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Causes of Crime - Explaining Crime,


Physical Abnormalities, Psychological
Disorders, Social And Economic Factors,
Broken Windows, Income And Education
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How do some people decide to commit a crime? Do they think about the
benefits and the risks? Why do some people commit crimes regardless of
the consequences? Why do others never commit a crime, no matter how
desperate their circumstances? Criminology is the study of crime and
criminals by specialists called criminologists. Criminologists study what
causes crime and how it might be prevented.
Throughout history people have tried to explain what causes abnormal
social behavior, including crime. Efforts to control "bad" behavior go back
to ancient Babylon's Code of Hammurabi some 3,700 years ago. Later in
the seventeenth century European colonists in North America considered
crime and sin the same thing. They believed evil spirits possessed those
who did not conform to social norms or follow rules. To maintain social
order in the settlements, persons who exhibited antisocial behavior had to
be dealt with swiftly and often harshly.
By the twenty-first century criminologists looked to a wide range of factors
to explain why a person would commit crimes. These included biological,
psychological, social, and economicThroughout history people have tried to
explain why a person would commit crimes. Some consider a life of crime better than
a regular jobat least until they are caught. ( Bettmann/Corbis)factors.

Usually a
combination of these factors is behind a person who commits a crime.
Reasons for committing a crime include greed, anger, jealously, revenge, or
pride. Some people decide to commit a crime and carefully plan everything

in advance to increase gain and decrease risk. These people are making
choices about their behavior; some even consider a life of crime better than
a regular jobbelieving crime brings in greater rewards, admiration, and
excitementat least until they are caught. Others get an adrenaline rush
when successfully carrying out a dangerous crime. Others commit crimes
on impulse, out of rage or fear.
The desire for material gain (money or expensive belongings) leads to
property crimes such as robberies, burglaries, white-collar crimes, and auto
thefts. The desire for control, revenge, or power leads to violent crimes such
as murders, assaults, and rapes. These violent crimes usually occur on
impulse or the spur of the moment when emotions run high. Property
crimes are usually planned in advance.

Discouraging the choice of crime


The purpose of punishment is to discourage a person from committing a
crime. Punishment is supposed to make criminal behavior less attractive
and more risky. Imprisonment and loss of income is a major hardship to
many people. Another way of influencing choice is to make crime more
difficult or to reduce the opportunities. This can be as simple as better
lighting, locking bars on auto steering wheels, the presence of guard dogs,
or high technology improvements such as security systems and
photographs on credit cards.
A person weighing the risks of crime considers factors like how many police
officers are in sight where the crime will take place. Studies of New York
City records between 1970 and 1999 showed that as the police force in the
city grew, less crime was committed. A change in a city's police force,
however, is usually tied to its economic health. Normally as unemployment
rises, city revenues decrease because fewer people are paying taxes. This
causes cutbacks in city services including the police force. So a rise in
criminal activity may not be due to fewer police, but rather rising
unemployment.

Home security consultant conferring with client. Security systems and guard dogs
can make crime more difficult or reduce the opportunities for it to occur. (Ms. Martha
Tabor/Working Images Photographs)

Another means of discouraging people from choosing criminal activity is


the length of imprisonment. After the 1960s many believed more prisons
and longer sentences would deter crime. Despite the dramatic increase in
number of prisons and imposing mandatory lengthy sentences, however,
the number of crimes continued to rise. The number of violent crimes
doubled from 1970 to 1998. Property crimes rose from 7.4 million to 11
million, while the number of people placed in state and federal prisons
grew from 290,000 in 1977 to over 1.2 million in 1998. Apparently longer
prison sentences had little effect on discouraging criminal behavior.
Parental relations
Cleckley's ideas on sociopathy were adopted in the 1980s to describe a
"cycle of violence" or pattern found in family histories. A "cycle of violence"
is where people who grow up with abuse or antisocial behavior in the home
will be much more likely to mistreat their own children, who in turn will
often follow the same pattern.
Children who are neglected or abused are more likely to commit crimes
later in life than others. Similarly, sexual abuse in childhood often leads
these victims to become sexual predators as adults. Many inmates on death
row have histories of some kind of severe abuse. The neglect and abuse of
children often progresses through several generations. The cycle of abuse,
crime, and sociopathy keeps repeating itself.
Children who are neglected or abused commit substantially more crimes later in life
than others. ( Roy Morsch/Corbis)

The cycle of violence concept, based on the quality of early life


relationships, has its positive counterpart. Supportive and loving parents
who respond to the basic needs of their child instill self-confidence and an
interest in social environments. These children are generally well-adjusted
in relating to others and are far less likely to commit crimes.

By the late twentieth century the general public had not accepted that
criminal behavior is a psychological disorder but rather a willful action. The
public cry for more prisons and tougher sentences outweighed
rehabilitation and the treatment of criminals. Researchers in the twentyfirst century, however, continued to look at psychological stress as a driving
force behind some crimes.

Heredity and brain activity


Searching for the origins of antisocial personality disorders and their
influence over crime led to studies of twins and adopted children in the
1980s. Identical twins have the exact same genetic makeup. Researchers
found that identical twins were twice as likely to have similar criminal
behavior than fraternal twins who have similar but not identical genes, just
like any two siblings. Other research indicated that adopted children had
greater similarities of crime rates to their biological parents than to their
adoptive parents. These studies suggested a genetic basis for some criminal
behavior.
Prisoner in California being prepared for a lobotomy in 1961. At the time, many
psychiatrists believed that criminal behavior was lodged in certain parts of the brain,
and lobotomies were frequently done on prisoners.( Ted Streshinsky/Corbis)

With new advances in medical technology, the search for biological causes
of criminal behavior became more sophisticated. In 1986 psychologist
Robert Hare identified a connection between certain brain activity and
antisocial behavior. He found that criminals experienced less brain reaction
to dangerous situations than most people. Such a brain function, he
believed, could lead to greater risk-taking in life, with some criminals not
fearing punishment as much as others.
Studies related to brain activity and crime continued into the early twentyfirst century. Testing with advanced instruments probed the inner workings
of the brain. With techniques called computerized tomography (CT scans),
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography

(PET), researchers searched for links between brain activity and a tendency
to commit crime. Each of these tests can reveal brain activity.
Research on brain activity investigated the role of neurochemicals,
substances the brain releases to trigger body activity, and hormones in
influencing criminal behavior. Studies indicated that increased levels of
some neurochemicals, such as serotonin, decreases aggression. Serotonin is
a substance produced by the central nervous system that has broad
sweeping effects on the emotional state of the individual. In contrast higher
levels of others, such as dopamine, increased aggression. Dopamine is
produced by the brain and affects heart rate and blood pressure.
Researchers expected to find that persons who committed violent crimes
have reduced levels of serotonin and higher levels of dopamine. This
condition would have led to periods of greater activity including aggression
if the person is prone towards aggression.
In the early twenty-first century researchers continued investigating the
relationship between neurochemicals and antisocial behavior, yet
connections proved complicated. Studies showed, for example, that even
body size could influence the effects of neurochemicals and behavior.

Hormones
Hormones are bodily substances that affect how organs in the body
function. Researchers also looked at the relationship between hormones,
such as testosterone and cortisol, and criminal behavior. Testosterone is a
sex hormone produced by male sexual organs that cause development of
masculine body traits. Cortisol is a hormone produced by adrenal glands
located next to the kidneys that effects how quickly food is processed by the
digestive system. Higher cortisol levels leads to more glucose to the brain
for greater energy, such as in times of stress or danger. Animal studies
showed a strong link between high levels of testosterone and aggressive
behavior. Testosterone measurements in prison populations also showed
relatively high levels in the inmates as compared to the U.S. adult male
population in general.

Studies of sex offenders in Germany showed that those who were treated to
remove testosterone as part of their sentencing became repeat offenders
only 3 percent of the time. This rate was in stark contrast to the usual 46
percent repeat rate. These and similar studies indicate testosterone can
have a strong bearing on criminal behavior.
Cortisol is another hormone linked to criminal behavior. Research
suggested that when the cortisol level is high a person's attention is sharp
and he or she is physically active. In contrast, researchers found low levels
of cortisol were associated with short attention spans, lower activity levels,
and often linked to antisocial behavior including crime. Studies of violent
adults have shown lower levels of cortisol; some believe this low level serves
to numb an offender to the usual fear associated with committing a crime
and possibly getting caught.
It is difficult to isolate brain activity from social and psychological factors,
as well as the effects of substance abuse, parental relations, and education.
Yet since some criminals are driven by factors largely out of their control,
punishment will not be an effective deterrent. Help and treatment become
the primary responses.

Education
Conforming to Merton's earlier sociological theories, a survey of inmates in
state prisons in the late 1990s showed very low education levels. Many
could not read or write above elementary school levels, if at all. The most
common crimes committed by these inmates were robbery, burglary,
automobile theft, drug trafficking, and shoplifting. Because of their poor
educational backgrounds, their employment histories consisted of mostly
low wage jobs with frequent periods of unemployment.
Employment at minimum wage or below living wage does not help deter
criminal activity. Even with government social services, such as public
housing, food stamps, and medical care, the income of a minimum wage
household still falls short of providing basic needs. People must make a

choice between continued long-term low income and the prospect of


profitable crime. Gaining further education, of course, is another option,
but classes can be expensive and time consuming. While education can
provide the chance to get a better job, it does not always overcome the
effects of abuse, poverty, or other limiting factors.

Peer influence
A person's peer group strongly influences a decision to commit crime. For
example, young boys and girls who do not fit into expected standards of
academic achievement or participate in sports or social programs can
sometimes becomeCrack cocaine pipe displayed by police. Drugs and alcohol
impair judgment and reduce inhibitions, giving a person greater courage to commit a
crime. ( Bettmann/Corbis)lost in the competition. Children

of families who
cannot afford adequate clothing or school supplies can also fall into the
same trap. Researchers believe these youth may abandon schoolmates in
favor of criminal gangs, since membership in a gang earns respect and
status in a different manner. In gangs, antisocial behavior and criminal
activity earns respect and street credibility.
Like society in general, criminal gangs are usually focused on material gain.
Gangs, however, resort to extortion, fraud, and theft as a means of
achieving it. The fear of young people, mostly boys, joining gangs
influenced many government projects in the last half of the twentieth
century including President Lyndon Johnson's (19081973; served 1963
69) "War on Crime" programs.
Drugs and alcohol
Some social factors pose an especially strong influence over a person's
ability to make choices. Drug and alcohol abuse is one such factor. The urge
to commit crime to support a drug habit definitely influences the decision
process. Both drugs and alcohol impair judgment and reduce inhibitions
(socially defined rules of behavior), giving a person greater courage to
commit a crime. Deterrents such as long prison sentences have little
meaning when a person is high or drunk.

Substance abuse, commonly involving alcohol, triggers "stranger violence,"


a crime in which the victim has no relationship whatsoever with his or her
attacker. Such an occurrence could involve a confrontation in a bar or some
other public place where the attacker and victim happen to be at the same
time. Criminologists estimate that alcohol or drug use by the attacker is
behind 30 to 50 percent of violent crime, such as murder, sexual assault,
and robbery. In addition drugs or alcohol may make the victim a more
vulnerable target for a criminal by being less attentive to activities around
and perhaps visiting a poorly lighted or secluded area not normally
frequented perhaps to purchase drugs.
The idea that drug and alcohol abuse can be a major factor in a person's life
is why there are numerous treatment programs for young people addicted
to these substances. Treatment focuses on positive support to influence a
person's future decision making and to reduce the tendency for antisocial
and criminal behavior.

Easy access
Another factor many criminologists consider key to making a life of crime
easier is the availability of handguns in U.S. society. Many firearms used in
crimes are stolen or purchased illegally (bought on what is called the "black
market"). Firearms provide a simple means of committing a crime while
allowing offenders some distance or detachment from their victims. Of the
400,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 1998, over 330,000 involved
handguns. By the beginning of the twenty-first century firearm use was the
eighth leading cause of death in the United States.
Similarly, the increased availability of free information on the Internet also
makes it easy to commit certain kinds ofAt the beginning of the twenty-first
century, firearm use was the eighth leading cause of death in the United
States. (AP/Wide World Photos)crime. Web sites provide instructions on how

to
make bombs and buy poisons; all this information is easily available from
the comfort of a person's home. Easy access, however, will not be the

primary factor in a person's decision to commit a crime. Other factors


biological, psychological, or socialwill also come into play.

For More Information


Books
Arrigo, Bruce A., ed. Social Justice, Criminal Justice. Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth, 1999.
Bowlby, John. A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy
Human Development. New York: Basic Books, 1988.
Cleckely, Hervey. The Mask of Sanity. New York: New American Library,
1982.
Cohen, Albert K. Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang. New York:
Free Press, 1955.
Curran, Daniel J., and Claire M. Renzetti. Theories of Crime. Boston, MA:
Allyn & Bacon, 2001.
Fleisher, Mark S. Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street
Criminals. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.
Karr-Morse, Robin, and Meredith S. Wiley. Ghosts from the Nursery:
Tracing the Roots of Violence. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997.
Lombroso, Cesare. Crime: Its Causes and Remedies. Montclair, NJ:
Patterson Smith, 1968.
Renzetti, Claire M., and Lynne Goodstein, eds. Women, Crime, and
Criminal Justice. Los Angeles: Roxbury, 2001.
Web Site

Criminal
Justice. http://www.wadsworth.com/criminaljustice_d/ (accessed on
August 19, 2004).

Additional Topics
Causes of Crime - Explaining Crime
Modern criminology began in Europe and America in the late eighteenth century. During this time
people began to accept scientific explanations for occurrences in the world around them and rule out
supernatural influences. People increasingly believed individuals had control over their own actions.
The idea that people were driven by reason and influenced by their social environment began to
domina

Causes of Crime - Physical Abnormalities


In the nineteenth century criminologists focused on the physical characteristics and sanity of an
individual. They believed it was "predetermined" or that people had no control over whether they
would lead a life of crime. For example, criminologists believed people with smaller heads, sloping
foreheads, large jaws and ears, and certain heights and weights had a greater chance to be

Causes of Crime - Psychological Disorders


As late as the 1950s researchers continued to investigate the relationship of body types to delinquency
and crime. Aside from biological traits indicating a natural tendency toward criminal activity by some
individuals, Lombroso and other early twentieth century researchers also reasoned that criminal
behavior could be a direct result of psychological disorders. They believed these mental disorder

Causes of Crime - Social And Economic Factors


In addition to studying the biological and psychological causes of criminal behavior, others looked
toward society in general for possible causes. In the early 1900s researchers believed social changes
occurring in the United States, such as an industrial economy replacing the earlier agricultural
economy (industrialization) and the growth of cities (urbanization), as well as the steady flow of im

Causes of Crime - Broken Windows


In the 1990s a new idea spread through the criminal justice field concerning the influence of a
person's social environment on crime rates. The idea was that general disorder in the neighborhood
leads to increased antisocial behavior and eventually to serious crime. For most of the twentieth
century, police primarily reacted to serious crimes such as rape, murder, and robbery often with lit

Causes of Crime - Income And Education


Another theory from 1930s criminologists was that unemployment could be a major cause of crime. In
the United States, employment opportunities have been directly related to education. In 1938
sociologist Robert K. Merton (1910) offered a social theory that crime occurs when society sets goals
for its members, such as making money to buy a variety of material goods, but creates barriers to

Causes of Crime - A Matter Of Choice


In the 1960s some criminologists decided their studies and the U.S. judicial system were biased
against minorities, the poor, and women. As a result they broadened their focus from the poor and
working classes to other crime settings, such as white-collar crime in corporations and governments.
Street crime, they asserted, cost society $15 billion annually while white-collar crime could reac

Causes of Crime - The Complexities Of Crime


Explaining the cause of crime is difficult; two people living in the same circumstancessuch as
poverty, family problems, or unemploymentmay take entirely different paths in life. A related
question to what leads people to commit crimes, is what causes some criminals to quit? Some juvenile
delinquents stop committing crimes when they become adults; others stop later in adulthood. Le
Children's Rights - Protection Of Children, Childcare, Child Labor, Kidnapping And Abduction, Forms
Of Child Abuse [next][back] Causation - Role Of Causation In The Criminal Law, Conventional
Analysis Of Causation In The Law, Problems With The Conventional Analysis

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about 4 years ago


lynn

As well people that didnt have any problems growing up as that teen or adult become
criminals as well, not just those who have been through the struggles of life. Some of
those that grew up in hardship just want to get out of that lifestyle and do better they
what they knew.
over 4 years ago
nozibusiso

I ma self think criminal can be also reduced through cerating jobs for people
over 1 year ago
STUDENT OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

reduce poverty to cub high crime rate


about 4 years ago
chandra pitts

Causes of Crime - Explaining Crime, Physical Abnormalities, Psychological


Disorders, Social And Economic Factors, Broken Windows, Income And Education
about 6 years ago
Thembani Mkansi

crime is a most important issues which need to be addressed seriously. factors which
causes crime must be looked at and that means dealing with this factors that causes
crime we then be trying to find a solution as to why and how to reduce crime rate in

South Africa. some people think that crime is caused because of poverty and the
answer is no. there are countries where they are poor than south africa but they dont
commit crime as we do daily. if goverment can try to invest in the system which will
deal with crime we can have a safer south africa.
about 4 years ago
Lynn

I dont think it was as detailed into crimes as it could have been. It didnt touch idenity
theft, fraud or prostitution like it could have. It was mostly pretaining to males whent
there are female criminals out there as well
over 4 years ago
Tyler

I LOVE NOODLES! :D
over 4 years ago
benjohn laquinon

i was expecting to encounter things such as poverty, hatred, passion, jealousy, etc...as
causes for crime and delinquency. How are these things related to the discussion?
over 4 years ago
Tanisha

how do i site this page using APA format? i am writing a research paper and i need
the info please. thank you.
about 1 year ago
Sara

Anyone remember Aladdin???? I steal..only when I cant' afford...But what do we


doooooooo about it????
over 4 years ago
Rev. Lawrence Idemudia

it was really helpful. more greese to your elbow


over 4 years ago
Tanisha

how do i site this page with APA format? i am using this site for a research paper.
thank you.
almost 5 years ago
fan

Cool. Good info. Used as my only sorce for social studies fair project. Cited of cource.
Keep it up. only reasnoble thing on web. My topic was what causes crime
over 5 years ago
MONI NKOSINATHI

WE AS EDUCATED YOUTH WE HAVE TO ADVISE THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN


EXPOSED BY THE CRIME, CRIME AWARENESS MUST BE ESTABLISHED IN
EACH AND EVERY INSTITUTION AND SCHOOLS
about 4 years ago
aldrian dondonan

NICE INFO!
about 4 years ago
aldrian dondonan

NICE INFO!
over 4 years ago
yomama

nozibusiso

you is redneck
about 1 year ago
sara

There are many different faces to crime, some do it to live, others do it to indulge,
and others for reasons we weill never understand until we are in there shoes. so
maybe starting with the reasons we do understand, we can grasp a new perspective
on how to govern a world in desperate need of change.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.

