or environment (or “milieu,” as stated in the title of his work).

A more recent subculture model proposed by Elijah Anderson has received a lot of attention in the past few

years.19 This theory focuses on African-Americans and claims that due to deprived conditions in the inner cities, black Americans feel a sense of hopelessness, isolation, and despair. Anderson clearly notes that while many African-Americans believe in middle-class values, these values have no value on the street, particularly among young males. According to Anderson, “the code of the streets”—also the title of his book—is to maintain one’s reputation and demand respect. For example, to be disrespected (“dissed”) is considered


grounds for a physical attack. Masculinity and control of one’s immediate environment are treasured characteristics; this is perceived as the only thing these young men can control, given the harsh conditions they live in (e.g., unemployment, poverty, etc.).

cultural/subcultural theory: a perspective on criminal offending that assumes that many offenders believe in a normative system distinctly different from and often at odds with the norms accepted by conventional society.

focal concerns: primary concept of Miller’s theory, which asserts that all members of the lower class focus on concepts they deem important: fate, autonomy, trouble, toughness, excitement, and smartness.


Learning Check 9.2 1. Which theorist proposed the theory of lower-class focal concerns?

1. Burgess 2. Shaw 3. Anderson 4. Miller

2. Which theorist wrote a significant book on inner-city, African-American subculture titled The Code of the Streets? 1. Burgess 2. Park 3. Anderson 4. Miller

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

Disparities of Race in Regard to Subcultural Theories of Crime.

Recent reviews of race and crime rates have shown that the most consistent predictor of crime rates in a given area is the percentage of blacks who live in the area, regardless of whether measured by comparison across

neighborhoods, counties, states, or industrialized nations.20 The race and crime relationship has been consistent over time, with virtually all studies finding that blacks have the highest crime rates (especially for violent crimes, such as homicide), followed by whites, and then Asians. As Wright has noted, “the undeniable fact is that blacks commit more crime than any other group; and they commit more violent crime than any

other group . . . [T]he data on this fact could not be any clearer.”21

For example, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, blacks commit 85% of all interracial crimes, and although 45% of violent crimes involve blacks offending whites, only 3% involve whites offending blacks. Furthermore, black youths account for 45% of all juvenile detention cases despite accounting for only

approximately 15% of the juvenile population.22 This supports the existence of a strong subculture of black youths in the United States, which supports Anderson’s concept of subcultures that lead to a higher propensity for committing crime and being incarcerated.

Comparative Criminology: Violence Against Females


Cross-Regional Rates of Intimate Violence Committed Against Females In this section, we compare various regions based on their rates of intimate violence against females. This box is relevant to the chapter because countries with higher rates of violence against females tend to have cultural norms that are more permissive of such violence within families.

As shown in Figure 9.3, the region of the world with by far the highest annual percentage of females 15 and over being victimized by violence from intimate partners was the Middle East. The second highest region was Africa, but it was a distant second. The leading theory for why these two regions, and especially the Middle East, are so high is the extreme patriarchy—or dominance of males— prominent in most countries in those regions.

Figure 9.3 Percentages of Women, 15 Years and Older, Victimized by Violence From Intimate Partners Over the Past 12 Months

Sources: Independently run, dedicated surveys of violence against women in 72 countries; United Nations. (2006). In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. Report to the Secretary-General, New York, United Nations. (A/61/122/Add.1.)

Consistent with this conclusion, Van Dijk (2008) points out that perhaps the most comprehensive studies of domestic abuse in modern times were done in Germany and surveyed more than 11,000 teenagers about their experiences with domestic violence in their homes. One consistent finding was that rates or percentages of violence against mothers reported by children of immigrants were significantly higher, with extremely high rates reported among those from Turkey (32%), Yugoslavia (25%), and Russia (20%). Another interesting pattern was that the immigrant families who had resided in Germany for longer periods had higher rates of violence, which Van Dijk claimed suggested “growing tensions between spouses after a longer exposure of women to German norms and values concerning gender equality” (p. 88).


Figure 9.4 Total Violent Crime and Intimate Partner Violence, 1993–2011 (Rate per 1,000 Persons Age 12 or Older)

Note: Estimates based on two-year rolling averages beginning in 1993. Includes rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault committed by current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends.

* Due to methodological changes, use caution when comparing 2006 NCVS criminal victimization estimates to other years. See Criminal Victimization, 2007, NCJ 224390, BJS website, December 2008, for more information. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 1993–2010.

It is also notable that the World Health Organization (2004) estimated annual economic costs in the United States due to intimate partner violence at about $13 billion. One bit of good news is that intimate partner violence has dropped significantly in the United States in recent years (see Figure 9.4), showing a 72% drop between 1994 and 2011.


Think About It: 1. Why do you think that regions of the world with more permissive attitudes regarding females have higher rates of intimate

violence toward them? 2. How do you think such societies with more liberating policies toward women could reduce the increase in their rates of

domestic victimization?

Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2013). Intimate partner violence, 1993–2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice; Van Dijk, J. (2008). The world of crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; World Health Organization. (2004). The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

Consistent with previous research, a recent study conducted in the United Kingdom found that extreme disadvantage had more of a predictive effect of crime rates for black communities, but not for white or South Asian communities/boroughs. This supports the idea of subcultural influence, even among similarly deprived

groups.23 This is also seen on the other side of the fence regarding victims of crime, in which there is a consistently seen greater prevalence of intraracial crime (e.g., blacks violating blacks) compared to interracial crime (e.g., white violating blacks). Specifically, a recent study using the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for 2009 and 2010 for aggravated assault rates found that as racial residential segregation increased, the relative frequency of black intraracial assault to black interracial assault increased. On the other

hand, there was no effect on the ratio of white intra- versus interracial assault.24 This also supports a subcultural perspective, given that certain racial groups seem to respond differently to similar living conditions.


Criticisms of Cultural Theories of Crime

The studies on cultural theories of crime, at least in the United States, show that no large groups blatantly deny the middle-class norms of society. Specifically, Miller’s model of lower-class focal concerns simply does not exist across the entire lower class. Studies consistently show that most adults in the lower class attempt to socialize their children to believe in conventional values, such as respect for authority, hard work as positive, delayed gratification, and so forth, and not the focal concerns that Miller specified in his model. Even Ferracuti and Wolfgang admitted that their research findings led them to conclude that their model was more of a subcultural perspective and not one of a distinctly different culture. So there are likely small groups or gangs that have subcultural normative values, but that does not constitute a completely separate culture in society. Perhaps the best subculture theories are those presented by Cohen, as well as Cloward and Ohlin (see the previous chapter), in their variations of strain theory that emphasize the formations of gangs among lower-class male youths, which we discussed earlier in this chapter. Therefore, it can be concluded that if there are subcultural groups in our society, they seem to make up a small percentage of the population, which somewhat negates the cultural/subcultural perspective of criminality.


Policy Implications

Many of the policy implications suggested by the theoretical models proposed in this chapter are rather ironic. Regarding social disorganization, a paradox exists in the sense that the very neighborhoods most desperately in need of becoming organized to fight crime are the same inner-city poor areas that are, by far, the most difficult places to cultivate such organization (e.g., neighborhood watch or “Block Watch” groups). Rather, the neighborhoods that do have high levels of organization tend to be those that already have low levels of crime, because the residents naturally “police” their neighbors’ well-being and property since they have a stake in keeping the area crime free. Although there are some anecdotal examples of success in neighborhood watch programs, the majority of the empirical evidence is “almost uniformly unsupportive” of this approach’s ability to reduce crime in such neighborhoods. Furthermore, many studies of these neighborhood watch programs find that in a notable number of communities, these groups actually increase the fear of crime, perhaps due to the heightened awareness of crime issues in such areas.

Also, as explained above, perhaps the most prominent program that resulted from the Chicago School/social disorganization model—the Chicago Area Project—and similar programs have been deemed failures in reducing crime rates among the participants. Still, there have been some advances in trying to get residents of high-crime areas organized to fight crime. To clarify, the more specific the goals of neighborhoods regarding crime reduction, such as more careful monitoring of high-level offenders (e.g., more intensive supervised probation) and better lighting in dark places, the more effective the implementation will be.

Regarding cultural/subcultural programs, some promising intervention and outreach programs have been suggested by such models of offending. There are now many programs that attempt to build prosocial attitudes (along with other health and opportunity aspects) among high-risk youth, often young children. For example, a recent program called Peace Builders, which focuses on children in early grades, was shown by a recent evaluation to be effective in producing gains in conflict resolution, development of prosocial values, and reductions in aggression, and a follow-up showed that these attributes were maintained for a long period of time. Another recent anti-aggression training program for foster-home boys showed much success in increasing levels of empathy, self-efficacy, and attribution style among boys who had exhibited early-onset aggression. Ultimately, there are effective programs out there that promote prosocial norms and culture. More efforts should be devoted to promoting such programs that will help negate the antisocial cultural norms of individuals, especially among high-risk youths.

Why Do They Do It?


Whitey Bulger Whitey Bulger (James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger Jr.) is perhaps the most notorious gangster from the South Boston area, which is saying a lot given the history and tradition of organized crime in “Southie,” as they call it. Bulger was a key figure of a criminal organization from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s and head of this organization for much of that time. Under heat from authorities, he fled in 1994, and for 12 years he was on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. Bulger was apprehended with his long- term girlfriend, Catherine Greig, in Santa Monica, California, in 2011. He was sentenced on November 14, 2013 to two terms of life imprisonment, plus five years.

Bulger is believed to have been largely in charge of narcotics distribution and extortion rackets in the Southie area during most of the 1980s and early 1990s, along with the violence inherent to such a position. Interestingly, most sources show that he was also an FBI informant during much of this time period, which allowed him to essentially “get away with murder” and his other illegal activities.

Perhaps most related to this chapter, Bulger was seen locally as a type of Robin Hood figure, considered by most people on the streets as a sort of guardian protecting the interests of the neighborhood or local area. After all, Bulger had been a key element of organized crime in that area for many years, and this led to a subcultural/cultural climate placing him as an authority for all that happened in that locale. Furthermore, much of his business dealt with narcotics distribution and extortion, so his motives fit the other theories in this chapter of being largely based on finding criminal opportunities despite the relatively poor and deprived conditions of the South Boston region.

Whitey Bulger (1929–) was the head of one of the most notorious organized crime syndicates in Boston until he was apprehended in Southern California in 2011.

U.S. Marshals Service photo

So why did he do it? As alluded to before, Bulger likely saw the draw of organized crime as being his only way to achieve the higher financial and/or social status that could be obtained in the South Boston area. After all, there were not many legitimate opportunities open to him given his early criminal record, not to mention the deprivation and lack of stable employment in that region. Furthermore, he probably also desired to become an important figure in the subculture/culture of that area, and the only likely way to do that was to become a prominent figure in the organized crime syndicates.



Think About It: 1. Can you relate to Bulger’s local community’s attitude toward him as a type of hero? 2. How do you think such a subculture develops in local communities for such prominent gangsters?

Sources: MacKenzie, E., & Karas, P. (2004). Street soldier: My life as an enforcer for “Whitey” Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob. Hanover, NH: Steerforth; Weeks, K., & Karas, P. (2009). Brutal: My life inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob. New York, NY: HarperCollins.



In this chapter, we examined theoretical perspectives proposing that the social organizations in neighborhoods that are broken down and dilapidated are unable to control delinquency and crime in those areas. Furthermore, we discussed how this model of crime was linked to processes derived from ecological principles. This type of approach has been tested numerous times, and virtually all studies show that the distribution of delinquents and crime activity is consistent with this model.

We then discussed the ability of cultural and subcultural theories to explain criminal activity. Empirical evidence shows that cultural values do make a contribution to criminal behavior but that the existence of an actual alternative culture in our society has not been found. However, some pockets of certain subcultures, particularly regarding inner-city youth gangs, certainly exist and provide some validity for the subculture perspective of crime. Furthermore, the Chicago perspective plays a role because it is typically in the inner-city areas (i.e., zones of transition) where these subcultural groups form.

We also examined some policy implications suggested by these theoretical models. Regarding social disorganization, we noted the paradox that exists: The very neighborhoods most desperately in need of becoming organized to fight crime are the same inner-city ghetto areas that are, by far, the most difficult places to cultivate such organization (e.g., neighborhood watch groups). On the other hand, the neighborhoods that do have high levels of organization tend to be those that already have low levels of crime, because the residents naturally “police” their neighbors’ well-being and property since they have a stake in keeping the area crime free. Still, there have been some advances in organizing residents of high-crime areas to fight crime. Regarding the cultural and subcultural perspectives, we examined some of the intervention and outreach programs suggested by such models of offending.

Finally, it is important to follow up on the case study we discussed at the beginning of this chapter, which involved a 2012 UCLA-led study finding that the most dangerous areas of Los Angeles were not deep within established gang territories but rather near the boundaries or border areas among rival gangs. This makes sense and can be explained by several of the frameworks presented in this chapter. Specifically, the natural areas discussed by Park and the zones identified by Shaw and McKay seem to be relatively safe and sound when there is some stability; it is when they are disrupted—such as in the zone in transition, where residential areas are being invaded by factories or big-box stores—that chaos tends to ensue. It appears that this is exactly the same case in terms of gangs and gang territories. So although much of the Ecological/Chicago School framework was proposed more than 50 years ago, it can still be applied to contemporary city dynamics and crime rates in metro areas worldwide.


Summary of Theories in Chapter 9


Key Terms

Chicago School of criminology, 229 concentric circles, 234 cultural/subcultural theory, 240 focal concerns, 240 natural areas, 232 zone in transition, 234


Discussion Questions 1. Can you identify and discuss another example of the ecological principles of invasion, domination, and succession among animals

or plants that was not discussed in this chapter? 2. Can you see examples of the various zones that Shaw and McKay described in the town or city where you live (or nearest you)?

Try obtaining a map or sketching a plot of the town or city closest to your home and then draw the various concentric circles where you think the zones are located.

3. What forms of organization and disorganization have you observed in your own neighborhood? Try to supply examples of both if possible.

4. Can you provide modern-day examples of different cultures and subcultures in the United States? What regions, or parts of the country, would you say have cultures that are more conducive to crime?

5. Do you know people who believe most or all of Miller’s focal concerns? What social class do they belong to? What are their other demographic features (age, gender, urban/rural, etc.)?

6. Do you know individuals who seem to fit either Ferracuti and Wolfgang’s cultural theory or Anderson’s model of inner-city youth street code? Why do you believe they fit such a model?

Web Resources

Chicago School of Criminology

This site provides a brief but well-applied video example of the theory of social disorganization/Chicago school perspective.


This site provides a brief summary of the Chicago School of criminology and offers an extensive bibliographical list of key studies that have examined this perspective:

http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396607/obo-9780195396607-0077.xml Subcultural Theories

This site provides an excellent video that gives all the key concepts and propositions of subcultural theory in criminology:


This site provides a good, published book review of Anderson’s Code of the Streets.


Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Chicago Residents Fight Crime One Vacant Lot at a Time


Does Crime Drop When Immigrants Move In?

The sense of belonging in new urban zones of transition

The effects of neighborhood context on youth violence and delinquency: Does gender matter?

City of Imagination: Kowloon Walled City 20 Years Later

A Community Safety Net to Prevent Rampage Shootings: Bernice Pescosolido at TEDxBloomington

The safest cities in America

President Obama declares January National Stalking Awareness Month

Ending Violence Against Women and Girls: If Not You, Who?


Social Disorganization

Additional Subcultures


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.


10 Social Process and Control Theories of Crime




Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Articulate what distinguishes learning theories of crime from other perspectives. Distinguish differential association theory from differential reinforcement theory. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of differential association and differential reinforcement theory. Define the five original techniques of neutralization and explain them. Discuss early forms of social control theory, such as those of Hobbes and Freud. Explain Reckless’s containment theory. Explain Hirschi’s social bonding theory, particularly the four elements of the bond. Describe the key tenets of integrated social control theories. Discuss low self-control theory, such as what personality traits are involved.



People learn rules, morals, and values through a process of socialization. Early socialization usually occurs with the family. During this stage, children start learning how to behave. Ideally, they learn what behavior is appropriate when at home and in public. Socialization also takes place later in life and outside the family context. As individuals grow older, other influential agents of socialization become school and peers. The workplace, community and religious organizations, and countless other entities also contribute to the socialization process.

Most people who have no understanding of criminological theory understand that socialization is important

and, possibly, connected to how one behaves later in life. It is well-known, for instance, that broken homes,1

poor parental control,2 and child abuse and neglect3 often lead to certain problems. For example, a child who suffers repeated abuse may be inclined to abuse his or her children in adulthood. Even if one is fortunate enough to grow up in a fully functional family, other outside factors—such as being bullied in school or

ridiculed in the workplace—can contribute to inappropriate behavior.4

In short, people are influenced by numerous sources, which is why it is useful to examine the role of socialization in criminal behavior. Theories that claim socialization is linked to criminal activity are known as social process theories. Social process theories examine how individuals interact with other individuals and groups. These theories focus carefully on how behavior is learned, internalized, and transmitted between individuals.

This chapter begins with social process theories known as learning theories. Learning theories attempt to explain how and why individuals learn criminal, rather than conforming, behavior. Learning theorists believe that individuals are “socialized” in criminal behavior. For example, learning theorists argue that delinquent peers may contribute to a person’s decision to violate the law. Next, we discuss control theories. Control theories focus on social or personal factors that prevent individuals from engaging in selfish, antisocial behaviors.

A useful way to distinguish between learning and control theories is as follows: Learning theories are concerned with why individuals are socialized into criminal activity (e.g., by witnessing domestic violence over a period of years and then acting abusively in adulthood). By contrast, control theories are concerned with why individuals are not socialized into conforming behavior. That is, what is it about one’s surroundings and upbringing that leads one to follow the rules of society despite a natural disposition to offend?


Learning Theories

In this section, we review theories that explain the social processes of how and why people engage in criminal behavior through learning. Unlike other theories that assume we are born with offending tendencies (e.g., control theories), virtually all learning theories assume that our attitudes and behavioral decisions are acquired via communication after we are born; thus, individuals enter the world with a blank slate (often referred to as the tabula rasa). Thus, learning theories seek to explain how criminal and noncriminal behavior is learned through cultural values people internalize and acquaintances they make. A key feature of learning theories is recognizing the influence of peers and significant others on an individual’s behavior. Three learning theories are discussed in this section, starting with differential association theory.


Case Study


The Weavers Ward “Pete” Weaver Jr. was a long-haul truck driver, so he was away from home for lengthy periods of time. In 1978, Pete Weaver was sentenced to prison for a rape conviction. Later, in 1981, Pete Weaver was sentenced to 42 years in prison. He had picked up two runaways; he arranged for a friend to shoot the 18-year-old man and himself repeatedly raped the 15-year-old girl. Weaver Jr.’s truck routes corresponded to 26 unsolved hitchhiker homicides, but he was never charged with those cases. While Weaver Jr. was in prison, he confided to a cellmate that he had murdered another couple. He had beaten 18-year-old Robert Radford to death with a pipe and then kidnapped, raped, and strangled Radford’s 23-year-old fiancée, Barbara Levoy. After killing Levoy, Weaver Jr. buried her behind his

rented house in Oroville, California, where he later covered the grave with concrete and built a deck.5 Weaver Jr. came from a family of

extensive violence. He was known to be cruel to his siblings as well as animals.6

Ward Francis Weaver III, known as “Little Pete,” is the son of Ward Weaver Jr. Like his father, he is a violent man. He was sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting his pregnant wife. After his release, Ward Weaver continued to be involved in volatile relationships. In 2001, he, along with his girlfriend, moved to Oregon City. One of his daughters befriended classmates at a middle school. These friends would regularly sleep over at the Weaver household. In August 2001, Weaver was accused of attempting to rape one of these girls, Ashley Pond. The claim was not immediately investigated by police. On January 9, 2002, Ashley disappeared. Two months later, another classmate, Miranda Gaddis, disappeared. Their whereabouts were unknown until Ward Weaver’s son Francis dialed 911 because his father had raped his (Francis’s) girlfriend. In that 911 call, Francis stated that his father claimed to have raped and killed the two girls and buried them under a concrete patio. Subsequently, Miranda Gaddis’s body was found in a shed in the backyard; Ashley Pond’s body was buried under the concrete.

Flowers and letters placed at a fence bordering the crime scene that became a community memorial for the two slain Oregon City girls. Ward Weaver’s house is seen in the background.

Michael McDermott/Getty Images

Francis Paul Weaver was the stepson of Ward Francis Weaver III. He was the person who turned his stepfather in during the 911 call. In March 2016, Francis Paul Weaver was convicted of the death of Edward Spangler. He, along with two others, had killed Spangler as a

result of a drug deal that went bad. While not the actual shooter, Weaver was convicted and sentenced to life for his involvement.7

This case study brings up numerous questions, particularly those that focus on how someone’s family can influence his or her behavior. Were these men “born” violent, or was violence something they learned firsthand?



Think About It: 1. Do you think that these men learned these violent tendencies from others in their family? 2. What other factors may have influenced these men (e.g., peers)?



Differential Association Theory

Edwin H. Sutherland is considered one of the most influential criminologists of the 20th century. In the third

edition of Principles of Criminology, Sutherland fully introduced his differential association theory.8 He was especially interested in explaining how criminal values and attitudes could be culturally transmitted from one generation to the next. Sutherland was greatly influenced by Shaw and McKay’s concept of social

disorganization9 (see previous chapter). He was also influenced by Gabriel Tarde’s imitation theory,10 which, as its name suggests, claims that people imitate one another. Tarde formulated three laws of imitation: (1) People imitate one another in proportion as they are in close contact, (2) often the superior is imitated by the inferior, and (3) when two mutually exclusive methods or approaches come together, one method can be

substituted for another.11

learning theories: theoretical models that assume that criminal behavior of individuals is due to a process of learning from others the motivations and techniques for engaging in such behavior.

control theories: theories of criminal behavior that emphasize the assumption that humans are born selfish and that their tendencies toward aggression and offending must be controlled.

differential association theory: a theory of criminal behavior that emphasizes association with significant others (peers, parents, etc.) in learning criminal behavior.

Elements of Differential Association Theory.

Sutherland presented his theory of differential association with nine specific statements.12 The statements are listed below in italics, and each statement is followed by a brief interpretation and clarification.

1. Criminal behavior is learned. Criminal behavior is not inherited; rather, a person needs to be trained, or educated, in crime.

2. Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other persons in a process of communication. In most instances, this communication is verbal. However, communication can also be nonverbal in nature.

3. The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups. Sutherland distinguished personal and impersonal groups. Personal communications between family and friends, he theorized, will have more of an influence than impersonal communications, such as those occurring with simple acquaintances as well as through the movies and other entertainment media.

4. When criminal behavior is learned, the learning includes (a) techniques of committing the crime, which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes very simple; and (b) the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes. Criminals learn from others the techniques, methods, and motives necessary to sustain their behavior.

5. The specific direction of motives and drives is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favorable or unfavorable. Individuals may associate with others who define the legal codes as rules that should be observed; these individuals, however, may also associate with others whose definitions favor violating these legal codes.

6. A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions


unfavorable to violation of law. Sutherland noted that this is the essence of differential association. Individuals can have associations that favor both criminal and noncriminal behavior patterns. A person will engage in criminal behavior when there is an excess of definitions that favor violating the law.

7. Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity. Frequency and duration refer to how often and how long associations occur. Priority refers to whether an individual has developed a strong sense of lawful behavior during early childhood. Intensity is not precisely defined.

8. The process of learning criminal behavior by association with criminal and anticriminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning. This statement asserts that the process of learning criminal behavior is similar to the process of learning other types of behavior.

9. While criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by those general needs and values, since noncriminal behavior is an expression of the same needs and values. Sutherland argued that motives, needs, and values as explanations for criminal behavior are inadequate because they are also explanations for noncriminal behavior. For instance, needing money is a motivation for a thief to steal as well as for a student to get a part-time job. This final proposition was largely an argument against the other dominant social theories of crime at the time when Sutherland wrote—namely, strain theory,

which emphasized economic goals and means in predicting criminal activity.13

To further elaborate on these principles, it is important to understand the cultural context when Sutherland developed his theory in the early to mid-20th century. At that time, most academics, and society for that matter, believed that there was something abnormal or different about criminals. For example, Sheldon’s body type theory was popular in the same time period, as was the use of IQ (intelligence quotient) to pick out persons who were of lower intelligence and predisposed to crime (both of these theories are covered in Chapter 5). Thus, the common assumption at the time when Sutherland created the principles of differential association theory was that there was something essentially wrong with individuals who committed crime.

In light of this common assumption, it was extremely profound for Sutherland to propose that criminality is learned just as any conventional activity is learned. He asserted that any normal individual, when exposed to definitions and attitudes favorable toward crime, will learn both the motivations and techniques for engaging in illegal behaviors. Furthermore, he proposed the idea that the various learning mechanisms and processes— namely, social interaction—involved in developing criminality are identical to the learning processes of virtually all conventional activities, such as reading, playing football, or riding a bike.

Almost everyone learns to swim or ride a bike from friends, parents, or teachers. In contrast, almost no one learns how to do these activities from reading a book. Instead, we typically learn the techniques (e.g., how to float in a pool or balance and turn on a bike) as well as motivations (e.g., it is pleasurable and fun to do with friends) for engaging in such activities from our significant others. According to Sutherland, crime is learned the same way—through interactions with individuals with whom we are close—and from them we learn both the techniques (e.g., how to hot-wire a car) and the motivations (e.g., taking a “joyride” in a stolen car can be a thrill). Although in modern times most people and researchers take it for granted that criminal behavior is learned, the idea was quite radical when Sutherland presented his theory of differential association.


Still, differential association theory is just as deterministic as were the earlier theories that emphasized biological factors (e.g., stigmata, body types) or psychological factors (e.g., low IQ). In other words, Sutherland strongly felt that if a person was receiving from significant others and internalizing a higher ratio of definitions that breaking the law is beneficial, then that person certainly would engage in illegal behavior (see principle 6 above). So there is virtually no room for any free choice or decision-making in this model of criminal activity. In contrast, individuals’ propensities to commit crimes are determined through social interactions with significant others. Thus, individuals do not actually make decisions to commit (or not commit) criminal acts; rather, we are predetermined to do so, which makes differential association theory as highly positivistic (i.e., deterministic) as any of the preexisting positivistic theories we reviewed in Chapter 5 (e.g., Lombroso’s theory of born criminals).

However, the primary distinction of differential association theory from the earlier positivistic theories is that instead of biological or psychological traits being emphasized as primary factors in causing criminality, it is social interaction and learning. In fact, Sutherland was quite clear in asserting that individual differences in terms of physiological functioning have nothing to do with the development of criminality. It should be noted at this point that this hard stance against biological and psychological factors being relevant as risk factors in criminal activity has been negated by the extant empirical research, which clearly shows that such variations in physiological functioning do in fact significantly influence criminal behavior. In defense of Sutherland, this body of research does suggest that such physiological factors may affect individuals’ criminality largely due to the effects of such detriments on the learning processes of people in everyday life.

Classical Conditioning.

At the time when he developed his theory of differential association, Sutherland used the dominant psychological theory of learning of the early 20th century. This learning model was called classical

conditioning and was primarily developed by Pavlov.14 Classical conditioning assumes that animals, as well as people, learn through associations between stimuli and responses. The organism, animal, or person is a somewhat passive actor in this process, meaning that the individual simply receives various forms of stimuli and responds in natural ways. Furthermore, the organism (or individual) will learn to associate certain stimuli with certain responses over time.

In developing the theory, Pavlov performed seminal research that showed that dogs, which are naturally afraid of loud noises, could be quickly conditioned not only to be less afraid of loud bells but actually to desire and salivate at their ringing. A dog naturally salivates when presented with meat, so when this unconditioned stimulus (meat) is presented, a dog will always salivate (unconditioned response) in anticipation of eating the meat. Pavlov demonstrated through a series of experiments that if a bell (conditioned stimulus) is always rung at the same time as the dog is presented with meat, then the dog will learn to associate what was previously a negative stimulus (loud bell) with a positive stimulus (food). Thus, the dog will quickly begin salivating at the ringing of a bell, even when meat is not presented. When this occurs, it is called an unconditioned response, because it is not natural; however, it is a powerful and effective means of learning, and it can sometimes take only a few occurrences of coupling the ringing bell with meat before the unconditioned response takes place.


How could you explain this dog salivating in terms of classical conditioning?


A common, real-life example that virtually everyone can relate to is associations related to songs or smells. Specifically, probably every reader has heard a song on the radio that reminded her or him of a good (or bad) event that occurred years before while that same song was playing. It can seem as though we are reexperiencing that event in our minds when we hear the song. Similarly, people diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder can reexperience traumatic events from exposure to certain stimuli. For example, the sound of a car backfiring can remind a war veteran of being under fire in combat. A similar phenomenon occurs with odors, in the sense that a certain scent, such as a particular perfume or cologne, can remind us of someone we once dated. Another version of this experience is when a spouse has to leave for a long time and the pillow retains his or her natural scent; this can hold a powerful association with memories and often elicits strong emotions (responses) in the partner or spouse left behind. On a simpler level, the smell of a turkey cooking in the oven may automatically remind us of Thanksgiving (or other holidays).

classical conditioning: a learning model that assumes that animals, as well as people, learn through associations between stimuli and responses.

