Example Of Essay On Social Attitudes And Criminological Theories

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Crime, Social Issues, Theory, Drugs, Teenagers, Sociology, Criminal Justice, Society

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/12/05


The social attitude of a nation is directly linked to both reduce and increase certain types of criminal activity. The society’s acceptance of a certain behavior often sparks opposition in the pockets of minority or lower economical communities. These splinters of opposition consolidate into a response against the society; often resulting in a crime. However, even positive reception to social attitude can sometimes cause a group within society to lose their balance and embrace crime.
In this paper, we are going to look at the various social attitudes that shaped the path of this nation during the 1980s and 1990s. This paper is also going to provide an insight into the crimes that rose during these periods and the criminology theories that were adopted. Finally, we will look at the measures that resulted in an unexpected drop in crime rates since the 1990s.

Social Attitudes

The belief, feeling and behavior towards a certain entity is known as social attitude; emotions, connection and behavior are the key components.

Criminological theories

The study of criminal actions and examine the root cause of these actions and taking necessary steps to prevent the crime from happening is known as criminological theories. The following are the list of basic criminological theories.
Rational choice theory refers to people who analyze the risks involved in an act of crime even before they indulge in it.
Social disorganization theory denotes an individual’s neighborhood and the social circle play a key role in choices made by the individual. In particular, low income neighborhoods can become hubs for instilling violent behavior in its residents.
Strain theory refers to people who are unable to achieve their dreams through legitimate means will try to achieve them by taking up a career in crime.
Social learning theory refers to people who are influenced into taking up a life of crime by those around them or by the people who associate with them.
Social control theory states that the lack of accountability to societal institutions such as family, school or church can influence a life of crime.
Labeling theory refers to the labeling of a person as a criminal by a societal power such as a church. This will automatically remove any legitimate opportunity that the person might have had in the society. The outcome is the person taking up a life of crime because the society labels him so.
Biology, genetics, and evolution refer to the mental health, type of diet and unformed brain composition that result in criminal behavior.
(Akers and Sellers, 2012)

The 1980s

The 1980s was a time of cultural and informational revolution in the United States of America. It was the era of modernization in all walks of life. The Regan years had started and with it the U.S. went forth to win the Cold War. It was also the time period that encouraged police departments from across the country to experiment new tactics in fighting and preventing crime. There were some tragic moments such as the passing of John Lennon, the discovery of AIDS and the ill-fated Challenger mission (Emeritus, 2008).

Social attitudes

The social attitudes that dominated the 1980s were liberal. The society had toned down heavily in demonstrations and was ready to settle down. They general attitude was that there was enough space for all to share. Feminism also concluded its second wave in the country and it was taken up by other European countries post 1980. Religious beliefs were at an all time high and the computer revolution had emerged. The 1980s were the years that laid the foundations stones for the Silicon Valley companies. The advent of cable TV and a host of new programs into American homes also fostered the virtue of the American Dream in the minds of youngsters in this period (UShistory, 2014).


Hate crimes peaked in the 1980s. This was a direct result of the social attitude towards equality among all races. This was also a period that witnessed a rapid increase in gangs and gang related violence. Organized crime made significant gains with Russian and Italian crime families successfully corrupting government machineries.
There was an unprecedented surge in gun violence especially in drug related cases. This was primarily due to the recruitment of young people into the drug runners’ organization. This young generation was considered cheap labor however the downside was their inability to show restraint. Almost all drug market related gang members had guns for protection and invariably caused a steep increase in gun related violence.
Criminological theories
Stress Theory: The publicized portrayal of the American Dream among young people was one of the main reasons youngsters joined the drug trafficking trade. Most of the participants were from low income families and did not have the financial capability to achieve their goals legitimately.
Social Learning Theory: The gang related violence is directly related to the association of gang members in schools and neighborhoods. The idea of gangs was romanticized on television and the new attraction in cable TV only hastened several teenagers into joining gangs to “fit in”.
Labeling Theory: White Supremacist clans reared their heads into action in various parts of the country in response to the social attitude of liberal society. Their views were labeled as unacceptable by the society and they responded by targeting innocent members of the black minority.
(Cote, 2002)

The theories of the 1980s

The most popular criminological theory that emerged from this period was the Routine activity theory (RAT). It was formulated by Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen in 1980. According to this theory, the victim also shares responsibility for the crime. The justification was that the actions or behaviors exhibited by the victim were reasons why the perpetrator chose the victim. For example taking a shortcut through a dark alley provides the perpetrator a chance to commit a crime against the victim however; walking through a well lit street removes the opportunity.
RAT was instrumental in analyzing circumstances behind crimes and providing data that enabled police departments create awareness with sections of the society. This theory helped apprehend several high profile criminals in decades that followed.