You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 4 years ago
Deb Pantalone

thesis
about 4 years ago

Causes of Crime - Explaining Crime, Physical Abnormalities, Psychological


Disorders, Social And Economic Factors, Broken Windows, Income And Education
over 5 years ago
NKOSINATHI MONI

WHEN IT COMES TO AN ISSUE OF CRIME, I THINK IT IS HTHE SERIOUS


THING TO TALK ABOUT IT.THE REAL THING THAT LEAD PEAPLE TO CRIME
IS DRUGS AN ALCOHOL EVEN PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN ABUSED

over 4 years ago


sumaiya kanwal

resive it
almost 2 years ago
orone quirinus

big up for connecting people


almost 4 years ago
Fiaz Khan

It,s really helpful for the students. But I think that u have need add something more
causes of crime, like corruption,Movies, Lake of Rehabilitation, Injustice . Poverty,
Bad governance inflation and Lake of education.
6 months ago
connor

hi
almost 2 years ago
orone quirinus

thanks sana
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Disorders, Social And Economic Factors, Broken Windows, Income And Education
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about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
about 1 year ago
Anniline Sudarshini Kawal

I have been researching on the topic of what really makes a person to deviate and
commit crimes. Your article has served the purpose to answer many questions
related to reasons behind crime and has shown me that crime is indeed a very
complex activity and the reasons them, innumerous.
You have also successfully provided the deterrents that can be used to minimise
crime in our Society around the world.
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Research categories
Home Legal and Political magazines Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice January 2002

Crime Causation: Sociological


Theories
TOOLS
Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice | 2002 | AGNEW, ROBERT | 700+ words
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Gale Group Inc.

CRIME CAUSATION: SOCIOLOGICAL


THEORIES

This entry focuses on the three major sociological theories of crime and delinquency: strain,
social learning, and control theories. It then briefly describes several other important theories
of crime, most of which represent elaborations of these three theories. Finally, efforts to
develop integrated theories of crime are briefly discussed.
All of the theories that are described explain crime in terms of the social environment,
including the family, school, peer group, workplace, community, and society. These theories,
however, differ from one another in several ways: they focus on somewhat different features
of the social environment, they offer different accounts of why the social environment causes
crime, and some focus on explaining individual differences in crime while others attempt to
explain group differences in crime (e.g., why some communities have higher crime rates than
other communities).

Strain theory
Why do people engage in crime according to strain theory? They experience strain or stress,
they become upset, and they sometimes engage in crime as a result. They may engage in
crime to reduce or escape from the strain they are experiencing. For example, they may
engage in violence to end harassment from others, they may steal to reduce financial
problems, or they may run away from home to escape abusive parents. They may also engage
in crime to seek revenge against those who have wronged them. And they may engage in the
crime of illicit drug use to make themselves feel better.
A recent version of strain theory is Robert Agnew's 1992 general strain theory. Agnew's
theory draws heavily on previous versions of strain theory, particularly those of Robert
Merton, Albert Cohen, Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin, David Greenberg, and Delbert
Elliott and associates. Agnew, however, points to certain types of strain not considered in
these previous versions and provides a fuller discussion of the conditions under which strain
is most likely to lead to crime.
The major types of strain. Agnew describes two general categories of strain that contribute
to crime: (1) others prevent you from achieving your goals, and (2) others take things you
value or present you with negative or noxious stimuli.
While strain may result from the failure to achieve a variety of goals, Agnew and others focus
on the failure to achieve three related goals: money, status/respect, andfor adolescents
autonomy from adults.

Money is perhaps the central goal in the United States. All people, poor as well as rich, are
encouraged to work hard so that they might make a lot of money. Further, money is necessary
to buy many of the things we want, including the necessities of life and luxury items. Many
people, however, are prevented from getting the money they need through legal channels,
such as work. This is especially true for poor people, but it is true for many middle-class
people with lofty goals as well. As a consequence, such people experience strain and they
may attempt to get money through illegal channelssuch as theft, selling drugs, and
prostitution. Studies provide some support for this argument. Criminals and delinquents often
report that they engage in income-generating crime because they want money but cannot
easily get it any other way. And some data suggest that crime is more common among people
who are dissatisfied with their monetary situationwith such dissatisfaction being higher
among lower-class people and people who state that they want "a lot of money."
Closely related to the desire for money is the desire for status and respect. People want to be
positively regarded by others and they want to be treated respectfully by others, which at a
minimum involves being treated in a just or fair manner. While people have a general desire
for status and respect, theorists such as James Messerschmidt argue that the desire for
"masculine status" is especially relevant to crime. There are class and race differences in
views about what it means to be a "man," although most such views emphasize traits like
independence, dominance, toughness, competitiveness, and heterosexuality. Many males,
especially those who are young, lower-class, and members of minority groups, experience
difficulties in satisfying their desire to be viewed and treated as men. These people may
attempt to "accomplish masculinity" through crime. They may attempt to coerce others into
giving them the respect they believe they deserve as "real men." In this connection, they may
adopt a tough demeanor, respond to even minor shows of disrespect with violence, and
occasionally assault and rob others in an effort to establish a tough reputation. There have
been no large scale tests of this idea, although several studies such as that of Elijah Anderson
provide support for it.
Finally, a major goal of most adolescents is autonomy from adults. Autonomy may be defined
as power over oneself: the ability to resist the demands of others and engage in action without
the permission of others. Adolescents are often encouraged to be autonomous, but they are
frequently denied autonomy by adults. The denial of autonomy may lead to delinquency for
several reasons: delinquency may be a means of asserting autonomy (e.g., sexual intercourse
or disorderly behavior), achieving autonomy (e.g., stealing money to gain financial
independence from parents), or venting frustration against those who deny autonomy.

In addition to the failure to achieve one's goals, strain may result when people take something
one values or present one with noxious or negative stimuli. Such negative treatment may
upset or anger people and crime may be the result. Studies have found that a range of
negative events and conditions increase the likelihood of crime. In particular, crime has been
linked to child abuse and neglect, criminal victimization, physical punishment by parents,
negative relations with parents, negative relations with teachers, negative school experiences,
negative relations with peers, neighborhood problems, and a wide range of stressful life
eventslike the divorce/separation of a parent, parental unemployment, and changing
schools.
Factors influencing the effect of strain on delinquency. Strainful events and conditions
make people feel bad. These bad feelings, in turn, create pressure for corrective action. This
is especially true of anger and frustration, which energize the individual for action, create a
desire for revenge, and lower inhibitions. There are several possible ways to cope with strain
and these negative emotions, only some of which involve delinquency. Strain theorists
attempt to describe those factors that increase the likelihood of a criminal response.
Among other things, strain is more likely to lead to crime among individuals with poor
coping skills and resources. Some individuals are better able to cope with strain legally than
others. For example, they have the verbal skills to negotiate with others or the financial
resources to hire a lawyer. Related to this, strain is more likely to lead to delinquency among
individuals with few conventional social supports. Family, friends, and others often help
individuals cope with their problems, providing advice, direct assistance, and emotional
support. In doing so, they reduce the likelihood of a criminal response.
Strain is more likely to lead to delinquency when the costs of delinquency are low and the
benefits are high; that is, the probability of being caught and punished is low and the rewards
of delinquency are high. Finally, strain is more likely to lead to delinquency among
individuals who are disposed to delinquency. The individual's disposition to engage in
delinquency is influenced by a number of factors. Certain individual traitslike irritability
and impulsivityincrease the disposition for delinquency. Another key factor is whether
individuals blame their strain on the deliberate behavior of someone else. Finally, individuals
are more disposed to delinquency if they hold beliefs that justify delinquency, if they have
been exposed to delinquent models, and if they have been reinforced for delinquency in the
past (see below).

A variety of factors, then, influence whether individuals respond to strain with delinquency.
Unfortunately, there has not been much research on the extent to which these factors
condition the impact of strainand the research that has been done has produced mixed
results.

Social learning theory


Why do people engage in crime according to social learning theory? They learn to engage in
crime, primarily through their association with others. They are reinforced for crime, they
learn beliefs that are favorable to crime, and they are exposed to criminal models. As a
consequence, they come to view crime as something that is desirable or at least justifiable in
certain situations. The primary version of social learning theory in criminology is that of
Ronald Akers and the description that follows draws heavily on his work. Akers's theory, in
turn, represents an elaboration of Edwin Sutherland's differential association theory (also see
the related work of Albert Bandura in psychology).
According to social learning theory, juveniles learn to engage in crime in the same way they
learn to engage in conforming behavior: through association with or exposure to others.
Primary or intimate groups like the family and peer group have an especially large impact on
what we learn. In fact, association with delinquent friends is the best predictor of delinquency
other than prior delinquency. However, one does not have to be in direct contact with others
to learn from them; for example, one may learn to engage in violence from observation of
others in the media.
Most of social learning theory involves a description of the three mechanisms by which
individuals learn to engage in crime from these others: differential reinforcement, beliefs, and
modeling.
Differential reinforcement of crime. Individuals may teach others to engage in crime
through the reinforcements and punishments they provide for behavior. Crime is more likely
to occur when it (a) is frequently reinforced and infrequently punished; (b) results in large
amounts of reinforcement (e.g., a lot of money, social approval, or pleasure) and little
punishment; and (c) is more likely to be reinforced than alternative behaviors.
Reinforcements may be positive or negative. In positive reinforcement, the behavior results in
something goodsome positive consequence. This consequence may involve such things as
money, the pleasurable feelings associated with drug use, attention from parents, approval

from friends, or an increase in social status. In negative reinforcement, the behavior results in
the removal of something bada punisher is removed or avoided. For example, suppose
one's friends have been calling her a coward because she refuses to use drugs with them. The
individual eventually takes drugs with them, after which time they stop calling her a coward.
The individual's drug use has been negatively reinforced.
According to social learning theory, some individuals are in environments where crime is
more likely to be reinforced (and less likely to be punished). Sometimes this reinforcement is
deliberate. For example, the parents of aggressive children often deliberately encourage and
reinforce aggressive behavior outside the home. Or the adolescent's friends may reinforce
drug use. At other times, the reinforcement for crime is less deliberate. For example, an
embarrassed parent may give her screaming child a candy bar in the checkout line of a
supermarket. Without intending to do so, the parent has just reinforced the child's aggressive
behavior.
Data indicate that individuals who are reinforced for crime are more likely to engage in
subsequent crime, especially when they are in situations similar to those where they were
previously reinforced.
Beliefs favorable to crime. Other individuals may not only reinforce our crime, they may
also teach us beliefs favorable to crime. Most individuals, of course, are taught that crime is
bad or wrong. They eventually accept or "internalize" this belief, and they are less likely to
engage in crime as a result. Some individuals, however, learn beliefs that are favorable to
crime and they are more likely to engage in crime as a result.
Few peopleincluding criminalsgenerally approve of serious crimes like burglary and
robbery. Surveys and interviews with criminals suggest that beliefs favoring crime fall into
three categories. And data suggest that each type of belief increases the likelihood of crime.
First, some people generally approve of certain minor forms of crime, like certain forms of
consensual sexual behavior, gambling, "soft" drug use, andfor adolescentsalcohol use,
truancy, and curfew violation.
Second, some people conditionally approve of or justify certain forms of crime, including
some serious crimes. These people believe that crime is generally wrong, but that some
criminal acts are justifiable or even desirable in certain conditions. Many people, for
example, will state that fighting is generally wrong, but that it is justified if you have been

insulted or provoked in some way. Gresham Sykes and David Matza have listed some of the
more common justifications used for crime. Several theorists have argued that certain groups
in our societyespecially lower-class, young, minority malesare more likely to define
violence as an acceptable response to a wide range of provocations and insults. And they
claim that this "subculture of violence" is at least partly responsible for the higher rate of
violence in these groups. Data in this area are somewhat mixed, but recent studies suggest
that males, young people, and possibly lower-class people are more likely to hold beliefs
favorable to violence. There is less evidence for a relationship between race and beliefs
favorable to violence.
Third, some people hold certain general values that are conducive to crime. These values do
not explicitly approve of or justify crime, but they make crime appear a more attractive
alternative than would otherwise be the case. Theorists such as Matza and Sykes have listed
three general sets of values in this area: an emphasis on "excitement," "thrills," or "kicks"; a
disdain for hard work and a desire for quick, easy success; and an emphasis on toughness or
being "macho." Such values can be realized through legitimate as well as illegitimate
channels, but individuals with such values will likely view crime in a more favorable light
than others.
The imitation of criminal models. Behavior is not only a function of beliefs and the
reinforcements and punishments individuals receive, but also of the behavior of those around
them. In particular, individuals often imitate or model the behavior of othersespecially
when they like or respect these others and have reason to believe that imitating their behavior
will result in reinforcement. For example, individuals are more likely to imitate others'
behavior if they observe them receive reinforcement for their acts.
Social learning theory has much support and is perhaps the dominant theory of crime today.
Data indicate that the people one associates with have a large impact on whether or not one
engages in crime, and that this impact is partly explained by the effect these people have on
one's beliefs regarding crime, the reinforcements and punishments one receives, and the
models one is exposed to.

Control theory
Strain and social learning theorists ask, Why do people engage in crime? They then focus on
the factors that push or entice people into committing criminal acts. Control theorists,
however, begin with a rather different question. They ask, Why do people conform? Unlike

strain and social learning theorists, control theorists take crime for granted. They argue that
all people have needs and desires that are more easily satisfied through crime than through
legal channels. For example, it is much easier to steal money than to work for it. So in the
eyes of control theorists, crime requires no special explanation: it is often the most expedient
way to get what one wants. Rather than explaining why people engage in crime, we need to
explain why they do not.
According to control theorists, people do not engage in crime because of the controls or
restraints placed on them. These controls may be viewed as barriers to crimethey refer to
those factors that prevent them from engaging in crime. So while strain and social learning
theory focus on those factors that push or lead the individual into crime, control theory
focuses on the factors that restrain the individual from engaging in crime. Control theory goes
on to argue that people differ in their level of control or in the restraints they face to crime.
These differences explain differences in crime: some people are freer to engage in crime than
others.
Control theories describe the major types of social control or the major restraints to crime.
The control theory of Travis Hirschi dominates the literature, but Gerald Patterson and
associates, Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, and Robert Sampson and John Laub have
extended Hirschi's theory in important ways. Rather than describing the different versions of
control theory, an integrated control theory that draws on all of their insights is presented.
This integrated theory lists three major types of control: direct control, stake in conformity,
and internal control. Each type has two or more components.
Direct control. When most people think of control they think of direct control: someone
watching over people and sanctioning them for crime. Such control may be exercised by
family members, school officials, coworkers, neighborhood residents, police, and others.
Family members, however, are the major source of direct control given their intimate
relationship with the person. Direct control has three components: setting rules, monitoring
behavior, and sanctioning crime.
Direct control is enhanced to the extent that family members and others provide the person
with clearly defined rules that prohibit criminal behavior and that limit the opportunities and
temptations for crime. These rules may specify such things as who the person may associate
with and the activities in which they can and cannot engage.

Direct control also involves monitoring the person's behavior to ensure that they comply with
these rules and do not engage in crime. Monitoring may be direct or indirect. In direct
monitoring, the person is under the direct surveillance of a parent or other conventional
"authority figure." In indirect monitoring, the parent or authority figure does not directly
observe the person but makes an effort to keep tabs on what they are doing. The parent, for
example, may ask the juvenile where he or she is going, may periodically call the juvenile,
and may ask others about the juvenile's behavior. People obviously differ in the extent to
which their behavior is monitored.
Finally, direct control involves effectively sanctioning crime when it occurs. Effective
sanctions are consistent, fair, and not overly harsh.
Level of direct control usually emerges as an important cause of crime in most studies.
Stake in conformity. The efforts to directly control behavior are a major restraint to crime.
These efforts, however, are more effective with some people than with others. For example,
all juveniles are subject to more or less the same direct controls at school: the same rules, the
same monitoring, and the same sanctions if they deviate. Yet some juveniles are very
responsive to these controls while others commit deviant acts on a regular basis. One reason
for this is that some juveniles have more to lose by engaging in deviance. These juveniles
have what has been called a high "stake in conformity," and they do not want to jeopardize
that stake by engaging in deviance.
So one's stake in conformitythat which one has to lose by engaging in crimefunctions as
another major restraint to crime. Those with a lot to lose will be more fearful of being caught
and sanctioned and so will be less likely to engage in crime. People's stake in conformity has
two components: their emotional attachment to conventional others and their actual or
anticipated investment in conventional society.
If people have a strong emotional attachment to conventional others, like family members
and teachers, they have more to lose by engaging in crime. Their crime may upset people
they care about, cause them to think badly of them, and possibly disrupt their relationship
with them. Studies generally confirm the importance of this bond. Individuals who report that
they love and respect their parents and other conventional figures usually commit fewer
crimes. Individuals who do not care about their parents or others, however, have less to lose
by engaging in crime.

