Informative Essay on Criminology Theories

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Criminologists are always trying to get to the root of why people commit crimes and create theories on why those same people act in the manner that they do. There are many theories that account for why people commit crimes and what drives them to do so. Recently through this course, the class has touched base on a few of these key theories, such as social disorganization or social ecology, the code of the streets, social learning, and biosocial theories. With these theories in mind, criminologists can get to the core of why crime is committed, and how these theories need to coincide with one another to work. This essay will touch on what each of these theories is, and how they work with each other.

As the class has moved through the course, we have found out that most of the time, when there is poverty, there tends to be a crime. This would indicate that if there is a lack of jobs and income in turn there will be higher crime rates to not only supplement income but also get by. Also, if someone is associated with peers who are inclined to crime, they too will participate and feel little remorse because the reward is greater at the time the crime had been committed.

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The first theory to look at is social disorganization or social ecology and what it exactly is. The main goal of these theories is to look at the factors that affect the local community and how it affects the crime rate within that area. Wilson writes: “The decline in federal support for cities since 1980 coincided with an increase in the immigration of people from poorer countries – mainly low-skilled workers from Mexico – and whites steadily moving to the suburbs. With minorities displacing whites as a growing share of the population, the implications for the urban tax base were profound, especially in America's cities”. This provides insight as to how the federal government views cities and, in turn, may give a glimpse as to why people in these areas may act the way they do. It also shows that with a higher tax rate in these areas of poverty, there may be more of a reason for crime to develop due to the higher rate of poverty.

Another theory that has been looked at in this course is the code of the streets. This theory arose from “the street culture that has evolved into what may be called the code of the streets, which amounts to a set of informal rules governing interpersonal public behavior, including violence” (Anderson). To break it down, it means that things in the ‘streets’, which tend to be an urban setting need to happen in a certain manner. “At the heart of this code is the issue of respect, loosely defined as being treated right” (Anderson). Though the definition in recent times of respect has changed and is in a way hard to define. People who live by this code tend to do whatever it may take to defend themselves.

Moving on to the next theory, social learning, which states: “The probability that persons will engage in criminal and deviant behavior is increased and the probability of their conforming to the norm is decreased when they differentially associate with others who commit criminal behavior and espouse definitions favorable to it, are relatively more exposed in-person or symbolically to salient criminal/deviant models, define it as desirable or justified in a situation discriminative for the behavior, and have received in the past and anticipate in the current or future situation relatively greater reward than punishment for the behavior” (Akers). This theory states that when someone is associated with people who commit crimes, they too will be at a higher risk of committing a crime. It also goes on to say that those who commit crimes see a higher reward than the punishment for the crime that they have committed. Akers also has proposed the SSSL (social structure and social learning) model, in which social structural factors are hypothesized to have an indirect effect on an individual's conduct. They affect the social learning variables of differential association, differential reinforcement, definitions, and imitation, which in turn have a direct impact on an individual's conduct. It breaks down that social structure has a direct impact on an individual’s conduct and how they act in such a manner.

The final theory that was talked about is biosocial theory and how that affects the criminal intentions of people who commit crimes. The main focus of this theory is to take a look at how early health risks, minor physical anomalies, prenatal nicotine and alcohol exposure, birth complications, genetics, hormones, and neurotransmitters. All of these play a role in how a person will act and feel in certain situations and, in turn, how and if they will commit a crime. So, it's said that every level of analysis of biological factors – from molecular genetics to brain structure and function, to neuropsychological performance – has found links between biology and antisocial behavior. Likewise, several social or environmental factors such as maltreatment, socioeconomic status, education, and so on are believed to contribute to crime and aggression. This means that biological and mistreatment, mixed with education and socioeconomic status, indicate how aggressive a person will be and, in turn, the likelihood of them committing a crime.

Now that all the theories are explained in what they mean and how they operate, it's time to dig into why they work with each other and how they make one another possible. It is said that social disorganization can lead to the rising of the code of the streets. This is ever so prominent and correct as an argument. When the community is high in poverty and tightly congested in a small space, this leads to a rise in crime rates, such as in urban settings. It also seems that there was scant media attention to the problem of concentrated urban poverty (neighborhoods in which a high percentage of the residents fall beneath the federally designated poverty line), little or no discussion of inner-city challenges by mainstream political leaders, and even an apparent quiescence on the part of ghetto residents themselves. What this correlates to is that the rise of the code of the streets is due in part to what America has done with its inner-city populations by seemingly letting them hang out to dry. Not only that, the urban locations and people who reside in them took matters into their own hands and devised a way of handling situations in front of them and that is through the code of the streets.

Now not only can social disorganization lead to the rising of the code of the streets, but learning theory and biosocial theory can explain why some people living in a high crime area engage in crime while others do not. Learning theory breaks down that people who tend to be around others who commit crimes will, in turn, also commit crimes as well. Though this argument isn't always true and the reasoning behind that is biosocial theory. Biosocial theory takes many aspects such as health risks, exposures, and even genetics play a role in how one will engage in crime. When someone with strong willpower is presented with a situation of being offered to join in on a crime, they may decline, though they tend to hang out and be around criminals. While someone with weak willpower or an addictive personality will take part in crimes being committed by their peers. Regardless, biosocial theory clearly explains learning theory, and one by one they would almost be incomplete and make little to no sense.

There are specific ways to help reduce crime within these communities. The first and foremost is to take a look and offer help to these struggling communities in the form of outreach programs and even federal programs. The next thing to be done is to eliminate the amount of poverty within these urban settings. This will cause the code of the streets to decline and people will not have to defend themselves as much and can in turn provide back to the community. The next thing would be to try and get more education within the communities about biosocial theory and how that relates to a person's genetic makeup. This means that people may have the predisposition to commit a crime and if people were informed it may help reduce the likelihood of this occurring. Finally, once these things are in place and full swing, people can finally relax and stop committing crimes to stay afloat. If this occurs, learning theory becomes almost obsolete and people will stop committing crimes based on their peers’ actions, since their peers won't be committing crimes. Will any of this happen? Most likely not, but it is nice to think of the possibility of it occurring.

Now that the different theories have been discussed and broken down, it can be seen that they all intertwined with each other to make them work. If one is missing the other can hardly stand on its own. Not only that but each theory is unique and has its own qualities to it. To finish off there are also a few things that can change the current crime rate and overall change how much these theories are applied to urban populations. Not all crime can be stopped, however, it can be reduced with a few simple implementations in these urban settings.

Works Cited

  1. Akers, Ronald. A Social Learning Theory of Crime, 1994.
  2. Anderson, Elijah. The Code of the Streets. Atlantic Monthly, May 1994.
  3. Rudo-Hutt, A., Gao, Y., Glenn, A., Peskin, M., Yang, Y., & Raine, A. (2011). Biosocial Interactions and Correlates of Crime. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/neuroethics_pubs/90
  4. Wilson, William. The Political and Economic Forces Shaping Concentrated Poverty. Political Science Quarterly , 2008.
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