The 1990s

This period recorded an unprecedented decline in crime rates all over the country. The drug related crime and violence deescalated steadily. Young people were no longer getting into drug trafficking or gangs. There was also a new paradigm of American families in single parents. This period also witnessed a surge in immigrant Asian Americans. The multicultural society was born. The 1990s was also the period when the internet was unveiled to the public and non military personnel (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 2008). This was also the period that witnessed the third wave of feminism. The sitcom generation started with hit shows like Friends and Walker Texas Ranger. This era also had its share of tragedies in the Columbine High School Massacre, the “not guilty” verdict in the O. J. Simpson trial and the horrific murders of Shanda Sharer, Polly Klaas and Jonbenet Ramsey.

Social attitudes

The American society was fast becoming a multicultural social being. The attitudes towards race related tensions declined further. The advent of the single parent ideology was newly adopted by society. The once booming cocaine industry was obliterated. However, the drug problem remained with meth trading places with cocaine. Young people returned to schools and colleges apart from the ones who were tried as adults in federal courts for using firearms. There was significant emphasis on Juvenile correctional systems with the exodus of drug related arrests being sentenced in adult courts (PewResearchCenter, 2007).


The crime rate reduced overall by five percent. The crimes that contributed to the reduction were burglary (44%), murder (7%) and robbery (5%). However, crimes such as aggravated assault (+21%) and vehicle theft (+11%) were on the rise. The reduction was unexpected since analysts had actually predicted an exponential increase in crime (Department of Justice Staff, 2005).

Crime reducing factors

There were four key factors that attributed to the reduction of crime in the 1990s. They were increased arrests in drug related cases. Jail sentences were reworked to keep repeat offenders in prison for a longer duration of time. Also, juveniles who had committed crimes while using firearms were treated as adults. Hence, their incarcerations in federal penitentiaries proved to be a key deterrent. The long term advantage of this measure was that when the prisoners are released, they would opt for a more peaceful lifestyle. The average age group that indulged in gun violence was between 15 and 19 years. When convicts are released after spending fifteen or twenty years in prison would be more mature and the majority won’t indulge in such crimes (Levitt, 2004).
The second factor was the increase in police numbers. In addition, police departments started using ComSats to detect hot spots of criminal activity and increased policing of those areas. Legalization of abortion enabled the avoidance of unwanted pregnancies being carried to term. A significant proportion of the criminal elements were products of such pregnancies. Finally, the decline of crack cocaine; the media during the 1990s widely publicized the harmful effects of cocaine. It was also the period when quite a few pop and rock music artists succumbed to overdoses. These factors and the mass incarceration of young people who propelled the movement of crack cocaine obliterated the drug from the scene.
The efforts of police through community policing and encouraging students to get back to school, along with the mass incarcerations had a positive effect. This new policing strategy enabled police, civil administration and school districts to work together. Hence, there was a strict vigil maintained by all agencies involved to ensure young people did not get involved in crime.
There were some unproven theories such as the stringent gun laws and economy progress that might have discouraged crime as a revenue generation avenue. The laws on carrying weapons and concealed weapons also increased the risk of burglars coming face-to-face with gun yielding property owners. Burglary dropped significantly during the 1990s.
Hate crimes increased despite the enacting of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990. However, the race related hate crimes reduced by at least twenty percent while there was an increase in hate crimes linked to the gay community. The brutal torture and murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 serves as a grim reminder (FBI, 2015).
Criminological theories
Rational choice theory was widely implied by young people and burglars. They were unable to overcome the risk of getting caught or worse; being shot by a property owner. Criminal elements quickly realized that they could not benefit the spoils of committing crime especially with more police personnel on patrol and civilians carrying guns to protect themselves.
The Social Learning theory encouraged thousands of young people to refrain from criminal activity at the aftermath of what happened to their associates and friends who had been involved in crime. A vast majority of the associates were languishing in federal penitentiaries and others trying to avoid getting caught in a well coordinated police dragnet.
The strengthened economy of the 1990s provided new jobs in the computer field that were far more lucrative and legal than a criminal career. The dynamics of the Strain theory was reversed. This resulted in youngsters abandoning their fledgling criminal careers and joining the mainstream society with the assistance of community policing teams and school authorities.

The theories of the 1990s

Postmodernist theories and feminist theories surfaced in the 1990s. The postmodernist theory was developed by Carrington in 1998. According to this theory, the active subjects are oppressed and denied of their rights by the structures of authority. In retaliation, the active subjects indulge in actions that are repulsive to the structures of authority (Carrington, 1998).

Application of theories in crime wave scenarios

The theories in criminology have been derived by criminologists based on human behavior during the participation of an act of crime. In this section, we are going to analyze the drug trafficking crime wave that rocked our nation during the 1980s. We will also establish evidence of their decline during the 1990s that were linked to a change in circumstances.

