Theories of Criminal Behavior

When evaluating the dynamics of both the strain and control theories one must factor into their analysis the sub-categories of each theory and how they contribute to the overall spectrum of crime, punishment, and social control. The following evaluation consists of those evaluations that consist of the varying forms of both the strain and control theories of crime; including the strengths and weaknesses of each standpoint, the empirical validity of each, and the overall ramifications for crime prevention. Strain Theories Frustration.

This is the foundation for the plethora of strain theories that encompass the criminological and theoretical world (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 110). The basic premise of the theory traces its roots back to Robert K. Merton. Frustration to meet societies expectations in terms of success, (Specifically, monetary wealth), is a primary contributor to criminal behavior. Furthermore, the unequal balance between the goals of acquiring this “wealth,” and the means by which one seeks to achieve this end is described by Merton as an “anomie. Simply put, it is not so much how one gain’s wealth; it is merely of primary importance that one does in fact achieve it, by whatever means possible (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 112). Merton believed that America’s fascination with acquiring wealth at any cost is a direct link to the strain theory. However, Merton also believed that each individual experienced strain differently. He reasoned that each person experiencing the strain, dealt with it within the concept of five variations.

The five variations or adaptions to strain consist of conformity, ritualism, innovators, retreatism, and rebellion (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 112-113). Adaptations to strain- Five variations Conformity, in relation to the strain theory, refers to people who utilize traditional means by which to accomplish their goals of material acquisition (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 112). Ritualists, the second adaption to the strain theory, refers to those do not wish to gain monetary abundance or riches. However, like conformists, they do structure their lives in a manner that is conventional.

They enjoy their occupations, and their normal everyday lives, but they do not aggressively seek to enter into a higher echelon of economic status (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 113). Innovators are thought to be the most likely to seek out and live a life of crime (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 113). Innovators wish to achieve money and riches, but want no part of the conventional or traditional methods of achieving this end. They do not desire to work hard to achieve their goals. Instead, they look for ways to circumvent the normal or traditional processes of education and hard work.

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This does not always include crime, as one might initially think. Many inventors and entrepreneurs fit the category of “innovator. ” For example, the founders of Google, Yahoo, and other internet search engine web sites are innovators. Athletes who sign lucrative contracts are also considered innovators. These individuals are not part of the criminal population- they simply seek to find different ways to achieve the same goals of the traditional groups. Alternatively, there are innovators who engage in activities such as dealing drugs, robbing banks, stealing cars, etc. Tibbetts, 2012, p. 112). These individuals represent the other end of the innovator equation. Finally, retreatism and rebellion round out the final two classifications of the adaptations to the strain theory. Retreatists, like innovators, do not adopt the “normal” concepts of hard work and education; neither do they wish to achieve the end of monetary wealth. All forms of reteatists seek to disappear from society completely- not buying into its goals or methods (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 113). Lastly, rebellion is usually thought of as the most intriguing of the five adaptations to strain.

The difference that pertains to this category of individuals is how they view society’s goals and the means by which one accomplishes them. While they buy into the concept of goals and methods of society, they do not buy into the CURRENT social structure and its associative ideas of goals and means. Instead, they seek to create their own social structure by overthrowing the current structure and replacing it with one in that adapts to their ideas and values (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 113). Evidence and Criticisms of the Strain Theory

Since the foundation of the strain theory was laid by Merton, many criticisms have surfaced, as well as supporting evidence. The strength of the theory lies primarily within the fact that the Merton’s work provided a structure whereby societal groups in general are evaluated-not individual groups (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 114). There is also the existence of scattered amounts of evidence based support that poverty links directly to crime (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 114). Support for the theory appears to derive from macrolevel rates (Group rates) of the relation between crime and poverty (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 12). Critics of the strain theory cite various reasons why the theory of strain is not valid, or at the very least, flawed. One such reason is the variation of occupations in which people engage, as well as the wide variety of expectations these people possess in terms of what a certain life course might take. While there are many theories, both for and against and everywhere in between Merton’s strain theory, one cannot argue against the strength of its basic premise of expectations vs. the means to achieve those expectations, and the varying degrees of pressure this places upon individuals.

Social Control Theory Control theories operate under the premise that all individuals would subscribe to anti-social behavior save for restrictions that are put in place to guard against their own deviant tendencies (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 152). Basically, control theories stem from the idea that all mankind is evil in terms of base character- man must be contained via laws, guidelines, and restraints. Although not easily tested, the idea of natural criminal inclinations receives a strong supporting cast via recent empirical evidence.

Research has found that most people are ‘bent’ towards criminal actions at an early age. An example of the natural tendency towards criminal behavior is indicated by a reported study by Tremblay and LeMarquand (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 153). This study found that most children’s antisocial behavior peaked at the age of 27 months-particularly boy’s behavior (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 153). Other likeminded studies have surfaced that also give rise to this evidence pertaining to antisocial tendencies Tibbetts, 2012, p. 153). Several other control theories present themselves within the realm of criminal behavior.

For example, Reiss’s control theory states that criminal tendencies were a byproduct of a weak ego or superego controls among incarcerated youth (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 157). However, Reiss believed that strong family bonds served to act as a counterbalance to these weak ego and super ego controls (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 112). Additionally, traits that a person either possessed or did not possess weighed heavily within the framework of Reiss’s control theory. Examples of personal traits include, but are not limited to, impulse restraint, and the ability to delay gratification (Tibbetts, 2012, p. 12). Control perspectives are the most archaic, yet most respected indications and reasons for criminal actions by individuals. The basic position is that mankind is selfish and seeks its own gratification at any cost. The counteracting barriers to this behavior is put into place by social policies and controls that combat and react to criminal activity and the theory that mankind is evil and selfish. References Tibbetts, S. G. (2012) Criminological theory: The essentials. SAGE publications, Inc.

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