These are just a couple of the many types of associations typically experienced by people in everyday life, and there are many other forms of this type of learning that virtually all persons experience but may not realize they are experiencing. Still, all involve the primary components of classical conditioning in that they all include a stimulus (e.g., a song), an association with the stimulus, and the resulting response (e.g., good/bad feelings). This is still a highly supported learning model.


Another modern use of this learning model in humans is the prescribed administration of drugs that make

people ill when they drink alcohol.15 Alcoholics are often prescribed drugs that will make them feel sick, often to the point of throwing up, if they ingest any alcohol. The idea behind these drugs is primarily that users will learn to associate feelings of sickness with drinking and that this will thus curb the desire to consume alcohol. One important barrier to this strategy is that many alcoholics do not consistently take the drugs, so they often slip back into addiction. However, in defense of this strategy, if alcoholics were to maintain their prescribed drug regimen, it would likely work, because people do tend to learn effectively through association, which in this case is feelings of nausea (the response) associated with ingesting alcohol (the stimulus).

A similar form of the classical conditioning learning model was prominently used in the critically acclaimed 1964 novel (and subsequent motion picture) A Clockwork Orange. In this novel, the author, Anthony Burgess, tells the story of a juvenile murderer who is “rehabilitated” by doctors who force him to watch hour after hour of violent images while simultaneously giving him drugs that make him sick. In the novel, the protagonist is “cured” after only two weeks of this treatment, having learned to consistently associate violence with sickness. However, once he is released he lacks the ability to choose violence and other antisocial behavior, which is seen as losing his humanity. Therefore, the ethicists order a reversal treatment and make him back into his former self, a violent predator. Although a fictional piece, A Clockwork Orange is probably one of the best illustrations of the use of classical conditioning in relation to criminal offending and rehabilitation.

Reaction to Differential Association Theory.

Since Sutherland’s nine statements were published, they have been subjected to significant scrutiny and interpretation. Researchers have been critical of his statements and have also pointed to several

“misinterpretations” of his work.16 For example, some people assume that Sutherland’s theory is concerned only with associations between criminals. If this were the only relevant type of association, then the theory would be invalid, because some people have an association with criminals but are not considered criminals themselves. These people include police officers, corrections officers, and judges.

As indicated, Sutherland theorized that crime occurs when associations favorable to violation of the law “outweigh” associations favorable to conforming to the law. But measuring this ratio and understanding when

the balance tips in favor of a criminal lifestyle is all but impossible.17 Still, some empirical studies have found support for differential association variables, particularly in the area of white-collar crime. For example, one recent study involving a sample of 133 graduate business students found that participants would go against their friends’ and professors’ opinions and commit corporate crime if they felt that their coworkers and

superiors at work agreed with the illegal behavior.18 This study found that the influence of associating with people who have a different set of values—in this case, strong corporate attitudes—on a daily basis can have a powerful effect on criminal decision-making, even to the point where individuals will do things they know their family and friends feel are immoral. The context of this and other corporate crime studies is interesting because Sutherland actually coined the term white-collar crime and did much of the seminal work on that topic (for more discussion, see Chapter 14). So perhaps it is not so surprising that much of the support for differential association theory is found in the context of corporate crime.


On a related note, Sutherland theorized that criminal associations lead to crime but that the reverse is

plausible. That is, one may commit crime and then seek out individuals with attitudes similar to one’s own.19

This is similar to the “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” debate. Do youths learn to commit crime once they start hanging out with delinquent peers, or do the youths that commit crime start hanging out with similar people (i.e., “Birds of a feather flock together”)? After a rather lengthy literary debate, most recent research points to the occurrence of both causal processes: Criminal associations cause more crime and

committing crime causes more criminal associations.20 Another interesting criticism that has been leveled at differential association theory is the argument that if criminal behavior is learned and people are born with a blank slate (i.e., tabula rasa), then who first committed crime if no one taught that person the techniques and motives for it? After all, if someone was the first to do it, then who could expose that person to the definitions favorable to violation of law? Furthermore, what factor(s) caused that individual to do it first if it was not learned? If the answers to these questions involve any factor(s) other than learning—which they must, because the theory’s assumption is that there was no one to teach this behavior—then the action cannot be explained by learning theories. This is a criticism that cannot be addressed, so it is somewhat ignored in the scientific literature.

At the same time, however, some research is supportive of Sutherland’s theory. For example, researchers have

found that young criminals are “tutored” by older ones,21 that criminals sometimes maintain associations with

other criminals prior to their delinquent acts,22 and that the deviant attitudes, friends, and acts are closely

connected.23 Unfortunately, many of Sutherland’s principles are somewhat vague and cryptic, which does not

lend the theory to easy testing.24 Related to this issue, perhaps one of the biggest problems with Sutherland’s formulation of differential association is that he used primarily one type of learning model—classical conditioning—to formulate most of his principles, which neglects the other important ways we learn attitudes and behavior from significant others. This may be an important reason why his principles are so hard to test, especially in light of more current models of his framework that have incorporated other learning models that are easier to test and provide more empirical validity.

Do you think children are influenced by video games, movies, and other forms of media?


©iStockphoto.com/mike mols

Finally, Sutherland was adamant that such learning about how and why to commit crime occurred only through social interaction with significant others and not via any media role models, such as those in movies or on the radio. Although not surprising in our modern times, it was not long before another theorist, Daniel Glaser, proposed an alternate theory that included the important influence that such media can play in behavior. We will now review Glaser’s theory.

Glaser’s Concept of Differential Identification.

As stated above, Sutherland claimed that learning of criminal definitions could take place only through social interactions with significant others as opposed to reading a book or watching movies. However, in 1956, Daniel Glaser proposed the idea of differential identification, which allows for learning to take place not only through people close to us but also through other reference groups, even distant ones such as sports heroes or

movie stars whom the individual has never actually met or corresponded with.25 Glaser claimed that it did not matter much whether the individual had a personal relationship with the reference group(s); in fact, he claimed that they could even be imaginary, such as fictitious characters in a movie or book. Thus, “a person pursues criminal behavior to the extent that he identifies himself with real or imaginary persons from whose

perspective his criminal behavior seems acceptable.”26 The important thing, according to Glaser, was that the individual identify with the person or character and thus behave in ways that fit the norm set of this reference group or person.


Glaser’s proposition has been virtually ignored by subsequent criminological research, with the exception of Dawes’s 1973 study of delinquency, which found that identification with persons other than parents was

strong when youths reported a high level of rejection from their parents.27 Given the profound influence of video games, movies, music, and television on today’s youth culture, it is obvious that differential identification was an important addition to Sutherland’s framework. Thus, far more research should examine the validity of Glaser’s theory in contemporary society. Although Glaser and others modified differential association, the most notable, respected, and empirically valid variation of Sutherland’s model is differential reinforcement theory.


Learning Check 10.1 1. __________ theories focus on social or personal factors that prevent individuals from engaging in selfish, antisocial behavior. 2. According to Sutherland, criminality is __________. 3. __________ assumes that animals, as well as people, learn through associations between stimuli and responses. 4. According to Glaser, __________ __________ is when learning takes place not only through people close to us but also through

other reference groups.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e

differential identification: a theory of criminal behavior similar to differential association theory, the major difference being that this theory takes into account associations with persons and images presented in the media.


Differential Reinforcement Theory

In the 1960s, a notable study reevaluated Sutherland’s differential association theory and made some pointed criticisms. One of the primary criticisms was that the theory was incomplete without some attention to the

more modern psychological models of learning.28 That is, C. R. Jeffery called out the failure of Sutherland’s model to include the concept that people can be conditioned, via rewards or punishments, into behaving in certain ways. Soon after this critical review, Robert Burgess and Ronald Akers criticized and refined

Sutherland’s work in 1966.29 The product of this follow-up was what is now known as differential reinforcement theory. Burgess and Akers argued that by integrating Sutherland’s work with contributions from the field of social psychology—namely, the learning models of operant conditioning and modeling/imitation—decisions to commit criminal behavior could be more clearly understood.

differential reinforcement theory: a theory of criminal behavior that emphasizes various types of social learning, specifically classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and imitation or modeling.

operant conditioning: a learning model based on the association between an action and feedback following the action.

modeling/imitation: a major factor in differential reinforcement theory that proposes that much social learning takes place via imitation or modeling of behavior.

Elements of Differential Reinforcement Theory.

In their 1966 article, Burgess and Akers presented seven propositions to summarize differential reinforcement theory (see Table 10.1)—often referred to as social learning theory in the criminological literature—which largely represent efficient modifications of Sutherland’s original nine principles of differential association. The influence of the relatively new (in 1966) learning models proposed by social psychologists is illustrated in their first statement as well as throughout the seven principles. Although differential reinforcement incorporates the elements of classical conditioning learning models in its framework, the first proposition clearly states that the essential learning mechanism in social behavior is operant conditioning; thus, it is vital to understand what operant conditioning is and how it is valid at all times in an individual’s life. The inclusion of both modern models of learning (e.g., operant conditioning and modeling) and classic models of learning (e.g., classical conditioning) explains why differential reinforcement theory is also commonly referred to as the social learning theory of crime.


Source: Burgess, R., & Akers, R. (1966). A differential association-reinforcement theory of criminal behavior. Social Problems, 14, 146.

Differential Reinforcement Theory Propositions.

Differential reinforcement theory may appear, in many ways, to be no different than rational choice theory (see Chapter 4). This is true to some extent, because both models focus on punishments and reinforcements that occur after an individual offends. Differential reinforcement theory, however, can be distinguished from the rational choice perspective in that it assumes humans are born with an innate capacity for rational decision-making, whereas the differential reinforcement perspective assumes individuals are born with a blank slate (i.e., tabula rasa) and thus must be socialized and taught how to behave through various forms of conditioning (e.g., classical and operant conditioning) and modeling. Also, differential reinforcement theory is far more deterministic than rational choice theory in the sense that the former assumes that individuals have virtually no free will or free choice (behavior is based on the definitions, beliefs, rewards, punishments, etc., that individuals are subject to after their previous behaviors), whereas the latter is based almost entirely on the assumption that individuals do indeed have the ability to make their own choices and tend to make calculated decisions based on the contextual circumstances of a given situation. Thus, it is clear that differential reinforcement theory has different assumptions, as well as distinctive concepts, that clearly distinguish it from rational choice models of behavior. We will now review some of the key concepts that differential reinforcement theory proposed that were important additions to the differential association model and that made it a far more robust and valid theory for explaining criminal behavior.

Applying Theory to Crime: Murder


In this section, we provide an example of a person (named Trent) who committed murder, largely due to influences from social interactions with his peers, who were fellow gang members. This illustrates an example of Sutherland’s differential association theory, which will be discussed further below. But before we get to the actual example, it is important to understand murder or criminal homicide as well as some current statistics on this criminal act.

According to common law, as well as traditionally in the United States, the crime of murder is defined as the “unlawful killing of a

human being by another human being with malice aforethought.”30 However,

proving malice aforethought is sometimes difficult, because, under the modern interpretation, it is not necessary to prove either malice as it is commonly defined, nor forethought. Therefore, it is preferable not to rely upon this misleading expression for an

understanding of murder.31

Figure 10.1 Murder by Weapon in 2014

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2015). Crime in the United States, 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, n.p.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), murder and nonnegligent manslaughter are

defined as the “willful (nonnegligent) killing of one human being by another.”32 The UCR Program does not include such incidents as deaths caused by negligence, suicide, or accident; justifiable homicides; or attempts to murder or assaults to murder, which are


counted as aggravated assaults.33 Based on the 2014 report, the FBI summarized the following key findings concerning murder:

About 14,249 people were murdered nationwide in 2014. This is a 0.5% decrease from 2013 and a 3.2% decrease from 2010. Of the number of murders nationwide, 46.0% were in the South, 20.5% were in the Midwest, 20.5% were reported in the West, and 13.1% were reported in the Northeast.

Figure 10.1 provides a summary of the types of weapons used in these murders. Note that more than two thirds of the murders involved a firearm (67.9%), followed by knives or cutting instruments (13.1%).

There are instances when individuals, accused of murder, provide some type of defense to justify their criminal actions. For instance, self-defense is most often used as a defense in homicide cases. The defendant must show some evidence of the following to make such a claim:

Unlawful force was threatened against him or her. Danger of harm was imminent. He or she was not the aggressor. He or she fully believed that danger existed. Force was necessary to avert the danger. The type and amount of force used was necessary.

The jury is then required to determine whether the defendant’s perception of the need of self-defense, or the degree of force used,

was reasonable.34 Another defense is the insanity defense. Throughout American history, the insanity defense has varied. We discuss this in more detail in Chapter 7. A well-known case using a diminished-capacity defense occurred in 1978, when Dan White shot and killed San Francisco mayor George Moscone and San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. His diminished-capacity defense was termed the “Twinkie Defense” by the media. It was based on psychological testimony revealing that Dan White’s junk-food diet

exacerbated a chemical imbalance in his brain. Thus, he was not deemed legally responsible for these deaths.35

To clarify key aspects of differential association, we apply this perspective to the crime of murder. Trent had a troubled family life and difficulties in school. He did not easily establish and maintain close relationships with his family or friends. When Trent was 12 years old, he was befriended by a couple of boys in his neighborhood. He would spend a great deal of time with these boys, and these boys were part of a local gang. In this gang, Trent learned how to shoplift, burglarize homes and businesses, and sell drugs. He also learned how to use a gun. Soon he began to incorporate beliefs such as, one has to “take what one wants” rather than “work hard and wait for the rewards.” This attitude illustrates an excess of definitions favorable to violating the law over definitions unfavorable to violating the law.

When Trent was 16 years old, he and some of his fellow gang members spotted a man driving a very expensive car. They decided to carjack the automobile at any cost. They waited until the man was at a red light and pulled their car alongside his. Given his previous internalization of the techniques and motivations provided by fellow gang members as well as their encouragement just prior to the incident, Trent got out through the passenger-side door and told the man to get out of his car. The man refused, so Trent shot him once in the head. Trent then dragged the man out of the car and slid into the driver’s seat and drove away. A number of eyewitnesses immediately called 911. Two days later, Trent was arrested and charged with murder.

Incorporating Sutherland’s differential association, we can argue that Trent learned to engage in criminal activity through his friends. This learning process also involved Trent being exposed to definitions and attitudes favorable toward crime, which ultimately resulted in Trent committing murder because he wanted an automobile “at any cost.”


Think About It By incorporating Sutherland’s differential association, consider the following:

1. What influenced Trent to engage in criminal activity? 2. Was he more likely to be exposed to definitions favorable, or unfavorable, to crime? 3. What could have deterred Trent to engage in criminal activity?

Source: FBI.


