Psychological Theories on the Causation of Crime, Essay Example

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Essay

There are many important components to understanding causes of crime.  The first important component is how professionals in the field of criminal justice identify characteristics of crime to dig deeper in to the causes of each specific type of criminal activity.  A major source for characterizing crime is the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  This United States federal agency has utilized major surveys from the U.S. Department of Justice to identify two main types of crime – violent crime and property crime.  Violent crime has been identified as being related to rape, homicide, robbery, assault and event minor theft such as purse snatching and pocket picking (“Bureau of Justice Statistics”, 2011).  This type of criminal activity typically includes violent characteristics where an individual is intended to cause harm to another person through committing the act.  Meanwhile, property crime includes such actions as burglary, attempted or completed theft and motor vehicle theft (“Bureau of Justice Statistics”, 2011).  Under this category, criminals are characteristically attempting to gain something by causing harm to property and may or may not be directly intending to cause harm to an actual person through committing the act.

In additional to identifying characteristics of crime, there are also several methods used to measure criminal activity.  Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes due to the weaknesses alternative measures may be taken to combine several of the measurement strategies together.  First of all, Uniform Crime Results (UCR) has greater validity for murder and crimes where the victim is a commercial entity (“The foundations of social science”, n.d.).  This is true because the results of this type of survey do not count all crimes and must only count crimes based upon hierarchy and when lumped into one incident.  However, under the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) each individual crime is reported in detail as opposed to under a summary as in the UCR (“The foundations of social science”, n.d.).  This allows for more accuracy in reporting and providing greater detail to measure criminal activity in actual figures.  Self-report surveys seek to measure crimes that are victimless or are less-observed, which means that it may be helpful when dealing with commercial or property criminal actions but less helpful to measure violent crime (“The foundations of social science”, n.d.).  Finally, “Sentinel measures target more narrowly defined populations to monitor for changes” and really only seek to find the delta in geographic or ethnic-based statistics as opposed to measuring in full results (“The foundations of social science”, n.d.).

One of the more modern theories used to explain the causes of crime stems from what has grown to be called the biological theory.  This theory in essence explains that the genetic makeup of a person is more prone to causing crime as opposed to that of another person with a different genetic makeup (Cloninger, 1982).  This implies that someone is born with specific traits or a biological causal factor that is inherent in causing criminal activity.  Many professionals in the field are pairing the biological theory with a similar psychological theory to help find a correlation between committing a criminal act and a specific human biological characteristic.  It may not be as simple as identifying specific altered or mutated gene; however, a psycho-biological makeup that shows an increase or decrease in intelligence, brain function or other various motor skills may help theorists continue to evaluate the legitimacy of the biological theory.

A second theory used to explain the causes of criminal activity is called the behavioral theory.  This theory is less modern and has been cemented into the field for its universal application to describe specific behavior traits that are more prone to leading to future criminal activity.  Through applying this theory, criminal scientists have sought to identify specific behaviors such as bullying and anger to target individuals as a precursor the criminal activity, especially in environments such as schools where young people can be assisted earlier in their overall development of these behavioral traits (Cloninger, 1982).  At times, the behavioral scientists lack concrete data to explain why individuals who may have specific behavior traits are not always definitely committing criminal acts.  This theory is beneficial, but it has its limitations just as there are limitations in measuring criminal activity.

The third theory takes the biological and behavioral theories and somewhat combines the two to identify issues in the cognitive traits and functions of the person.  This theory is very similar to a “catch all” for many professionals in the field because it seeks to explain the causal factors of criminal activity by concentrating on the psychology behind what the person is thinking and how their thought processes ultimately lead the person to committing a criminal act (Cloninger, 1982).  For instance, the cognitive theory can be used to identify that a personal economic standing may cause them to be fear losing their home or be jealous of those who can afford higher priced goods; therefore, the person cognitively justifies committing a criminal act in order to better his or her economic standing.  This may sound strange to a “normal” person, but the cognitive theory has continuously been paired with other theories such as biological and behavioral to not only identify potential criminal acts but to explain the reasons that individuals ultimately engage in such activity after-the-fact.  Nevertheless, criminal traits, theories and actions must be effectively analyzed, characterized and measured to understand why criminal acts occur and how the appropriate public officials can work to reduce their occurrences and total impact on the general public.

References

Bureau of justice statistics. (2011, November 21). Retrieved from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=93

Cloninger (1982). Criminology : The study of crime and behavior. Retrieved from http://homepages.rpi.edu/~verwyc/lawchap5.htm

The foundations of social science. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~kreynold/ch6.html

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