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Criminological Theories at the Neighborhood Level Essay

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Updated: Jan 15th, 2022

The Life-Course Theory Application

The life-course theory is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding several factors that are critical in determining how an individual’s life is shaped right from birth to death. Thornberry (2018) contends that this theory analyzes individuals and their families in social and historical situations. It has been argued that nearly all serious adult offenders were serious juvenile offenders, yet most serious juvenile offenders do not become serious adult offenders. This assertion can be explained using the life course theory. The lives of children, adolescents, and adults are shaped by various factors that can contribute to different extents to which individuals can be involved in crime.

Parental guidance or its lack determines how a child develops, and one of the most identified factors that result in bringing up children who end up in crime is single parenthood. Children who come from single-parent households are more likely to engage in criminal activities compared to those families with both parents. Adolescents are shaped by the degree of social adaptation. It is critical to underscore that adolescents who excel in education and other social institutions such as schools are less likely to be criminals. On the other hand, teenagers who do not do well in schools and churches may turn to crime as they look for activities in which to spend their time. Adults are shaped by marriages, careers, and children (Thornberry, 2018). Adults who are married and busy in their jobs are less likely to be criminals compared to the unmarried and jobless.

All these factors establish lifestyles in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood that could greatly impact the probability of committing crimes. The widely accepted view is that childhood and adolescence are typified by more factors that promote crime than those in adulthood. According to the theory, therefore, it is important to observe that not all serious juvenile offenders have become serious adult offenders since as people grow up, they become engaged in more activities that hardly allow them to think of immoral issues in society such as crime. Besides, social pressure due to bonding is less experienced in adulthood compared to childhood and adolescence (Downes, Rock, & McLaughlin, 2017; Thornberry, 2018).

Hirschi’s (1969) Social Control Theory vs Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) General Theory of Crime

Social control theory argues that learning and socialization help individuals build self-control behaviours that are critical in reducing the inclination toward antisocial attitudes. In other words, Hirschi thought that ties in families, schools, and other social contexts can remarkably diminish one’s likelihood of engaging in crime (Marcum & Higgins, 2014). This theory posits that crimes in communities happen when such bonds are weakened by various factors (Akers, 2017; Marcum & Higgins, 2014). When strong bonds do not hold people together, crimes are inevitable outcomes. Contrary to what most other theoretical paradigms attempt to explain, social control theory strives to question what deters people from offenses. In this context, crime is viewed as a possible outcome for all people in a community, but it is how they establish and maintain social bonds that they avoid criminality. According to Hirschi’s argument, these attachments are dependent on persons within and outside families such as friends and co-workers (Marcum & Higgins, 2014). Besides, they rely on involvement in social activities, and belief in collective values and standards (Marcum & Higgins, 2014).

On the other hand, the general theory of crime moves away from what was argued by Hirschi. This theory proposes that crime occurs when people with low self-control are presented with illegal opportunities (Tittle, 2018). It does not contain the four elements argued earlier by Hirschi in his social bonding or control theory (Marcum & Higgins, 2014). General crime theory appreciates that individuals are characterized by differences concerning the likelihood of committing a crime. These differences are analyzed in the context of deciphering how varied self-control levels influence people to criminality (Piquero, 2015). It can be argued that parenting plays a key role in determining the level of self-control among children. Therefore, members of families that do not focus on inspiring them to develop elevated levels of self-control are more likely to engage in crime.

Structural and cultural factors difference in the explanation of crime at the neighbourhood level

Social disorganization theory directly associates crime rates with the ecological attributes of neighbourhoods. In other words, it proposes that an individual’s location determines whether he or she will participate in illegal activities. Young persons from poor neighbourhoods most likely get involved in subcultures that promote delinquency, and the social and cultural contexts equip these individuals with criminality. Notably, neighbourhoods that have relatively high levels of joblessness, poor infrastructures, high-school dropouts, and single-parent have elevated cases of crime. Areas that have poor social and economic levels attract new immigrants, resulting in ethnic and racial heterogeneity as well as residential mobility. In such socially disorganized locations, conventional institutions such as families, schools, and voluntary community organizations that are expected to prevent youths from engaging in crime are weak; thus, they do not have the social behaviour of young persons. In many situations, it has been observed that the role of families and churches in socializing children shifts to formal schools that are in upcoming urban industries (Quinney & Shelden, 2018). It has been argued that this shift of socialization introduces structural and social differences that support competition among youth groups while disadvantaging proper social behaviours.