Psychological Learning Models


Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning was primarily developed by B. F. Skinner,39 who coincidentally was just across campus from Edwin Sutherland when he was developing differential association theory at Indiana University; just as it is now, academia tended to be too intradisciplinary and intradepartmental. If Sutherland had been aware of Skinner’s studies and theoretical development, he likely would have included it in his original framework of differential association theory. However, operant conditioning was not well-known or researched at the time Sutherland developed his theory of differential association; rather, he simply incorporated the dominant learning model of his time—classical conditioning. So it was up to others, such as Burgess and Akers, to later incorporate operant conditioning (as well as Bandura’s social learning principles, discussed below) into Sutherland’s theoretical model.

Comparative Criminology: Homicide


Homicide Rates per World Subregion In this section, we examine findings from data provided by the sixth through eighth United Nations Crime Surveys and data from

the World Health Organization36 regarding homicide rates in various world subregions.37

The data in Figure 10.2 reveal that of the world subregions included in this study, Southern Africa has, by far, the highest rate of homicide at 31 (per 100,000/year). The second-highest region—Central America—is a not-so-distant second at 26.5, and the third- ranking subregion—South America—is close to the second at 23.5. It is also notable that the world average is 6.2, which would likely be significantly lower if there wasn’t such a high outlier at the top (Southern Africa). In fact, if we removed the world ranking from this report, and chose to use the median (instead of the mean or average) as our measure of central tendency of the 16 subregions presented in the report, then the world average would be about 5.8 (per 100,000/year).

Also notable is North America (which of course includes the United States) at a rate of 6.8, which is below the world average (8.2). Perhaps most interesting is the rate reported for North Africa (0.8), which is the lowest reported, despite being on the same continent as the highest recorded rate (Southern Africa). This just goes to show how certain locations, often in close proximity, can be entirely different in terms of crime. This can also be seen on a more local level, such as in cities in Southern California (e.g., Mission Viejo, Thousand Oaks) that are some of the safest communities in the United States virtually every year, while some close cities in that region (e.g., Compton, San Bernardino) typically have some of the highest rates of crime. It is quite amazing that some of the cities in our nation or regions in the world can have such drastic differences regarding crime rates. This just goes to show how

variant places can be, even if they are relatively close in proximity or in the same geographic area.38

Figure 10.2 Homicides per 100,000 Population per World Subregion


Source: 2013 Global Study on Homicide. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Figure 10.3 Top 10 U.S. Cities With the Highest Murder Rates in 2014*

Source: FBI. Crime in the US, 2014. Table 8.

*Only includes cities with populations over 40,000

To explain it simply, operant conditioning is concerned with how behavior is influenced by reinforcements and punishments. Operant conditioning assumes that the animal or human is a proactive player in seeking out rewards, not just a passive entity that simply receives stimuli, which is what classical conditioning assumes. Specifically, certain behaviors are encouraged through reward (positive reinforcement) or through avoidance of punishment (negative reinforcement). For example, if a child is given a toy or video game for doing well on his or her report card, that is a positive reinforcement. On the other hand, if a child who has been confined to his or her room after school for a week for not doing homework is then allowed to start playing with friends again after school because she or he did a good job on homework the following week, this is a negative reinforcement because the child is now being rewarded via the avoidance of something negative. Like different types of reinforcement, punishment also comes in two forms. Thus, behavior is discouraged, or weakened, via adverse stimuli (positive punishment) or lack of reward (negative punishment). A good example of positive punishment would be putting a child in a “time-out,” where he or she is forced to sit alone for many minutes—a punishment that tends to be quite effective with young children. Another form of positive punishment—perhaps the best example—is “spanking,” but this has been frowned on in recent times because it is certainly a positive form of a negative stimulus. So anything that directly presents negative sensations or feelings is a positive punishment. On the other hand, if parents take away their child’s opportunity to go on an outing with friends (say to a movie or theme park) because he or she skipped school, this is an example of


negative punishment because the parents are removing a positive aspect or reward.

positive reinforcement: a concept in social learning in which people are rewarded by receiving something they want.

negative reinforcement: a concept in social learning in which people are rewarded through removal of something they dislike.

One notable example of operant conditioning is teaching a mouse to successfully run a maze. When the mouse takes the right paths and finishes the maze quickly, it is either positively reinforced (e.g., rewarded with a piece of cheese) or negatively reinforced (e.g., not shocked with an electric prod, as it was when it chose the wrong path). On the other hand, when the mouse takes wrong turns or does not complete the maze in adequate time, it is either positively punished (e.g., shocked with electricity) or negatively punished (e.g., not given the cheese). Mice, like humans, tend to learn the correct behavior extremely fast using such consistent implementation of punishments and reinforcements.

Especially in humans, such principles of operant conditioning can be found even at very early ages. In fact, many of us have implemented such techniques (or been subjected to them) without really knowing they were called operant conditioning. For example, during “toilet training,” we teach our children to use the toilet rather than urinating and defecating in their pants. To reinforce the act of going to the bathroom on a toilet, we encourage the correct behavior by presenting positive rewards, which can be as simple as showing extreme pleasure and hugging the child or giving the child a “treat.” While modern parents rarely use spanking in toilet training, there is an inherent positive punishment for children who use the bathroom in their pants; specifically, they have to stay in their dirty diaper for a while and face the embarrassment most children feel when this happens. Also, negative punishments are present in such situations because they do not get the positive recognition or treats, so the rewards are absent as well.

A large amount of research has shown that humans learn attitudes and behavior best through a mix of punishments and reinforcements throughout life. For example, studies have clearly shown that rehabilitative programs that appear to work most effectively in reducing recidivism in offenders are those that have many opportunities for rewards as well as threats for punishments. To clarify, empirical research that has combined the findings from hundreds of studies of rehabilitation programs has demonstrated that the programs that are most successful in changing the attitudes and behavior of previous offenders are those that offer at least four

reward opportunities for every one punishment aspect of the program.40 So whether it is training children to use the toilet or altering criminals’ thinking and behavior, operant conditioning is a well-established form of learning that makes differential reinforcement theory a more valid and specified model of offending than differential association.

Referring to Bandura’s theory of imitation/modeling, do you think the boy pictured learned this hand sign by observing others?



© iStockphoto.com/Stuart Monk.

Thus, whether deviant or conforming behavior occurs and continues “depends on the past and present rewards

or punishment for the behavior, and the rewards and punishment attached to alternative behavior.”41 This is in stark contrast to Sutherland’s differential association model, which looked only at what happens before an act (i.e., classical conditioning), not what happens after (i.e., operant conditioning). Burgess and Akers’s model looks at both what occurs before the act and what occurs afterward. Thus, illegal behavior is likely to occur, as Burgess and Akers theorized, when its perceived rewards outweigh the potential punishments for committing such acts.

Bandura’s Theory of Imitation/Modeling.

Burgess and Akers emphasized another learning model in their formulation of differential reinforcement theory, which was imitation and modeling. Given that Sutherland’s original formulation of differential

association theory was somewhat inspired by Tarde’s concept of imitation,42 it is surprising that his nine principles did not adequately emphasize the importance of modeling in the process of learning behavior. Similar to the neglect of acknowledging Skinnerian models of operant conditioning, Sutherland’s failure to focus on imitation and modeling was likely due to the fact that the primary work by Albert Bandura in this

area had not become well-known at the time when differential association theory was being formulated.43

Bandura demonstrated, through a series of theoretical and experimental studies, that a significant amount of learning takes place absent virtually any form of conditioning or responses to a given behavior. To clarify, he claimed that individuals can learn even if they are not punished or rewarded for a given behavior (i.e., operant conditioning) or exposed to associations between stimuli and responses (i.e., classical conditioning). Instead, Bandura proposed that people learn much of their attitudes and behavior from simply observing the behavior of others—namely, through mimicking others. This type of phenomenon is often referred to as “monkey see, monkey do”—but not just monkeys do this. Social psychological research has clearly established that humans, as well as most animal species, are physiologically “hardwired” (meaning it is instinctive) to observe and learn the behavior of others, especially those older in years, to see what behavior is essential for success and survival.

The most important finding of Bandura’s experiments was that simply observing the behavior of others, especially adults, can have profound learning effects on the behavior of children. To clarify, in Bandura’s experiments, a randomized experimental group of children watched a video of adults acting aggressively toward a Bo-Bo doll (a blow-up plastic doll), and a control group of children did not watch such illustrations of adults beating up the dolls. These different groups of children were then sent into a room containing Bo- Bo dolls. The experimental group who had seen the adult behavior mimicked this behavior by acting far more aggressively toward the dolls than did the children in the control group, who had not seen the adults beating up the dolls. So although the experimental group was not provided with previous associations or rewards for being more aggressive toward the dolls, the children who had seen adults act more aggressively became far more aggressive themselves (compared with the control group) simply because they were imitating or modeling what they had seen the older people do.


In light of these findings, Bandura’s theory of modeling and imitation has implications not only for the criminal behavior of individuals but also for the influence of television, movies, video games, and so on. The influences demonstrated by Bandura simply supported a phenomenon we can see in everyday life—namely, the source of fashion trends, such as wearing low-slung pants or baseball hats a certain way. These types of styles tend to ebb and flow based on respected persons (often celebrities) wearing clothing a certain way, which leads to many people, typically youth, mimicking that behavior. This can be seen very early in life, with parents having to be careful what they say and do because their children, as young as two years old, will imitate them. For example, this is why parents often must change their language when in the presence of toddlers. This continues throughout life, especially in teenage years, as young people imitate the “cool” trends and styles as well as behavior. Of course, sometimes this behavior is illegal, but individuals are often simply mimicking the way their friends or others are behaving, with little regard for potential rewards or punishments. Thus, Bandura’s theory of modeling and imitation adds a great deal of explanation to a model of learning, and differential reinforcement theory included such influences; Sutherland’s model of differential association did not, largely because the psychological perspective had not yet been developed.

Reaction to Differential Reinforcement Theory.

Just as Sutherland’s work has been interpreted and criticized, so too has that of Burgess and Akers. For instance, Reed Adams criticized the theory for incorrectly and incompletely applying the principles of operant conditioning. Further, Adams noted that the theory does not adequately address the importance of “nonsocial

reinforcement.”44 Nonsocial reinforcement can be considered self-reinforcement. For example, if someone gets enjoyment out of abusing others, then the person can be considered “reinforced” through nonsocial means.

Perhaps the most important criticism of differential reinforcement theory is that it appears tautological, which means that the variables and measures used to test its validity are true by definition. To clarify, studies testing this theory have been divided into four groups of variables or factors: associations, reinforcements, definitions, and modeling. Some critics have noted that if individuals who report that they associate with those who offend are rewarded for offending, believe offending is good, and have seen many of their significant others offend, they will be more likely to offend. In other words, if your friends and/or family are doing it, there is

little doubt that you will also do it.45 For example, critics would argue that a person who primarily hangs out with car thieves, knows he will be rewarded for stealing cars, believes stealing cars is good and not immoral, and has observed many respected others stealing cars will inevitably commit auto theft himself. However, it has been well argued that such criticisms of tautology are not valid because none of these factors necessarily

make offending by the respondent true by definition.46

Differential reinforcement theory has been criticized in the same way as Sutherland’s theory has, in the sense that delinquent associations may take place after criminal activity rather than before. However, Burgess and Akers’s model clearly addresses this area of criticism, because differential reinforcement covers what comes after the activity. Specifically, it addresses the rewards or punishments that follow criminal activity, whether those rewards come from friends, parents, or other members or institutions of society.


It is arguable that differential reinforcement theory may have the most empirical validity of any contemporary (nonintegrated) model of criminal offending, especially considering that studies have examined a variety of behaviors, ranging from drug use to property crimes to violence. The theoretical model has also been tested in samples across the United States, as well as in other cultures such as South Korea, with the evidence being quite supportive of the framework. Furthermore, a variety of age groups have been examined, ranging from

teenagers to middle-aged adults to the elderly, with all studies providing support for the model.47 Specifically, researchers have empirically tested differential association–reinforcement theory and found that the major

variables of the theory have a significant effect in explaining marijuana and alcohol use among adolescents.48

The researchers concluded that the “study demonstrates that central learning concepts are amenable to meaningful questionnaire measurement and that social learning theory can be adequately tested with survey

data.”49 Other studies have also supported the theory when attempting to understand delinquency, cigarette

smoking, and drug use.50 One recent empirical study—a meta-analysis of virtually all the scientific studies that have tested differential reinforcement/social learning theory—concluded that there was considerable

variation in the magnitude and stability of key variables in the theory.51 Specifically, in this comprehensive study, the effects of all variables—differential association, definitions, modeling/imitation, and differential reinforcement—were typically significant predictors. However, the study showed that although the former two concepts (differential association and definitions) showed stronger magnitude in terms of explaining criminal behavior, the latter two (differential reinforcement and modeling/imitation) had only modest effects on such behavior. Overall, the model appeared to be relatively supported by the extant empirical evidence. Therefore, the inclusion of three psychological learning models—namely, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and modeling/imitation—appears to have made differential reinforcement one of the most valid theories of human behavior, especially in regard to criminal behavior. Thus, it appears that differential reinforcement/social learning theory is one of the more valid theories in terms of explaining criminal behavior, perhaps due to the theory’s incorporation of so many distinct concepts and learning theories in its primary assumptions and propositions.


Neutralization Theory

Neutralization theory is associated with Gresham Sykes and David Matza’s Techniques of Neutralization52 and

Matza’s Drift Theory.53 Like Sutherland, both Sykes and Matza claimed that social learning influences delinquent behavior, but they also claimed that most criminals hold conventional beliefs and values. More specifically, Sykes and Matza argued that most criminals are still partially committed to the dominant social order. According to Sykes and Matza, youths are not immersed in a subculture committed to extremes of either complete conformity or complete nonconformity. Rather, these individuals vacillate, or drift, between these two extremes:

The delinquent transiently exists in a limbo between convention and crime, responding in turn to the demands of each, flirting now with one, now the other, but postponing commitment, evading decision.

Thus, he [or she] drifts between criminal and conventional action.54

While still partially committed to conventional social order, youths can drift into criminal activity and avoid feelings of guilt for these actions by justifying or rationalizing their behavior. Why is it called neutralization theory? People justify and rationalize behavior through “neutralizing” it, or making it seem less serious. In other words, individuals make up situational excuses for behavior they know is wrong, and they do this to alleviate the guilt they feel for committing such immoral acts. In many ways, this technique for alleviating guilt resembles Freud’s defense mechanisms (see Chapter 6), which allow our mind to forgive ourselves for the bad things we do even though we know they are wrong. So the specific techniques of neutralization outlined by Sykes and Matza in 1957, which we consider next, are much like excuses for inappropriate behavior.


Techniques of Neutralization

Sykes and Matza developed methods, or techniques of neutralization,55 that people use to justify their criminal behavior. These techniques allow people to neutralize their criminal and delinquent acts by making them look as though they are conforming to the rules of society. Individuals are then freed to engage in criminal activities without serious damage to their self-image. These five techniques of neutralization include the following:

1. Denial of responsibility. Denial of responsibility is more than just claiming that deviant acts are an accident. Rather, individuals may claim that due to outside forces (e.g., uncaring parents, bad friends, poverty), they are not responsible or accountable for their behavior. Statements such as “It wasn’t my fault” are extremely common among both youth and adult offenders.

