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The amount of publications created over the course of several centuries on the many proposed explanations of crime is nothing short of colossal. However, the world of criminology differs from other concentrations in its lack of concrete and accepted findings and premises. Countless theories have been developed targeting multiple distinct points of validity. However, none of which have yet to successfully incorporate a majority of these points in one theory. Little is unanimously agreed upon in the field of criminology and the need for increase in cross-disciplinary collaboration is titanic. However, it has been noted that though they do conflict in their approach or assumptions, a majority of these theories overlap in some area or another. Therefore, it is difficult to out rule one as unconvincing without in some form discrediting those sharing similarities with it, and even more difficult to declare one superior when the subject of crime and human behavior remains such a broad topic with endless possibilities of approach. Nonetheless, some still reflect a level of inadequacy worth addressing, while others have progressed the field of criminal studies.
In a sense, human interaction is the purpose behind the existence of laws; thus, it is also an inevitable aspect in the violation of it. As a result, many criminologists have focused their studies in the direction of sociology. Among the concepts in this branch of criminology, the rise of the social process theories in the 1930’s introduced an approach on explaining crime that highlighted the power of sociological influences. It attempted to steer away from isolating the sole criminal by centering more so on the interactions of humans amongst themselves and between their social institutions. The original theory identified processes, including socialization and cultural conflict, that contributed to the development of criminal behavior. Sub-theories developed as extensions to this primary basis, yet many of them resulted in contradictions on their further conclusions and assumptions. One in particular postulated ideas that significantly differed with others in its criminological assumptions.
In 1990, Travis Hirschi and Michael Gottfredson proposed a theory that merited crime to be a result of several factors, particularly emphasizing a human’s born-with nature to be self-interested and insensitive. The low self-control theory was outlined by first describing the way in which most criminal acts occur, which they claimed to be spontaneous acts performed by criminals seeking some form of immediate and selfish benefit. In addition, they accentuated the significance of opportunity, which they defined to be situations that entailed some type of reward in exchange for an offense. Due to this asserted foundation of a typical crime, Hirschi and Gottfredson concluded an absence of self-control in such situations to be the key characteristic leading to criminal action. The term “self-control” was defined in the theory to represent how susceptible a person is when presented with certain enticements. It is evident that their ideas strongly reflected the classical approach crediting crime to uninhibited human impulsivity demonstrated during instinctive attempts to increase pleasure and evade pain. Hirschi and Gottfredson, therefore, postulated self-control to be a socially learned skill early in development to combat these natural human tendencies. As a result, they concurred effective parenting to be vital as a means of combating crime.
Inadequate parenting and improper development, according to this micro-theory, are the direct causes of low self-control, and in return, the potential for criminal behavior. They accounted for this through the observation that early-adopted levels of self-control remained consistent beyond childhood and throughout a person’s lifetime. Though the theory did innovate the prevalent debate of development versus propensity, it is with the controversial idea of all humans being predisposed and inevitably prone to a criminal nature, which can be restrained only through social learning throughout early development. With such a general approach as the basis for a theory that is so individually focused, the low self-control theory is simply lacking. It completely builds upon the focus on one single type of crime and the surrounding aspects specific to it, ignoring all other types of crime, other potential influences, and the impact of circumstantial factors. With such an evident social consensus attitude, combined with a highly restricted mentality, the theory’s derived proposal to the entire issue is merely an improvement in parenting that will supposedly create a stronger individual obtrusion for situations facilitating opportunities for crime. This limited and inadequate resolution is consequence of the limited foundation the theory is set upon.
Unlike Hirschi and Gottfredson’s theory of low self-control, the developmental branch of crime theories achieves a much more adaptable and encompassing assortment of potential explanations. It seeks to incorporate a multitude of disciplines as it analyzes the progression of crime throughout an offender’s lifetime. One specific theory within this group still maintains the acknowledgement of sociological and environmental influences, while it also incorporates the psychological aspect of criminology. Terrie Moffitt introduced a model in which she distinguished between two different types of delinquents, life course persistent offenders and adolescent-limited offenders, known as the dual pathway developmental theory. The model of these projected pathways innovatively demonstrated inclusion of multiple factors, such as psychological, environmental, and social effects.
The primary distinction between the two categories is the continuation or discontinuation of criminal behavior at the point of adulthood. Those who begin refraining from such activities are known as adolescent-limited offenders, which she contends do not develop due to neuropsychological deficits or disadvantaged societal circumstances. As a result of peer association and the frustrations of not yet possessing the freedom of adulthood, Moffitt’s theory finds juveniles in this category to be on a positive trajectory they are only briefly derailing from during this period of adolescence. Oppositely, the characteristics not found in adolescent-limited offenders as a result of neuropsychological discrepancies and underprivileged environments, are the key features differentiating the category of life course persistent offenders. The theory outlines that those who continue to offend past adolescence and adopt a criminal identity are found to offend earlier on and share various critical factors, such as abnormal temperaments, lower IQ’s, disrupted families or poor parenting, lower socioeconomic statuses, and antisocial behaviors.