As argued by Quinney and Shelden (2018), when these cultural and structural differences are established, community conscience is negatively impacted since it loses a portion of its controlling force. In other words, young members of these disorganized societies adopt an array of ideas and attitudes that are contrary to those championed by churches and families. Moreover, the new culture in the newly created social system is dependent on the shifts of the community as well as social rewards, a situation known as organic solidarity. Due to the differences between cultural and structural factors at play within these modern urban areas as they shift from mechanical solidarity, crime thrives as forces of readjustment and adjustment support it. According to the social disorganization theory, urbanization and industrialization negatively impact the social fabric that helps to control the behaviour of people (Quinney & Shelden, 2018). The disintegration of this fabric leads to community differentiation, weakened family ties, change of basic to secondary relations, and alienation.

Criminological Theories: Unrealistic Vs Reasonable Policy Implications

Criminologists around the world gather and analyse sets of data concerning crime trends to prevent or reduce crime rates. Later, they interact with public policymakers to offer them evidence-based pieces of advice on the best approaches to handling crime. Thus, the concept of public policy is founded on a platform of theoretical frameworks developed by criminologists and executed by lawmakers (Hall & Winlow, 2015). Although criminology theories are developed to deter crime in society, they can present workable or unrealistic public policy implications (Tittle, 2018). Examples of these are rational choice and crime pattern theories.

The crime pattern theory argues that crime is not accidental; offenders plan their activities or opportunities appear which view too good to pass. People engage themselves in habitual decision-making whose results become invariable in the long run. This invariability is a critical guiding principle for offenders in their immoral activities. In addition, this theoretical framework proposes that offenders work in networks made by family members or friends. These bonds can be changed at any time, and the impact crime decisions (Tittle, 2018). However, if criminals make decisions without consulting members in their networks, the ideas and crime guiding principles can be combined to help assess patterns. This theory also states that crimes are typified by nodes, activity spaces, offense attractors and generators, and critical developments. Therefore, it offers workable implications on public policy since criminals rarely change their locations and targets.

On the other hand, rational choice theory views offenders as independent decision-makers whose ideas to engage in crime are based on cost-benefit analysis. In other words, offenders compare the benefits of crime to consequences. This theory is based on the premise that behaviours are reflections of all choices made by persons (Burke, 2017). However, every individual makes his or her decisions according to his or her preferences and issues they encounter. Notably, different situations offer individuals varied preferences and difficulties concerning crime. Besides, this theory does not explain the process of making choices in life, but it provides predictions about the outcomes and trends of crime patterns. This theoretical paradigm provides unrealistic implications on public policy on handling crime. It is premised on a misunderstanding of how individuals operate in society. It should have been taken into consideration that social agents make decisions based on their practical logic as well as bodily dispositions. Moreover, they act based on how they feel in different social contexts (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2018). This theory gives unworkable public policy solutions to deter crime around the world. Rather, it offers economic explanations that cannot be directly and feasibly connected to criminology concepts.


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  2. Burke, R. H. (2017). An introduction to criminological theory. New York, NY: Willan.
  3. Downes, D., Rock, P. E., & McLaughlin, E. (2016). Understanding deviance: A guide to the sociology of crime and rule-breaking. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  4. Hall, S., & Winlow, S. (2015). Revitalizing criminological theory: Towards a new ultra-realism. Abingdon-on-Thames, United Kingdom: Routledge.
  5. Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. (2018). Criminological theory: Context and consequences. New York, NY: Sage publications.
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  7. Piquero, A. R. (Ed.). (2015). The handbook of criminological theory. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  8. Quinney, R., & Shelden, R. G. (2018). Critique of the legal order: Crime control in capitalist society. Abingdon-on-Thames, United Kingdom: Routledge.
  9. Thornberry, T. (2018). Developmental theories of crime and delinquency. Abingdon-on-Thames, United Kingdom: Routledge.
  10. Tittle, C. R. (2018). Control balance: Toward a general theory of deviance. Abingdon-on-Thames, United Kingdom: Routledge.
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