2. Denial of injury. Criminals may evaluate their wrongful behavior in terms of whether anyone was hurt by it. For instance, vandalism may be considered “mischief”; stealing a car may be viewed as “borrowing.” Sometimes society agrees with people who evaluate their wrongfulness in this manner, designating these activities as “pranks.”

3. Denial of the victim. While criminals may accept responsibility for their actions and admit these actions caused an injury, they neutralize them as being a rightful retaliation or punishment. Criminals may perceive themselves as avengers and the victim as the wrongdoer. For instance, vandalism is revenge on an unfair teacher, and shoplifting is retaliation against a “crooked” store owner. Another variation is when shoplifters claim that no one is getting hurt because the stores have theft insurance, failing to acknowledge that stores raise their prices to counteract such losses and higher insurance premiums.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. Criminals may also shift the focus of attention from their deviant acts to the motives and behavior of those who disapprove of these actions. They may claim the condemners are hypocrites, deviants in disguise, or compelled by personal spite. For instance, one may claim that police are corrupt, teachers show favoritism, or parents “take it out” on their children. Thus, criminals

neutralize their behavior through “a rejection of the rejectors.”56

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. Criminals may sacrifice the rules of the larger society for the rules of the smaller social groups to which they belong, such as a gang or peer group. They do not necessarily deviate, because they reject the norms of the larger society. Rather, their higher loyalty is with these smaller groups; thus, they subscribe to the norms of these groups over general social norms. They may claim that one must “always help a buddy” or “never squeal on a friend.” Another example of this neutralization technique is antiabortion radicals who shoot doctors who perform abortions; they claim they are appealing to a higher loyalty (a supreme being), which relieves them from responsibility and guilt.

techniques of neutralization: a theory that suggests that individuals, especially in their teenage years and early adulthood, make excuses to alleviate guilt related to committing certain criminal acts.

Sykes and Matza emphasized that the techniques of neutralization may not be strong enough to protect


individuals from their own internalized values and the reactions of conforming others. Instead, neutralization

techniques lessen “the effectiveness of social controls” and “lie behind a large share of delinquent behavior.”57

One area where techniques of neutralization have been applied is white-collar crime. Several studies have examined the tendency to use such excuses to alleviate guilt for engaging in behavior that professionals know is wrong. For example, a recent study that examined the decision-making of 133 students in a graduate business program found that not only did neutralizing attitudes have significant effects on the respondents’ decisions to commit corporate crime (involving distributing a dangerous drug), but the older students— namely, those with more seniority and experience in the business world—were more likely to employ

techniques of neutralization.58

How would you would explain sending/reading personal texts while at work in terms of the various techniques of neutralization?


Furthermore, studies of corporate crime have identified two more common types of excuses that white-collar

criminals use in their illegal activities.59 Specifically, the two techniques of neutralization that experts have observed primarily among corporate criminals are “defense of necessity” and “metaphor of the ledger.” Defense of necessity implies that an individual should not feel shame or guilt about doing something immoral as long as the behavior is perceived as necessary. Often in the corporate world, the climate puts pressure on the bottom line, and all that matters is making a larger profit, no matter what behavior is used; in other words, criminal activity is often seen as a necessity.


The other neutralizing technique found primarily in corporate settings is metaphor of the ledger, which essentially is the belief that an individual or group has done so much good (e.g., provided a useful product or service for public consumption) that he or she is entitled to mess up by doing something illegal (e.g., “cooking the books” or knowingly distributing a faulty, dangerous product). Many of us likely use this latter technique often, especially when it comes to studying or writing a paper right before the test or deadline. At times when we know we should be working, we may often say something along the lines of, “I worked hard yesterday, so even though I am not close to being finished, I deserve to go out with my friends to the beach today.” This is a good example of using the fact that you did a good thing to justify doing something you know you probably shouldn’t if you want to do well on the test or paper. So it is not just in corporate climates that these neutralizing techniques—seven altogether—are used to alleviate guilt. Regular people, especially college students and professors, use them all the time.


Learning Check 10.2 1. Burgess and Akers, in their differential reinforcement theory, integrated Sutherland’s work with the learning models of

__________ conditioning and modeling/imitation. 2. The differential reinforcement perspective assumes that individuals are born with a __________ __________. 3. According to Sykes and Matza, youths engaging in criminal behavior are still partially committed to the dominant __________

__________. 4. People use certain methods, or __________ __________, to justify their criminal behavior.

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Reaction to Neutralization Theory

Studies that have attempted to empirically test neutralization theory are, at best, inconclusive. Robert Agnew

argued that there are essentially two general criticisms of studies that support neutralization theory.60 The first challenge is that several researchers have improperly measured the acceptance of neutralization techniques. Based on his research on neutralization among incarcerated adults, one researcher noted that

the relationships between vocabularies of motive and criminal behavior are more subtle, complex, and situation-specific than previously recognized. The major tasks for subsequent neutralization research are

to empirically distinguish between neutralization and unconventional commitment.61

Second, researchers have expressed concern that criminals may use techniques of neutralization prior to committing a criminal offense. This ordering, they claim, is just as plausible as when neutralization follows a

criminal act.62 This uncertain time-order problem is due to research conducted at a single point in time. Additional research conducted over time could prove supportive of neutralization theory. However, some would argue that the temporal ordering problem is not a major criticism of the theory, because some individuals may be predisposed to make up such rationalizations for their behavior regardless of whether they do it before or after the offending act. Such a propensity may be related to low self-control theory, which we examine later in this chapter.


Control Theories

The learning theories discussed in the previous section assume that individuals are born with a conforming disposition, or at least a blank slate (i.e., tabula rasa). By contrast, control theories assume that all people would naturally commit crimes if not for restraints on the selfish tendencies that exist in every individual. Social control perspectives of criminal behavior thus assume that there is some type of basic human nature and that all human beings exhibit antisocial tendencies toward being violently aggressive and taking from others what they want. Therefore, such control theories are more concerned with explaining why individuals don’t commit crime or deviant behaviors. Specifically, control theorists rhetorically ask, “What is it about society, human interaction, and other factors that causes people not to act on their natural impulses?”

Figure 10.4 Frequencies of Hitting, Biting, and Kicking at Ages 2 to 12 Years

The assumption that people have innate antisocial tendencies is a controversial one because it is nearly impossible to test. Nevertheless, some recent evidence supports the idea that human beings are inherently selfish and antisocial by nature. Specifically, researchers have found that most individuals are oriented toward selfish and aggressive behaviors at a very early age, with such behaviors peaking at the end of the second year

(see Figure 10.4).63 Such studies are observational and examine children interacting with their peers. But it is clear from such studies that young individuals are predisposed toward selfish, physically aggressive behavior.

An example of antisocial dispositions appearing early in life was reported by Tremblay and LeMarquand, who found that for most young children (particularly boys), aggressive behaviors peaked at 27 months. These

behaviors included hitting, biting, and kicking.64 Their research is not isolated; virtually all developmental experts acknowledge that toddlers exhibit a tendency to show aggressive behaviors toward others. We are sure


virtually all readers can relate to this, even if they don’t have children of their own. All one needs to do is observe a typical preschool playground, and one will see numerous “felonies” occur in a short period of time. The bottom line is that the “terrible twos” is a true phenomenon; most individuals exhibit a high tendency toward violence, as well as stealing from others, at this time in life. This line of research would seem to support the notion that people are predisposed toward antisocial, even criminal, behavior.

Control theorists do not necessarily assume that people are predisposed toward crime in a way that remains constant throughout life. On the contrary, research shows that most individuals begin to desist from such behaviors after age two. This trend continues until about age five, with only the most aggressive individuals (i.e., chronic offenders) continuing into higher ages. Furthermore, this extreme desistance from engaging in such antisocial behavior supports the control perspective in explaining criminal behavior, especially in the long term, because it is clear from these scientific studies that something must be controlling virtually all individuals (who previously showed tendencies toward aggressive, antisocial behavior) to inhibit themselves from carrying out their natural propensities to fight and take at will.

When considering potential factors that inhibit individuals from following their instincts, it is important to note that at the same time selfish and aggressive behaviors decline, self-consciousness is formed. Specifically, it is around age two when individuals begin to see themselves as entities or beings; prior to age two, children have no understanding that they are people. Subsequently, during this second year, various social emotions— such as shame, guilt, empathy, and pride—begin to appear, largely because they become possible in children’s

knowing that they are part of a society.65 This observation is critical because it is what separates control theories from the classical school of criminology and the predispositional theories that we already discussed. According to control theories, without appropriate socialization or personal inhibitions, people will act on their “preprogrammed” tendency toward crime and deviance.

In short, control theories claim that all individuals have natural tendencies to commit selfish, antisocial, and even criminal behavior. So what curbs this natural propensity? Many experts believe the best explanation is that individuals are socialized and controlled by social attachments and investments in conventional society. Others claim that there are internal mechanisms (such as self-control or self-conscious emotions, such as shame, guilt, etc.), but even those are likely a product of the type of environment in which one is raised. This assumption regarding the vital importance of early socialization is probably the primary reason why control

theories are currently among the most popular and accepted theories for criminologists.66 We will now discuss several early examples of these control theories.


Early Control Theories of Human Behavior

Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract.

Although control theories are found in a variety of disciplines, perhaps the earliest notable form of social control in explaining deviant behavior is found in a perspective offered by the 17th-century Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes (see Chapter 3). Hobbes claimed that the natural state of humanity was one of greediness and self-centeredness, which led to a chaotic state of constant warfare among individuals. In this state, Hobbes claimed that individuals were essentially looking out for their own well-being, and without any

law or order there was no way to protect themselves.67 But Hobbes also theorized that this constant state of chaos created such fear among many individuals that it resulted in them coming together to rationally develop a pact that would prevent such chaos. This became the concept of a society. Hobbes claimed that by creating a society and forming binding contracts (or laws), this would alleviate the chaos by deterring individuals from violating others’ rights. However, despite such laws, Hobbes doubted that the innately greedy nature of humans would be completely eliminated. Rather, the existence of such innate selfishness and aggressiveness was exactly why the use of punishments was necessary, their purpose being to induce fear in the societal members who choose to violate the societal law. In a way, Hobbes was perhaps the first deterrence theorist in the sense that he was the first notable theorist to emphasize the use of punishment to deter individuals from violating the rights of others.

Most experts agree that toddlers, particularly boys, exhibit a tendency toward aggression.

Émile Durkheim’s Idea of Collective Conscience.


Consistent with Hobbes’s view of individuals being naturally selfish, Émile Durkheim proposed a theory of social control in the late 1800s that suggested humans have no internal mechanism to let them know when

they are fulfilled.68 To this end, Durkheim coined the terms automatic spontaneity and awakened reflection. Automatic spontaneity can be understood in reference to animals’ eating habits. Specifically, animals stop eating when they are full and are content until they are hungry again; they don’t start hunting again right after they have filled their stomachs. In contrast, awakened reflection concerns the fact that humans do not have such an internal regulatory mechanism. People often acquire resources beyond what is immediately required.

Durkheim went so far as to say that “our capacity for feeling is in itself an insatiable and bottomless abyss.”69

This is one of the reasons Durkheim believed crime and deviance are quite normal, even essential, in any society.

Durkheim’s “awakened reflection” has become commonly known as greed. People tend to favor better conditions and additional fulfillment because we apparently have no biological or psychological mechanism to limit such tendencies. As Durkheim noted, the selfish desires of mankind “are unlimited so far as they depend

on the individual alone. . . . The more one has, the more one wants.”70 Thus, society must step in and provide the “regulative force” that keeps humans from acting too selfishly.

One of the primary elements of this regulative force is the collective conscience, which is the extent of similarities or likenesses that people share. For example, almost everyone can agree that homicide is a serious and harmful act that should be avoided in any civilized society. The notion of collective conscience can be seen as an early form of the idea of social bonding, which has become one of the dominant theories in criminology,

discussed later in this chapter.71 According to Durkheim, the collective conscience serves many functions in society. One such function is the ability to establish rules that inhibit individuals from following their natural tendencies toward selfish behavior. Durkheim also believed that crime allows people to unite together in opposition against deviants. In other words, crime and deviance allow conforming individuals to be “bonded” together in opposition against a common enemy, as can be seen in everyday life. This enemy consists of the deviants who have not internalized the code of the collective conscience.

Many of Durkheim’s ideas hold true today. Just recall a traumatic incident you may have experienced with other strangers (e.g., being stuck in an elevator during a power outage, weathering a serious storm, being involved in a traffic accident). Incidents such as this bring people together and permit a degree of bonding that would not take place in everyday life. Crime, Durkheim argued, serves a similar function.

How is all this relevant today? Most control theorists claim that individuals commit crime and deviant acts not because they are lacking in any way but because certain controls have been weakened in their development. This assumption is consistent not only with Durkheim’s theory but with a Freudian model of human behavior we discussed in Chapter 7.

Freud’s Concept of the Id and Superego.

Although psychoanalytic theory would seem to have few similarities with a sociological positivistic theory, in this case it is extremely complementary. One of Freud’s most essential propositions is that all individuals are


born with a tendency toward inherent drives and selfishness due to the id domain of the psyche.72 According to Freud, not only are all people born with id drives; they all have an equal amount of such motivations toward selfishness. Another one of Freud’s assumptions is that this inherent, selfish tendency must be countered by controls produced from the development of the superego. According to Freud, the superego, which is the domain of the psyche that contains our conscience (see Figure 10.5), is formed through the interactions that occur between a young infant/child and significant others. As you can see, the control perspective has a long history that can be found in many philosophical and scientific disciplines.


Early Control Theories of Crime

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, criminologists borrowed and built on some of the ideas just discussed. Until that time, most research in the criminological literature was dominated by the learning theories discussed earlier in this chapter or by social structure theories, such as Merton’s strain theory or the Chicago School perspective (see Chapters 8 and 9, respectively). While early control theories may not be particularly popular in this day and age, they were vitally important because they laid the groundwork for future theoretical development.

Reiss’s Control Theory.

One of the first control theories of crime was proposed by Albert Reiss in 1951. Reiss claimed that delinquency was a consequence of weak controls that resulted in weak ego or superego controls among

juvenile probationers.73 Reiss assumed that there was no explicit motivation for delinquent activity; rather, he claimed that it would occur in the absence of controls or restraints against such behavior.

Like Freud, Reiss believed that the family was the primary entity through which deviant predispositions were discouraged. Furthermore, Reiss claimed that a sound family environment would provide for an individual’s needs and the essential emotional bonds that are so important in socializing individuals. Another important factor in Reiss’s model was close supervision, not only by the family but also by the community. He claimed that individuals must be closely monitored for delinquent behavior and adequately disciplined when they break the rules.