A second major component of people's stake in conformity is their investment in


conventional society. Most people have put a lot of time and energy into conventional
activities, like "getting an education, building up a business, [and] acquiring a reputation for
virtue" (Hirschi, p. 20). And they have been rewarded for their efforts, in the form of such
things as good grades, material possessions, and a good reputation. Individuals may also
expect their efforts to reap certain rewards in the future; for example, one might anticipate
getting into college or professional school, obtaining a good job, and living in a nice house.
In short, people have a large investmentboth actual and anticipatedin conventional
society. People do not want to jeopardize that investment by engaging in delinquency.
Internal control. People sometimes find themselves in situations where they are tempted to
engage in crime and the probability of external sanction (and the loss of those things they
value) is low. Yet many people still refrain from crime. The reason is that they are high in
internal control. They are able to restrain themselves from engaging in crime. Internal control
is a function of their beliefs regarding crime and their level of self-control.
Most people believe that crime is wrong and this belief acts as a major restraint to crime. The
extent to which people believe that crime is wrong is at least partly a function of their level of
direct control and their stake in conformity: were they closely attached to their parents and
did their parents attempt to teach them that crime is wrong? If not, such individuals may form
anamoral orientation to crime: they believe that crime is neither good nor bad. As a
consequence, their beliefs do not restrain them from engaging in crime. Their beliefs do not
propel or push them into crime; they do not believe that crime is good. Their amoral beliefs
simply free them to pursue their needs and desires in the most expedient way. Rather then
being taught that crime is good, control theorists argue that some people are simply not taught
that crime is bad.
Finally, some people have personality traits that make them less responsive to the above
controls and less able to restrain themselves from acting on their immediate desires. For
example, if someone provokes them, they are more likely to get into a fight. Or if someone
offers them drugs at a party, they are more likely to accept. They do not stop to consider the
long-term consequences of their behavior. Rather, they simply focus on the immediate, shortterm benefits or pleasures of criminal acts. Such individuals are said to be low in "selfcontrol."
Self-control is indexed by several personality traits. According to Gottfredson and Hirschi,
"people who lack self control will tend to be impulsive, insensitive, physical (as opposed to

mental), risk-taking, short-sighted, and nonverbal" (p. 90). It is claimed that the major cause
of low self-control is "ineffective child-rearing." In particular, low self-control is more likely
to result when parents do not establish a strong emotional bond with their children and do not
properly monitor and sanction their children for delinquency. Certain theorists also claim that
some of the traits characterizing low self-control have biological as well as social causes.
Gottfredson and Hirschi claim that one's level of self-control is determined early in life and is
then quite resistant to change. Further, they claim that low self-control is the central cause of
crime; other types of control and other causes of crime are said to be unimportant once level
of self-control is established. Data do indicate that low self-control is an important cause of
crime. Data, however, suggest that the self-control does vary over the life course and that
other causes of crime are also important. For example, Sampson and Laub demonstrate that
delinquent adolescents who enter satisfying marriages and obtain stable jobs (i.e., develop a
strong stake in conformity) are less likely to engage in crime as adults.
In sum, crime is less likely when others try to directly control the person's behavior, when the
person has a lot to lose by engaging in crime, and when the person tries to control his or her
own behavior.

Labeling theory
The above theories examine how the social environment causes individuals to engage in
crime, but they typically devote little attention to the official reaction to crime, that is, to the
reaction of the police and other official agencies. Labeling theory focuses on the official
reaction to crime and makes a rather counterintuitive argument regarding the causes of crime.
According to labeling theory, official efforts to control crime often have the effect of
increasing crime. Individuals who are arrested, prosecuted, and punished are labeled as
criminals. Others then view and treat these people as criminals, and this increases the
likelihood of subsequent crime for several reasons. Labeled individuals may have trouble
obtaining legitimate employment, which increases their level of strain and reduces their stake
in conformity. Labeled individuals may find that conventional people are reluctant to
associate with them, and they may associate with other criminals as a result. This reduces
their bond with conventional others and fosters the social learning of crime. Finally, labeled
individuals may eventually come to view themselves as criminals and act in accord with this
self-concept.

Labeling theory was quite popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, but then fell into decline
partly as a result of the mixed results of empirical research. Some studies found that being
officially labeled a criminal (e.g., arrested or convicted) increased subsequent crime, while
other studies did not. Recent theoretical work, however, has revised the theory to take
account of past problems. More attention is now being devoted to informal labeling, such as
labeling by parents, peers, and teachers. Informal labeling is said to have a greater effect on
subsequent crime than official labeling. Ross Matsueda discusses the reasons why individuals
may be informally labeled as delinquents, noting that such labeling is not simply a function of
official labeling (e.g., arrest). Informal labeling is also influenced by the individual's
delinquent behavior and by their position in societywith powerless individuals being more
likely to be labeled (e.g., urban, minority, lower-class, adolescents). Matsueda also argues
that informal labels affect individuals' subsequent level of crime by affecting their
perceptions of how others see them. If they believe that others see them as delinquents and
trouble-makers, they are more likely to act in accord with this perception and engage in
delinquency. Data provide some support for these arguments.
John Braithwaite extends labeling theory by arguing that labeling increases crime in some
circumstances and reduces it in others. Labeling increases subsequent crime when no effort is
made to reintegrate the offender back into conventional society; that is, when offenders are
rejected or informally labeled on a long-term basis. But labeling reduces subsequent crime
when efforts are made to reintegrate punished offenders back into conventional society. In
particular, labeling reduces crime when offenders are made to feel a sense of shame or guilt
for what they have done, but are eventually forgiven and reintegrated into conventional
groupslike family and conventional peer groups. Such reintegration may occur "through
words or gestures of forgiveness or ceremonies to decertify the offender as deviant" (pp. 100
101). Braithwaite calls this process "reintegrative shaming." Reintegrative shaming is said to
be more likely in certain types of social settings, for example, where individuals are closely
attached to their parents, neighbors, and others. Such shaming is also more likely in
"communitarian" societies, which place great stress on trust and the mutual obligation to help
one another (e.g., Japan versus the United States). Braithwaite's theory has not yet been well
tested, but it helps make sense of the mixed results of past research on labeling theory.

Social disorganization theory


The leading sociological theories focus on the immediate social environment, like the family,
peer group, and school. And they are most concerned with explaining why some individuals

are more likely to engage in crime than others. Much recent theoretical work, however, has
also focused on the larger social environment, especially the community and the total society.
This work usually attempts to explain why some groupslike communities and societies
have higher crime rates than other groups. In doing so, however, this work draws heavily on
the central ideas of control, social learning, and strain theories.
Social disorganization theory seeks to explain community differences in crime rates (see
Robert Sampson and W. Bryon Groves; Robert Bursik and Harold Grasmick). The theory
identifies the characteristics of communities with high crime rates and draws on social
control theory to explain why these characteristics contribute to crime.
Crime is said to be more likely in communities that are economically deprived, large in size,
high in multiunit housing like apartments, high in residential mobility (people frequently
move into and out of the community), and high in family disruption (high rates of divorce,
single-parent families). These factors are said to reduce the ability or willingness of
community residents to exercise effective social control, that is, to exercise direct control,
provide young people with a stake in conformity, and socialize young people so that they
condemn delinquency and develop self-control.
The residents of high crime communities often lack the skills and resources to effectively
assist others. They are poor and many are single parents struggling with family
responsibilities. As such, they often face problems in socializing their children against crime
and providing them with a stake in conformity, like the skills to do well in school or the
connections to secure a good job. These residents are also less likely to have close ties to their
neighbors and to care about their community. They typically do not own their own homes,
which lowers their investment in the community. They may hope to move to a more desirable
community as soon as they are able, which also lowers their investment in the community.
And they often do not know their neighbors well, since people frequently move into and out
of the community. As a consequence, they are less likely to intervene in neighborhood affairs
like monitoring the behavior of neighborhood residents and sanctioning crime. Finally,
these residents are less likely to form or support community organizations, including
educational, religious, and recreational organizations. This is partly a consequence of their
limited resources and lower attachment to the community. This further reduces control, since
these organizations help exercise direct control, provide people with a stake in conformity,
and socialize people. Also, these organizations help secure resources from the larger society,
like better schools and police protection. Recent data provide some support for these
arguments.

Social disorganization theorists and other criminologists, such as John Hagan, point out that
the number of communities with characteristics conducive to crimeparticularly high
concentrations of poor peoplehas increased since the 1960s. These communities exist
primarily in inner city areas and they are populated largely by members of minority groups
(due to the effects of discrimination). Such communities have increased for several reasons.
First, there has been a dramatic decline in manufacturing jobs in central city areas, partly due
to the relocation of factories to suburban areas and overseas. Also, the wages in
manufacturing jobs have become less competitive, due to factors like foreign competition, the
increase in the size of the work force, and the decline in unions. Second, the increase in very
poor communities is due to the migration of many working- and middle-class African
Americans to more affluent communities, leaving the poor behind. This migration was
stimulated by a reduction in discriminatory housing and employment practices. Third, certain
government policieslike the placement of public housing projects in inner-city
communities and the reduction of certain social serviceshave contributed to the increased
concentration of poverty.

Critical theories
Critical theories also try to explain group differences in crime rates in terms of the larger
social environment; some focus on class differences, some on gender differences, and some
on societal differences in crime. Several versions of critical theory exist, but all explain crime
in terms of group differences in power.
Marxist theories. Marxist theories argue that those who own the means of production (e.g.,
factories, businesses) have the greatest power. This groupthe capitalist classuses its
power for its own advantage. Capitalists work for the passage of laws that criminalize and
severely sanction the "street" crimes of lower-class persons, but ignore or mildly sanction the
harmful actions of business and industry (e.g., pollution, unsafe working conditions). And
capitalists act to increase their profits; for example, they resist improvements in working
conditions and they attempt to hold down the wages of workers. This is not to say that the
capitalist class is perfectly unified or that the government always acts on its behalf. Most
Marxists acknowledge that disputes sometimes arise within the capitalist class and that the
government sometimes makes concessions to workers in an effort to protect the long-term
interests of capitalists.
Marxists explain crime in several ways. Some draw on strain theory, arguing that workers and
unemployed people engage in crime because they are not able to achieve their economic

goals through legitimate channels. Also, Marxists argue that crime is a response to the poor
living conditions experienced by workers and the unemployed. Some draw on control theory,
arguing that crime results from the fact that many workers and the unemployed have little
stake in society and are alienated from governmental and business institutions. And some
draw on social learning theory, arguing that capitalist societies encourage the unrestrained
pursuit of money. Marxist theories, then, attempt to explain both class and societal
differences in crime.
Institutional anomie theory. Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld's institutional anomie
theory draws on control and social learning theories to explain the high crime rate in the
United States. According to the theory, the high crime rate partly stems from the emphasis
placed on the "American Dream." Everyone is encouraged to strive for monetary success, but
little emphasis is placed on the legitimate means to achieve such success: "it's not how you
play the game; it's whether you win or lose." As a consequence, many attempt to obtain
money through illegitimate channels or crime. Further, the emphasis on monetary success is
paralleled by the dominance of economic institutions in the United States. Other major
institutionsthe family, school, and the political systemare subservient to economic
institutions. Noneconomic functions and roles (e.g., parent, teacher) are devalued and receive
little support. Noneconomic institutions must accommodate themselves to the demands of the
economy (e.g., parents neglect their children because of the demands of work). And
economic norms have come to penetrate these other institutions (e.g., the school system, like
the economic system, is based on the individualized competition for rewards). As a result,
institutions like the family, school, and political system are less able to effectively socialize
individuals against crime and sanction deviant behavior.
Feminist theories. Feminist theories focus on gender differences in power as a source of
crime. These theories address two issues: why are males more involved in most forms of
crime than females, and why do females engage in crime. Most theories of crime were
developed with males in mind; feminists argue that the causes of female crime differ
somewhat from the causes of male crime.
Gender differences in crime are said to be due largely to gender differences in social learning
and control. Females are socialized to be passive, subservient, and focused on the needs of
others. Further, females are more closely supervised than males, partly because fathers and
husbands desire to protect their "property" from other males. Related to this, females are
more closely tied to the household and to child-rearing tasks, which limits their opportunities
to engage in many crimes.

Some females, of course, do engage in crime. Feminist theories argue that the causes of their
crime differ somewhat from those of male crime, although female crime is largely explained
in terms of strain theory. Meda Chesney-Lind and others argue that much female crime stems
from the fact that juvenile females are often sexually abused by family members. This high
rate of sexual abuse is fostered by the power of males over females, the sexualization of
femalesespecially young femalesand a system that often fails to sanction sexual abuse.
Abused females frequently run away, but they have difficulty surviving on the street. They
are labeled as delinquents, making it difficult for them to obtain legitimate work. Juvenile
justice officials, in fact, often arrest such females and return them to the families where they
were abused. Further, these females are frequently abused and exploited by men on the street.
As a consequence, they often turn to crimes like prostitution and theft to survive. Theorists
have pointed to still other types of strain to explain female crime, like the financial and other
difficulties experienced by women trying to raise families without financial support from
fathers. The rapid increase in female-headed families in recent decades, in fact, has been used
to explain the increase in rates of female property crime. It is also argued that some female
crime stems from frustration over the constricted roles available to females in our society.
There are other versions of critical theory, including "postmodernist" theories of crime. A
good overview can be found in the text by George Vold, Thomas J. Bernard, and Jeffrey B.
Snipes.

Situations conducive to crime


The above theories focus on the factors that create a general willingness or predisposition to
engage in crime, locating such factors in the immediate and larger social environment. People
who are disposed to crime generally commit more crime than those who are not. But even the
most predisposed people do not commit crime all of the time. In fact, they obey the law in
most situations. Several theories argue that predisposed individuals are more likely to engage
in crime in some types of situations than others. These theories specify the types of situations
most conducive to crime. Such theories usually argue that crime is most likely in those types
of situations where the benefits of crime are seen as high and the costs as low, an argument
very compatible with social learning theory.
The most prominent theory in this area is the routine activities perspective, advanced by
Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson and elaborated by Felson. It is argued that crime is most
likely when motivated offenders come together with attractive targets in the absence of
capable guardians. Attractive targets are visible, accessible, valuable, and easy to move. The

police may function as capable guardians, but it is more common for ordinary people to play
this rolelike family members, neighbors, and teachers. According to this theory, the supply
of suitable targets and the presence of capable guardians are a function of our everyday or
"routine" activitieslike attending school, going to work, and socializing with friends. For
example, Cohen and Felson point to a major change in routine activities since World War II:
people are more likely to spend time away from home. This change partly reflects the fact
that women have become much more likely to work outside the home and people have
become more likely to seek entertainment outside the home. As a result, motivated offenders
are more likely to encounter suitable targets in the absence of capable guardians. Homes are
left unprotected during the day and often in the evening, and people spend more time in
public settings where they may fall prey to motivated offenders. Other theories, like the
rational-choice perspective of Derek B. Cornish and Ronald V. Clarke, also discuss the
characteristics of situations conducive to crime.

Integrated theories
Several theorists have attempted to combine certain of the above theories in an effort to create
integrated theories of crime. The most prominent of these integrations are those of Terence P.
Thornberry and Delbert S. Elliott and associates. Elliott's theory states that strain and labeling
reduce social control. For example, school failure and negative labeling may threaten one's
emotional bond to conventional others and investment in conventional society. Low social
control, in turn, increases the likelihood of association with delinquent peers, which promotes
the social learning of crime. Thornberry attempts to integrate control and social learning
theories. Like Elliott, he argues that low control at home and at school promotes association
with delinquent peers and the adoption of beliefs favorable to delinquency. Thornberry,
however, also argues that most of the causes of crime have reciprocal effects on one another.
For example, low attachment to parents increases the likelihood of association with
delinquent peers, and association with delinquent peers reduces attachment to parents.
Likewise, delinquency affects many of its causes: for example, it reduces attachment to
parents and increases association with delinquent peers (an argument compatible with
labeling theory). Further, Thornberry argues that the causes of crime vary over the life course.
For example, parents have a much stronger effect on delinquency among younger than older
adolescents. Factors like work, marriage, college, and the military, however, are more
important among older adolescents.

The future of crime theories

Sociologists continue to refine existing theories and develop new theories of crime, including
integrated theories of crime (e.g., Charles Tittle's control balance theory). Sociologists,
however, are coming to recognize that it is not possible to explain crime solely in terms of the
immediate social environment. As a consequence, they are devoting more attention to the
larger social environment, which affects the immediate social environment. And they are
devoting more attention to the situations in which people find themselves, which affect
whether predisposed individuals will engage in crime. Further, sociologists are coming to
recognize that they need to take account of the factors considered in biological,
psychological, and other theories of crime. Most notably, they must take account of
individual traits like intelligence, impulsivity, and irritability. These traits influence how
individuals respond to their social environment. An irritable individual, for example, is more
likely to respond to strain with crime. These traits also shape the individual's social
environment. Irritable individuals, for example, are more likely to elicit hostile reactions from
others and select themselves into social environments that are conducive to crime, like bad
jobs and marriages. (At the same time, the social environment influences the development of
individual traits and the ways in which individuals with particular traits behave.)
Further, sociologists are increasingly recognizing that their theories may require modification
if they are to explain crime in different groups and among different types of offenders. As
indicated above, theories may have to be modified to explain female versus male crime. And
theories may have to be modified to explain crime across the life course. For example, the
factors that explain why young adolescents start committing crime likely differ somewhat
from those that explain why some older adolescents continue to commit crimes and others
stop. Much recent attention, in fact, has been devoted to the explanation of crime across the
life course, as described in the text by Vold, Bernard, and Snipes. Also, theories will have to
be modified to explain crime among different types of offenders. Some offenders, for
example, limit their offending to the adolescent years. Others offend at high rates across the
life course.
Sociological theories, then, will become more complex, taking account of individual traits,
the immediate social environment, the larger social environment, and situational factors. And
modified versions of such theories will be developed to explain crime in different groups and
among different types of offenders.
Robert Agnew

See also Class and Crime; Crime Causation: Biological Theories; Crime Causation:
Economic Theories; Crime Causation: Political Theories; Crime Causation: Psychological
Theories; Delinquent and Criminal Subcultures; Deviance; Family Relationships and Crime;
Gender and Crime; Juvenile and Youth Gangs; Mass Media and Crime; Race and Crime;
Riots: Behavioral Aspects; Unemployment and Crime; White-Collar Crime: History of an
Idea.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
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Hall, 1986.
Braithwaite, John. Crime, Shame, and Reintegration. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1989.
Bursik, Robert J., Jr.; and Grasmick, Harold G. Neighborhoods and Crime. New York:
Lexington, 1993.
Chesney-Lind, Meda; and Sheldon, Randall G. Girls, Delinquency, and Juvenile
Justice. Belmont, Calif.: West/Wadsworth, 1998.
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1960.
Cohen, Albert K. Delinquent Boys. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1955.
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Activities Approach." American Sociological Review 44 (1979): 588608.
Cornish, Derek B.; and Clarke, Ronald V. The Reasoning Criminal. New York: SpringerVerlag, 1986.

