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Throughout this essay it will be discussed what criminology is, looking at different areas within a criminological explanation such as criminologists definition of what crime is, different types of crime, theories such as rational choice theory, behavioural theory and psychoanalytic theory. This will give examples as to what criminology is and why this is defined as criminology touching upon classical criminology of Jeremy Bentham and why people commit crime. In society, crime is something that we face on a daily basis, which criminology is the study of crime and criminals.
Morrison (cited in Hale et al, 2013) states that crime is “associated with harm and violence; harm to individuals, destruction of property and the denial of respect to people and institutions”. This definition is related to what criminology is by using examples, it is clear it is working for justice and fairness in the law, criminal justice system and society. There are ranges of different crimes, for example, state crime that can be defined as “illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by, or with the complicity of, state agencies” (Green & Ward, 2005). Another example of crime is white collar crime which Collins Dictionary defined as “an illegal act carried out in connection with their work by someone in a professional or clerical occupation, such as fraud”. By reading this it is clear to understand that what criminology is there are many different explanations, types of crime and theories for better understanding and knowledge as to what criminology is, how this is applied to crime and developed in explaining and controlling crime.
Criminology is a term, which was created by Italian law professor Raffaele Garofalo in 1885 and can be defined as the study of crime and those who commit crime. Furthermore, this is a general definition as there is controversy around the concept of it. Criminology is an interdisciplinary subject drawing “from disciplines such as psychology and sociology” (Newburn, 2017). Criminology is not mainly concerned with the criminal justice system; it also involves study and research to help us understand why crime occurs.
Treadwell (2013) argues that there is “not one accepted definition – it is still an emerging discipline”. It is clear to understand the term criminology is not simply just about crime and the justice system, but also about the concepts, theories and reasons as to why crime happens. Criminology focuses on explaining crime and criminal behaviour, this would be a main focus as to what criminology is. There are a number of different theories, which help us to understand why people commit crime and deviant acts. The theories that exist within criminology are useful tools that help us to understand and explain the world around us. In criminology, they help us understand the workings of the criminal justice system and the actors in the system (Akers and Sellers 2013:3). It is clear that it is important to understand the theories within criminology to understand what criminology is.
Classical Criminology emerged in the mid 18th Century. Criminologist, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was one of many key thinkers within this theory as to the study of criminology. Therefore, it can be argued that all decisions, which are made by somebody, are to either avoid pain or to gain pleasure (Newburn 2017). Newburn (2017) states that Bentham argued that individuals committed crime to gain excitement. Bentham pushed the idea that punishment should be so severe that the criminal would decide that the pleasure of the criminal act would not be worth the pain of the punishment. ‘Classical criminology had an immense impact on the operation of the criminal justice system, from suspicion through arrest to punishment’ (Williams, 2012).
Jones (2009:335) explains that the rational choice theory argues that criminals make a rational assessment of the possible consequences of their actions and take the opportunity to commit a crime. Theorising this approach Felson (2002 cited in Hale et al 2013:372) argues that crime should not be seen as an exceptional part of human life, but rather, ‘a routine activity’ that will occur where there is motivated offender, criminal opportunity and lack of a capable guardian. “Sociologists and political scientists have tried to build theories around the idea that all action is fundamentally ‘rational’ in character and that people calculate the likely costs and benefits of any action before deciding what to do. This approach to theory is known as rational choice theory” (Scott, 2000 cited in Browning et al). The United Kingdom criminal justice system sees individuals as being responsible for their own actions, and applies punishment as a deterrent for engaging in criminal behavior (Sutherland & Cressey, 1974).
According to Bond (2015), white-collar crime can be seen as a good example for Rational Choice Theory. An example of this would be, a burglary with two individuals deciding to work together to plan to break into a home at night and commit deviant acts against society. They have made a decision by planning and carrying out the burglary by weighing up the means and benefits, and making a decision to violate the law despite the punishment if caught. This relates back to what criminology is as it helps enforcements understand as to why people committed the acts and what was the motivate behind it.
Labelling theory can be defined as the process of making the criminal by employing processes of tagging, defining, identifying and segregating (Tannenbaum,1938). It focuses on the process whereby some individuals or groups become labelled as deviant. Deviance is a violation of the rules or norms involving breaking the law, which is not socially acceptable. Collins Dictionary defines it as ‘behaviour or an attitude which shows that you are not willing to obey someone’. Becker (1963) explains that being labelled deviant may lead a person to engage in criminal behaviour. For example, a teenager who lives in an urban area surrounded by gangs might be labelled as a gang member.
As a result of being labelled, this teenager may behave or act in a deviant way. Howard Becker developed labelling theory to explain how a person becomes deviant not so much through their actions as through social reactions. Becker (1963) states “the deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied, deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label”. This statement indicates that labelling is a process by which individuals or groups classify and categorize certain types of behaviour. When labelled by society, they will likely continue the criminal behaviour. Biological positivism is another theory, which claims that criminal behaviour is the result of chemical imbalances within the brain or abnormalities. Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was an Italian criminologist who was associated with the criminological idea of positivism. He was often called the father of modern criminology (Williams, 2012).
However, Cesare Lombroso believed that criminals were born, not made and that crime was the matter of the nature, not nurture (Akers and Sellers 2009:48). ‘Lombroso believed that the criminal was essentially an organic anomaly, partly pathological and partly atavistic. The social causes of crime were at most, according to Lombroso, -simply the stimuli which called forth the organic and psychical abnormalities of the individual’ (Ellwood 1911-1912). Lombroso strongly implies that perfectly normal individuals, from the biological point of view, could not possibly commit crimes and become a real criminal. Lombroso’s theory was challenged and proved wrong by Charles Goring (1870–1919), who in 1913 wrote The English Convict. He compared over 3,000 criminals and non-criminals, finding no physical differences between the two except height and weight where he discovered criminals were slightly smaller. (Akers and Sellers 2009:71) state that psychoanalytic theory shares with biological theory the search for the causes of crime within the make up of the individual. Rather than seek the causes in biological processes or anomalies, it attempts to look deep into the mind of the individual. In psychoanalytical theory, all criminal behaviour is explained as expressions or symptoms of one or more underlying mental illness, emotional disorders or psychic disturbances (Akers and Sellers 2009:73). (Ugwudike 2015:19) notes how social learning asserts that human behaviour originates from observing the behaviour of others and arising consequences and making a choice to emulate the observed behaviour. (Newburn 2013:151) state that theories of classical conditioning, looked to explain human behaviour as a consequence of the interaction of the individual and the world in which they live.
Modern learning theories understand behaviour to be a consequence of contact with others, particularly via primary sources of socialisation such as family and peer groups. By researching into classical conditioning, it is identified this is a relationship between stimulus and response. By having the reinforcements and punishments in place this may be able to prevent future behaviour from criminals, rewarding or punishing them for the crimes they may have committed to prevent the reoccurring offences. As this behaviour is learnt during early childhood and the children observing aggressive behaviour this will influence potential crimes in the future, as they believe they are not doing anything wrong after watching from an adult.
However behaviourists argue that because criminal behaviour is learnt, it can be unlearned. This may also influence potential criminal behaviour in the future if early childhood has been aggressive therefore this can be prevented. In conclusion, it is clear that criminology is about understanding what crime and punishment are and how theories can help explain why criminal behaviour is acted upon. The range of theories of criminology help give a better understanding as to why people commit the deviant acts and what possess them into doing so.
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