Al Capone: Theories

Categories: Al CaponeHistory

Al Capone was born in 1899 Brooklyn, New York to Italian immigrant parents. His father was a barber while his mother sewed clothes for living, to provide for their nine children. Al was good in school until he started hanging out by the docks. He never went back to school after a teacher hit him for being rude, and him getting a beating from the principle after he hit the teacher back. His criminals career started being part of local small gangs, getting his infamous scar working as bouncer.

After being invited to Chicago by gangster Johnny Torrio who he viewed as a mentor, co-running his bootleg business. They both lead a terror campaign to have people vote for the candidate they wanted. Causing multiple people to get injured and killed and resulting in the death of Al’s brother after being killed by the Chicago police.

After Torrio handed control of the gang to Al, they gang dominated the illegal alcohol trade in Chicago.

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After the killing of 7 rival gang members it what Is known as the St. Valentine’s day Massacre the public turned their opinion of Al Capone into a negative one. He was indicted on June 5th, 1931 on 22 counts of tax evasion with an 11 year sentence. Spending the first two years in Atlanta before serving five in Alcatraz. Being released in 1939 to a mental hospital for three years before moving to Miami. Where he died of cardiac arrest in January 25th 1947 aged 48. Leaving behind a legacy of terror, violence, and death from his and other mobs in Chicago and the nation.

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Differential Association Theory

As the first theory I will be using to explain Al Capone behavior the Differential Association theory. The theory according to Edward Sutherland explains how behavior is learned through interactions we have in life. A basic principle of this theory would be criminal behavior is learned from others, just like how we learned to read and talk (Sutherland 1939). Al Capone at his youth had a notorious mobster named Johnny Torrio who took him under his wing and mentored him. During this time Johnny would teach Al Capone what he knew about the mobster life. Which later in life Al Capone would be his right-hand man before taking over himself becoming the leader of the Chicago mob.

Another Basic principle of this theory states that the criminal behavior learned isn’t learned from imitation but from practice like how we learn other things like reading or writing. (Siegel 2017 p. 240) Al Capone started his career in the mob being part of smaller gangs working up the ranks under Frankie Yale. Until he later moved to Chicago to join Johnny where he became his right-hand man and took over after Johnny handed control to him. Making him boss of the Chicago mob at age 26. All this due to Johnny’s mentorship over Al Capone made him an effective boss, this couldn’t have been achieved if Al Capone just imitated Johnny. Johnny mentored and taught Al everything he knew about the mob life.

Rational Choice Theory

Another theory which I will use to explain Al Capone’s behavior would be the rational choice theory. This theory explains that decisions could be rational and not random or out of impulse. Choosing crime because there is a greater reward with the small risk of getting caught, enticing those capable of committing crimes to make the choice and commit them. (Siegel 2017 p. 105) During the early 20th century mobsters committed crimes with little risk as most officials were corrupt taking bribes or being intimidated into letting crimes go. Due to this Al probably made the choice of committing crimes since there was little risk of him getting in trouble and if he did, it wouldn’t be anything serious. His first arrest was due to hitting a parked taxi while he was driving under the influence, his mentor Torrio used his connections to have Al freed.

But also, one can also say gaining wealth or power aren’t the motivations behind everything. I love watching soccer during the weekends, it doesn’t give me any power or wealth, but it makes me happy. Maybe for Al Capone it wasn’t all about the money or wealth, and he committed crimes because it made him happy. All we know is that Al committed these crimes whether it was for personal gain or pleasure, it had a great effect on a lot of people

Lombroso Theory

Cesare Lombroso theorized people are born criminals with physical traits, that made them criminals. Such has having large jaws or strong canine teeth, comparing these traits to primitive savage people. (Siegel 2017 p. 142) While Al Capone wasn’t a model I’m sure his physical appearance had no effect on him being born a criminal. Maybe the scar on his face he got from a barfight working as a bouncer. Might have made him resent the fact he would have to live with a scar on his face he didn’t want. But I don’t think getting a scar could lead to criminal activity, I got a scar on my forehead as a four-year-old and it never made me a bad kid and I’m also sure it won’t affect my kids.

Genetic Theory of Crime

This theory states human traits associated with criminality have a genetic basis. The direct view of the crime explains antisocial being inherited and directly connecting antisocial behavior to genetic abnormality. The indirect view explains genes are related to some traits which is linked to antisocial behavior (Siegel 2017 p.153) While Al Capone had brother, who was involved in the mob life with him. I don’t think genetics played a role in Al’s criminal life, he was around mafiosos he looked up to all his life. He was taken under the wing of one who taught him everything he knows. These interactions are what made him a criminal nothing inherited from his parents who lived honest lives.


Al Capone lived an infamous life in Chicago, being the City’s most infamous gangster controlling the illegal Alcohol trade. His behavior can be explained with the Differential association theory, he was taught on how to become a gangster eventually becoming a more effective leader than his mentor Torrio. He also could be explained with the rational choice theory, Al made all his decisions being rational. Making his decisions to benefit him and his gang knowing there was little risk of them getting in trouble, so he took them in benefit for all. The Lombroso theory cannot explain Al’s behavior reasoning physical appearance neither can the genetic theory. We inherit many things but genetics did not make Al a criminal, it was his environment around him growing up that lead him to be a criminal.


  1. Al Capone. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Siegel, L. J. (2018). Criminology: Theories, patterns, and typologies. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
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Al Capone: Theories. (2021, Apr 22). Retrieved from

Al Capone: Theories essay
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