Elliott, Delbert S.; Huizinga, David; and Ageton, Suzanne S. Explaining Delinquency and
Drug Use.Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1985.
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(1977): 189223.
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Messner, Steven F.; and Rosenfeld, Richard. Crime and the American Dream. Belmont,
Calif.: Wadsworth, 1997.
Patterson, Gerald R.; Reid, John B.; and Dishion, Thomas J. Antisocial Boys. Eugene, Oreg.:
Castalia Publishing Co., 1992.
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Social-Disorganization Theory." American Journal of Sociology 94 (1989): 774802.
Sampson, Robert J.; and Laub, John H. Crime in the Making. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1993.

Sutherland, Edwin H.; Cressey, Donald R.; and Luckenbill, David F. Principles of
Criminology. Dix Hills, N.Y.: General Hall, 1992.
Sykes, Gresham; and Matza, David. "Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of
Delinquency."American Journal of Sociology 22 (1957): 664670.
Thornberry, Terence P. "Towards an Interactional Theory of Delinquency." Criminology 25
(1987): 863891.
Tittle, Charles R. Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance. Boulder, Colo.:
Westview, 1995.
Vold, George B.; Bernard, Thomas J.; and Snipes, Jeffrey B. Theoretical Criminology. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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16-284 Crime and Criminality Chapter 16. CRIME AND CRIMINALITY It is criminal
to steal a purse, It is daring to steal a fortune. It is a mark of greatness to steal a
crown. The blame diminishes as the guilt increases. Johann Schiller (1759-1805)
We sow an act and reap a habit: We sow a habit and reap a character: We sow a
character and reap a destiny. William Black (1893) the root causes of crime
[are] poverty, unemployment, underemployment, racism, poor health care, bad
housing, weak schools, mental illness, alcoholism, single-parent families,
teenage pregnancy, and a society of selfishness and greed. Patrick V. Murphy
(1985) former NYPD Commissioner I. Introduction A. The Intractable Problem of
Crime We have made the claim that, aside from being an interesting intellectual
exercise, there are important practical reasons for trying to understand human
behavior in an integrated fashion. In this chapter we will test the utility of the
human ecological approach on one of the most intractable internal social
problems in culturally diverse societiescrime. In subsequent chapters, we also
will test our approach on more group-level problems such as the conservation of
public resources and war. Crime is a particularly interesting problem because it is
in many respects the obverse (i.e., the flip side) of altruism. This is especially
true if we define crime broadly as behavior in which individuals obtain resources
from others via force, fraud, or stealth. Think about this. Weve discussed the
apparent importance of altruism for large-scale social interactions between
unrelated people. In order for people to reap the full benefits of group
cooperation and division of labor, they sometimes must subordinate their
personal interests to those of othersoccasionally in dramatic fashion. Altruistic
acts cost an individual more than he or she gains. Criminal acts do just the
opposite. People who commit these acts intentionally harm others for their own
gain. Of course, sometimes altruism on the small scale is necessary to execute
predatory Crime and Criminality 16-285 strategies against the larger societies.
Criminal conspiracies may enjoin considerable selfsacrifice on the part of gang
members who are caught. The Sicilian Mafia was apparently successful in part
because of its tradition of omerta,silence in the face of police questioning and
inducenments to rat on the gang. Other criminal conspiracies often try to mimic
the Sicilians in this regard, but they were long the most successful. The following
discussion will define key terms in a broad enough sense so that the larger issues
associated with crime can emerge. We then will discuss the ways in which crime
harms individuals and groups and why we think that it is necessary from a
practical standpoint to take a long-term integrated approach to understanding
and controlling crime. In other words, well try to see what special insights the

human ecological approach to understanding criminal behavior can bring to this


thorny problem that affects us all every day. At the end of this chapter, well
argue that our approach suggests practical policy alternatives that traditional
academic disciplines have tended to overlook. (Surprise!) So that you can make
your own decisions about the reasonableness of our positions, well first
summarize well established empirical findings about the nature and distribution
of crime then try to make sense of them using standard ecological tools and
some of the insights developed thus far in this course. B. Definition of Terms
Legally, crimes usually are defined as acts or omissions forbidden by law that
can be punished by imprisonment and/or fine. Murder, robbery, burglary, rape,
drunken driving, child neglect, and failure to pay your taxes all are common
examples. However, as several eminent criminologists recently have noted (e.g.
Sampson and Laub 1993; Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990), the key to
understanding crime is to focus on fundamental attributes of all criminal
behaviors rather than on specific criminal acts. Instead of trying to separately
understand crimes such as homicide, robbery, rape, burglary, embezzlement,
and heroin use, we need to identify what it is they all have in common. Much
past research on crime has been confounded by its focus on these politico-legal
rather than behavioral definitions. The behavioral definition of crime focuses on,
criminality, a certain personality profile that causes the most alarming sorts of
crimes. All criminal behaviors involve the use of force, fraud, or stealth to obtain
material or symbolic resources. As Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) noted,
criminality is a style of strategic behavior characterized by self-centeredness,
indifference to the suffering and needs of others, and low self-control. More
impulsive individuals are more likely to find criminality an attractive style of
behavior because it can provide immediate gratification through relatively easy
or simple strategies. These strategies frequently are risky and thrilling, usually
requiring little skill or planning. They often 16-286 Crime and Criminality result in
pain or discomfort for victims and offer few or meager long-term benefits
because they interfere with careers, family, and friendships. Gottfredson and
Hirschi assert that this means the within-person causes of truancy are the same
as the within-person causes of drug use, aggravated assault, and auto accidents
(1990, p. 256). Criminality in this sense brears a problematic relationship with
legal crimes. Some drug dealers, tax cheats, prostitutes and other legal criminals
may simply be business-people whose business activity happens to be illegal.
Psychologically, they might not differ from ordinary citizens. Almost all ordinary
citizens commit at least small legal crimes during thier lives. Nevertheless,
Gottfredsons and Hirschis hypothesis is that the vast majority of legal crime is
committed by individuals a general strategy of criminal activity. This conception
of crime explains the wide variety of criminal activity and the fact that
individuals tend not to specialize in one type of crime. It also is consistent with
the well-established tendency of people to be consistent over long periods of
time in the frequency and severity of crimes they commit. Even executives who
commit white collar crimes probably are more impulsive, self-centered, and
indifferent to the suffering of others than those who do not take advantage of
similar opportunities. Focusing on criminality rather than political-legal
definitions also allows us to finesse the perplexing problem of why some acts

(e.g., marijuana consumption) are defined as crimes while similar arguably more
damaging acts (e.g., alcohol consumption) are not. These issues, central to
conflict theories and critical theories of crime, are important. However, because
they focus on systematically deeper power relations between competing interest
groups, they seldom provide feasible policy alternatives and tend to reinforce
perceptions of crime as an insolvable problem. What we want to do here is see if
the human ecological approach can lead us to some practical strategies for
controlling crime. Human resources can have material, symbolic, or hedonistic
value. In crimes such as thefts, individuals take material resources such as
property from another person without his or her knowing cooperation. Those who
commit crimes such as narcotics trafficking and gambling attempt to obtain
money that can be exchanged for material resources. In crimes such as assaults
not associated with theft, sexual assaults, and illicit drug use, people obtain
hedonistic resources that increase pleasurable feelings or decrease unpleasant
feelings. Political crimes such as terrorism or election fraud attempt to obtain
symbolic resources such as power or prestige. C. How Bad is the Problem of
Crime? The US is truly in the midst of a crime wave. Serious crime rates in the
United States rose 40 percent from 1970 to 1990. Rates for reported violent
crimes rose 85 percent, rates Crime and Criminality 16-287 for more common
property crimes 35 percent. As we attempted to control crime through traditional
approaches, expenditures for federal, state, and local criminal justice system
activities increased from $12.3 billion in 1971 to $74.3 billion in 1990. Our
imprisonment rates soared from 96 to 292 per 100,000, becoming higher than
any other industrialized nation. Crime has high and diverse costs. The direct
physical, material, mental, and emotional injury suffered by victims of crime is
deplorable. Perhaps even more tragic, however, is the indirect damage to society.
Attempts to control crime through the criminal justice system increasingly
intrude in our private lives. Personal freedoms are threatened as we repeatedly
choose between public order and individual rights. Moreover, crime amplifies
mistrust, feeds prejudice, and generally degrades social cohesion (Vila, 1994).
People become more fearful, often imprisoning themselves in their own homes.
Guns are kept within reach, a knock on the door evokes terror, a stranger in need
of assistance is ignored. II. A Systems Perspective on Crime Criminal behavior is
the product of a systematic process that involves complex interactions between
individual, societal, and ecological factors over the course of our lives. In other
words, from conception onward the intellectual, emotional, and physical
attributes we develop are strongly influenced by our personal behaviors and
physical processes, interactions with the physical environment, and interactions
with other people, groups and institutions. These systematic processes affect the
transmission from generation to generation of traits associated with increased
involvement in crime. As will be discussed, this often ignored fact has important
policy implications. Table 17.1 provides a rough idea of some of the kinds of
interactions that are possible. Before discussing the systematic processes that
cause crime, we first must outline key ecological-, societal-, and individual-level
components of that system. In other words, we must look at the parts separately
before we can understand how they work together. A. Ecological Factors
Ecological factors involve interactions between people and their activities in a

physical environment. This category includes things associated with the physical
environment such as geography and topography, crowding, pollution, and
recreational opportunities. These ecological factors can affect how people
develop physically and emotionally over their lives as well as the level of
hostility, fear, or well-being they feel from moment to moment as they
experience, for example, a crowded subway, dark lonely parking lot, or serene
park. 16-288 Crime and Criminality Ecological factors also determine what
opportunities for crime exist because they include interactions between people
and the ways physical environments channel those interactions. The routine
activities of people in a physical setting can have important effects on when and
where opportunities for crime occur. A crime is not possible unless a motivated
and able offender converges with a victim, property, or illicit substance or
behavior in the absence of capable guardianship (people or physical barriers to
prevent the crime). Table 1: Examples of important direct effects that can
produce interactions among ecological, microlevel, and macrolevel factors
associated with crime. AFFECTS OF Ecological Factors ON Microlevel Factors
Macrolevel Factors Ecological Factors X -Environment reinforces (& perhaps
counteracts) temperamental propensities. -Pollution hazards degrade learning,
cause hyperactivity, etc. -Exposure to danger increases aggressiveness and/or
fear. -Deviant models provide opportunities to learn deviant behaviors. -Criminal
opportunities increase temptation. -Overcrowding may increase hostility.
-Physical resources provide economic opportunities. -Geographic barriers
reinforce class/ethnic boundaries and selfinterestedness. -Ecological interactions
drive population-level evolution of culture. Microlevel Factors -Routine activities
of individuals affect opportunities for crime. -Individuals can modify local
environment. -Individual historical and genetic variation assures some variation
between the abilities, motivation, and strategies of interacting individuals. X
-Individual variation provides grist for evolutionary processes. -Individual actions
change average payoffs for criminal and noncriminal behaviors. -Individuals form
interest groups to change government. Crime and Criminality 16-289 B. Societal
or Macrolevel Factors Societal or macrolevel factors deal with systematic
interactions between social groups. Societal factors describe the ways society is
structured. They include such things as the relative distribution of the population
among groups and the flows of information, resources, and people between
groups. Societal factors encompass the variety and heterogeneity of
racial/ethnic/cultural/productive groups, their behaviors and beliefs, and
economic relations. C. Motivation and Opportunity Individuals actually commit
the crimes. Although ecological and societal factors must be included in any full
explanation of crime, individual factors always intervene between them and a
criminal act. For this reason individual factors need to be the center of any
description of the causes of crime. Individual or microlevel factors describe how a
person becomes motivated to commit a crime. Before describing those factors,
however, it is important to define another key component of the system
motivation. Is it just the driving force behind our actions? In this discussion,
motivation is more than the I want. portion of the equation. It includes I
could. What will it cost me compared to what I think Ill get? and Is this right
and proper? Motivation is the outcome of a process in which a goal is

formulated, costs and benefits are assessed, and internal constraints on behavior
are applied. The relative importance of the components of this process may vary
from individual to individual, time to time, and situation to situation. In other
words, sometimes a persons motivation is influenced more Macrolevel Factors
-Government modifications of built environment channel population movement
and change location of criminal opportunities. -Sociocultural heterogeneity
creates more opportunities for crime. -Weak regulation or guardianship creates
opportunities for crime. -Cultural beliefs influence parenting styles and parental
behavior. -Economic inequality creates pressures for crime via poverty and
greed. -Poverty increases child developmental risks by creating strains on
parents, & degrading education and health care. -Unequal access to information
and education creates power inequities. X Table 1: Examples of important direct
effects that can produce interactions among ecological, microlevel, and
macrolevel factors associated with crime. AFFECTS OF Ecological Factors ON
Microlevel Factors Macrolevel Factors 16-290 Crime and Criminality by rational
decisionmaking, other times by emotions such as anger, greed, or lust. Similarly,
some people tend to be more motivated by cost/benefit calculations more of the
time than others. Moreover, the value people place on different objects or
activities can vary as can their ability to resist temptation. Motivation alone
cannot cause a crime to occur; opportunity also is required. Andalthough few
researchers today address this issueopportunity itself may influence motivation
(Katz 1988). Lay people call this temptation and probably would consider any
discussion of motivation that excluded temptation silly. Thus a persons
propensity to commit a criminal act at a particular point in time is a function of
both motivation and opportunity. Some may be motivated to seek out and exploit
criminal opportunities that offer extremely small rewards; others will commit
crimes only when presented with relatively enormous opportunities; and a very
few will not commit crimes regardless of rewards. As Cohen and Machalek (1988)
noted in their innovative work on the evolution of crime and criminal strategies,
disadvantage may motivate people to commit crimes, but so can advantage. As
the past decades string of institutional scandals has graphically illustrated, the
elevated skills and status that provide access to lucrative criminal opportunities
with little risk of being caught and punished also can motivate people to commit
crimes. We might imagine that most politicians and business-people who take
and offer bribes and the like are less impulsive and thrill-seeking than street
criminal, but still have higher motivation to commit crimes than their honest
colleagues. However, in politics and business, the opportunities are enourmously
tempting. Contrariwise, scientific scandals are relatively rare. However, it is not
likely motivation but opportunity that is lacking. The main reward in science is
prestige, and it is gained by publishing papers. Plagarism and data faking occur,
but if the idea is an important one, the victim of plagarism will complain, and
other will attempt to replicate the faked experiment. The criminal act of
publishing a faked paper is highly public; your name is attatched and the
chances of getting caught are high. Criminologists hypothesize that a number of
individual factors determine a persons motivation to commit an act. Motivation
at a particular point in time is the result of interactions over a persons life
course between biological, socio-cultural, and developmental factorsas well as

contemporaneous opportunity. Psychological factors are the result of interactions


between biological and socio-cultural factors. Criminologists do not imagine that
some simple consitutional factor (criminal nature) is a very satisfactory
explanation for mativational factors. Biological factors include such things as
physical size, strength, or swiftness, and the excitability/reactivity of nervous and
organ systems in the body (see Crime and Criminality 16-291 Fishbein 1990;
Wilson and Herrnstein 1985). It is easy to imagine that big, athletic, young males
are likely to be statistically over-represented among strongarm robbers
compared to small, skinny, awkward fellows. Although these factors set the
physical boundaries of our behavior and influence our affective state, they do not
determine which of the myriad possible behaviors we perform. Socio-cultural
factorsinfluence the strategies of behavior and personal beliefs, values, needs,
and desires a person acquires over his or her life. These have been the focus of
many well known theories of crime that emphasized such things as social
learning, rational choice, self-control, and social strain. They include the
knowledge, skills, attitudes, and other cultural information we learn through
interactions with other people and groupsas well as from cultural artifacts such
as books and movies. Socio-culturally acquired traits affect which behavioral
strategies (ways of doing things to achieve desired ends) one knows how to
apply and they influence how we perceive the costs and benefits of a course of
action. For example, the value we place on the good will and opinion of others is
a socio-cultural factor, as are many of the beliefs that affect the value we assign
to material or symbolic goods. Socio-cultural factors influence the strength of
self-control that helps us resist temptation. They also can produce strain that
magnifies temptation when there are disjunctions between what we have learned
to desire and the opportunities we perceive. Development is the process of
physical, intellectual, and emotional growth that begins with conception and
ends with death. Development can be adversely influenced by such factors as
environmental pollutants, disease, physical injury, and lack of nurturing.
Interactions throughout the life course between biological, sociocultural, and
developmental factors determine who we are and how we respond to
opportunities at any point in time. Child developmentthe source of many core
personality traitsis particularly vulnerable to poor family management
practices arising from such things as poverty, lack of education, or living in a
high crime neighborhood. Family stressors such as unemployment, marital
conflict, and divorce also can disrupt family life. According to Patterson and his
colleagues at the Oregon Social Learning Center, growing up in a disrupted
family is strongly associated with child antisocial behaviorof which crime is one
type (e.g. Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey 1989). D. Summary of Systematic
Relationships Figure 17.1 illustrates the interactions between the three types of
individual factors, motivation, and opportunity. Over time, interactions between
biological, socio-cultural and developmental factors affect how motivated a
person is to use force, fraud, or stealth to obtain resources when an opportunity
is presented. If motivation is sufficiently high in the presence of an attractive
opportunity, a crime may occur so long as the person has the ability required to
commit it. As we will discuss later, crimes provoke responses from victims and
potential victims. 16-292 Crime and Criminality III. The Nature and Distribution of