Personal factors, such as the ability to restrain one’s impulses and delay gratification, were also important in Reiss’s framework. These concepts are similar to later, more modern concepts of control theory that have been

consistently supported by empirical research.74 For this reason, Reiss was ahead of his time when he first proposed his control theory. Although the direct tests of Reiss’s theory have provided only partial support for

it, Reiss’s influence is apparent in many contemporary criminological theories.75

Figure 10.5 Freud’s Model of the Three Domains of the Psyche


According to Reiss’s model, close supervision by the family discourages deviant predispositions.


©iStockphoto.com/Steve Debenport

Toby’s Concept of Stake in Conformity.

Soon after Reiss’s theory was presented, a similar theory was developed. In 1957, Jackson Toby proposed a

theory of delinquency and gangs.76 He claimed that individuals were more inclined to act on their natural tendencies when the controls on them were weak. Like most other control theorists, Toby claimed that such inclinations toward deviance were distributed equally across all individuals. Further, he emphasized the concept of a stake in conformity that supposedly prevents most people from committing crime. The stake in conformity Toby was referring to is the extent to which individuals are invested in conventional society. In other words, how much is a person willing to risk by violating the law?

Studies have shown that stake in conformity is one of the most influential factors in individuals’ decisions to offend. For example, individuals who have nothing to lose are much more likely to take risks and violate

others’ rights than are those who have relatively more invested in social institutions.77

One distinguishing feature of Toby’s theory is his emphasis on peer influences in terms of both motivating and inhibiting antisocial behavior, depending on whether most of one’s peers have low or high stakes in conformity. Toby’s stake in conformity has been used effectively in subsequent control theories of crime.

Nye’s Control Theory.

A year after Toby introduced the stake in conformity, F. Ivan Nye (1958) proposed a relatively comprehensive

control theory that placed a strong focus on the family.78 Following the assumptions of early control theorists,


Nye claimed that no significant positive force causes delinquency, because such antisocial tendencies are universal and would be found in virtually everyone if not for certain controls usually found in the home.

Nye’s theory consists of three primary components of control. The first component is internal control, which is formed through social interaction. This socialization, he claimed, assists in the development of a conscience. Nye further claimed that if individuals are not given adequate resources and care, they will follow their natural tendencies toward doing what is necessary to protect their interests.

Nye’s second component of control is direct control, which consists of a wide range of constraints on individual propensities to commit deviant acts. Direct control includes numerous types of sanctions, such as jail and ridicule, and the restriction of one’s chances to commit criminal activity.

Nye’s third component of control is indirect control, which occurs when individuals are strongly attached to their early caregivers. For most children, it is through an intense and strong relationship with their parents or guardians that they establish an attachment to conventional society. However, Nye suggested that when the needs of an individual are not met by caregivers, inappropriate behavior can result.

As shown in Figure 10.6, Nye predicted a U-shaped curve of parental controls in predicting delinquency. Specifically, he argued that either no controls (i.e., complete freedom) or too much control (i.e., no freedom at all) would predict the most chronic delinquency. Instead, he believed that a healthy balance of freedom and parental control was the best strategy for inhibiting criminal activity. Some recent research supports Nye’s

prediction.79 We will see later in this chapter that contemporary control theories, such as Tittle’s control-

balance theory, draw heavily on Nye’s idea of having a healthy balance of controls and freedom.80

Reckless’s Containment Theory.

Another control theory, known as containment theory, has been proposed by Walter Reckless. 81 This theory emphasizes both inner containment and outer containment, which can be viewed as internal and external controls. Reckless broke from traditional assumptions of social control theories by identifying predictive factors that push and/or pull individuals toward antisocial behavior. However, the focus of his theory remained on the controlling elements, which can be seen in the emphasis placed on “containment” in the theory’s name.

Reckless claimed that individuals can be pushed into delinquency by their social environment, such as by a lack of opportunities for education or employment. Furthermore, he pointed out that some individual factors, such as brain disorders or risk-taking personalities, could push some people to commit criminal behavior. Reckless also noted that some individuals could be pulled into criminal activity by hanging out with delinquent peers, watching too much violence on television, and so on. All told, Reckless went beyond the typical control theory assumption of inborn tendencies. In addition to these natural dispositions toward deviant behavior, containment theory proposes that extra pushes and pulls can motivate people to commit crime.

Reckless further claimed that the pushes and pulls toward criminal behavior could be enough to force individuals into criminal activity unless they are sufficiently contained or controlled. Reckless claimed that such containment should be both internal and external. By inner containment, he meant building a person’s sense of


self. This would help the person resist the temptations of criminal activity. According to Reckless, other forms of inner containment include the ability of individuals to internalize societal norms. With respect to outer containment, Reckless claimed that social organizations, such as school, church, and other institutions, are essential in building bonds that inhibit individuals from being pushed or pulled into criminal activity.

Figure 10.6 Nye’s Control Theory

Source: Tibbetts, S., & Hemmens, C. (2010). Criminological theory: A text/reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, p. 456.

Reckless described a visual image of containment theory, which we present in Figure 10.7. The outer circle (Circle 1) in the figure represents the social realm of pressures and pulls, whereas the innermost circle (Circle 4) symbolizes a person’s individual-level pushes to commit crime. In between these two circles are the two layers of controls—namely, external containment (Circle 2) and internal containment (Circle 3). The structure

of Figure 10.7 and the examples included in each circle are those specifically noted by Reckless.82

While some studies have shown more general support for containment theory, other studies have shown that some of the components of the theory, such as internalization of rules, seem to have much more support in

accounting for variation in delinquency than do other factors, such as self-perception.83 In other words, external factors may be more important than internal ones. Furthermore, some studies have noted weaker support for Reckless’s theory among minorities and females. Thus, the model appears to be most valid for

white males.84

One of the problems with containment theory is that it does not go far enough toward specifying the factors that are important in predicting criminality. For example, an infinite number of concepts exist that could potentially be categorized as either a “push” or “pull” toward criminality, or as an “inner” or “outer”


containment of criminality. Thus, the theory could be considered too broad and not specific enough to be of practical value. To Reckless’s credit, though, containment theory has increased the exposure of control theories of criminal behavior. And although support for containment theory has been mixed, there is no doubt

that it has influenced other, more recent control theories.85

Figure 10.7 Reckless’s Containment Theory

Source: Tibbetts, S., & Hemmens, C. (2010). Criminological theory: A text/reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, p. 458.


Modern Social Control Theories

As the previous sections attest, control theory has been around, in various forms, for some time. Modern social control theories, to which we now turn our attention, build on these earlier versions of social control but also add a level of depth and sophistication. Two modern social control theories that we consider here are Matza’s drift theory and Hirschi’s social bonding theory.

Matza’s Drift Theory.

The theory of drift, presented by David Matza in 1964, claims that individuals offend at certain times in their

lives when social controls, such as parental supervision, employment, and family ties, are weakened.86 In developing his theory, Matza criticized earlier theories and their tendency to predict too much crime. For example, theories such as those of the Chicago School would wrongfully predict that all individuals in bad neighborhoods will commit crime. Likewise, strain theory predicts that all poor individuals will commit crime. Obviously, this is not true. Thus, Matza claimed that there is a degree of determinism (i.e., Positive School) in human behavior but also a significant amount of free will (i.e., Classical School). He called this perspective soft determinism, which is the gray area between free will and determinism. This is illustrated in Table 10.2.

Returning to the basics of Matza’s theory, he claimed that individuals offend at times in life when social controls are weakened. As is well-known, the time when social controls are most weakened for the majority of individuals is during their teenage years. It is at this time that parents and other caretakers stop having a constant supervisory role. At the same time, teenagers generally do not have too many responsibilities—such as careers or children—that would inhibit them from experimenting with deviance. This is consistent with the

well-known age–crime relationship; most individuals arrested are in their teenage years (see Figure 10.8).87

Once sufficient ties are developed, people tend to mature out of criminal lifestyles.

soft determinism: the assumption that both determinism and free will play a role in offenders’ decisions to engage in criminal behavior.

Matza further claimed that when supervision is absent and ties are minimal, the majority of individuals are the most “free” to do what they want. Where, then, does the term drift come from? As shown in Figure 10.8, it is during the times when people have few ties and obligations that they will “drift” in and out of delinquency. Matza pointed out that previous theories are unsuccessful in explaining this age–crime relationship. For example, he claimed that “most theories of delinquency take no account of maturational reform; those that do

often do so at the expense of violating their own assumptions regarding the constrained delinquent.”88

Matza insisted that “drifting” is not the same as a commitment to a life of crime. Instead, it is “experimenting” with questionable behavior and then rationalizing it. The way youth rationalize behavior that they know to be wrong is through the learning of techniques of neutralization, discussed earlier in this chapter.


Figure 10.8 Matza’s Theory of Drift

Source: Tibbetts, S., & Hemmens, C. (2010). Criminological Theory: Text/Reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications., p. 460.

Drift theory goes on to say that individuals do not reject the conventional normative structure. On the contrary, much offending is based on neutralizing or adhering to subterranean values that they have been socialized to use as a means of circumventing conventional values. This is basically the same as asserting one’s independence, which tends to occur with a vengeance during the teenage years.

As discussed in Chapter 8, subterranean values are quite prevalent and underlie many aspects of our culture. For example, while it is conventional to believe that violence is wrong, boxing and other injury-prone sports are some of the most popular spectator activities. Such phenomena create an atmosphere that readily allows


neutralization or rationalization of criminal activity.

Is boxing a socially acceptable form of violence?

Daniel Shirey/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

We will see other forms of subterranean values when we discuss risk-taking and low self-control later in this chapter. In many contexts (such as business), risk-taking and aggressiveness are seen as desirable characteristics; so many individuals are influenced by such subterranean values. This, according to Matza, adds to individuals’ likelihood of “drifting” into crime and delinquency.

Matza’s theory of drift seems sensible on its face, but empirical research examining the theory has been

mixed.89 One of the primary criticisms of Matza’s theory, which even he acknowledged, is that it does not explain the most chronic offenders, the people responsible for the vast majority of serious, violent crimes. Chronic offenders often offend long before and well past their teenage years, which clearly limits the predictive value of Matza’s theory.

Despite its shortcomings, Matza’s drift theory does appear to explain why many people offend exclusively during their teenage and young adult years but then grow out of it. Also, the theory is highly consistent with several of the ideas presented by control theorists, including the assumption that (1) selfish tendencies are universal, (2) these tendencies are inhibited by socialization and social controls, and (3) the selfish tendencies appear at times when controls are weakest. The theory goes beyond the previous control theories by adding the concepts of soft determinism, neutralization, and subterranean values, as well as the idea that in many contexts selfish and aggressive behaviors are not wrong but are actually desirable behaviors.


Hirschi’s Social Bonding Theory.

Perhaps the most influential social control theory was presented by Travis Hirschi in 1969.90 Hirschi’s theory of social bonding takes an assumption from Durkheim that “we are all animals, and thus naturally capable of

committing criminal acts.”91 However, as Hirschi acknowledged, most humans can be adequately socialized to become tightly bonded to conventional entities, such as families, schools, communities, and the like. Hirschi claimed also that the stronger a person is bonded to conventional society, the less prone to engaging in crime he or she will be. More specifically, the stronger the social bond, the less likely that an individual will commit criminal offenses.

social bonding: a control theory that assumes that individuals are predisposed to commit crime and that conventional bonds prevent or reduce offending. This bond is made up of four constructs: attachments, commitment, involvement, and moral beliefs regarding committing crime.

As shown in Figure 10.9, Hirschi’s social bond is made up of four elements: (1) attachment, (2) commitment, (3) involvement, and (4) beliefs. The “stronger” or more developed a person is in each of the four elements, the less likely he or she will be to commit crime. Let us now consider each element in detail.

The most important factor in the social bond is attachment, which consists of affectionate bonds between an individual and his or her significant others. Attachment is vitally important for the internalization of conventional values. Hirschi claimed that “the essence of internalization of norms, conscience, or superego

thus lies in the attachment of the individual to others.”92 Hirschi made it clear, as did Freud, that strong early attachments are the most important factor in developing a social bond. Commitment, involvement, and belief, he argued, are contingent on adequate attachment to others. That is, without healthy attachments, especially early in life, the probability of acting inappropriately increases.

Figure 10.9 Hirschi’s Social Bonding Theory


Source: Tibbetts, S., & Hemmens, C. (2010). Criminological theory: A text/reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, p. 462.

Commitment, the second element of Hirschi’s social bond, is the investment a person has in conventional society. This has been explained as one’s “stake in conformity,” or what is at risk of being lost if one gets caught committing crime. If a person feels that much will be lost by committing crime, then he or she will probably not do so. In contrast, if someone has nothing to lose, what is to prevent that person from doing something he or she may be punished for? The answer is, of course, not much. And this, some theorists claim, is why it is difficult to control so-called “chronic offenders” who have nothing to lose. Trying to instill a “commitment” to conventional society in such individuals is extremely difficult.

Another element of the social bond is involvement, which is the time spent in conventional activities. The assumption is that time spent in constructive activities will reduce time devoted to illegal behaviors. This

element of the bond goes back to the old adage that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”93 Hirschi claimed that taking an active role in all forms of conventional activities can inhibit delinquent and criminal activity.

The last element of the social bond is beliefs, which have generally been interpreted as moral beliefs concerning the laws and rules of society. This is one of the most examined, and consistently supported, aspects of the social bond. Basically, individuals who feel that a course of action is against their moral beliefs are much less likely to pursue it than are individuals who don’t see a breach of morality in such behavior. For example, we all probably know some people who see drunk driving as a serious offense because of the injury and death it can cause. However, we also probably know individuals who don’t see a problem with such behavior. The same can be said about speeding in a car, shoplifting from a store, or using marijuana; people differ in their beliefs about most forms of criminal activity.

According to Hirschi, participating in conventional activities can inhibit delinquent and criminal activity.



Hirschi’s theory has been tested by numerous researchers and has, for the most part, been supported.94

However, one criticism is that the components of the social bond may predict criminality only if they are defined in a certain way. For example, with respect to the “involvement” element of the bond, studies have shown that not all conventional activities are equal when it comes to preventing delinquency. Only academic or religious activities seem to have consistent effects on inhibiting delinquency. In contrast, many studies show

that teenagers who date or play sports actually have an increased risk of committing crime.95

Another major criticism of Hirschi’s theory is that the effects of “attachments” on crime depend on whom one is attached to. As explained earlier in this chapter, studies have clearly and consistently shown that attachment to delinquent peers is a strong predictor of criminal activity.

