Chamber News

Chamber Spotlight: “Why Do People Become Criminals?”

Posted on: February 22nd, 2013

By Sheila D. Nelson

In criminology circles, examining why people commit crime is very important in the ongoing debate of how crime should be handled and prevented.  This is a broad overview of some of the key theories.  Think about those you know who have committed crimes and see what you think made them choose the wrong path.

*Rational choice theory:  People generally act in their self-interest and make decisions to commit crime after weighing the potential risks (including getting caught and punished) against the rewards.

*Social disorganization theory:  This theory says that a person’s physical and social environments are primarily responsible for the behavioral choices that person makes.  A neighborhood that has fraying social structures is more likely to have high crime rates.  Such a neighborhood may have poor schools, vacant and vandalized buildings, high unemployment, and a mix of commercial and residential property.

*Strain theory:  Most people have similar aspirations, but they don’t all have the same opportunities or abilities.  When people fail to achieve society’s expectations through approved means such as hard work and delayed gratification, they may attempt to achieve success through crime.

*Social learning theory:  People develop motivation to commit crime and the skills to commit crime through the people with whom they associate.

*Social control theory:  Most people would commit crime if not for the controls that society places on individuals through institutions such as schools, workplaces, churches, and families.

*Labeling theory:  People in power decide what acts are crimes, and the act of labeling someone a criminal is what makes him a criminal.  Once a person is labeled a criminal, society takes away his opportunities, which may ultimately lead to more criminal behavior.

*Biology, genetics, and evolution:  Poor diet, mental illness, bad brain chemistry, and even evolutionary rewards for aggressive criminal conduct have been proposed as explanations for crime.

The many studies that have been done on the causes of crime tend to show that all of the causes of crime tend to be somewhat intertwined.  Here is what some of those studies have shown:

*Unemployment and poverty:  Income inequality contributes to crime-prone areas giving the under-privileged motivation to commit crimes due to feeling deprived or entitled.  This sometimes leads to organized crime and gangs in larger urban areas.

*Inadequate parenting:  Parenting techniques, or lack thereof, tend to play a large role in juveniles who turn to crime.  Children with lack of parental supervision  left to their own devices are more likely to be influenced by peers and possibly  turn to criminal behavior.  Children who lack a healthy relationship with their parents are also more susceptible to crime.  This would include children whose parents tolerate crime and violence or are deviants themselves.

*Substance abuse:  Alcohol and drug abuse certainly contribute to crime.  Heavy alcohol users play a role in many domestic violence crimes as well as other violent crimes.  With drug abuse, users may turn to crime to get their daily dose.  As long as there is a demand for illegal drugs, there will be drug dealers and traffickers who tend to engage in other criminal activity.

*Insufficient policing:  When law enforcement is lacking, criminals come out of the woodwork.  This could be due to cuts in government funding or inadequate police.  Lack of community involvement also contributes.  Some communities refuse to police their neighborhoods and refuse to get involved, either through fear or retaliation, or simply not caring about social responsibility and control.

Although there are a great number of reasons given as to why people become criminals, some of these reasons make no sense at all to the average person.  Why, for example, would a person become a criminal even though he was brought up within the most loving and caring environment?

Some children still go wrong despite their environment.  They may get in with the wrong crowd and get into drink and drugs, which can lead into other things to fuel their needs.

However, in today’s society it appears that greed and power also come into play.  Today’s youth with their entitlement mentality want all the trappings of society without having to work for it.  Is it any wonder that some people, especially our young people, turn to a life of crime when today’s society is based on getting rich quick?  Society complains about criminal activity when it was the society that created many such criminals in the first place.  When we have politicians  doing some “creative accounting” with their expenses so they do not have to pay taxes, or spending taxpayer money in the wrong ways, is it any wonder we have criminals?  Top corporate leaders are also often guilty of “white collar crime” of various strains.  Is it any wonder that other citizens wonder why they cannot get on the gravy train as well?

Like everything else, people can blame crime on lots of things:  parents, poverty, peers, and so on.  There are thousands of people who grew up in very adverse circumstances yet become responsible model citizens.   What it all boils down to is that a person who engages in crime makes a lifestyle choice:  they want to get something for nothing, to get everything they want without working for it,  to be exempt from the behavioral restrictions that apply to others, and to basically just have his own way without suffering the consequences.

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