Violent Crime - Through the Eyes of a Dangerous Criminal

Violent Crime - Through the Eyes of a Dangerous Criminal

From the beginning of human life, violent crime has been an issue that society has had to deal with. Violent crime destroys the lives of innocent people. In order for people to live in peace, it is important that society finds a way to decrease violent criminal behavior. Society continually puts restraints in place as a means of deterring violent crime. These restraints are based on theories as to how violent behavior is derived and controlled. Before we can successfully deter criminal behavior, we must first understand the minds of those that commit these crimes.

Social Organizational Theories:
Social organizational theories suggest that the criminal mind evolves from its environment. Statistically, there is some truth to this, because crime is more dominant in urban, low income geographic areas with weak community controls. Theorists, Clifford Shaw and Henry Mckay (1972), described socially disorganized neighborhoods as “brimming with attitudes and values conductive to delinquency and crime, which provided pathways to adult crime.” Social disorganization is described by social scientist, Robert Bursik (1988), as “the capacity of a neighborhood to regulate itself through formal and informal processes of social control.” This criminal behavior sometimes becomes violent and is passed down from one generation to the next, which provides the continuation to its same geographic location.

Violent criminal behavior is prevalent in areas that have a high rate of crime. Marvin Wolfgang (1958) found that most non-premeditated homicides, not caused by mental disease or defect, occur mostly among members of certain social groups living in certain neighborhoods. He also attributed most perpetrators as being “young, nonwhite, lower-class males who share a value system, that conduct norms of a subculture of violence.” (Wolfgang and Ferracuti, 1967, p. 276) Most perpetrators value their social status in the community more than human life. Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1967) explained the thoughts of some perpetrators as “its either him or me.” Violence is used as a means of survival in some disorganized neighborhoods. This makes violent crime extremely hard to combat.

Social organizational theories lend support to many different ways of deterring and combating violent crimes. Community policing can be directed to those areas that have many violent crimes reducing social disorder at the neighborhood level. Such neighborhoods can form groups, and separate themselves from gangs and violent crowds, categorizing such behavior as deviant and unacceptable to society. Gerald Suttles (1968) referred to such communities as “defended neighborhoods.” The Wilson and Kelling, (1982) “broken window” theory also reflects ways of deterring crime by cosmetically cleaning up a disorganized community, to instill pride in it’s inhabitants. Some communities are also installing gates and guards to keep the criminal element out. All of these deterrents are effective ways to combat violent crimes, but none will entirely eliminate them.

Although statistics definitely reinforce social organizational theories, they definitely undermine a person’s “free will” to commit a violent crime. There are people that come from disorganized communities that become successful and do not turn to crime, just as there are murderers and rapists that come from high class neighborhoods. Violent criminal behavior is not always passed down through generations. If a person’s environment is responsible for the crimes that they commit, why is a person punished for their crimes? Is violent behavior a byproduct of ones environment, or is it the behavior learned or is its consequences not learned from their parents, peers, teachers, etc.? These are all questions that we struggle to find answers to that would help future endeavors in combating and deterring violent crime.

Social Process Theories:
Theories that explain criminal behavior as learned behavior are considered social process theories. According to sociologist Edwin L. Sutherland (1950), criminal behavior is learned and most learning occurs within intimate personal groups. This has become known as the differential association theory. According to Ronald Akers (1985), learned criminal behavior is acquired or conditioned by the “effects, outcomes, or consequences it has on the person’s environment.” This is accomplished through a person’s punishments and reinforcements (rewards or avoided punishments). F. Ivan Nye (1958) described criminal activity from juvenile delinquents as being attributed to family-level punishments and restrictions, affection with parents, their conscience, and the availability of the means to gratify needs. Recently, young males are responsible for a good portion of not only crimes, but violent crimes.

Violent crimes are a true concern to the public. Social process theories suggest that violent behavior may be learned from a person’s peers or parents. Gang members form close-knit groups and may influence their peers to commit violent crimes. These theories also suggest that a child learns behavior from his or her parents. This can attribute to domestic violence, which has been proven to be spread from one generation to the next in many cases. According to social process theories, children must learn that violence is deviant in society and they must have proper parental guidance and reinforcement from peers.

One way to combat violent criminal behavior is through the social bonding theory. According to Travis Hirschi (1972) “The bond of affection for conventional persons is a major deterrent to crime.” A social bond is the forces in a person’s environment that connects them to society and its morality. The social bond theory is based on such key elements as attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. This theory can be applied by parental guidance, affection, and by incorporating community programs for children. Law enforcement officials can interact with troubled children, having a positive influence on them. DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and GREAT, Gang Resistance Education and Training are two examples of programs based on social process theories. Although effectiveness is debated, with some refinement, these programs may possibly have a profound effect on criminal behavior amongst juveniles. Social process theories offer some good ideas behind the cause of criminal behavior and ways to correct or deter it, but they definitely don’t cover all crimes, especially some of those considered to be violent.

Social process theories do not give much account for individual motives as to why crimes are committed. They do little to explain crimes of passion, and other violent crimes committed by people that were never exposed to such criminal behavior as a child. Travis Hirshci (1969), suggests that “criminality is more or less naturally present, that it requires socialization for its control.” Social learning theories suggest that criminal behavior is learned rather than naturally present.

Although different, social organizational and social process theories are similar in some aspects. Social organizational theories explain criminal or violent behavior as a product of ones environment. This is true in a way that the criminal behavior is learned through the people which surround them, which reflects views of social process theories. Sheldon Glueck (1950) refers to this as “birds of a feather flock together.” People are influenced by their surroundings either positively or negatively. This attributes to their upbringing. Statistics prove that someone from a good upbringing is less likely to become involved in crime. Criminal behavior leads to violent crime. One is very rarely present without the other. One example of this is that people on drugs will do whatever can to get a hold of drugs. When the regard for themselves and others diminishes, violent crime will occur. Both of these sets of theories are true in many aspects about the cause of crime. They both also provide us useful ways of combating and deterring crime. All theories are useful, but no one theory successfully explains all criminal behavior and the best way to deter it. In order to successfully deter violent crime, we must look at all of these theories and combat crime from all angles. Once we better understand the minds behind violent crime, we will do better in combating and deterring it.

Akers, Ronald (1985). Deviant Behavior: A Social Learning approach. 3d ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Bursik, Robert J, (1988). “Social disorganization and theories of crime and delinquency: Problems an prospects.” Criminology 26:519-51.

Glueck, Sheldon, and Eleanor Gluek (1950). “Theory and fact in criminology.” British Journal of Delinquency. 7:92-109.

Hirschi, Travis (1972). Causes of Delinquency. Berkley: University of California Press.

Hirschi, Travis (1969). Causes of Delinquency. Berkley: University of California Press.

Nye, F. Ivan. (1958). Family Relationships and Delinquent Behavior. New York: Wiley.

Shaw, Clifford R. and Henry D. Mckay.(1972). Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas: A Study of Rates of Delinquency in Relation to Different Characteristics of Local Communities in American Cities, rev. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Suttles, Gerald. (1968). The Social Order of the Slum: Ethnicity and Territory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wilson, James Q., and George Kelling. (1982). “Broken Windows: The police and neighborhood safety.” Atlantic Monthly, March:29-38.

Wolfgang, Marvin E. (1958). Patterns of Criminal Homicide. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Wolfgang, Marvin E., and Franco Ferracuti.(1967). The Subculture of Violence.London: Tavistock.