Crime is not a new phenomenon in any society and it is the duty of the various sections or branches of the criminal justice systems to ensure that their citizens are safe. Peace and harmony are among the major goals of any criminal justice system. Homicide which refers to the cessation of the life of a person by another could be in two major forms; the planned or well premeditated also termed as murder or due to some circumstances or at the spur of the moment or manslaughter.
Various theories of crime have been coined to explain crime and delinquency in the society and they range from psychological, biological, conflict, social disorganization, social learning as well as feminist theories of crime. (Burke R, 2005). The psychological and biological theories tend to explain why specific individuals tend to commit crime and are inappropriate when explaining trends of crime in a given region. Feminist theories also tend to be inclined on the role of gender in explaining crime and may also not be appropriate in explaining increasing crime rates in general.
The social conflict, social disorganization, social learning theories can be used to explain the homicide rates in Puerto Rico. An exploration of the various theories of crime places the criminal justice system in a better position to respond to crime in the society with improved prevention as well as sanctioning strategies. Strain theory The Merton’s theories of crime also known as the strain theories argue that deviance in the society is as a result of a discrepancy between the societal or culturally set aspirations and the legally acceptable means to realize them.
In this regard, the society is blamed for the crime rates within its jurisdiction. Setting goals for her members and then failing to offer the appropriate or institutionally acceptable means to realize them leaves the members of the society in awkward or confused situation. A clear illustration is how Americans have been socialized to embrace the ‘American Dream’ where attaining wealth and material gain are highly venerated. However, the same society fails to resolve the constraints that would deter the Americans from realizing this goal forcing them to behave in various ways that may not be in line with the expectations of the society.
The Merton strain theory can best be applied to explain crime rates in poverty stricken regions where out of frustrations the poor behave in different ways as they try to meet the expectations of the society. (Clinard M, 1967). According to Merton’s theory, some act as ‘conformists’ and accept the societal set goals and values as well as the institutionally acceptable means of realizing them. Such people pose no threat to the society in as far as crime and deviance is concerned.
Others are viewed as ‘ritualists’ who reject the set goals by the society though they accept or rather respect the institutionally acceptable means of attaining the set goals. Others are deemed as ‘rebels’ who reject the societal goals and values as well as the legitimate means of realizing the said goals. These include the drug and alcohol addicts who result into this habit due to the realization that they cannot attain the societal set goals. To Merton, the ‘innovators’ are those who accept the societal or culturally set aspirations but reject the socially acceptable means of realizing these goals. Burke R. 2005).
The innovators are a threat to the societal peace and harmony as they may embrace criminal approaches to attain the set goals. They include drug traffickers as well as prostitutes who indulge in these activities as a way of attaining wealth and material gain as has been stipulated in the ‘American Dream’. Modern strain theorists have expounded on Merton’s ideology to embrace other culturally set expectations for instance those affecting the young people that are not necessarily related to wealth or material gain.
In other words, they adopt a social aspect in addition to the economic aspect coined by Merton. These include the desire for academic and sports excellence as well as fame. To them, one’s relations also plays a vital role in determining people’s behavior where those who interact with people favoring deviant behaviors will tend to be deviant while those favoring conformity will not be a security threat to the society. The general strain theory as coined by Akers can be used to explain why the young people engage in drugs and this could further be associated with crime such as homicides.
Strain in this context is associated with depression, disappointment, fear and anger which trigger the desire to revenge against the society or which lead to the adoption of coping mechanisms that favor criminal behavior rather than conformity to the societal norms and values. Bearing in mind the poverty conditions in Puerto Rico this theory can be applied to explain the escalating homicide rates in the region. The argument here is that some people will engage in drug trafficking business as a way of accumulating wealth and material gain and can be viewed as ‘innovators’.
On the other hand, some will engage in drug consumption and abuse due to their desperation or as an act of revenge against the society. Drug abuse will be rampant for the young people who are likely to engage in gangs favoring the use of drugs after dropping out of schools. Homicide rates will also be higher among the gang members and this is made easier by the higher availability of arms. (Peffer R, 2002). The social learning theory of crime The social learning theory of crime can also be used to explain crime and delinquency in society.
Unlike the biological theories that blame criminal behavior on people’s biological makeup, this argues that crime is not an inherent behavior but a learnt behavior. This theory was coined by Ronald Akers and was an improvement of Sutherland’s differentiation theory where he argued that crime portrays learning as an interactive relationship whose success revolves around effective communication. It is thought to take place among people with intimate or close relationships such as family and friends.
To learn crime, individuals learn the techniques used from those with the experience. They also get to learn of the motives or drives of committing the crimes they engage in. Another vital aspect learnt in this process is the rationalization as well as attitudes that favour crime. Sutherland suggests that the period or time of contact is quite influential in determining the associations made. Differential associations tend to vary in frequency, duration as well as their intensity.
People learn the motives of crime from the definition of legal codes and behaviour is termed as favourable or unfavourable and that which is defined as favourable will be highly embraced while the unfavourable will unfavourable will be avoided. (Sutherland E and Cressey D, 1970). The belief of this theory is that people become delinquent due excess definitions that favour the violation of law rather than adherence to it. In other words meanings are awarded and respected and will vary with varying conditions.
Akers developed Sutherland’s work by emphasizing on the role of imitation as well as reinforcement in learning crime. This theory can be used to explain the homicide rates in Puerto Rico where peer influence plays a role in encouraging drug use which in turn triggers indulgence in crime. Interactions with people who define drug use as a favorable act will see the young people engage in drugs to fit in. With time they will rationalize their behavior and after imitating the other gang members they will internalize the use of drugs.
Such people are more likely to engage in crime to finance their habits and some may result to drug trafficking. People under the influence of drugs may have an impaired reasoning or judgment capacity and they may comfortably murder those they perceive as a threat to their existence in business. Others may kill in the process of committing other crimes such as robbery with the aim of financing their drug addiction. (Montalvo-Barbot A. , 1997). A limitation of this theory is that it ignores the probability of attracting conformity thus causing no threat to the society’s security.
This theory also ignores the role of individual reasoning or decision making process. Some people are not taught to kill and others engage in drugs and eventually crime due to personal reasons rather than being influenced by peers and family members. The social learning theory of crime also fails to offer adequate explanations regarding the origin or crime but only discusses how crime is spread. Another critic is that it is single sided in the sense that it focuses on those who are non criminals. It also assumes that all people have an equal access to criminal and anti criminal behaviour. (Akers R, 2000).
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