The dual pathway developmental theory concentrates on the pervasiveness of juvenile offending and the significant differences between those who continue to offend into adulthood. However, it does so through a simultaneous collaboration of multiple disciplinary factors. Furthermore, the model also achieves a balance on many subjects of debate within the criminal studies. It recognizes those offenders who act upon their own freewill, yet still identifies those who are less willingly predisposed to criminal tendencies. It studies individuals and proposes way in which criminal behavior may develop, but does not exclude the social structural impacts on these individuals and the criminal propensity that a portion of them already posses. Although the micro-theory does pay such a focus to the influence of social conflict and has warranted a host of varying strategies, the theory primarily advances solutions within the realm of effective fostering, preferably family-centered, with an emphasis on early intervention. Contrasting to the previously discussed self-control theory, this innovative tactic of study provides a general account of criminal development more appropriate for the complexity that criminal studies entail. Not only is the model truthfully applicable to a much broader variation of cases than others, Moffitt’s theory also progressed the efforts of many working within criminology in shifting it towards a multidisciplinary field.
As conflicting as these two explanations of crime may initially appear to be, it is more apparent that one simply exceeds the other in depth when the theories are applied to actual criminal cases. Such is the circumstance when analyzing the documented stories of two men in The Other Wes Moore. The two Wes Moore’s shared a name, were born into the same underprivileged neighborhood, and had mothers who were both dedicated to bettering the future of their children. However, the author of the book, Wes Moore, defied the odds by becoming incredibly successful, while the other Wes Moore fell early into a path of crime and now currently resides in a prison cell. According to Hirschi and Gottfredson’s theory, the ultimate determinant factor in this case between the two was one’s inability to control his impulses while presented the opportunity to attain whatever he was seeking by a means outside of the parameters of the law. Furthermore, this difference in the men’s self-control reflects the successful Wes to have properly developed the skills necessary for such restraints, which in this case came for the author in the form of an education at Valley Forge Military Academy. Though the other Moore’s mother was equally dedicated to her children, her choice to refrain from taking direct action upon the issue of her son’s behavior is what the low self-control theory would hypothesize to be the direct causation for what came to be of the other Wes Moore.
Moffitt’s theory would also agree in the essentiality of the author attending the military academy at the initial signs of deviance. However, the dual pathway model of development allows for analysis in various aspects, enabling a more thorough explanation. To begin, the neighborhood described by the author would be the first addition to the causal factors as an explanation for the development of criminal behavior. Along with the low socioeconomic status of his family and ineffective, the lack of a father figure also theoretically contributes to a path towards delinquency. Yet, both Wes Moore’s were born into these exact same circumstances.
What salvaged the Rhode’s scholar and author of the book, according to Moffitt’s theory, was his isolation at the academy that escaped him from the drug and crime-infested environment of his neighborhood and far from any interaction with delinquent peers. Through the opportunity of learning positive social alternatives, his adolescence-limited trajectory path allowed him to desist a criminal lifestyle. The less fortunate Wes Moore was never presented such an opportunity for social growth and, in return, was soon enveloped by the toxins of his high crime neighborhood and already delinquent older brother. Unlike the author, Wes continued in this early-learned lifestyle he knew nothing outside of, beyond adolescence and into adulthood, much like the outlined trajectory path of a life course persistent offender.
One of the most remarkable capabilities of the beings on Earth is the adaptive nature among all species. It warrants for the continuing existence of life on the planet and what fosters for humans to be the superior form of existence. Humans live and successfully reproduce due to their innate excellence in the skill of adaptation. Such is the reasoning for my previously expressed rejection of the low self-control theory. Perhaps it is possible that the tendencies depicted by the theory may be human nature, crime inflicting, and only restrained through early social learning to do so. However, it is equally as possible that such propensities are also learned early in human development or that some, not all, are born with such inclinations. It is even possible that all humans are born with the impulses, yet with varying levels of expression. Regardless, this explanation provides rationale to a very minute fraction of cases.
Moffitt’s theory reflects my own form of approach more closely with her incorporation of numerous factors, regardless of discipline, that have an effect in the development and performance of human behavior. However, this is not to say that it holds more truth than many of the existent social conflict theories, which shed light on the powerful impact of societal constraints, or other branches of criminal theories. However, I find great importance in the role each factor plays in the grand scheme of society and individuals. Therefore, a multidisciplinary theory was more appealing. However, my views on the causation of crime constantly alter and did so throughout this semester, such as my newly found attention to societal influences on an individual’s criminal propensity. Nonetheless, I continue to believe that no conclusion drawn in the past or near future on criminal justifications will be of great value if narrow in its approach. Human behavior, criminal behavior, and humans alone are anything but narrow in the depth of their complexity.
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