Crime A. Correlates and Causes of Crime A large body of research indicates that
crime is highly correlated with youthfulness and male gender, and that early
involvement in crime is predictive of subsequent involvement. Similarly, poverty,
inequality, disrupted families, inadequate socialization, and the presence of
criminal opportunities all seem to be important correlates of crime (e.g.,
Sampson and Laub 1993; Reiss and Roth 1993; Tonry, Ohlin, and Farrington
1991; Land, McCall, and Cohen 1990; Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990; Blau and
Schwartz 1984). These general findings about the primary correlates of crime
seem likely to endurealthough there remains substantial debate among
criminologists in various academic disciplines about the relative causal
importance of, and relationships between, different variables. This debate tends
to obscure larger issues regarding the appropriate causal scope and scale for
understanding and controlling crime; i.e., which variables interacting in what
ways should be considered, and at what levels of analysis. The problem not easy
to solve with better correlational studies because so many variables are
intercorrelated. For example, poverty, recial discrimination, and family disruption
all disproportionately affect African Americans, who also disproportionately
engage in criminal behavior. However, from the correlational data alone it is
impossible to say which variable is the most important or direct cause of crime,
or anything about how the variables might be causally inter-related. ? Figure
17.1. Important systematic interactions between individual and societal factors
that cause crime. Individual level Societal level Biological Socio-Cultural
Developmental Motivation for Crime Criminal Opportunities Crime
CounterStrategies IF Crime and Criminality 16-293 As a result, no satisfactory
unified theoretical framework yet has been developed. This has diminished the
policy relevance of recommendations from even some of the most
comprehensive interdisciplinary research on crime. This is a prime example of
the kind of interdisciplinary problem associated with the sociology of science that
human ecology tries to address. B. Research vs. Policy? Although research and
policy formulation should be complementary activities, they often have different
imperatives. Whereas scientists are engaged in an endless pursuit of information
and understanding, policymakers eventually must take action. In this chapter we
are not trying to settle debates about which causal variables explain more
variance in crime rates or criminal behavior. Rather we want to show how the
human ecological approach might be used to systematically and completely
organize information and empirically supported insights from the many
disciplines that study crime. If this approach makes it possible to develop a truly
general theory of criminal behavior, it finally might be possible to establish a
unified framework to guide both research and, eventually, policy. We do think
that the policy relevance of research is important. For decades theoretical
fragmentation in criminology has contributed to generally ineffective,
fragmented, and short-sighted public policies. Without a holistic understanding of
the causes of crime, elected officials will continue to shift the focus of control
efforts back and forth from individual level to macrolevel causes as the political
pendulum swings from right to left. This erratic approach feeds the desperate
belief that the problem of crime is intractablea belief that results in calls for
increasingly draconian crime control measures that threaten constitutional

guarantees, even commonsense (e.g., Shoot casual marijuana users [Gates


1992:286- 287].). C. Partial Theories of Crime A number of general and/or very
broad theories of crime have been proposed during recent years. Yet no single
perspective has been able to integrate causal factors across important ecological
(environmental and situational), microlevel (intrinsic to the individual), and
macrolevel (social structural and economic) domains to explain the full scope of
criminal behavior. For example, Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) provide an
exhaustive review of microlevel biopsychological factors associated with the
development of criminal propensities by individuals, but largely ignore
macrolevel factors such as social structure, cultural beliefs, and the role of
ecological interactions. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) attend more to ecological
and macrolevel factors associated with development of self-control, but deny
that biological factors have any importance. Braithwaite (1989) links micro- 16294 Crime and Criminality and macrolevel factors and processes with the
ecological organization of communities, but fails to consider how these relations
evolve over time or how the propensities of individuals develop over the life
course. Pearson and Weiner (1985) recommend a dynamic processesoriented
approach to understanding how interactions between ecological, micro- and
macrolevel factors affect social learning and rational behavior in individuals. But
they neglect the reciprocal influence of these individuals on the evolution of
macrolevel factors as well as environmental and biological factors. Others (e.g.,
Agnew 1992; Elliott, Ageton, and Canter 1979) lay a foundation for
understanding how the propensities of individuals develop over the life course in
response to micro- and macrolevel factors, but ignore biological and ecological
factors that influence criminal behavior. There is a more synthetic trend in recent
research. Sampson, working with others, recently has described most of the
salient relationships. For example, Sampson and Laub (1993) described how
macrolevel factors influence individuals over the life course via systematic links
to family relations and the institutions of school and work. And Sampson and
Groves (1989) identified how these factors are affected by the ecological
organization of communities. However, these scholars avoid discussing the role
of biological factors and do not account for the evolution of macrolevel factors
over time. Similarly, Farrington (1986) explains crime as the product of a chain of
processes that involve biological, microlevel, and ecological factors that
influence what is desired, which strategies are selected to obtain desiderata, and
situational and opportunity factors that affect decisionmaking. But he does not
deal with the evolution of macrolevel and ecological factors. Developmental
psychologists have focused more broadly on the etiology of antisocial behavior.
For example, Moffitt (in press) and Patterson et al. (1989) take into account
generational and life span issues as well as demographic, micro-, and macrolevel
factors. However, they ignore the roles played by criminal opportunities and
factors associated with the evolution of criminal behaviors and social responses
to crime. All these factors must be understood together before we can explain,
predict, or control crime fully. A human ecological approach is fundamentally
different from these earlier theories (Vila 1994). Each of the perspectives
mentioned thus far attempted to show how analysis of variables within a favored
domain, or associated with a particular construct or set of constructs, could be

used to explain all or most aspects of criminal behavior. Each of these


perspectives understandably tended to be largely congruent with their authors
academic disciplinesdisciplines whose boundaries exist in our minds and
institutions, but not in reality. Human ecology similarly has its roots in the
interdiscipline of evolutionary ecology. But it uses a problem-oriented, rather
than discipline-oriented, approach to understanding Crime and Criminality 16295 criminal behavior. For example, it does not ask How can one reconcile
strain, control, labelling, social learning and... theories? Instead it asks
What relationships tend to be fundamentally important for understanding
changes over time in the resource acquisition and retention behaviors of any
social organism? This defines naturally the boundaries of the problem and leads
us to view systematic interactions between various domains in a more realistic
fashion as dynamic rather than static. IV. Key Causes of Crime It is necessary to
apply a generational time scale in order to holistically understand the causes of
individual criminal behavior. We begin the same way an ecologist would
approach the study of any organism: by examining the life cycle. A. The Role of
Early Life Experiences As we noted previously, early life experiences appear
likely to have an especially strong influence on the development of criminality
because individuals acquire their traits sequentially. The traits we possess at any
juncture are the result of the cumulative cognitive, affective, physical, and social
effects of a sequence of events that began at conception. As a result of these
events, individuals acquire a strategic style over the course of their lives. Some
individuals develop a strategic style that emphasizes the use of force, fraud, or
stealth to obtain resources and is characterized by self-centeredness,
indifference to the suffering and needs of others, and low self-control
criminality. Some of the more important developmental factors include parenting
and family management practices, educational success, pre-, peri-, and postnatal
stress (e.g., Wilson and Herrnstein 1985), nutrition, and complex interactions
between genes and environment (Fishbein 1990. Two especially important
factors are whether an environment helps or hinders a childs attempt to cope
with his/her temperamental propensities and the ability of parents to cope with
or redirect the behaviors of a difficult child. As Werner and Smith (1992) note,
children are placed at increasing risk of becoming involved in crime by such
things as economic hardships, living in high crime neighborhoods, serious
caregiving deficits, and family disruption. But these risks appear to be buffered
by factors like an easy temperament, scholastic competence, educated mothers,
and the presence of grandparents or older siblings who serve as alternate
caregivers. The relative importance of risk and protective factors varies
according to life stage, gender, and social environment. Demographic stressors
such as poverty, lack of education, high crime neighborhood and family stressors
such as unemployment, marital conflict, and divorce all tend to influence
development by disrupting family management practices (Sampson and Laub
16-296 Crime and Criminality 1993:83). Growing up in a disrupted family is
associated strongly with child antisocial behavior, of which crime is one type. The
generational time scale is particularly important here because poor family
management, antisocial behaviors, and susceptibility to stressors often are
transmitted intergenerationally from grandparents to parents to children

(Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey 1989). As will be discussed, this may have
important policy implications. B. An Example As figure 17.2 illustrates, parents
may transmit genes thatin conjunction with pre- , peri-, and postnatal
experiencescause offspring to develop nervous and organ systems that make
them much more difficult and cranky. This affects the probability they will bond
properly with a parent, especially if that parent is under extreme stress from
economic, social, or personal factors. For example, children of poor parents beset
by economic difficulties and of wealthy parents whose extreme focus on social
and career concerns leads them to nurture their children irregularly may be
vulnerable to this dynamic1 . The parent/child bond affects how strongly a child
values parental approvalweakly bonded children tend to be much more
impulsive and difficult to control. This can initiate a vicious cycle in which a child
receives less affection and nurturance because of misbehavior and therefore
seeks less and less to please. Over time, the child develops a strategic style in a
setting where rewards often are unpredictable as parents struggle with
alternating resentment and desire to nurture. Because rewards are perceived as
undependable, the child learns to immediately grasp opportunities for short-term
gratification rather than learning to defer them for future rewards. In this setting
a child also is less likely to acquire conventional moral beliefs. And the risk of
physical and emotional child abusewhich further tend to fuel this vicious spiral
toward criminality (Widom 1992)also may be greater. More impulsive children
tend to do less well in school. Poor school performance strongly influences future
life chances and thus how much stake they develop in conventional society. It
also increases the likelihood children will associate with, and learn criminal
behavioral strategies from, deviant associates. Both of these factors increase the
likelihood of engaging in serious and frequent delinquency (Hirschi 1969).
Engaging in delinquency further can diminish conventional opportunities and
weaken beliefs about the moral validity of specific laws, thus reinforcing
criminality. This trajectory will tend to continue into adulthood until/unless it is
altered. Sampson and Laub cite fundamental shifts in family relations and work
as the most important sources of potential change (1993:248). 1. See Moffitt (in
press: 15-21) for a more detailed description of problem child/problem parent
interactions and the emergence of antisocial behaviors in adverse rearing
contexts. Crime and Criminality 16-297 Examples of important factors affecting
the development of criminality at different life stages: Prenatal Early childhood
Late childhood Adolescence Early adulthood Grand- and parental traits Lack of
emotional/social support | Genetic influences Disruption of family unit | Pre-,
peri-, post-natal stress Number of stressful life events | Poverty | Nutrition | Low
scholastic competence | Unemployment Environmental effects | Other roles
Social learning Parents 0 Genetic transmission Zygote Child 0 Individual learning
Adolescent 0 Other roles Selection Parent 1 development development
development Cultural transmission Figure 17.2. The human life cycle. People
acquire traits that influence their behavior sequentially over the life course.
Which traits are acquired depends upon interactions between genes, social and
individual learning, and environmental factors during development. Examples of
factors associated with development of criminality at each stage are listed below
the diagram. 16-298 Crime and Criminality Unless the trajectory is deflected, this

cycle of crime causation will tend to continue when people with high criminality
become parents or role models. For example, men raised in a disrupted
household are likely to become implusive deliquent adults. Their own children
are thus more likely to live in disrupted households that lead to more impulsive,
delinquent children. At the population level, this process thus can have an
important effect on how the frequency, distribution, and character of crime
evolves. The long, slow multigeneration increase in crime experienced in the US
may well be a product of factors such as poverty that have small effects in any
one generation, but accumulate over the generations due to cultural
transmission. V. The Evolutionary Ecology of Crime Before we can identify
effective crime control strategies, we first must understand what makes crime
evolve. In the discussion thus far, it was possible to holistically understand
individual criminality by considering together opportunities for crime and
interactions between the biological, socio-cultural, and developmental factors
that influence motivation. If we now use Darwins trick of expanding our focus to
look at population level changes as the result of individual interactions and
behaviors we can understand how the amount and type of crime in society
evolves over time. This is the same approach to understanding complex systems
that ecologists apply to biological communities, except that it accounts for
uniquely human attributes such as the extensive use of culture and symbolic
behaviors2. Understanding what makes crime evolve as well as what causes
criminal behavior makes it possible to identify effective crime control strategies.
A. Individual Variation The individual interactions that drive societal-level
changes in crime occur between people with different characteristics. Over the
course of their lives, people acquire characteristics such as knowledge, skills,
attitudes, beliefs, and styles of strategic behavior. Which characteristics they
acquire is strongly influenced by repeated interactions between sociocultural,
biological, and developmental factors (figure 17.1). These characteristics affect
the value they place on material and symbolic resources at a particular point in
time. They also affect their ability to obtain those resources. In other words, the
characteristics we pos- 2. As weve discussed previously in this course, cultural
traits are those based on learned information and behaviors. Humans are unique
in their extensive use of cultural adaptations. Most organisms adaptations are
directly driven and constrained by genetic information that only can be
transmitted from parents to children over generational time. In contrast, humans
readily transmit cultural information within and between generations, between
related and unrelated individuals, and across vast distances. Since human
cultural traits may be intentionally modified to adapt to environmental
opportunities and challenges, we may guide the evolution of culture. Crime and
Criminality 16-299 sess at any time strongly influence which things we want and
our ability to get them. We may possess the desire and ability to use
conventional strategies such as legal employment to get money, goods, or
respect. We also might be inclined to use criminal strategies entailing force,
fraud, or stealth to get the same things. Alternatively, we could want to use
conventional strategies but lack the ability to do so. A persons motivation to
commit a crime is determined by these factors plus the effects of temptation
exerted by an opportunity for crime. If motivation is sufficiently high and an

opportunity exists, a crime can occur. B. Coevolution of Criminal Strategies and


Counterstrategies Crimes tend to provoke counterstrategiesdefensive
responsesfrom victims and potential victims. They install alarm systems, avoid
going out at night, or stay away from rough areas. As information about crime
spreads, others adopt similar counterstrategies. Eventually, community groups
and government may respond with things such as neighborhood watch
programs, increased police surveillance of problem spots, or new legislation.
Over time, criminal strategies and counterstrategies can coevolve in response to
one another for several reasons. As is discussed below, defensive
counterstrategies encourage people seeking criminal opportunities to adapt by
developing new strategies for crime or shifting to a different type of crime
(Cohen and Machalek 1988). More generally, higher crime rates often lead to
more rigorous protective measures that initially may cause crime rates to
decline. Similarly, lower crime rates may lead to a relaxation of barriers to crime
as individuals and communities channel limited resources to more pressing
problems. Declining crime rates thus eventually may make crime an easier, less
risky, and more attractive, way to get resources. This suggests that crime
probably will always exist at some level in society. As fewer people are attracted
to crime, potential rewards will tend to increase until they are bound to attract
someone. These dynamicsand the tendency of defensive counterstrategies to
initiate a vicious cycle by provoking counter-counterstrategies from offenders
suggest that crime probably always will exist at some level in society.
Understanding the different ways that counterstrategies address the causes of
crime is the key to making criminological research relevant to public policy. C.
Counterstrategic Options In the past, most crime control proposals ignored the
simple fact that criminality is strongly influenced by early life experiences due to
the cumulative, sequential nature of development. As the dashed arrows in
figure 17.3 illustrate, usually we have employed counterstrategies that
attempted to reduce opportunities for crime or deter it. Protection or avoidance
strategies attempt to reduce criminal opportunities by changing peoples routine
activities or by incapacitating convicted offenders through incarceration or
electronic mon- 16-300 Crime and Criminality itoring devices (Reiss and Roth
1993:325). They also may increase guardianship through such things as target
hardening, neighborhood watch programs, and increasing the numbers or
effectiveness of police. Deterrence strategies attempt to diminish motivation for
crime by increasing the perceived certainty, severity, or celerity of penalties.
Non-punitive deterrence approaches also advocate raising the costs of crime
but they emphasize increasing an individuals stake in conventional activities
rather than punishing misbehavior (see Wilson and Herrnstein 1985). Nurturant
strategies (solid arrow in figure 17.3) seldom have been included on crime
control agendas. They attempt to forestall development of criminality by
improving early life experiences and channeling child and adolescent
development. The long-term effectiveness of protection and avoidance strategies
is limited. The evolutionary dynamics illustrated in figure 3 mean that protection
strategies tend to stimulate arms races reminiscent of predator-prey
coevolution. For example, criminals adapt to better locks by learning to
overcome them, to anti-theft car alarms by hijacking autos in traffic rather than

