Criminology is the scientific study of the nature, extent, management, causes, control, consequences, as well as prevention of criminal behavior, both on individual and social levels. Criminology is an interdisciplinary in the behavioral as well as social sciences, drawing upon the research of sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social anthropologists and scholars of law.
The sub-groups to criminology are:
- Penology: study of prisons and prison systems.
- Bio criminology: study of biological basis of criminal behavior.
- Feminist criminology: study of women and crime.
- Criminalistics: study of crime detection.
In the mid 18th century, criminology arose since concepts of law and crime were given thought by social philosophers. Several schools of thought were developed as a process but there were three main schools of thought: Classical, positive and Chicago.
Classical school, developed in the mid 18th century had its philosophers argue on:
- People have free will in order to choose how to act.
- Deterrence is based upon the notion of the human being as a ‘hedonist’ who seeks pleasure and avoids pain, and also a ‘rational calculator’ weighing up the costs and benefits of the consequences of each action. Thus, it ignores the possibility of irrationality and unconscious drives as motivators.
- Punishment can deter people from crimes as the penalties outweigh benefits, and the severity of punishment and the crime should be proportionate.
- The swifter and more certain the punishment, the more effective it is in deterring people from committing crimes.
The Classical school of thought came out at a time when major reform in penology occurred, when prisons developed as a part of punishment. This time period also saw many legal reforms such as The French Revolution and the development of legal system in the US.
Positivist school presumes that the criminal behavior of a person is caused by several internal and external factors which are not in the individual’s control. The scientific method to study human behavior was introduced and applied. Positivism can be broken into three parts:
- Biological Positivism
- Psychological Positivism
- Social Positivism
Cesare Lombroso, an Italian sociologist is considered as the father of criminology. Lombroso is one of the key contributors to the biological positivism and the Italian school. He took a scientific approach, insisting on empirical evidence to study crime. He suggested that physiological traits, such as measurements of one’s cheek bones and a hairline, or a cleft palate have the capability to indicate “atavistic” criminal tendencies. This approach, influenced by the theory of phrenology and by the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin, has been displaced. Enrico Ferri, a student of Lombroso, firmly believed that social and biological factors played a role, and was of the opinion that the criminals should not be held responsible when factors causing their criminality were out of their control. Since then, criminologists have rejected Lombroso’s theories.
It suggests that factors like poverty, low level of education, membership to sub cultures can make them prone to crime. Adolphe Quetelet used data and statistical analysis to get an insight into the relationship between crime and sociological factors and found that poverty, age, gender, education, alcohol consumption were important factors that led to crimes. Lance Lochner conducted three different research experiments and concluded that schooling reduces crime by a big margin.
The Chicago school came into existence into the early twentieth century through the works of urban sociologists like Robert E Park, Ernest Burgess at the University of Chicago. Park and Burgess identified five concentric zones which exist often when the cities grow which included the “zone in transition” which was identified as most volatile and subject to disorder. Some of them focused on juvenile delinquents, when they found that that they were concentrated in the zoe of transition. The sociologists adopted a social ecology approach to study cities and postulated that urban neighborhoods with high levels of poverty often experience breakdown in the social culture and family and school, which results in social disorganization which in turn decreases the ability of these institutions to control behavior and create an environment of deviant behavior.
Crime is learnt from association. The criminal acts learnt might be condoning criminal conduct. Or it might be justifying crime under specific circumstances. Interaction and association with antisocial peers is a major cause of crime. Criminal behavior will be repetitive and become chronic if reinforced. Many people can learn associatively to commit crimes when criminal subcultures exist.
Sub cultural theories
The sub cultural theorists focused on small cultural groups, straying away from the mainstream I order to form their own values and meanings about life. There were ideas suggesting that the delinquency of the lower class is a reaction against the social norms of the middle class. Youngsters from poorer areas, where opportunities were not readily available, might adopt social norms of those specific places. They become criminals when they adopt social norms of the deviant subculture. Youngsters, victims of differential opportunities, may get tempted to take an illegal path that provides them with economic benefits.
Instead of looking for reasons that turn people into criminals, this theory chooses to explain why people do not become criminals. Four main characteristic were identified such as attachment to others, belief in moral validity of rules, commitment to achievement, involvement in conventional activities. The people following these characteristics are less likely to become a criminal while the absence of these characteristics indicates the possibility of becoming a criminal.
It draws on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and George Herbert Mead as well as sub cultural and conflict theories. This school focused on the relationship between the powerful states, media, conservative rulers and other less powerful groups. The powerful ones could become the ‘significant other’ in the less powerful groups’ processes of generating meaning. The powerful ones could, to some extent, impose their meanings on the less powerful, therefore being able to label minor delinquent individuals as criminals. The youngsters would often take the label seriously and indulge in crimes.
It refers to an individual who is labeled in a particular way and who might accept or reject the label but continue to commit crimes. Those who initially reject the label go on to eventually accept it as it becomes more profound among their peers. This stigma can become even more well known particularly if the labels are about deviancy and it is thought that this stigmatization can lead to its amplification.
Rational choice theory
It is based on utilitarian, classical school philosophies of Cesare Beccaria who argued that if the punishments are certain, swift and proportionate to the crime, results outweighing the benefits, could be deterrent for crime. He advocated a rational penology and conceived the punishments as necessary applications of the law for a crime. He then went to distinguish crime and sin and also advocated against the death penalty as well as torture and inhumane treatments since he did not consider them to be rational deterrents.
This theory was replaced by the positivist and Chicago schools. Rational choice theory argues that criminals, too, weigh risks and benefits when they decide whether to commit a crime and they also try to minimize the risks of a crime. Rational choice theory also suggests that increased risk of offending and likelihood of being caught by taking some measure are effective in reducing crimes.
Routine activity theory
It takes up control theories and explains crime in terms of crime opportunities which take place in everyday life. Crime opportunities require that elements converge in time and place and include a motivated offender, suitable target of victim and lack of a capable guardian. Presence of a capable guardian could result in witnessing the crime, intervening and reporting it to the police.
It aims to explain crime and antisocial behavior by exploring both biological and environmental factors. Biosocial criminology recognizes the contributions of fields such as genetics, evolutionary psychology and neuro-psychology. Abnormalities in the systems can be induced by stress.
Marxist criminologists argued in support of society, in which the matters, be it social or personal, could not be criminalized. They also attributed the processes of crime creation to the material basis of a given society and not to genetics or psychological facts.