Comparison Of Two Major Theories In Developmental Criminology Essay
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Developmental theories can be considered as one of the dynamic aspects of studying criminal justice and law enforcement because they mainly emphasize the fact that individuals, mostly those who commit crimes, also grow and develop just like normal people, albeit in significantly different patterns . Most developmental theories suggest that individual crime offenders, including those who commit delinquent crimes, exhibit a pattern of behavior and or collective perception wherein factors that were previously important and or meaningful to them become no longer important; and factors that previously meant nothing or little to them become more meaingful.
Also, in general, most authors and proponents of developmental theorists both in the field of psychology, criminal justice, and law enforcement look at the social, biological, psychosocial, and environmental factors that affect an individual’s pattern of growth and development, and behavior . They often use these factors in order to analyze with increased accuracy and precision why an individual commits something (i.e. a crime or in the case of minors, a delinquent behavior); and even predict whether an individual or a delinquent crime offender would continue to exhibit a particular behavior or stop doing so altogether.
The important thing to remember of course is that when it comes to using developmental theories to analyze things in the criminal justice and law enforcement industry, there is no uniform or standardized pattern that even the most adept developmental theorists can rely on; because patterns of behavior, mixture of factors, and tendencies to change significantly vary . The objective of this paper is to discuss the self-control theory as proposed by Farrington in his work entitled Integrated Developmental and life-course Theories of Offending and also the self-control theory as proposed by Hirschi and Gottfredson in some of their works like The Generality of Deviance and A General Theory of Crime.
It is important to note early at this point that both theories that will be discussed in this paper are different versions or variations of the theory of crime. In some literatures, the self-control theory of crime is also referred to and used interchangeably as the General Theory of crime. Basically, this theory is backed by the argument that an individual, be it an adult or a juvenile delinquent crime offender, commits crime because of an apparent lack of self-control; or that the main factor behind an individual’s commission of a criminal or delinquent act is his apparent lack of self-control. In both situations, lack of self-control would certainly appear to be the primary reason behind the commission.
There are a lot of available readable literatures about the self-control theory of crime. Because of the sheer number of available literatures that revolve around this topic, a lot of versions of the self-control theory of crime have been developed. Among the most popular of which were the ones introduced by Farrington and Hirschi and Gottfredson. Some of the other important principles behind the self-control theory of crime are the ones that suggest that individuals who have been intellectually, behaviorally, and emotionally parented at least before the age of eight, consistently at that, develop a more active and a higher level of self-control ability than individuals who are at the same age who were raised ineffectually. These individuals may be the orphans and those who grew up without any guardians. This principle also suggests that that low levels of self-control can be directly attributed to criminal and impulsive conducts even among juveniles who according to the law cannot be called criminals because their acts, regardless of how serious, cannot be considered as criminal acts, but delinquent ones only.
Most theories have a point of origin. In the case of the self-control theory of crime, criminal justice and law enforcement experts and analysts believe that its premises originated from the bonding theory . The authors who first introduced the theory are Hirschi and Gottfredson in their work entitled the General Theory of Crime in the 90s . Their theory and the principles that they used to support it attracted a lot of attention from the criminal justice and law enforcement industry that from the time they first released their work, more and more authors and researchers stated to further develop the theory they started.
Hirschi and Gottfredson, in their original and untouched work on the self-theory of crime argued that there is a clear and strong connection between an individual’s actual tendencies to commit a criminal act or even just a behavior and that individual’s age . That is, individuals who are at a point where their hormones rage and create an imbalance, which practically talks about the age of puberty and adolescence, are more likely to commit crimes as a result of blind and impulsive decisions than adults and other people in the later stages of growth and development .
However, despite Hirschi and Gottfredson’s clear establishment of the correlation between an individual’s age and his tendencies to commit a crime as a result of impulsive decisions and behaviors, they did not deviate from their main thesis (or at least one of them). Their main thesis suggests that the single and most important factor that can be used as an indicator of an individual’s tendency to commit crime is that individual’s self-control ability . That is, an individual who lacks the ability to control himself especially in high pressure and stressful situations, are the ones who are most likely to commit criminal or delinquent acts depending on the age group the perpetrator falls while one who has a high level of self-control have lesser tendencies to do the same thing.
In their commentary work entitled “Testing the General Theory of Crime”, Hirschi and Gottfredson tested the general theory of crime by exploring the implications for crime of the idea of control. According to Hirschi and Gottfredson, the most important thing to test in the general theory of crime is the level of the subject’s self-control. Unfortunately, there is no standardized way how to do this apart from the subjective ones. One of the approaches that Hirschi and Gottfredson recommended was the method used by Grasmick et al. (1993) in their study where the respondents were asked to characterize themselves (i.e. their self-control level) along a variety of dimensions relevant to self-control and its relationship with criminal acts . In Grasmick et al.’s (1993) work, the discovered using the said approach that “inconsistent with the theory are the finding that criminal opportunity has a significant main effect beyond its interaction with low levels of self-control and that the substantial proportion of variance in crime left were left unexplained by the theoretical variables—something which suggests modifying and expanding the theory would be the only viable option to address the said inconsistencies . In another literature that tested Hirschi and Gottfredson’s theory, Keane et al. (1993) used a different approach in testing the level of self-control and its correlation with tendencies to commit crime. They measured self-control via direct observation of behaviors such as failure to wear a seat belts, drinking, among others, which were obtained from self-reports of behavior. Keane et al. (1993) later on concluded using results from this kind of analysis that using several indicators of self-control, there is indeed a strong correlation between low levels of self-control and criminal activities such as driving under the influence which is what they focused on in their study .