while parked, to changes in peoples routine activities by moving to areas with


more potential targets. Whatever the long-term limitations of protection
strategies, however, they obviously always will be necessary because of the
opportunistic nature of much crime. Due to the potentially rapid nature of
cultural evolution, these strategies Biological Socio-Cultural Developmental
Motivation for Crime Criminal Opportunities Crime CounterStrategies IF Figure
17.3. Short-term crime control strategies (dashed arrows) attempt to diminish
opportunities for crime or reduce its rewards relative to conventional behavior.
Longterm strategies (bold arrow) address the roots of criminal behavior early in
the life course. Deterrence Protection/ Avoidance Nurturance Crime and
Criminality 16-301 should be able to evolve quickly in response to changes in
criminal strategies. The effects of opportunity-reducing strategies like
incapacitation through incarceration are unclear and may be confounded by the
fact that younger offenderswho are least likely to be incarceratedoften
commit the most crimes (see Reiss and Roth 1993:292- 294). Moreover,
incarceration is expensive and perhaps often counterproductive. Sampson and
Laub (1993:9) assert that incarceration indirectly causes crime by disrupting
families and ruining employment prospects. Newer alternatives like
incapacitation via electronic monitoring of convicted offenders in their homes are
cheaper than incarceration and may be less counterproductive. Conventional
deterrence strategies also are problematic. There is little evidence thatin a free
societythey can be effective beyond some minimal threshold for controlling
most3 crimes (Reiss and Roth 1993:292; Wilson and Herrnstein 1985:397-399).
One novel deterrence approach recently suggested by the National Research
Councils Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior might be
more effective. It would attempt to improve the ability of people who use alcohol
and other psychoactive drugs to calculate costs and benefits via treatment and
pharmacological interventions (Reiss and Roth 1993:332-334). Non-punitive
deterrence strategies that attempt to increase the stake adolescents and adults
have in conventional life show promise for correcting life trajectories. Sampson
and Laubs (1993) rigorous reanalysis of data from the Glueck Archive indicate
that the best way to encourage most adult offenders to desist from crime is to
increase their social capital by improving employment opportunities and family
ties. There also is evidence that military service among young men may help
compensate for the criminogenic effects of earlier risk factors because it
provides an opportunity to repair educational and vocational deficits (Werner and
Smith 1992).4 However, the paradigm proposed here indicates that non-punitive
deterrence strategies still may provide less potential crime control leverage
than nurturant strategies. Since criminality has its roots in the early life course,
changing the strategic styles of adults generally is more difficult than influencing
the development of 3. Traffic offenses and crimes like drunken driving may be
exceptions. 4. Since improving employment opportunities appears to diminish
the risk of offending, it is ironic that, compared with most other industrialized
nations, the United States has largely ignored the occupational training needs of
non-college-graduates who comprise over 80 percent of U. S. adults over age 25.
The National Center on Education and the Economy notes that the U. S. may
have the worst school-to-work transition system of any advanced industrial

country. In an apparent step in the right direction, the Clinton Administration


recently approved non-military national service programs that might help smooth
the school-to-work transition for young adults. 16-302 Crime and Criminality
children. To paraphrase Alexander Pope, it is easier to bend a twig than a mature
oak. Improving child nurturance may be the most effective defense against
crime. This paradigm suggests that it should be possible to reduce the
concentration of criminality in a population by improving early life experiences5
and channeling child and adolescent development6. However, nurturant
strategies such as educational, health care, and child care programs that address
the roots of criminality early in the life course seldom have been employed for
crime control. And the results of educational and public health programs that
attempted to improve early life course factors often have been equivocal or
disappointing. In fact, substantial increases in crime have accompanied what
some would argue are enormous improvements during the past one hundred
years in such things as health care access, public education about family
management, and provision of counseling for abuse victims. How might this
apparent inconsistency be explained? Although there obviously have been
substantial improvements in these areas at the national level, their distribution
undeniably has been uneven. And increases in reported crime rates have been
most dramatic during the last forty years. Much of the increase in crime during
this period appears to have been associated with such factors as demographic
and business cycle fluctuations (e.g., Easterlin 1987; Hirschi and Gottfredson
1983), and changes in peoples routine activities (Cohen and Felson 1979).
Increased urbanization, social disorganization, and concentration of those who
are most deprived as well as population growth also appear to be very important
(W. J. Wilson 1987). Past attempts to measure the impact of nurturant strategies
on crime rates may have been confounded by time-lag effects. For example,
previous empirical efforts to identify re- 5. For example, nurturant strategies
might attempt to 1) assure that all women and children have access to good
quality pre-natal, post-natal, and childhood health care; 2) educate as many
people as possible about the basics of parenting and family management; 3)
help people prevent unwanted pregnancies; 4) make help available for children
who have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abusedand for their
families; and 5) make available extended maternity leaves and quality child care
for working parents. 6. Crime control strategies that channel tendencies such as
impulsivity associated with increased risk of criminal behavior are necessary
since biological, developmental, and environmental variation assure that some
people always will be more impulsive. Here the emphasis would be on improving
the match between individuals and their environment. Channeling impulsivity
might involve broad-based changes that improve the quality of education for all
students. For example, schools could place less emphasis on forcing children to
sit all day, instead allowing them to participate in more active learning or to read
in a preferred position. Similarly, self-regulation training that improves selfcontrol and diminishes impulsivity would benefit all children. More impulsive
students also might be encouraged to prepare for conventional occupations that
reward people who prefer doing to sitting and talking and/ or provide shorterterm gratification. This might help them acquire a larger stake in conventional

behavior and diminish risks associated with school failure, making them less
likely to develop or express criminality (Sampson and Laub 1993; Werner and
Smith 1992; Lemert 1972). Crime and Criminality 16-303 lationships between
crime and social structural/economic variables (e.g., income inequality, poverty,
and unemployment) using aggregate data primarily focused on
contemporaneous rather than lagged effects. The proposed importance of lifecourse thinking and intergenerational effects indicate that results of educational,
health care, and child care programs implemented today should begin to be seen
in about 15 yearswhen todays newborns enter the 15-29 year-old age group
most at risk for criminal behavior. Even then, according to the paradigm, change
probably would be gradual with the population-level concentration of criminality
continuing to decline as each generation of more fully nurtured people became
parents themselves. This means that change associated with nurturant
strategies might require three or four generations. Attempts to measure past
effects of nurturant strategies also might be confounded by immigration
because, for example, national programs affecting early life course factors would
not have had an effect on those whose childhoods were spent outside the
country. Legal immigration as a percentage of total U. S. population growth has
increased regularly from -0.1 percent during the depression to 29.2% from 19801987. It is unclear whether the apparent failure of past nurturant programs
reflects their lack of utility, faulty program implementation, or a failure to
persistently pursue them over generational time frames. It also is possible that
the effects of these programs have yet to be measured. There could be
substantial payoffs if it is possible to successfully implement programs such as
these over the long-term. There is strong evidence that the most persistent five
or six percent of offenders are responsible for roughly 50 percent of reported
crimes. Moffitt (in press) suggests that antisocial behavior in this group is most
likely to be the result of early life course factors. VI. Thoughts for the Future We
have argued that it is possibleand probably necessaryto use a human
ecological approach to understand crime holistically if we are to conduct sound
research and develop sound public policies for crime control. And weve tried to
explain how this approach can be used to describe how ecological, microlevel
and macrolevel factors associated with criminal behavior interact and evolve
over time and how they influence individual development over the life course
and across generations. If the proposed relationships and effects are supported
by research, a single theoretical framework could account for the ways
individuals acquire behavioral strategies such as crime and how they are
differentially motivated to employ those strategies by variation in individual
resource holding potential, resource valuation, strategic style and opportunity.
16-304 Crime and Criminality Applying the same well established techniques and
concepts that have unified our understanding of complex organic systems in the
biological scienceswhile giving special consideration to the unique properties of
cultureprovides a unique holistic perspective on human behavior. It allows us
to view crime as a cultural trait whose frequency and type evolve over time as a
result of dynamic interactions between individual and group behavior in a
physical environment. An appreciation of the nondeterministic nature of these
processes encourages us to consider ways to guide the evolution of culture in

desirable directions. Our analysis of the problem indicates that crime control
strategies should take evolutionary and ecological dynamics into account. These
dynamics suggest that protection/ avoidance and conventional deterrence
strategies for crime control always will be necessary but will tend to have limited
effectiveness in a free society. Non-punitive deterrence strategies that attempt to
improve the social capital of adults show promisealthough they offer limited
crime control leverage because the fundamental behavioral styles individuals
develop early in life are difficult to change. Strategies that address the childhood
roots of crime over several generations appear most promising from a theoretical
standpoint but past efforts in this direction generally have been disappointing.
This paradigm emphasizes the importance of determining the reasons for their
apparent failure and suggests several possible new avenues of research.
However unattainable they now may seem, nurturant crime control strategies
are practically and philosophically appealing because they are proactive and
emphasize developing restraint systems within individuals rather than increasing
governmental control. They also have broader implications. If crime control
strategies focused on controlling the development and expression of criminality
instead of controlling specific criminal acts, it might be possible to address
simultaneously the common source of an entire set of dysfunctional behaviors:
crime, drug abuse, accidents, and perhaps even suicide. And we might do so in a
manner that builds human capital and improves social cohesiveness. It is ironic
that some think it naive to consider employing nurturant strategies that,
according to this paradigm, will take generations to control crime. We routinely
plan cities, highways, and military weapons systems 20 years or more into the
future. Twenty years ago Richard Nixon became the first of five successive
presidents to declare war on crime (Bill Clinton became the sixth in December
1993). Our analysis indicates that it is time to evolve the culture of our society
and become less impulsive, less dependent on coercion, and more sensitive to
the needs and suffering of others. Crime and Criminality 16-305 VI. Bibliographic
Notes. References Agnew, Robert (1992) Foundation for a General Strain Theory
of Crime and Delinquency. Criminology 30:47-88. Blau, Peter M. and Joseph E.
Schwartz (1984) Crosscutting Social Circles: Testing a Macrostructural Theory of
Intergroup Relations. Orlando, FL: Academic Press. Braithwaite, John (1989)
Crime, shame, and reintegration. New York. Cambridge University Press. Cohen,
Lawrence E. and Marcus Felson (1979) Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A
Routine Activity Approach. American Sociological Review 44:588-608. Easterlin,
Richard A. (1987) Birth and Fortune. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Elliott,
Delbert S., Suzanne S. Ageton, and R. J. Canter (1979) An Integrated Theoretical
Perspective on Delinquent Behavior. Journal of Research in Crime and
Delinquency, 16:3. Farrington, David P. (1986) Stepping stones to adult criminal
careers, in Dan Olweus, Jack Block, and Marian Radke-Yarrow, eds., Development
of antisocial and prosocial behaviour: research, theories, and issues. New York:
Academic Press, pp. 359-384. Fishbein, Diana H. (1990) Biological Perspectives in
Criminology. Criminology 28:27-72. Gates, Darryl F. (1992) Chief: My life in the
LAPD. New York: Bantam. Hirschi, Travis (1969) Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley,
CA: University of California Press. Hirschi, Travis and Gottfredson, Michael (1983)
Age and the Explanation of Crime. American Journal of Sociology 89:552-584

Katz, Jack (1988) Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing
Evil. New York: Basic Books Land, Kenneth C., Patricia L. McCall, and Lawrence E.
Cohen (1990) Structural Covariates of Homicide Rates: Are There Any
Invariances Across time and Social Space? American Journal of Sociology 95:922963. Lemert, Edwin M. (1972) Human Deviance, Social Problems, and Social
Control. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Pearson, Frank S. and Neil A. Weiner
(1985) Toward an Integration of Criminological Theories. Journal of Criminal Law
and Criminology 76:116-150. Reiss, Albert J. Jr. and Jeffrey A. Roth (1993)
Understanding and Preventing Violence. Washington, DC: National Academy
Press. Sampson, Robert J. and W. Byron Groves (1989) Community Structure and
Crime: Testing Social-Disorganization Theory. American Journal of Sociology
94:774-802. Tonry, Michael L., Lloyd E. Ohlin, and David P. Farrington (1991)
Human Development and Criminal Behavior. New York: Springer-Verlag. Widom,
Cathy S. (1992) The Cycle of Violence. National Institute of Justice Research in
Brief, NCJ 136607.Wilson, James Q. and Richard J. Herrnstein (1985) Crime and
Human Nature, New York: Simon and Schuster. Wilson, James Q. and Richard J.
Herrnstein (1985) Crime and Human Nature, New York: Simon and Schuster. 16306 Crime and Criminality Wilson, William J. (1987) The Truly Disadvantaged: The
Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press.

16-284 Crime and Criminality Chapter 16. CRIME AND CRIMINALITY It is criminal
to steal a purse, It is daring to steal a fortune. It is a mark of greatness to steal a
crown. The blame diminishes as the guilt increases. Johann Schiller (1759-1805)
We sow an act and reap a habit: We sow a habit and reap a character: We sow a
character and reap a destiny. William Black (1893) the root causes of crime
[are] poverty, unemployment, underemployment, racism, poor health care, bad
housing, weak schools, mental illness, alcoholism, single-parent families,
teenage pregnancy, and a society of selfishness and greed. Patrick V. Murphy
(1985) former NYPD Commissioner I. Introduction A. The Intractable Problem of
Crime We have made the claim that, aside from being an interesting intellectual
exercise, there are important practical reasons for trying to understand human
behavior in an integrated fashion. In this chapter we will test the utility of the
human ecological approach on one of the most intractable internal social
problems in culturally diverse societiescrime. In subsequent chapters, we also
will test our approach on more group-level problems such as the conservation of
public resources and war. Crime is a particularly interesting problem because it is
in many respects the obverse (i.e., the flip side) of altruism. This is especially
true if we define crime broadly as behavior in which individuals obtain resources
from others via force, fraud, or stealth. Think about this. Weve discussed the
apparent importance of altruism for large-scale social interactions between
unrelated people. In order for people to reap the full benefits of group

cooperation and division of labor, they sometimes must subordinate their


personal interests to those of othersoccasionally in dramatic fashion. Altruistic
acts cost an individual more than he or she gains. Criminal acts do just the
opposite. People who commit these acts intentionally harm others for their own
gain. Of course, sometimes altruism on the small scale is necessary to execute
predatory Crime and Criminality 16-285 strategies against the larger societies.
Criminal conspiracies may enjoin considerable selfsacrifice on the part of gang
members who are caught. The Sicilian Mafia was apparently successful in part
because of its tradition of omerta,silence in the face of police questioning and
inducenments to rat on the gang. Other criminal conspiracies often try to mimic
the Sicilians in this regard, but they were long the most successful. The following
discussion will define key terms in a broad enough sense so that the larger issues
associated with crime can emerge. We then will discuss the ways in which crime
harms individuals and groups and why we think that it is necessary from a
practical standpoint to take a long-term integrated approach to understanding
and controlling crime. In other words, well try to see what special insights the
human ecological approach to understanding criminal behavior can bring to this
thorny problem that affects us all every day. At the end of this chapter, well
argue that our approach suggests practical policy alternatives that traditional
academic disciplines have tended to overlook. (Surprise!) So that you can make
your own decisions about the reasonableness of our positions, well first
summarize well established empirical findings about the nature and distribution
of crime then try to make sense of them using standard ecological tools and
some of the insights developed thus far in this course. B. Definition of Terms
Legally, crimes usually are defined as acts or omissions forbidden by law that
can be punished by imprisonment and/or fine. Murder, robbery, burglary, rape,
drunken driving, child neglect, and failure to pay your taxes all are common
examples. However, as several eminent criminologists recently have noted (e.g.
Sampson and Laub 1993; Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990), the key to
understanding crime is to focus on fundamental attributes of all criminal
behaviors rather than on specific criminal acts. Instead of trying to separately
understand crimes such as homicide, robbery, rape, burglary, embezzlement,
and heroin use, we need to identify what it is they all have in common. Much
past research on crime has been confounded by its focus on these politico-legal
rather than behavioral definitions. The behavioral definition of crime focuses on,
criminality, a certain personality profile that causes the most alarming sorts of
crimes. All criminal behaviors involve the use of force, fraud, or stealth to obtain
material or symbolic resources. As Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) noted,
criminality is a style of strategic behavior characterized by self-centeredness,
indifference to the suffering and needs of others, and low self-control. More
impulsive individuals are more likely to find criminality an attractive style of
behavior because it can provide immediate gratification through relatively easy
or simple strategies. These strategies frequently are risky and thrilling, usually
requiring little skill or planning. They often 16-286 Crime and Criminality result in
pain or discomfort for victims and offer few or meager long-term benefits
because they interfere with careers, family, and friendships. Gottfredson and
Hirschi assert that this means the within-person causes of truancy are the same

as the within-person causes of drug use, aggravated assault, and auto accidents
(1990, p. 256). Criminality in this sense brears a problematic relationship with
legal crimes. Some drug dealers, tax cheats, prostitutes and other legal criminals
may simply be business-people whose business activity happens to be illegal.
Psychologically, they might not differ from ordinary citizens. Almost all ordinary
citizens commit at least small legal crimes during thier lives. Nevertheless,
Gottfredsons and Hirschis hypothesis is that the vast majority of legal crime is
committed by individuals a general strategy of criminal activity. This conception
of crime explains the wide variety of criminal activity and the fact that
individuals tend not to specialize in one type of crime. It also is consistent with
the well-established tendency of people to be consistent over long periods of
time in the frequency and severity of crimes they commit. Even executives who
commit white collar crimes probably are more impulsive, self-centered, and
indifferent to the suffering of others than those who do not take advantage of
similar opportunities. Focusing on criminality rather than political-legal
definitions also allows us to finesse the perplexing problem of why some acts
(e.g., marijuana consumption) are defined as crimes while similar arguably more
damaging acts (e.g., alcohol consumption) are not. These issues, central to
conflict theories and critical theories of crime, are important. However, because
they focus on systematically deeper power relations between competing interest
groups, they seldom provide feasible policy alternatives and tend to reinforce
perceptions of crime as an insolvable problem. What we want to do here is see if
the human ecological approach can lead us to some practical strategies for
controlling crime. Human resources can have material, symbolic, or hedonistic
value. In crimes such as thefts, individuals take material resources such as
property from another person without his or her knowing cooperation. Those who
commit crimes such as narcotics trafficking and gambling attempt to obtain
money that can be exchanged for material resources. In crimes such as assaults
not associated with theft, sexual assaults, and illicit drug use, people obtain
hedonistic resources that increase pleasurable feelings or decrease unpleasant
feelings. Political crimes such as terrorism or election fraud attempt to obtain
symbolic resources such as power or prestige. C. How Bad is the Problem of
Crime? The US is truly in the midst of a crime wave. Serious crime rates in the
United States rose 40 percent from 1970 to 1990. Rates for reported violent
crimes rose 85 percent, rates Crime and Criminality 16-287 for more common
property crimes 35 percent. As we attempted to control crime through traditional
approaches, expenditures for federal, state, and local criminal justice system
activities increased from $12.3 billion in 1971 to $74.3 billion in 1990. Our
imprisonment rates soared from 96 to 292 per 100,000, becoming higher than
any other industrialized nation. Crime has high and diverse costs. The direct
physical, material, mental, and emotional injury suffered by victims of crime is
deplorable. Perhaps even more tragic, however, is the indirect damage to society.
Attempts to control crime through the criminal justice system increasingly
intrude in our private lives. Personal freedoms are threatened as we repeatedly
choose between public order and individual rights. Moreover, crime amplifies
mistrust, feeds prejudice, and generally degrades social cohesion (Vila, 1994).
People become more fearful, often imprisoning themselves in their own homes.