Finally, some evidence indicates that social bonding theory may better explain reasons why individuals start offending but not reasons why people continue or escalate in their offending. One reason for this is that Hirschi’s theory does not elaborate on what occurs after an individual commits criminal activity. This is likely the primary reason why some of the more complex integrated theories of crime (some of which are discussed below) often attribute the initiation of delinquency to a breakdown in the social bond. However, they typically see other theories (such as differential reinforcement) as better predictors of what happens after the initial

stages of the criminal career.96

Despite the criticism it has received, Hirschi’s social bonding theory is still one of the most accepted theories

of criminal behavior.97 It is a relatively convincing explanation for criminality because of the consistent


support it has found among samples of people taken from all over the world.98


Integrated Social Control Theories

It is worthwhile to briefly discuss the two integrated models that most incorporate the control perspective into their frameworks. These two integrated models are control-balance theory and power-control theory. Both have received considerable attention in the criminological literature.

Tittle’s Control-Balance Theory.

Presented by Charles Tittle in 1995, control-balance theory proposes that (1) the amount of control to which one is subjected and (2) the amount of control one can exercise determine the probability of deviance occurring. The “balance” between these two types of control, he argued, can even predict the type of behavior likely to be


Tittle argued that a person is least likely to offend when he or she has a balance of controlling and being controlled. Further, the likelihood of offending will increase when these factors become imbalanced. If individuals are more controlled (Tittle calls this control deficit), then the theory predicts that they will commit predatory or defiant acts. In contrast, if an individual possesses an excessive level of control (Tittle calls this control surplus), then he or she will be more likely to commit acts of exploitation or decadence. Note that excessive control is not the same as excessive self-control. Tittle argues that people who are controlling—that is, who have excessive control over others—will be predisposed toward inappropriate activities.

Initial empirical tests of control-balance theory have reported mixed results, with both surpluses and deficits

predicting the same types of deviance.100 Additionally, researchers have uncovered differing effects of the control-balance ratio on two types of deviance that are contingent on gender. This finding is consistent with

the gender-specific support found for Reckless’s containment theory, described earlier in this chapter.101

Hagan’s Power-Control Theory.

Power-control theory is another integrated theory, proposed by John Hagan and his colleagues.102 The primary focus of this theory is on the level of patriarchal attitudes and structure in the household, which are influenced by parental positions in the workforce. Power-control theory assumes that in households where the mother and father have relatively similar levels of power at work (i.e., balanced households), mothers will be less likely to exert control over their daughters. These balanced households will be less likely to experience gender differences in the criminal offending of the children. However, households in which mothers and fathers have dissimilar levels of power in the workplace (i.e., unbalanced households) are more likely to suppress criminal activity in daughters. Additionally, assertiveness and risky activity among the males in the house will be encouraged. This assertiveness and risky activity may be a precursor to crime.

Most empirical tests of power-control have provided moderate support for the theory, while more recent

studies have further specified the validity of the theory in different contexts.103 For example, one recent study reported that the influence of mothers, not fathers, on sons had the greatest impact on reducing the


delinquency of young males.104 Another researcher has found that differences in perceived threats of

embarrassment and formal sanctions varied between more patriarchal and less patriarchal households.105

Finally, studies have also started measuring the effect of patriarchal attitudes on crime and delinquency.106

Power-control theory is a good example of a social control theory in that it is consistent with the idea that individuals must be socialized and that the gender differences in such socialization affect how people will act throughout life.

We will revisit this theory again in Chapter 12.

Power-control theory focuses on the patriarchal attitudes and structure in the household.

©iStockphoto.com/Pamela Moore


A General Theory of Crime: Low Self-Control

In 1990, Hirschi, along with his colleague Michael Gottfredson, proposed a general theory of low self-

control, which is often referred to as the general theory of crime.107 This theory has led to a significant amount of debate and research in the field since its appearance, more so than any other contemporary theory of crime. Like the previous control theories of crime, this theory assumes that individuals are born predisposed toward selfish, self-centered activities and that only effective child rearing and socialization can create self- control among persons. As shown in Figure 10.10, without such adequate socialization (i.e., social controls) and reduction of criminal opportunities, individuals will follow their natural tendencies to become selfish predators. Furthermore, the general theory of crime assumes that self-control must be established by age 10. If it has not formed by that time, according to the theory, individuals will forever exhibit low self-control.

Although Gottfredson and Hirschi still attribute the formation of controls to the socialization process, the distinguishing characteristic of this theory is its emphasis on the individual’s ability to control himself or herself. That is, the general theory of crime assumes that people can take a degree of control over their own decisions and, within certain limitations, “control” themselves.

The general theory of crime is accepted as one of the most valid theories of crime.108 This is probably because it identifies only one primary factor that causes criminality—low self-control. But low self-control may actually consist of a series of personality traits, including risk taking, impulsiveness, self-centeredness, short- term orientation, and quick temper. For example, recent research has supported the idea that inadequate child-rearing practices tend to result in lower levels of self-control among children and that these low levels

produce various risky behaviors, including criminal activity.109

low self-control: a theory that proposes that individuals either develop self-control by age 10 or do not. Those who do not will manifest criminal or deviant behaviors throughout life.


Psychological Aspects of Low Self-Control

Criminologists have recently claimed that low self-control may be due to the emotional disposition of individuals. For example, one study showed that the effects of low self-control on intentions to commit drunk driving and shoplifting were tied to individuals’ perceptions of pleasure and shame. More specifically, the findings of this study showed that individuals who had low self-control had significantly lower levels of anticipated shame but significantly higher levels of perceived pleasure in committing both drunk driving and

shoplifting.110 These results suggest that individuals who lack self-control will be oriented toward gaining pleasure and taking advantage of resources but also toward avoiding negative emotional feelings (e.g., shame) that are primarily induced through socialization.


Physiological Aspects of Low Self-Control

Low self-control can also be tied to physiological factors. Interestingly, research has shown that chronic

offenders show greater arousal toward danger and risk taking than toward the possibility of punishment.111

This arousal has been measured by monitoring brain activity in response to certain stimuli. The research suggests that individuals are encouraged to commit risky behavior due to physiological mechanisms that reward

their risk-taking activities by releasing “pleasure” chemicals in the brain.112

Figure 10.10 Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Theory of Low Self-Control

In a similar vein, recent studies show that chronic gamblers tend to get a physiological “high” (a sudden, intense release of brain chemicals similar to that following a small dose of cocaine) from the activity of betting,

particularly when they are gambling with their own money and risking a personal loss.113 Undoubtedly, there exists a minority group of individuals who thrive off of risk-taking behaviors significantly more than others do. This suggests that there are not just psychological differences among people but also physiological differences that may explain why certain individuals favor risky behaviors.

Researchers have also found that criminal offenders generally perceive a significantly lower level of internal

sanctions (e.g., shame, guilt, embarrassment) than do nonoffenders.114 So, in summary, a select group of individuals appear to derive physiological and psychological pleasure from engaging in risky behaviors while simultaneously being less likely to be inhibited by internal emotional sanctions. Such a combination, Gottfredson and Hirschi claimed, is dangerous and helps explain why some impulsive individuals often end up in prison.


Finally, the psychological and physiological aspects of low self-control may help explain the gender differences observed between males and females. Specifically, studies show that females are significantly more likely than

males to experience internal emotional sanctioning for offenses they have committed.115 In other words, there appears to be something innately different about males and females that helps explain the differing levels of self-control each possesses.

Control perspectives are among the oldest and most respected explanations of criminal activity. The fundamental assumption that humans have an inborn, selfish disposition that must be controlled through socialization distinguishes control theories from other theories of crime. The ability of the control perspective to remain among the most popular criminological theories demonstrates its legitimacy as an explanation of behavior. This is likely due to the dedication and efforts of criminologists who are constantly developing new and improved versions of control theory, many of which we have discussed here.


Learning Check 10.3 1. Which theorist(s) developed the theory of drift?

1. Gottfredson and Hirschi 2. Tittle 3. Hagan 4. Matza

2. Which theorist(s) developed the integrated theory of power-control? 1. Gottfredson and Hirschi 2. Tittle 3. Hagan 4. Matza

3. Which theory emphasizes the concepts of control deficit and control surplus? 1. Theory of drift 2. Social bonding theory 3. Differential reinforcement theory 4. Control-balance theory

Answers located at www.edge.sagepub.com/schram2e


Policy Implications

Learning theories, such as differential association, focus on the influence of role models and significant others on individuals’ attitudes and behaviors. Thus, one needs to emphasize positive, or prosocial, role models and avoid negative, or antisocial, role models. For example, a standard condition of an individual’s probation or

parole is that he or she not associate with any known felons:121

Associates: You shall not associate with individuals who have criminal records or other individuals as deemed inappropriate by the Division. You shall not have any contact with persons confined in a correctional institution unless specific written permission has been granted by your supervising officer

and the correctional institution.122

Why Do They Do It?


Jesse Pomeroy

AP Photo

Jesse Pomeroy was born on November 29, 1859, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. His father, Thomas, was a violent alcoholic. He would often go on drinking binges and then proceed to beat his two sons, Charles and Jesse. Jesse’s mother, Ruth Ann, eventually divorced Thomas in the 1870s; divorce was extremely uncommon during this time. In fact, Ruth Ann revealed that she divorced her husband after one of these brutal beatings:

Jesse later admitted to his doctors that his father had made him go to his room and strip totally naked, whereupon Thomas had proceeded to lash out with a leather belt . . . [Jesse] realized the beatings . . . were not that bad, not nearly as horrific as the relentless pummeling he had received almost four years earlier, when his father had taken Jesse, just eight years old, to an abandoned shed in the woods. There Thomas had become so enraged that the blows from a horsewhip had nearly killed his


Ruth Ann realized that Jesse was a strong-willed boy. Jesse was often made fun of at school, primarily because of a deformity in his right eye. Jesse’s teacher complained of his problem behavior at school. The teacher noted that he was a loner; he preferred to read cheap “dime novels.” During this time, these novels were full of violence, sex, battles, and mayhem. Eventually, Ruth Ann was asked to remove her son from school.

Jesse’s problems were not restricted to just school. His mother brought home two yellow canaries; she would come home looking forward to their chirping in the wooden cage. One afternoon, she came home to find the two canaries dead—their necks were twisted off their bodies. Prior to this, a neighbor had told Ruth Ann that her little kitten had gone missing. A few days later, Ruth Ann watched Jesse walking down a nearby street with the dead kitten in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other. In 1871, there were reports that children in the next city over, Chelsea, were being beaten by an older boy. Some of these children were sexually assaulted. The victims reported that this boy would offer them money and treats; then he would suggest they go to a remote locate.

There he would abuse the children.117 The newspapers referred to him as “The Boy Torturer” and “The Red Devil.” After reading a description of this boy in the Boston Globe, Ruth Ann recognized this was her son; she moved her family to South Boston. In August of 1872, a young boy was found tortured in South Boston; a month later, a child was found beaten, assaulted, and tied up to a telephone pole. This victim, however, was able to give a very detailed description. This resulted in Jesse Pomeroy being arrested and sentenced to the State Reform School at Westborough for the remainder of his minor-status years (e.g., six years). Ruth Ann,

however, diligently worked to have her son released earlier; Jesse was released months after.118

In March 1874, nine-year-old Katie Curran disappeared. During the investigation, it was revealed that the last place she had been


seen was at the Pomeroys’ shop; Jesse was interrogated, but there was no arrest at that time. In April, the body of four-year-old Horace Millen was found on the beach of Dorchester Bay. His throat had been cut and he had been stabbed 15 times; also, one of his eyes had been torn out. The police recalled the beatings of the other children two years earlier and arrested Jesse Pomeroy; he was 14 years old at the time. In July 1874, Jesse confessed to Horace Millen’s murder. Jesse Pomeroy also confessed to the murder of Katie Curran. He had lured her into the basement of his mother’s dress shop. He had then cut her throat and buried her body under

an ash heap. When he was asked why he committed the murders, he stated, “I couldn’t help it.”119 On September 7, 1876, Jesse Pomeroy was sentenced to death. Subsequently, his sentence was commuted to life in prison—solitary confinement. In 1916, he was released from solitary confinement and was allowed to mix with other prisoners at the Charlestown Prison. On September 29, 1932,

he died at the age of 73 years.120


Think About It: So why did he do it? As described by the theories presented in this chapter, specifically various social control theories (such as Hirschi’s theory of social bonding) and socialization theories (e.g., differential association theory, differential reinforcement theory), it appears that Jesse Pomeroy never had much of a chance to form strong social bonds with conventional society, nor was he adequately socialized. To clarify, his father was abusive. He was considered a loner at school. He began early in life to demonstrate cruel behavior to animals. Thus, do you think Jesse Pomeroy engaged in such behaviors out of selfishness and personal satisfaction, and without any empathy for his victims, because that was what his experience in the world taught him to do?

If you maintain that Jesse had low self-control so he engaged in these behaviors, then why did he have such low self-control?

What types of things could have been done to improve Jesse’s low self-control?

Programs such as Head Start attempt to provide youths with more positive or favorable definitions of conventional behavior. Various school districts are incorporating conflict resolution programs into their

curricula.123 Tremblay and Craig maintained that the developmental prevention approach is primarily founded on the premise that criminal activity is influenced by behavioral and attitudinal patterns that are learned during an individual’s development. In their review of various preventive interventions, however, they stated,

It does appear that money invested in early (e.g., preschool) prevention efforts with at-risk families will give greater pay-offs than money invested in later (e.g., adolescence) prevention efforts with the same at- risk families. This general rule is not easy to apply, because juvenile delinquents attract much more public

attention than high risk infants or toddlers.124

In reference to social control theories, policies focus on enhancing more crime and delinquency control measures. These types of efforts are often popular from the public perspective. In a similar vein, programs have been developed that attempt to engage youths in more conventional-type activities. Thus, programs such

as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, and Little League baseball are examples of such programming.125



In the first section, we discussed learning theories. These theories focus on the process of how and why individuals learn criminal behavior, including the techniques, justifications, and underlying values. These theories also give substantial attention to significant people involved in the socialization process—specifically, family, friends, and important others. Learning theories continue to be helpful in our understanding of criminal behavior, as shown by virtually all empirical studies that have evaluated the validity of these theoretical models. If we theorize that individuals learn various techniques, justifications, and values that influence their potential to engage in criminal activity, then these individuals can also learn how to engage in law-abiding behavior.

In the latter half of this chapter, we examined a large number of control theories, which assume that individuals are essentially born naturally greedy and selfish and that we have to be controlled to resist acting on these inherent drives. Although the many different control theories have some unique distinctions, they all share one key underlying assumption: They all assume that people must be socialized in such a way that their learning of right and wrong will control the antisocial tendencies they are born with.

In this chapter, we discussed a wide range of theories that may appear to be quite different. However, it is important to remember that all the criminological theories covered in this chapter share an emphasis on social processes as the primary reason why individuals commit crime. This is true for the learning theories, which propose that people are taught to commit crime, as well as for the control theories, which claim that people offend naturally and must be taught not to commit crime. Despite their seemingly opposite assumptions of human behavior, the fact is that learning and control theories both identify socialization, or the lack thereof, as the key cause of criminal behavior.