In their paper, the independent variable was the individual’s self-control and the dependent variable was the individual’s tendency to commit a crime or any delinquent act for juveniles. They included a thorough discussion about self-control and to summarize their arguments about self-control, they described it as an ability to regulate one’s emotions, desires, and behaviors, even in the face of external stimuli and demands in order to function and behavior according to the established norms, laws, and expectations in society; that an individual’s self-control is at its lowest level during the years of puberty and adolescence and continues to improve as an individual grows older into adulthood mainly as a result of a collection of factors that include but may not be limited to biological (i.e. improved hormonal balancing ability of the body and development), improved ability to socialize, and the heightened cost of having low levels of self-control.
For comparison purposes, it would be important to note that Hirschi and Gottfredson’s arguments on the contributory nature of self-control or the apparent lack thereof can be considered as a one-dimensional approach when it comes to classifying and or describing a criminal phenomenon mainly because it focuses on one causal variable that is argued to be the predominantly important variable that causes an individual’s commission of a crime. Aside from these theories’ being one-dimensional, other points of criticism relate to the grounds of reductionism; that is, critics of Hirschi and Gottfredson’s arguments and other one dimensional approaches that may be used to describe criminal activities and their causes believe that such approaches focus too much on reductionism—that is they reduce the supposedly sophisticated nature of assessing and analyzing the what indeed causes an individual to commit a crime.
This is in stark contrast with what most criminal justice and law enforcement analysts say about the integrated theories of crime and or offending. One of the most famous works in this particular field of the criminal justice and law enforcement industry is that of Farrington (2005) where he focused on integrated developmental and life-course theories of offending. Between integrated theories of crime and offending and those that are simple and one-dimensional, integrated theories have the upper hand because aside from the fact that they are the ones that are frequently updated and most widely used by criminal justice and law enforcement agencies, they are very versatile or even generalizable if one will because they not only focus on one predominant psychological, social, biological, or economic factors (among others) in analyzing the coherent structure of crime or offending but rather on a multitude of factors. Basically “integrated theories of crime represent an attempt to bridge the ideological differences that exist among various older theories of crime by integrating variables from disparate theoretical approaches; recognizes that crime is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon with multiple causes; and by integrating a variety of ecological, socialization, psychological, biological, and economic factors into a coherent structure, such theories overcome the shortcomings of older theories that may be criticized on the grounds of reductionism; that is, many older theories of crime argue that one causal variable is predominantly important as a cause of crime” .
The crime and offending concepts and theories discussed in Farrington’s work were mostly, if not all, integrated theories, that can be further specified into developmental and life-course theories. Developmental crime theories, in general, aim to provide an explanation on the different possible developmental processes that may lead or may have led to the distinctive criminal or offensive behavior of an individual; most developmental crime theorists make use of an age curve in predicting, analyzing, or interpreting an individual’s developmental, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms .
Life-course crime theories, on the other hand, aim to analyze an individual’s inclination or predisposition to commit a crime based on the presence of any anti-social and violent behaviors, and also ones that may be interpreted as signs of emotional and psychological instability and perhaps the most important indicator of all (at least in this category), the continuity of the said manifestations . One good example of an individual who may be considered as one that is a life-course persistent offender would be a person who began showing signs of violence, of being an offender as early as the age of four (e.g. biting, hitting other people, etc.) and began committing more serious crimes such as selling drugs, shoplifting, rape, robbery, child abuse, and even murder by the time he grew up as an adolescent or adult . These two more specific theories were, in fact, discussed in Terrie Moffitt’s developmental theory of crime. Moffitt argued that there are, in general, two types of anti-social behaviors that may predispose an individual to becoming an offender later in the future. The first one is an adolescent limited anti-social behavior (these are the ones who only exhibit the anti-social behavior during their adolescent years) and the second one is a life-course persistent offender antisocial behavior (these are the ones who exhibit antisocial behaviors and tendencies early during childhood and persist into adulthood) .
In 2011, Melder & Esbensen investigated the criminal behaviors and tendencies of more than 1400 gang-involved youths focusing on the research objective which was to determine whether the life-course persistent offender behaviors exist among the subjects. The authors found that the onset of gang membership is indeed associated with substantial changes in emotions, social controls, and attitudes which support the principles of life-course persistent offender under the developmental theory of crime. In another study published in 2010 in the Journal of Crime and Delinquency, authors Bouffard and Piquero studied the varying effects of sanctions on life-course persistent offenders. They used the principles of defiance theory which suggests that there are four necessary conditions for defiance to occur and these are sanction must be perceived as unfair; the offender must be poorly bonded; the offender denies the shame produced by the sanction; and the sanction must be perceived as stigmatizing. They authors tested this by testing and observing subjects within a life course perspective based on the developmental theory of crime. In the end, they concluded that their results yielded promising support for the defiance theory .
In summary, these Farrington’s theory and that of Hirschi and Gottfredson differ in that Hirschi and Gottfredson’s theory is a one-dimensional theory that suggests that self-control (i.e. the lack thereof) is the single most important factor that predisposes an individual’s tendencies to commit a crime or an offense or in the case of minors, delinquent acts; and that Farrington’s work focused on multi-dimensional theories that aimed to fill the gaps that pretty much served as the points of weakness and criticisms of one-dimensional theories of crime such as the one that Hirschi and Gottfredson worked on. Basically, Farrington proposed or rather reinforced the then existing proposals that crime or its commission must be seen as a complex phenomenon that is not only dependent on a single predominant factor as in the case of Hirschi and Gottfredson’s one-dimensional theory propositions. Between the two, multi-dimensional theories such as the ones that Farrington discussed in his work are the ones that are more widely used by criminal justice and law enforcement agencies because of their versatility and their ability to cover all the possible factors that may have influenced an individual’s (even a juvenile) decision to commit a crime be it due to a lack or low level of self-control, or other psychosocial, emotional, intellectual, or behavioral factors.
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