Guns are kept within reach, a knock on the door evokes terror, a stranger in need
of assistance is ignored. II. A Systems Perspective on Crime Criminal behavior is
the product of a systematic process that involves complex interactions between
individual, societal, and ecological factors over the course of our lives. In other
words, from conception onward the intellectual, emotional, and physical
attributes we develop are strongly influenced by our personal behaviors and
physical processes, interactions with the physical environment, and interactions
with other people, groups and institutions. These systematic processes affect the
transmission from generation to generation of traits associated with increased
involvement in crime. As will be discussed, this often ignored fact has important
policy implications. Table 17.1 provides a rough idea of some of the kinds of
interactions that are possible. Before discussing the systematic processes that
cause crime, we first must outline key ecological-, societal-, and individual-level
components of that system. In other words, we must look at the parts separately
before we can understand how they work together. A. Ecological Factors
Ecological factors involve interactions between people and their activities in a
physical environment. This category includes things associated with the physical
environment such as geography and topography, crowding, pollution, and
recreational opportunities. These ecological factors can affect how people
develop physically and emotionally over their lives as well as the level of
hostility, fear, or well-being they feel from moment to moment as they
experience, for example, a crowded subway, dark lonely parking lot, or serene
park. 16-288 Crime and Criminality Ecological factors also determine what
opportunities for crime exist because they include interactions between people
and the ways physical environments channel those interactions. The routine
activities of people in a physical setting can have important effects on when and
where opportunities for crime occur. A crime is not possible unless a motivated
and able offender converges with a victim, property, or illicit substance or
behavior in the absence of capable guardianship (people or physical barriers to
prevent the crime). Table 1: Examples of important direct effects that can
produce interactions among ecological, microlevel, and macrolevel factors
associated with crime. AFFECTS OF Ecological Factors ON Microlevel Factors
Macrolevel Factors Ecological Factors X -Environment reinforces (& perhaps
counteracts) temperamental propensities. -Pollution hazards degrade learning,
cause hyperactivity, etc. -Exposure to danger increases aggressiveness and/or
fear. -Deviant models provide opportunities to learn deviant behaviors. -Criminal
opportunities increase temptation. -Overcrowding may increase hostility.
-Physical resources provide economic opportunities. -Geographic barriers
reinforce class/ethnic boundaries and selfinterestedness. -Ecological interactions
drive population-level evolution of culture. Microlevel Factors -Routine activities
of individuals affect opportunities for crime. -Individuals can modify local
environment. -Individual historical and genetic variation assures some variation
between the abilities, motivation, and strategies of interacting individuals. X
-Individual variation provides grist for evolutionary processes. -Individual actions
change average payoffs for criminal and noncriminal behaviors. -Individuals form
interest groups to change government. Crime and Criminality 16-289 B. Societal
or Macrolevel Factors Societal or macrolevel factors deal with systematic

interactions between social groups. Societal factors describe the ways society is
structured. They include such things as the relative distribution of the population
among groups and the flows of information, resources, and people between
groups. Societal factors encompass the variety and heterogeneity of
racial/ethnic/cultural/productive groups, their behaviors and beliefs, and
economic relations. C. Motivation and Opportunity Individuals actually commit
the crimes. Although ecological and societal factors must be included in any full
explanation of crime, individual factors always intervene between them and a
criminal act. For this reason individual factors need to be the center of any
description of the causes of crime. Individual or microlevel factors describe how a
person becomes motivated to commit a crime. Before describing those factors,
however, it is important to define another key component of the system
motivation. Is it just the driving force behind our actions? In this discussion,
motivation is more than the I want. portion of the equation. It includes I
could. What will it cost me compared to what I think Ill get? and Is this right
and proper? Motivation is the outcome of a process in which a goal is
formulated, costs and benefits are assessed, and internal constraints on behavior
are applied. The relative importance of the components of this process may vary
from individual to individual, time to time, and situation to situation. In other
words, sometimes a persons motivation is influenced more Macrolevel Factors
-Government modifications of built environment channel population movement
and change location of criminal opportunities. -Sociocultural heterogeneity
creates more opportunities for crime. -Weak regulation or guardianship creates
opportunities for crime. -Cultural beliefs influence parenting styles and parental
behavior. -Economic inequality creates pressures for crime via poverty and
greed. -Poverty increases child developmental risks by creating strains on
parents, & degrading education and health care. -Unequal access to information
and education creates power inequities. X Table 1: Examples of important direct
effects that can produce interactions among ecological, microlevel, and
macrolevel factors associated with crime. AFFECTS OF Ecological Factors ON
Microlevel Factors Macrolevel Factors 16-290 Crime and Criminality by rational
decisionmaking, other times by emotions such as anger, greed, or lust. Similarly,
some people tend to be more motivated by cost/benefit calculations more of the
time than others. Moreover, the value people place on different objects or
activities can vary as can their ability to resist temptation. Motivation alone
cannot cause a crime to occur; opportunity also is required. Andalthough few
researchers today address this issueopportunity itself may influence motivation
(Katz 1988). Lay people call this temptation and probably would consider any
discussion of motivation that excluded temptation silly. Thus a persons
propensity to commit a criminal act at a particular point in time is a function of
both motivation and opportunity. Some may be motivated to seek out and exploit
criminal opportunities that offer extremely small rewards; others will commit
crimes only when presented with relatively enormous opportunities; and a very
few will not commit crimes regardless of rewards. As Cohen and Machalek (1988)
noted in their innovative work on the evolution of crime and criminal strategies,
disadvantage may motivate people to commit crimes, but so can advantage. As
the past decades string of institutional scandals has graphically illustrated, the

elevated skills and status that provide access to lucrative criminal opportunities
with little risk of being caught and punished also can motivate people to commit
crimes. We might imagine that most politicians and business-people who take
and offer bribes and the like are less impulsive and thrill-seeking than street
criminal, but still have higher motivation to commit crimes than their honest
colleagues. However, in politics and business, the opportunities are enourmously
tempting. Contrariwise, scientific scandals are relatively rare. However, it is not
likely motivation but opportunity that is lacking. The main reward in science is
prestige, and it is gained by publishing papers. Plagarism and data faking occur,
but if the idea is an important one, the victim of plagarism will complain, and
other will attempt to replicate the faked experiment. The criminal act of
publishing a faked paper is highly public; your name is attatched and the
chances of getting caught are high. Criminologists hypothesize that a number of
individual factors determine a persons motivation to commit an act. Motivation
at a particular point in time is the result of interactions over a persons life
course between biological, socio-cultural, and developmental factorsas well as
contemporaneous opportunity. Psychological factors are the result of interactions
between biological and socio-cultural factors. Criminologists do not imagine that
some simple consitutional factor (criminal nature) is a very satisfactory
explanation for mativational factors. Biological factors include such things as
physical size, strength, or swiftness, and the excitability/reactivity of nervous and
organ systems in the body (see Crime and Criminality 16-291 Fishbein 1990;
Wilson and Herrnstein 1985). It is easy to imagine that big, athletic, young males
are likely to be statistically over-represented among strongarm robbers
compared to small, skinny, awkward fellows. Although these factors set the
physical boundaries of our behavior and influence our affective state, they do not
determine which of the myriad possible behaviors we perform. Socio-cultural
factorsinfluence the strategies of behavior and personal beliefs, values, needs,
and desires a person acquires over his or her life. These have been the focus of
many well known theories of crime that emphasized such things as social
learning, rational choice, self-control, and social strain. They include the
knowledge, skills, attitudes, and other cultural information we learn through
interactions with other people and groupsas well as from cultural artifacts such
as books and movies. Socio-culturally acquired traits affect which behavioral
strategies (ways of doing things to achieve desired ends) one knows how to
apply and they influence how we perceive the costs and benefits of a course of
action. For example, the value we place on the good will and opinion of others is
a socio-cultural factor, as are many of the beliefs that affect the value we assign
to material or symbolic goods. Socio-cultural factors influence the strength of
self-control that helps us resist temptation. They also can produce strain that
magnifies temptation when there are disjunctions between what we have learned
to desire and the opportunities we perceive. Development is the process of
physical, intellectual, and emotional growth that begins with conception and
ends with death. Development can be adversely influenced by such factors as
environmental pollutants, disease, physical injury, and lack of nurturing.
Interactions throughout the life course between biological, sociocultural, and
developmental factors determine who we are and how we respond to

opportunities at any point in time. Child developmentthe source of many core


personality traitsis particularly vulnerable to poor family management
practices arising from such things as poverty, lack of education, or living in a
high crime neighborhood. Family stressors such as unemployment, marital
conflict, and divorce also can disrupt family life. According to Patterson and his
colleagues at the Oregon Social Learning Center, growing up in a disrupted
family is strongly associated with child antisocial behaviorof which crime is one
type (e.g. Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey 1989). D. Summary of Systematic
Relationships Figure 17.1 illustrates the interactions between the three types of
individual factors, motivation, and opportunity. Over time, interactions between
biological, socio-cultural and developmental factors affect how motivated a
person is to use force, fraud, or stealth to obtain resources when an opportunity
is presented. If motivation is sufficiently high in the presence of an attractive
opportunity, a crime may occur so long as the person has the ability required to
commit it. As we will discuss later, crimes provoke responses from victims and
potential victims. 16-292 Crime and Criminality III. The Nature and Distribution of
Crime A. Correlates and Causes of Crime A large body of research indicates that
crime is highly correlated with youthfulness and male gender, and that early
involvement in crime is predictive of subsequent involvement. Similarly, poverty,
inequality, disrupted families, inadequate socialization, and the presence of
criminal opportunities all seem to be important correlates of crime (e.g.,
Sampson and Laub 1993; Reiss and Roth 1993; Tonry, Ohlin, and Farrington
1991; Land, McCall, and Cohen 1990; Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990; Blau and
Schwartz 1984). These general findings about the primary correlates of crime
seem likely to endurealthough there remains substantial debate among
criminologists in various academic disciplines about the relative causal
importance of, and relationships between, different variables. This debate tends
to obscure larger issues regarding the appropriate causal scope and scale for
understanding and controlling crime; i.e., which variables interacting in what
ways should be considered, and at what levels of analysis. The problem not easy
to solve with better correlational studies because so many variables are
intercorrelated. For example, poverty, recial discrimination, and family disruption
all disproportionately affect African Americans, who also disproportionately
engage in criminal behavior. However, from the correlational data alone it is
impossible to say which variable is the most important or direct cause of crime,
or anything about how the variables might be causally inter-related. ? Figure
17.1. Important systematic interactions between individual and societal factors
that cause crime. Individual level Societal level Biological Socio-Cultural
Developmental Motivation for Crime Criminal Opportunities Crime
CounterStrategies IF Crime and Criminality 16-293 As a result, no satisfactory
unified theoretical framework yet has been developed. This has diminished the
policy relevance of recommendations from even some of the most
comprehensive interdisciplinary research on crime. This is a prime example of
the kind of interdisciplinary problem associated with the sociology of science that
human ecology tries to address. B. Research vs. Policy? Although research and
policy formulation should be complementary activities, they often have different
imperatives. Whereas scientists are engaged in an endless pursuit of information

and understanding, policymakers eventually must take action. In this chapter we


are not trying to settle debates about which causal variables explain more
variance in crime rates or criminal behavior. Rather we want to show how the
human ecological approach might be used to systematically and completely
organize information and empirically supported insights from the many
disciplines that study crime. If this approach makes it possible to develop a truly
general theory of criminal behavior, it finally might be possible to establish a
unified framework to guide both research and, eventually, policy. We do think
that the policy relevance of research is important. For decades theoretical
fragmentation in criminology has contributed to generally ineffective,
fragmented, and short-sighted public policies. Without a holistic understanding of
the causes of crime, elected officials will continue to shift the focus of control
efforts back and forth from individual level to macrolevel causes as the political
pendulum swings from right to left. This erratic approach feeds the desperate
belief that the problem of crime is intractablea belief that results in calls for
increasingly draconian crime control measures that threaten constitutional
guarantees, even commonsense (e.g., Shoot casual marijuana users [Gates
1992:286- 287].). C. Partial Theories of Crime A number of general and/or very
broad theories of crime have been proposed during recent years. Yet no single
perspective has been able to integrate causal factors across important ecological
(environmental and situational), microlevel (intrinsic to the individual), and
macrolevel (social structural and economic) domains to explain the full scope of
criminal behavior. For example, Wilson and Herrnstein (1985) provide an
exhaustive review of microlevel biopsychological factors associated with the
development of criminal propensities by individuals, but largely ignore
macrolevel factors such as social structure, cultural beliefs, and the role of
ecological interactions. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) attend more to ecological
and macrolevel factors associated with development of self-control, but deny
that biological factors have any importance. Braithwaite (1989) links micro- 16294 Crime and Criminality and macrolevel factors and processes with the
ecological organization of communities, but fails to consider how these relations
evolve over time or how the propensities of individuals develop over the life
course. Pearson and Weiner (1985) recommend a dynamic processesoriented
approach to understanding how interactions between ecological, micro- and
macrolevel factors affect social learning and rational behavior in individuals. But
they neglect the reciprocal influence of these individuals on the evolution of
macrolevel factors as well as environmental and biological factors. Others (e.g.,
Agnew 1992; Elliott, Ageton, and Canter 1979) lay a foundation for
understanding how the propensities of individuals develop over the life course in
response to micro- and macrolevel factors, but ignore biological and ecological
factors that influence criminal behavior. There is a more synthetic trend in recent
research. Sampson, working with others, recently has described most of the
salient relationships. For example, Sampson and Laub (1993) described how
macrolevel factors influence individuals over the life course via systematic links
to family relations and the institutions of school and work. And Sampson and
Groves (1989) identified how these factors are affected by the ecological
organization of communities. However, these scholars avoid discussing the role

of biological factors and do not account for the evolution of macrolevel factors
over time. Similarly, Farrington (1986) explains crime as the product of a chain of
processes that involve biological, microlevel, and ecological factors that
influence what is desired, which strategies are selected to obtain desiderata, and
situational and opportunity factors that affect decisionmaking. But he does not
deal with the evolution of macrolevel and ecological factors. Developmental
psychologists have focused more broadly on the etiology of antisocial behavior.
For example, Moffitt (in press) and Patterson et al. (1989) take into account
generational and life span issues as well as demographic, micro-, and macrolevel
factors. However, they ignore the roles played by criminal opportunities and
factors associated with the evolution of criminal behaviors and social responses
to crime. All these factors must be understood together before we can explain,
predict, or control crime fully. A human ecological approach is fundamentally
different from these earlier theories (Vila 1994). Each of the perspectives
mentioned thus far attempted to show how analysis of variables within a favored
domain, or associated with a particular construct or set of constructs, could be
used to explain all or most aspects of criminal behavior. Each of these
perspectives understandably tended to be largely congruent with their authors
academic disciplinesdisciplines whose boundaries exist in our minds and
institutions, but not in reality. Human ecology similarly has its roots in the
interdiscipline of evolutionary ecology. But it uses a problem-oriented, rather
than discipline-oriented, approach to understanding Crime and Criminality 16295 criminal behavior. For example, it does not ask How can one reconcile
strain, control, labelling, social learning and... theories? Instead it asks
What relationships tend to be fundamentally important for understanding
changes over time in the resource acquisition and retention behaviors of any
social organism? This defines naturally the boundaries of the problem and leads
us to view systematic interactions between various domains in a more realistic
fashion as dynamic rather than static. IV. Key Causes of Crime It is necessary to
apply a generational time scale in order to holistically understand the causes of
individual criminal behavior. We begin the same way an ecologist would
approach the study of any organism: by examining the life cycle. A. The Role of
Early Life Experiences As we noted previously, early life experiences appear
likely to have an especially strong influence on the development of criminality
because individuals acquire their traits sequentially. The traits we possess at any
juncture are the result of the cumulative cognitive, affective, physical, and social
effects of a sequence of events that began at conception. As a result of these
events, individuals acquire a strategic style over the course of their lives. Some
individuals develop a strategic style that emphasizes the use of force, fraud, or
stealth to obtain resources and is characterized by self-centeredness,
indifference to the suffering and needs of others, and low self-control
criminality. Some of the more important developmental factors include parenting
and family management practices, educational success, pre-, peri-, and postnatal
stress (e.g., Wilson and Herrnstein 1985), nutrition, and complex interactions
between genes and environment (Fishbein 1990. Two especially important
factors are whether an environment helps or hinders a childs attempt to cope
with his/her temperamental propensities and the ability of parents to cope with

