Trait Theory, Essay Example
In the 2002 film “Minority Report,” based on a short story by science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick, the police use the abilities of a trio of telepathic humans to identify criminals before they commit crimes. The blend of technology and telepathy allows the police to arrest people and charge then with “pre-crime,” thereby cutting the rate of actual crime to virtually nothing. While the methodology used to identify these “pre-criminals” is pure science fiction, there are those who believe that, to some extent, those who are likely to commit crimes can be identified using the application of “trait theory.” By examining a combination of factors that influence an individual’s propensity to commit crime, it is asserted that interventions can lessen the chance that they will actually commit crimes (Dumont, 2010). The implications of this approach to criminal justice are understandably controversial, as the idea of intervening before an individual commits a crime is a clear infringement on civil rights. Despite such controversy, the application of trait theory to criminal justice is seen as a positive approach by many in the field.
In contrast with trait theory is “rational choice theory.” Rational choice theory posits that individuals weigh the possible consequences of committing crimes, i.e.- what punitive measures they would face were they to be caught, and then decide whether to commit crimes based on this decision-making process (Regoli et al, 2012). Taken to the extreme, it could be asserted that if rational choice theory offers a valid perspective on criminality, that society is then full of people who refrain from committing crimes simply because they fear the consequences. This seems unlikely; what is more likely is that some people simply do not have the propensity to commit crimes, and therefore do not weigh the consequences of what would happen if they did. It is perhaps most accurate to consider that a combination of these theories is applicable, and that there are a combination of factors –social, biological, psychological- that combine to form the propensity for an individual to commit crimes.
It is basically inconceivable that our society will any time soon enter into the business of arresting “pre-criminals.” What is possible, however, is that the application of the trait theory approach can lead to the development of programs and interventions that can help reduce the possibility that individuals will commit crimes (Seigel, Welsh; 2010). There are innumerable ways in which trait theory can manifest as real-world approaches to lessening the propensity for individuals to commit crimes. Those who are identified as potential criminals can be offered psychological counseling and other treatments intended to steer them away from committing crimes. What may also be helpful would be programs that serve to offer alternatives to committing crimes, such as educational and vocational opportunities that afford individuals a means to prosper and in legitimate and socially acceptable ways. By applying trait theory and rational choice theory, it may be possible to both identify those who are more likely to commit crimes and to offer these individuals viable alternatives to such actions.
Regoli, Robert M.; Hewitt, John D.; Maras, Marie-Helen. Exploring criminal justice: the essentials. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. Burlington, MA. 2012.
Dumont, Frank. A history of personality psychology” theory, science, and research from Hellenism to the 21st century. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. 2010.
Seigel, Larry J.; Welsh, Brandon C. Juvenile delinquency: the core. Cengage Learning. New York, NY. 2010.
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