Drugs – The Wave

The drug trafficking trade flourished in the United States during the 1980s due to the introduction of crack cocaine. Celebrities, the rich and famous as well as youngsters fell prey to addiction traps of crack cocaine; thereby increasing the demand. The drug trafficking market required additional workforce. The economic trends and lack of safeguards in schools allowed an exodus of dropouts who were quickly recruited into drug running gangs.
The competition between these gangs was fierce and often resolved their disputes through acts of violence. In order to safeguard the merchandise, the drug gang lords armed all their workforce members with guns. The 1980s was the era of Cable Television and a host of violent programs crept into unsuspecting households; combined with guns freely available to anyone who worked in the drug business complicated matters very quickly.
Eventually, the gun yielding teenagers wanted to try out their newly acquired power whenever they could. This escalated the gun culture in an already troubled arena. In addition, most of those involved in the drug industry were users themselves. Shootouts were common occurrences especially in low economic residences.

Drugs – Theories that applied

Rational choice theory dictated terms with young people who saw an easy opportunity to make a lot of money while embodied with the power of yielding firearms. This was simply too good to resist. Their chances of getting caught were slim compared to getting killed however, this idea of gangs was romanticized in popular culture; making drug running almost irresistible.
Social disorganization theory was very apparent with teenagers who participated in the drug trade to emulate their peers. Everything they saw around them was lucrative and appealed to them. These youngsters saw how otherwise unemployed individuals suddenly transformed their neighborhoods into a market swarming with activity with an opportunity for everyone interested.
Strain theory was noticed in many youngsters who envisioned themselves a life that was much better and had more comforts than what their parents provided. They were also ambitious and saw the drug trafficking as a means to achieve their goals.
Social learning theory was also actively spotted in youngsters who wanted to “fit in”. It was easy to be lured into the drug running business when friends, relatives and classmates make fast money. These youngsters also spent vast sums of money on wardrobe and automobiles.

Drugs – What changed?

The theories of criminology operate solely based on the circumstances of the situation however; when these circumstances change, the decisions taken based on those circumstances will also change.
At first, the police decided to step up the patrolling and increased their force in significant numbers. This presented a new risk to the drug trade. The risk of incarceration had increased. The next move sowed the seeds of extermination for the crack cocaine runners when Congress amended the existing laws on certain crimes and repeat offenders. This meant that teenagers who were involved in gun violence would be treated as adults and be incarcerated in federal penitentiaries. The theories of rational choice and strain suddenly became irrelevant. There was too much to risk and there was a real chance to wind up in a federal prison for 10 or 15 year jail terms. Rational choice discouraged young people in the late 1980s and early 1990s in participating in the drug trade. The strain theory also evaporated with the strengthening of the economy. New jobs were available in the market. The achieving of goals in a legitimate structure increased greatly.
Social disorganization rationale disoriented with increased crackdowns by police and other law enforcement agencies like the ATF. Social learning took a reversed rationale when youngsters witnessed their friends, relatives and peer being incarcerated for long jail terms. Subsequently the community policing initiative which coordinated with the local school districts and law enforcement offered an exit for teenagers who were willing to surrender their guns and return to school. This was the last straw that virtually eradicated the existence of young people in the drug trade during the 1990s.


Criminology theories analyze and conclude on outcomes that can be used to eradicate crime. The application of these theories enables law enforcement to come up with preventive measures. The community policing initiative was one such that changed the paradigm of law enforcement completely. Social attitudes also contribute heavily on why people turn to crime. However, now as a multicultural society we stand a better chance at overcoming crime and empowering the weaker sections of society than the opportunity that we had in the 1980s.


Akers, Ronald L. and Sellers, Christine S. (2012). Criminological Theories - Introduction, Evaluation, and Application. Oxford University Press.
Cote, Suzette (Ed.) (2002). Criminological Theories - Bridging the Past to the Future. Sage Publications. New York: NY.
UShistory Staff (2014). Life in the 1980s. Retrieved from: http://www.ushistory.org/us/59d.asp
PewResearchCenter Staff (2007). Trends in Attitudes Toward Religion and Social Issues: 1987-2007. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/2007/10/15/trends-in-attitudes-toward-religion-and-social-issues-19872007/
Rick Musser, Emeritus (2008). History of American Journalism. Retrieved from: http://history.journalism.ku.edu/1980/1980.shtml
Blumstein, Alfred and Rosenfeld, Richard (2008). 2 Factors Contributing to U.S. Crime Trends. Retrieved from: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12472&page=13
FBI Staff (2015). Hate Crimes. Retrieved from: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/hate_crimes
Carrington, K. (1998). Postmodernism and Feminist Criminologies: Fragmenting the Criminological Subject. London: Macmillan
Levitt, Steven D. (2004). Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18 (1), P 163 - 190.

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