What evidence is there that crime is committed by certain sorts of people?
The different theories covered in this essay can be categorised into three main approaches the first is biological theories by Cesare Lombroso in which he has given his theory into why someone is born a criminal. With the second being a Psychological theories in which Sigmund Freud who believes crime stems from human nature and the third being from Sociological theories by Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay in which they suggest that crime stems from a multitude of factors. When studies as to what may be the cause or what may contribute into why crime has such a profound impact in today’s society, with many theorists have used different studies as to determine why people commit crimes with such a diverse phenomenon that covers the globe. When trying to understand why crimes are committed by people, and when looking at the different viewpoints on whether a person can be born a criminal, or whether certain people commit criminal acts due to being in their nature or a culmination of other factors such as peer pressure or the neighbourhood’s they live in could play a role.
Being a Criminal is someone who breaks the law. This could range from murder, or just not paying a speeding ticket however it is anyone that breaks the law is technically a criminal. (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/criminal). When trying to distinguish if crime is committed by certain sorts of people, there is no one actual cause of being a criminal. Crime is seen as a vastly complex occurrence that also changes across time and also different cultures. (Weatherburn 2001). When looking at some activities that are legal in one country (e.g. Alcohol use in UK) that are deemed as illegal in other countries (e.g. strict Muslim countries). So what may be deemed as a crime by one person may not be seen as crime to another person depending on their cultural beliefs. Which means that there is no real simple answer to the question, “is crime committed by certain sorts of people”. (www.sccjr.ac.uk. (n.d).
The first theory is the biological theory by Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) who is considered the founding father of biological positivism. According to Lombroso he suggested that people were actually born with criminal tendencies. His main theory that relate to being born a criminal is that criminals were distinct in a person could be identified as a criminal due to certain features such as; high cheekbones, large jaws, low slanting foreheads, flattened or upturned nose, handle shaped ears, and prominent chins. In doing so, Lombroso suggested that their involvement in crime was due to the product of their biology and having biological characteristics: which culminated in criminals being born that way (Wolfgang 1961). Lombroso did not discredit that society itself could play its part and influence the development of criminal behaviour but he believed that most perpetrators of crime are biologically degenerative. Subsequently the actual idea of having a biological predisposition to actually being born a criminal has received some scrutiny and has been subjected to various critics. In other studies looking at if a person within the prison population could distinguish the same results Lombroso had theorized. With the results being obtained showing that such a deviation was one of hundreds of prisoners which was compared with one person per thousand for the general population. Other researchers summarise these findings due to the small sample sizes with other studies carried out on larger populations showed that men who have abnormal chromosomes are no more likely to commit criminal acts than the usual set. Lombroso claimed he could see in an offender “characteristics” of a primitive prehistoric man and animal and went on to develop his concept of “a born criminal” which is the basis for biological theories of crime in criminology (Wolfgang 1961). Although Goring replicated the work of Lombroso by conducting his own study on three hundred British convicts and determined that there was no significance in Lombroso’s biological studies to explain being born a criminal (Ferrero 1914). Lombroso’s work in this field did lead it to progress into criminal anthropology which is not just the study of the physical traits of a criminal but also their behaviour.
The second theory is Sociological theory by Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay (1942). When Social disorganisation theory advanced out of research focused on by Sociologists who studied at the University of Chicago in the nineteenth century. From here it’s the main advocates were Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay (1942), who carried out their work using spatial mapping which they used to examine the different housing locations of various juveniles that had been referred to court. (Bond 2015). Using this Shaw and McKay went on to establish that the various patterns of delinquency were much higher in certain areas, which were characterised by poor health, poor housing, socio-economic disadvantage and also the transient populations. Shaw and McKay believed that Social disorganization occurs when the neighbourhood’s occupants fail to achieve joint values or to solve mutual problems. (Bond 2015). With the studies carried out by Shaw and McKay it connected Social Disorganization theory to people coming from poor unstable areas with people that have come from different ethnic backgrounds resulting in that people commit crimes due to poor sociological structures. (M. Bond 2015). Although Shaw and McKay’s theory had its sceptics due to the information that was gathered tended to only use lower class citizens and did not take into account people stemming from rich neighbourhoods or other social factors (Sampson et al 1989).
The Third theory is Psychological theory by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). Psychology relates to the study of peoples’ mind (Woodford 2018). Psychological theories of crime look at the changes in individual’s behaviour and how that makes it more likely for the individuals to commit a criminal act. With various reasons for these differences that may be due to personality characteristics, social connections, or biological factors (Criminal justice research n.d). Psychoanalytical theory was developed by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) stated that human personality has three psychic structures (Staff 2015). The id, the ego, and the super ego. Firstly the id essentially triggers humans to do all the things that makes them feel good, regardless if they are wrong. Then the ego helps individuals not to follow every desire that has been created by the id. This component allows the principle of reality which guides improper sexual and aggressive drives for appropriate intentions. The ego is something that is learnt. The super ego combines between the id and ego, this in-turn helps individuals feel good about something that they have done right and then making the individual feel guilty for something they have done wrong. (Boundless Psychology n.d). With Freud’s Psychoanalytic theory personality develops through a series of stages, with each being characterized by a certain internal psychological conflict. With human behaviour is due to interactions stemming from the three components of the mind that are the id, ego and super ego. This “structural theory” of personality places great importance on how conflicts among the parts of the mind shape behaviour and personality. With this Freud determined that these conflicts are mostly unconscious. (Boundless Psychology n.d).
While it can be inferred that no one theory definitively explains why crimes are committed by certain sorts of people. Biological, Sociological and psychological crime theories address crime and deviance explanations from different, but equally feasible perspectives (www.sccjr.ac.uk. n.d). Early biological ideas of Cesare Lombroso and Sigmund Freud (Beystehner 1998) (Wolfgang 1961). Stimulated the emergence of more contemporary theories. Although his crime explanations are not widely used today, they provided a foundation for further thought in the criminology field. Also with Shaw and McKay’s social disorganization theory which continues to be used in clarifying the impact of neighbourhood characteristics such as, poverty, ethnic diversity, and residential stability, on crime rates, Social disorganization theory will still be functional to various forms of crime and will still continue to be the drive behind social scientists, criminologists and in their exploration of criminal behaviour (Bond 2015). .
Marvin E. Wolfgang, (1961).Pioneers in Criminology: Cesare Lombroso (1825-1909), 52 J. Crim. L. Criminology ; Police Sci. 361 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0640/19a6fae12561ab76f0b14de54a8662a63ed7.pdf.
Mark Bond (2015). https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/criminology-social-disorganization-theory-explained-mark-bond/historyextra (2016). https://www.historyextra.com/period/victorian/the-born-criminal-lombroso-and-the-origins-of-modern-criminology/Don Weatherburn (2001). CRIME AND JUSTICE http://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Documents/CJB/cjb54.pdfChris Woodford (2018). Psychology. http://www.explainthatstuff.com/introduction-to-psychology.htmlCriminal Justice research (n.d) http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/criminology/theories/psychological-theories-of-crime/CommonLit Staff (2015). https://www.commonlit.org/texts/freud-s-theory-of-the-id-ego-and-superego.
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