Summary of Theories in Chapter 10


Key Terms

classical conditioning, 255 collective conscience, 272 control theories, 251 differential association theory, 253 differential identification, 258 differential reinforcement theory, 258 learning theories, 251 low self-control, 282 modeling/imitation, 258 negative reinforcement, 263 operant conditioning, 258 positive reinforcement, 263 social bonding, 279 soft determinism, 277 techniques of neutralization, 267


Discussion Questions 1. What distinguishes learning theories from other criminological theories? 2. What distinguishes differential association from differential reinforcement theory? 3. What did differential identification add to learning theories? 4. Which technique of neutralization do you use/relate to the most? Why? 5. Which technique of neutralization do you find least valid? Why? 6. Which element of Hirschi’s social bond do you find you have the highest levels of? 7. Which element of Hirschi’s social bond do you find you have the lowest levels of? 8. Can you identify someone you know who fits the profile of a person with low self-control? 9. Which aspects of the low self-control personality do you think you fit?

10. Regarding Matza’s theory of drift, do you think this relates to when you or your friends have committed crimes in your lives? Why or why not?

Web Resources

Social Learning Theories http://sociology.about.com/od/Sociological-Theory/a/Social-Learning-Theory.htm http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/sociallearning.htm Control Theories http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396607/obo-9780195396607-0091.xml http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvwd8R5_OGs http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2008/11/gottfredson-and.html

Student Study Site


Get the tools you need to sharpen your study skills:

SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration, keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and learning. Learn more at edge.sagepub.com/schram2e.


Selling Kids on Veggies when Rules Like ‘Clean Your Plate’ Fail

To End the Cycle of Crime, Italian Judge Breaks Up Big-Time Mafia Families

Preventing Juvenile Detention With a Blank Canvas and a Can of Spray Paint

An examination of differential association and social control theory: Family systems and delinquency


Techniques of neutralization and persistent sexual abuse by clergy: A content analysis of priest personnel files from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

A partial test of Agnew’s general theory of crime and delinquency.

Francis Weaver, Son Of Notorious Child Killer Ward Weaver III, Charged In Homicide

Children, Violence, and Trauma—A Call to Action

One of the Most Dangerous Schools in America-ABC World News Tonight-ABC News

Hidden Camera Experiment: Young Kids Drawn to Guns-ABC World News- ABC News

The Difference Between Classical and Operant Conditioning- Peggy Andover

Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment

Aileen Wuornos

Parents Take Guns to Schools

Victim Fights Back

Predictive Policing


Check out the Interactive eBook for premium videos, including videos from author Stephen Tibbetts, who discusses real-world examples and strange crimes; and videos from former offenders, who share their stories from a first-person view, and touch on key theories and concepts from the chapter.



11 Labeling Theory and Conflict/Marxist/Radical Theories of Crime


Learning Objectives As you read this chapter, consider the following topics:

Summarize the foundational ideas of labeling theory. Describe the basic assumptions of labeling theory. Evaluate the research and criticisms of labeling theory. Explain the key features of the consensus view of the law. State the distinguishing features of conservative (pluralist) and critical-radical perspectives. List the key features of Marxist theory as they relate to criminological theories. Evaluate the research and criticisms of labeling theory. Describe the key contributors of alternative perspectives such as peacemaking criminology, the restorative justice perspective, and left realism. Discuss the policy implications of labeling and conflict theories of crime.



During the 1960s and 1970s, one of the most prominent paradigms to rival traditional theoretical

explanations of crime was radical and/or critical criminology.4 Traditional criminology theories (e.g., classical and positive) were considered a part of mainstream criminology; they had a tendency to support the status quo and the dominant ideologies of that time. Critical criminology, however, was initially based on a critique of

both the state and the political economy of crime and crime control.5 While this earlier radical criminological perspective continued for a relatively brief time, this framework is typically used as a gauge for assessing

whether theories in the 1980s and 1990s were evolving or devolving.6

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, this radical perspective was transforming. First, the paradigm was designated as critical rather than radical. Second, while the earlier radical paradigm primarily focused on Marxist and neo-Marxist frameworks of class, state, and social control, the critical paradigm began to broaden its focus and diversify. A common feature of the earlier radical and subsequent critical perspectives, however, is their “anti-establishment stances or criticisms, their pursuits of transformation of one kind or another, and

their relative appreciations for the political economy of crime and crime control.”7

This chapter presents several critical criminology theories. We start with a discussion on labeling theory. Next, we focus on selected contributions to the conflict perspective, including the conservative (pluralist) and the Marxist/radical. Additional critical perspectives are reviewed, including peacemaking criminology, restorative justice, and left realism. This chapter concludes by presenting examples of policies and programs related to the labeling and conflict theories of crime.


Labeling Theory

As with fashions, ideas can be influenced by changing fads, even ideas that attempt to explain crime.8

Labeling theory came to the forefront during a time when various assumptions concerning societal authority were being questioned and reexamined. Near the end of the 1950s, the unfair and inequitable treatment of underprivileged individuals in society was becoming a widespread concern for many Americans. As a result, protests and demonstrations were held to fight for civil rights and women’s rights. Others were also questioning the legitimacy of political authority regarding U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam. Thus, many protested the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War; a number of these protests were held on college campuses.


Case Study


The Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis To save money, in April 2014, the state of Michigan decided to switch Flint’s water supply from the treated Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water to the Flint River. The Detroit water supply was essentially from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. However, the problem with the switch to water from the Flint River was that officials had failed to employ corrosion inhibitors. The switch was implemented during a time when the city of Flint was in a state of emergency. It was intended to be temporary; a new state-run supply line to Lake Huron was to be connected in approximately two years.

Soon, the residents of Flint began to notice that the water started to look, smell, and taste funny. Some thought it was sewage, but it was actually iron. What made things worse was that residents did not realize that a large number of water lines to their homes were made of lead. Since the water was not property treated, lead started to leach into the water supply. This continued for almost two years. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, was noticing more and more frantic parents concerned over their children’s rashes and hair loss. By comparing blood lead levels in toddlers, Dr. Hanna-Attisha found that these levels had doubled, in some instances tripled, after switching the water supply to the Flint River. When she released her findings, initially officials denounced her work, accusing her of causing hysteria. A week later, they admitted her findings were correct.

In October 2015, the city switched back to using Detroit water, but this did not address the damage that was done to the lead pipes. The state then responded by distributing filters and bottled water. However, there are potential long-term health consequences. Dr. Hanna- Attisha stated that lead is “a well-known, potent neurotoxin. There’s tons of evidence on what lead does to a child, and it is one of the most damning things that you can do to a population. It drops your IQ, it affects your behaviour, it’s been linked to criminality, it has

multigenerational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.”1

In April 2016, criminal charges were filed against three officials:

Mike Glasgow, Flint’s Laboratory and Water Quality Supervisor Mike Prysby, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) official Stephen Busch, Lansing district coordinator for the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance

The various charges against these officials include misconduct in office; conspiracy—tampering with evidence; treatment violation—

Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act; and willful neglect of duty.2

For over 30 years, Flint has been steadily declining given that the automotive industry was the foundation of that city. As a result, it has

declined in population and employment while experiencing increases in poverty and violent crime.3 Do you think this could have happened in a more affluent area? As one resident stated, “you can’t treat cities the way you treat some corporation that you might just sort of sell off.”


Think About It: 1. Do you think social class could explain how this situation was handled? 2. Do you think this could have happened in a more affluent area? 3. What would be some suggested policies/programs that could be developed that would prevent this from happening again in Flint

or any other city?


Within this broader societal context, scholars were also beginning to question existing explanations of crime. These scholars maintained that too much emphasis was placed on explaining individual characteristics contributing to criminal behavior. These scholars were concerned with the structure of social class and power; thus, the labeling perspective is not overly concerned with questions of why an individual engages in deviant behavior. Rather, this perspective focuses on such questions as, Who applies the deviant label to whom? Who

establishes and enforces the rules?9 Specifically, these scholars argued that it is important to understand how criminal, or deviant, behavior is defined or labeled. Furthermore, these scholars were interested in how society reacts to this labeled behavior.

Comparing water from the Flint River and the Detroit River. Which would you rather drink?



Foundation of Labeling Theory

Labeling theory was influenced by symbolic interactionism, especially from the works of Charles Horton Cooley, William I. Thomas, George Herbert Mead, and Erving Goffman. Symbolic interactionism focuses on how an individual’s personality and thought processes evolve through social interactions such as symbolic language and gestures. Cooley argued that an individual gains a sense of his or her social self through primary

groups or significant others.10 Thus, if a child learns how to spell a word correctly and a teacher tells her that she did an excellent job, that child will feel a sense of pride and pleasure. If, however, the child misbehaves in the classroom and the teacher reprimands her, she may feel a sense of shame and embarrassment. Cooley identified this process of obtaining one’s self-image through the “eyes of others” as the looking-glass self. This also illustrates the influence of primary groups. Cooley noted that primary groups are those characterized by

intimate and personal interactions.11 Some of the most important primary groups are the neighborhood and

play groups, and especially the family.12

While Cooley essentially focused on the process of self-formation during childhood, Thomas was concerned

with the later years, specifically when the adult self is redefined.13 Further, Thomas maintained that to understand human behavior, one needs to understand the “total situation,” which consists of objective factors

as well as an individual’s subjective definitions of those factors.14 One needs to understand the “definition of

the situation.”15

Mead identified two types of social interaction—nonsymbolic interaction and symbolic interaction. Nonsymbolic interaction occurs when individuals respond to gestures or actions. For instance, two dogs may go through a series of gestures (e.g., snarling, growling, baring teeth). The dogs are responding to each other’s gestures. These responses are dictated by preexisting tendencies to respond in certain ways. These dogs are not responding to the intention of the gestures; therefore, these animal interactions are devoid of any conscious or

deliberate meaning.16 Symbolic interaction occurs when individuals interpret each other’s gestures and act based on the meaning of those gestures. Mead was primarily interested in symbolic interaction. Specifically, Mead was concerned with the “interpretation, or ascertaining the meaning of the actions or remarks of the other person, and definition, or conveying indications to another person as to how he is to act [italics in

original].”17 Symbolic interactionism emphasizes how human behavior and social relationships are developed through social interactions. This perspective focuses on how an individual’s behavior is intertwined with another’s.

labeling theory: theoretical perspective that assumes that criminal behavior increases because certain individuals are caught and labeled as offenders; their offending increases because they have been stigmatized.

symbolic interactionism: proposes that many social interactions involve symbolism, which occurs when individuals interpret each other’s words or gestures and act based on the meaning of those gestures.

An essential component of symbolic interactionism is that individuals who are stigmatized as being deviant

are predisposed to take on a deviant self-identity.18 Goffman defined stigma as an “attribute that is deeply


discrediting” and that diminishes the individual “from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted

one.”19 He maintained that stigmatized individuals differ from “normals” in terms of how society reacts to

them. Subsequently, society attributes a wide range of deficiencies based on the original perceived flaw. In the next section, we further explore how symbolic interactionism influenced labeling theory.

Do you think some people would “label” this individual? What types of “labels” would some people apply to this individual?


Frank Tannenbaum: The Dramatization of Evil

Many scholars identify the origins of the labeling perspective in Frank Tannenbaum’s 1938 publication, Crime and the Community. Drawing on the school of symbolic interactionism, Tannenbaum focused on the process that occurs after an individual has been caught and designated as violating the law. He maintained that there

is a gradual shift from the definition of the specific act as evil to the definition of the individual as evil.20

The “community’s point of view,” or the social reaction to illegal behavior, is designated the dramatization of evil. According to Tannenbaum, the process of making the criminal involves tagging, defining, and identifying the individual as such, resulting with that person becoming the very thing he or she is described as

being.21 Tannenbaum contends that the first dramatization of evil has a greater influence on “making the criminal” than any other experience.

Along with the dramatization of evil, Tannenbaum argued that acts are not inherently good or bad; rather, there are differing degrees of good and bad. The social reactions also influence how those behaviors will be labeled. Furthermore, these behaviors are placed within a context that includes such factors as a person’s social status and the social setting. For instance, society might react differently to an attorney drinking a glass of wine at dinner than to a homeless person drinking a bottle of wine on a street corner.


Edwin M. Lemert: Primary and Secondary Deviance

In his 1951 book, Social Pathology, Edwin Lemert made a significant contribution to the labeling perspective by distinguishing between primary deviance and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is behavior that is situational or occasional. A person uses excuses or rationalizations to justify his or her deviant behavior. These behaviors continue to be considered “primary deviations or symptomatic and situational as long as they are

rationalized or otherwise dealt with as functions of a socially acceptable role.”22 Lemert argued that this process occurs either through normalization (i.e., a problem of everyday life) or through minimal controls that

do not seriously hinder individuals’ getting along with each other.23 Thus, a person engaging in primary deviant behavior perceives the behavior as bad; this individual, however, does not perceive himself or herself as a bad person.

Secondary deviance is deviant behavior, or social roles based upon it, which becomes a means of defense, attack, or adaptation to the overt and covert problems created by the societal reaction to primary deviation. In effect, the original “causes” of the deviation recede and give way to the central importance

of the disapproving, degradational, and isolating reactions of society.24

dramatization of evil: a concept proposed by Tannenbaum in relation to labeling theory; states that when relatively minor laws are broken, the community tends to dramatize it.

primary deviance: in labeling theory, the type of minor, infrequent offending people commit before they are caught and labeled as offenders.

secondary deviance: in labeling theory, the more serious, frequent offending people commit after they have been caught and labeled as offenders.

A person engaging in secondary deviant behavior uses this behavior as a way to defend against, or adjust to, the various problems related to the social reactions to his or her primary deviance.

The sequence of interaction that results in secondary deviation essentially consists of the following: (1) primary deviation; (2) social penalties; (3) further primary deviation; (4) stronger penalties and rejections; (5) further deviation, possibly with hostilities and resentment toward those imposing the penalties; (6) crisis reaching the tolerance quotient, expressed in formal action by the community stigmatizing the deviant; (7) strengthening of the deviant conduct as a reaction to the stigmatizing and penalties; and (8) ultimate

acceptance of the deviant social status and efforts at adjusting to the associated role.25 (See Figure 11.1 for an example of the process of secondary deviation.) A key aspect of secondary deviance is not only society’s reaction to the individual’s behavior but also the individual’s response to that reaction. According to this perspective, when the societal reaction and label are integrated into an individual’s self-image, they will likely lead to the amplification of deviance.



Howard S. Becker: The Dimensions of Deviance

In 1963, another major contribution to the labeling perspective was Howard S. Becker’s Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. Becker argued that the term outsiders refers to those individuals considered by others to be deviant; these labeled individuals are deemed to be “outside” the circle of the “normal” members of the

group.26 Furthermore, deviance is created by society. Social groups create deviance by making the rules, whose infraction is considered deviance, and