or redirect the behaviors of a difficult child. As Werner and Smith (1992) note,
children are placed at increasing risk of becoming involved in crime by such
things as economic hardships, living in high crime neighborhoods, serious
caregiving deficits, and family disruption. But these risks appear to be buffered
by factors like an easy temperament, scholastic competence, educated mothers,
and the presence of grandparents or older siblings who serve as alternate
caregivers. The relative importance of risk and protective factors varies
according to life stage, gender, and social environment. Demographic stressors
such as poverty, lack of education, high crime neighborhood and family stressors
such as unemployment, marital conflict, and divorce all tend to influence
development by disrupting family management practices (Sampson and Laub
16-296 Crime and Criminality 1993:83). Growing up in a disrupted family is
associated strongly with child antisocial behavior, of which crime is one type. The
generational time scale is particularly important here because poor family
management, antisocial behaviors, and susceptibility to stressors often are
transmitted intergenerationally from grandparents to parents to children
(Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey 1989). As will be discussed, this may have
important policy implications. B. An Example As figure 17.2 illustrates, parents
may transmit genes thatin conjunction with pre- , peri-, and postnatal
experiencescause offspring to develop nervous and organ systems that make
them much more difficult and cranky. This affects the probability they will bond
properly with a parent, especially if that parent is under extreme stress from
economic, social, or personal factors. For example, children of poor parents beset
by economic difficulties and of wealthy parents whose extreme focus on social
and career concerns leads them to nurture their children irregularly may be
vulnerable to this dynamic1 . The parent/child bond affects how strongly a child
values parental approvalweakly bonded children tend to be much more
impulsive and difficult to control. This can initiate a vicious cycle in which a child
receives less affection and nurturance because of misbehavior and therefore
seeks less and less to please. Over time, the child develops a strategic style in a
setting where rewards often are unpredictable as parents struggle with
alternating resentment and desire to nurture. Because rewards are perceived as
undependable, the child learns to immediately grasp opportunities for short-term
gratification rather than learning to defer them for future rewards. In this setting
a child also is less likely to acquire conventional moral beliefs. And the risk of
physical and emotional child abusewhich further tend to fuel this vicious spiral
toward criminality (Widom 1992)also may be greater. More impulsive children
tend to do less well in school. Poor school performance strongly influences future
life chances and thus how much stake they develop in conventional society. It
also increases the likelihood children will associate with, and learn criminal
behavioral strategies from, deviant associates. Both of these factors increase the
likelihood of engaging in serious and frequent delinquency (Hirschi 1969).
Engaging in delinquency further can diminish conventional opportunities and
weaken beliefs about the moral validity of specific laws, thus reinforcing
criminality. This trajectory will tend to continue into adulthood until/unless it is
altered. Sampson and Laub cite fundamental shifts in family relations and work
as the most important sources of potential change (1993:248). 1. See Moffitt (in

press: 15-21) for a more detailed description of problem child/problem parent


interactions and the emergence of antisocial behaviors in adverse rearing
contexts. Crime and Criminality 16-297 Examples of important factors affecting
the development of criminality at different life stages: Prenatal Early childhood
Late childhood Adolescence Early adulthood Grand- and parental traits Lack of
emotional/social support | Genetic influences Disruption of family unit | Pre-,
peri-, post-natal stress Number of stressful life events | Poverty | Nutrition | Low
scholastic competence | Unemployment Environmental effects | Other roles
Social learning Parents 0 Genetic transmission Zygote Child 0 Individual learning
Adolescent 0 Other roles Selection Parent 1 development development
development Cultural transmission Figure 17.2. The human life cycle. People
acquire traits that influence their behavior sequentially over the life course.
Which traits are acquired depends upon interactions between genes, social and
individual learning, and environmental factors during development. Examples of
factors associated with development of criminality at each stage are listed below
the diagram. 16-298 Crime and Criminality Unless the trajectory is deflected, this
cycle of crime causation will tend to continue when people with high criminality
become parents or role models. For example, men raised in a disrupted
household are likely to become implusive deliquent adults. Their own children
are thus more likely to live in disrupted households that lead to more impulsive,
delinquent children. At the population level, this process thus can have an
important effect on how the frequency, distribution, and character of crime
evolves. The long, slow multigeneration increase in crime experienced in the US
may well be a product of factors such as poverty that have small effects in any
one generation, but accumulate over the generations due to cultural
transmission. V. The Evolutionary Ecology of Crime Before we can identify
effective crime control strategies, we first must understand what makes crime
evolve. In the discussion thus far, it was possible to holistically understand
individual criminality by considering together opportunities for crime and
interactions between the biological, socio-cultural, and developmental factors
that influence motivation. If we now use Darwins trick of expanding our focus to
look at population level changes as the result of individual interactions and
behaviors we can understand how the amount and type of crime in society
evolves over time. This is the same approach to understanding complex systems
that ecologists apply to biological communities, except that it accounts for
uniquely human attributes such as the extensive use of culture and symbolic
behaviors2. Understanding what makes crime evolve as well as what causes
criminal behavior makes it possible to identify effective crime control strategies.
A. Individual Variation The individual interactions that drive societal-level
changes in crime occur between people with different characteristics. Over the
course of their lives, people acquire characteristics such as knowledge, skills,
attitudes, beliefs, and styles of strategic behavior. Which characteristics they
acquire is strongly influenced by repeated interactions between sociocultural,
biological, and developmental factors (figure 17.1). These characteristics affect
the value they place on material and symbolic resources at a particular point in
time. They also affect their ability to obtain those resources. In other words, the
characteristics we pos- 2. As weve discussed previously in this course, cultural

traits are those based on learned information and behaviors. Humans are unique
in their extensive use of cultural adaptations. Most organisms adaptations are
directly driven and constrained by genetic information that only can be
transmitted from parents to children over generational time. In contrast, humans
readily transmit cultural information within and between generations, between
related and unrelated individuals, and across vast distances. Since human
cultural traits may be intentionally modified to adapt to environmental
opportunities and challenges, we may guide the evolution of culture. Crime and
Criminality 16-299 sess at any time strongly influence which things we want and
our ability to get them. We may possess the desire and ability to use
conventional strategies such as legal employment to get money, goods, or
respect. We also might be inclined to use criminal strategies entailing force,
fraud, or stealth to get the same things. Alternatively, we could want to use
conventional strategies but lack the ability to do so. A persons motivation to
commit a crime is determined by these factors plus the effects of temptation
exerted by an opportunity for crime. If motivation is sufficiently high and an
opportunity exists, a crime can occur. B. Coevolution of Criminal Strategies and
Counterstrategies Crimes tend to provoke counterstrategiesdefensive
responsesfrom victims and potential victims. They install alarm systems, avoid
going out at night, or stay away from rough areas. As information about crime
spreads, others adopt similar counterstrategies. Eventually, community groups
and government may respond with things such as neighborhood watch
programs, increased police surveillance of problem spots, or new legislation.
Over time, criminal strategies and counterstrategies can coevolve in response to
one another for several reasons. As is discussed below, defensive
counterstrategies encourage people seeking criminal opportunities to adapt by
developing new strategies for crime or shifting to a different type of crime
(Cohen and Machalek 1988). More generally, higher crime rates often lead to
more rigorous protective measures that initially may cause crime rates to
decline. Similarly, lower crime rates may lead to a relaxation of barriers to crime
as individuals and communities channel limited resources to more pressing
problems. Declining crime rates thus eventually may make crime an easier, less
risky, and more attractive, way to get resources. This suggests that crime
probably will always exist at some level in society. As fewer people are attracted
to crime, potential rewards will tend to increase until they are bound to attract
someone. These dynamicsand the tendency of defensive counterstrategies to
initiate a vicious cycle by provoking counter-counterstrategies from offenders
suggest that crime probably always will exist at some level in society.
Understanding the different ways that counterstrategies address the causes of
crime is the key to making criminological research relevant to public policy. C.
Counterstrategic Options In the past, most crime control proposals ignored the
simple fact that criminality is strongly influenced by early life experiences due to
the cumulative, sequential nature of development. As the dashed arrows in
figure 17.3 illustrate, usually we have employed counterstrategies that
attempted to reduce opportunities for crime or deter it. Protection or avoidance
strategies attempt to reduce criminal opportunities by changing peoples routine
activities or by incapacitating convicted offenders through incarceration or

electronic mon- 16-300 Crime and Criminality itoring devices (Reiss and Roth
1993:325). They also may increase guardianship through such things as target
hardening, neighborhood watch programs, and increasing the numbers or
effectiveness of police. Deterrence strategies attempt to diminish motivation for
crime by increasing the perceived certainty, severity, or celerity of penalties.
Non-punitive deterrence approaches also advocate raising the costs of crime
but they emphasize increasing an individuals stake in conventional activities
rather than punishing misbehavior (see Wilson and Herrnstein 1985). Nurturant
strategies (solid arrow in figure 17.3) seldom have been included on crime
control agendas. They attempt to forestall development of criminality by
improving early life experiences and channeling child and adolescent
development. The long-term effectiveness of protection and avoidance strategies
is limited. The evolutionary dynamics illustrated in figure 3 mean that protection
strategies tend to stimulate arms races reminiscent of predator-prey
coevolution. For example, criminals adapt to better locks by learning to
overcome them, to anti-theft car alarms by hijacking autos in traffic rather than
while parked, to changes in peoples routine activities by moving to areas with
more potential targets. Whatever the long-term limitations of protection
strategies, however, they obviously always will be necessary because of the
opportunistic nature of much crime. Due to the potentially rapid nature of
cultural evolution, these strategies Biological Socio-Cultural Developmental
Motivation for Crime Criminal Opportunities Crime CounterStrategies IF Figure
17.3. Short-term crime control strategies (dashed arrows) attempt to diminish
opportunities for crime or reduce its rewards relative to conventional behavior.
Longterm strategies (bold arrow) address the roots of criminal behavior early in
the life course. Deterrence Protection/ Avoidance Nurturance Crime and
Criminality 16-301 should be able to evolve quickly in response to changes in
criminal strategies. The effects of opportunity-reducing strategies like
incapacitation through incarceration are unclear and may be confounded by the
fact that younger offenderswho are least likely to be incarceratedoften
commit the most crimes (see Reiss and Roth 1993:292- 294). Moreover,
incarceration is expensive and perhaps often counterproductive. Sampson and
Laub (1993:9) assert that incarceration indirectly causes crime by disrupting
families and ruining employment prospects. Newer alternatives like
incapacitation via electronic monitoring of convicted offenders in their homes are
cheaper than incarceration and may be less counterproductive. Conventional
deterrence strategies also are problematic. There is little evidence thatin a free
societythey can be effective beyond some minimal threshold for controlling
most3 crimes (Reiss and Roth 1993:292; Wilson and Herrnstein 1985:397-399).
One novel deterrence approach recently suggested by the National Research
Councils Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior might be
more effective. It would attempt to improve the ability of people who use alcohol
and other psychoactive drugs to calculate costs and benefits via treatment and
pharmacological interventions (Reiss and Roth 1993:332-334). Non-punitive
deterrence strategies that attempt to increase the stake adolescents and adults
have in conventional life show promise for correcting life trajectories. Sampson
and Laubs (1993) rigorous reanalysis of data from the Glueck Archive indicate

that the best way to encourage most adult offenders to desist from crime is to
increase their social capital by improving employment opportunities and family
ties. There also is evidence that military service among young men may help
compensate for the criminogenic effects of earlier risk factors because it
provides an opportunity to repair educational and vocational deficits (Werner and
Smith 1992).4 However, the paradigm proposed here indicates that non-punitive
deterrence strategies still may provide less potential crime control leverage
than nurturant strategies. Since criminality has its roots in the early life course,
changing the strategic styles of adults generally is more difficult than influencing
the development of 3. Traffic offenses and crimes like drunken driving may be
exceptions. 4. Since improving employment opportunities appears to diminish
the risk of offending, it is ironic that, compared with most other industrialized
nations, the United States has largely ignored the occupational training needs of
non-college-graduates who comprise over 80 percent of U. S. adults over age 25.
The National Center on Education and the Economy notes that the U. S. may
have the worst school-to-work transition system of any advanced industrial
country. In an apparent step in the right direction, the Clinton Administration
recently approved non-military national service programs that might help smooth
the school-to-work transition for young adults. 16-302 Crime and Criminality
children. To paraphrase Alexander Pope, it is easier to bend a twig than a mature
oak. Improving child nurturance may be the most effective defense against
crime. This paradigm suggests that it should be possible to reduce the
concentration of criminality in a population by improving early life experiences5
and channeling child and adolescent development6. However, nurturant
strategies such as educational, health care, and child care programs that address
the roots of criminality early in the life course seldom have been employed for
crime control. And the results of educational and public health programs that
attempted to improve early life course factors often have been equivocal or
disappointing. In fact, substantial increases in crime have accompanied what
some would argue are enormous improvements during the past one hundred
years in such things as health care access, public education about family
management, and provision of counseling for abuse victims. How might this
apparent inconsistency be explained? Although there obviously have been
substantial improvements in these areas at the national level, their distribution
undeniably has been uneven. And increases in reported crime rates have been
most dramatic during the last forty years. Much of the increase in crime during
this period appears to have been associated with such factors as demographic
and business cycle fluctuations (e.g., Easterlin 1987; Hirschi and Gottfredson
1983), and changes in peoples routine activities (Cohen and Felson 1979).
Increased urbanization, social disorganization, and concentration of those who
are most deprived as well as population growth also appear to be very important
(W. J. Wilson 1987). Past attempts to measure the impact of nurturant strategies
on crime rates may have been confounded by time-lag effects. For example,
previous empirical efforts to identify re- 5. For example, nurturant strategies
might attempt to 1) assure that all women and children have access to good
quality pre-natal, post-natal, and childhood health care; 2) educate as many
people as possible about the basics of parenting and family management; 3)

help people prevent unwanted pregnancies; 4) make help available for children
who have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abusedand for their
families; and 5) make available extended maternity leaves and quality child care
for working parents. 6. Crime control strategies that channel tendencies such as
impulsivity associated with increased risk of criminal behavior are necessary
since biological, developmental, and environmental variation assure that some
people always will be more impulsive. Here the emphasis would be on improving
the match between individuals and their environment. Channeling impulsivity
might involve broad-based changes that improve the quality of education for all
students. For example, schools could place less emphasis on forcing children to
sit all day, instead allowing them to participate in more active learning or to read
in a preferred position. Similarly, self-regulation training that improves selfcontrol and diminishes impulsivity would benefit all children. More impulsive
students also might be encouraged to prepare for conventional occupations that
reward people who prefer doing to sitting and talking and/ or provide shorterterm gratification. This might help them acquire a larger stake in conventional
behavior and diminish risks associated with school failure, making them less
likely to develop or express criminality (Sampson and Laub 1993; Werner and
Smith 1992; Lemert 1972). Crime and Criminality 16-303 lationships between
crime and social structural/economic variables (e.g., income inequality, poverty,
and unemployment) using aggregate data primarily focused on
contemporaneous rather than lagged effects. The proposed importance of lifecourse thinking and intergenerational effects indicate that results of educational,
health care, and child care programs implemented today should begin to be seen
in about 15 yearswhen todays newborns enter the 15-29 year-old age group
most at risk for criminal behavior. Even then, according to the paradigm, change
probably would be gradual with the population-level concentration of criminality
continuing to decline as each generation of more fully nurtured people became
parents themselves. This means that change associated with nurturant
strategies might require three or four generations. Attempts to measure past
effects of nurturant strategies also might be confounded by immigration
because, for example, national programs affecting early life course factors would
not have had an effect on those whose childhoods were spent outside the
country. Legal immigration as a percentage of total U. S. population growth has
increased regularly from -0.1 percent during the depression to 29.2% from 19801987. It is unclear whether the apparent failure of past nurturant programs
reflects their lack of utility, faulty program implementation, or a failure to
persistently pursue them over generational time frames. It also is possible that
the effects of these programs have yet to be measured. There could be
substantial payoffs if it is possible to successfully implement programs such as
these over the long-term. There is strong evidence that the most persistent five
or six percent of offenders are responsible for roughly 50 percent of reported
crimes. Moffitt (in press) suggests that antisocial behavior in this group is most
likely to be the result of early life course factors. VI. Thoughts for the Future We
have argued that it is possibleand probably necessaryto use a human
ecological approach to understand crime holistically if we are to conduct sound
research and develop sound public policies for crime control. And weve tried to

explain how this approach can be used to describe how ecological, microlevel
and macrolevel factors associated with criminal behavior interact and evolve
over time and how they influence individual development over the life course
and across generations. If the proposed relationships and effects are supported
by research, a single theoretical framework could account for the ways
individuals acquire behavioral strategies such as crime and how they are
differentially motivated to employ those strategies by variation in individual
resource holding potential, resource valuation, strategic style and opportunity.
16-304 Crime and Criminality Applying the same well established techniques and
concepts that have unified our understanding of complex organic systems in the
biological scienceswhile giving special consideration to the unique properties of
cultureprovides a unique holistic perspective on human behavior. It allows us
to view crime as a cultural trait whose frequency and type evolve over time as a
result of dynamic interactions between individual and group behavior in a
physical environment. An appreciation of the nondeterministic nature of these
processes encourages us to consider ways to guide the evolution of culture in
desirable directions. Our analysis of the problem indicates that crime control
strategies should take evolutionary and ecological dynamics into account. These
dynamics suggest that protection/ avoidance and conventional deterrence
strategies for crime control always will be necessary but will tend to have limited
effectiveness in a free society. Non-punitive deterrence strategies that attempt to
improve the social capital of adults show promisealthough they offer limited
crime control leverage because the fundamental behavioral styles individuals
develop early in life are difficult to change. Strategies that address the childhood
roots of crime over several generations appear most promising from a theoretical
standpoint but past efforts in this direction generally have been disappointing.
This paradigm emphasizes the importance of determining the reasons for their
apparent failure and suggests several possible new avenues of research.
However unattainable they now may seem, nurturant crime control strategies
are practically and philosophically appealing because they are proactive and
emphasize developing restraint systems within individuals rather than increasing
governmental control. They also have broader implications. If crime control
strategies focused on controlling the development and expression of criminality
instead of controlling specific criminal acts, it might be possible to address
simultaneously the common source of an entire set of dysfunctional behaviors:
crime, drug abuse, accidents, and perhaps even suicide. And we might do so in a
manner that builds human capital and improves social cohesiveness. It is ironic
that some think it naive to consider employing nurturant strategies that,
according to this paradigm, will take generations to control crime. We routinely
plan cities, highways, and military weapons systems 20 years or more into the
future. Twenty years ago Richard Nixon became the first of five successive
presidents to declare war on crime (Bill Clinton became the sixth in December
1993). Our analysis indicates that it is time to evolve the culture of our society
and become less impulsive, less dependent on coercion, and more sensitive to
the needs and suffering of others. Crime and Criminality 16-305 VI. Bibliographic
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