Good Essay About Criminology: Behavioral Theories

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Crime, Social Issues, Criminal Justice, Law, Theory, Banking, Choice, Prison

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/11/14

Criminology: behavioral theories

The co-ed butcher, Edmund Kemper was probably not a mindless killer. Although he killed his grandparents and half a dozen college students, he turned himself in. He chose not to pursue the violent spree he had adopted. This behavior was not common with the killers of his era; Theodore Robert Bundy would have kept killing as long as he was free. Edmund Kemper was tall, heavily built and had in his possession (at the time of arrest), an arsenal of firearms and ammunition that any county sheriff would envy. Yet, this giant called the police and surrendered saying, “I am afraid that I might kill someone else”. It makes one wonder if he had been brought up in a different family and social set up, perhaps he might have been famous for Basketball or Pro football and not for the serial killer tag.
An act of crime descends from long process that starts with who the perpetrator is. The individual’s choices, the influencing factors, upbringing and a variety of other emotional and even geographical considerations eventually consolidate into a crime. Criminal minds operate similar to our own; they choose between what is right and what is wrong. Moreover, just like the rest of us, the choices are weighed for pros and cons; so why did they choose to act criminally when we probably would have chosen differently? What were the factors that undermined their will to do the right thing? The study is going to reason why the perpetrator chose to act and what factors influenced the defendant to take the illegal route. This paper evaluates two popular theories and their role in influencing a crime on the internet.

Choice Theory

The choice theory defines criminal choice as a process that benefits the perpetrator within a limited scope. The choices available to the individual were scarce and the unavailability of a legitimate route out of a certain problem eventually forces the individual to commit an act of crime. The framework of the choice theory consists of two aspects; the legal approach and the illegal perspective. The individual thinks and analyzes the risks involved in undertaking an act of crime. If the would-be criminal had a viable alternative that does not involve breaking the law, the individual would not commit the crime.
According to Tonry and Morris in their book, Crime and Justice, decision making in the choice theory originates from the background of the perpetrator. The background is divided into three factors; psychological, upbringing and Social and demographical considerations. Psychological subsets are intelligence, thinking style and susceptibility. Upbringing denotes the type of vibes generated from the home; troubled or dysfunctional families, foster care or even parents’ involvement in criminal activities. The final factor subsets are the perpetrator’s neighborhood and its economic level, the individual’s education and sex; all of which constitute to the social and demographical factors.
The next step in this process is thinking and analyzing the situation. The individual weighs the pros and cons of the decision while exploring legitimate ways to deal with the problem. The decision invariably stems from effort required, substantial gain, likelihood of being charged for the crime and the cost of breaking morals. Other influencing aspects are associates, the promise of an easy closure to the primary problem (Clark and Derek, 1985).

Deterrence Theory

This theory refers to the actions by law enforcement agencies and the justice department that eventually deters an individual from pursuing a certain criminal act through due to the cost of the crime if charged. There are two aspects of deterrence theory. They are general deterrence and specific deterrence (Gennaro et al, 2005).
General deterrence is best explained by the Sharia laws that were formulated over a thousand years earlier by the early founders of Islam. Under this law, the defendants would be paraded in public before being executed (stoning, firing squad, beheading, etc). This public display of carrying out the sentence was meant to deter future would-be criminals (Hagan et al, 1996). This law was followed by the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to 9/11.
Specific deterrence emphasizes the consequence of committing a particular type of crime. This emphasis could be the factors that could solve the crime in a relatively quicker manner than expected. For example the publicizing of facts on how DNA evidence that can be collected from blood, hair, saliva, tooth pulp and even skin transference in recent years deters individuals who look for an easy score. Prior to sophisticated DNA extractions, one could possibly get away with murder if they had an alibi that checks out remotely.

Application of theories to computer crime

Computer crime emerged even as the internet was used as a military network. The last two decades have seen an exponential growth of utilization and crime on cyberspace. Bank frauds, hacking, defacing websites, credit card fraud, identity thefts, virus and spyware attacks have brought a new dimension into the extending of crime’s tentacles. We will take an example of one such crime and analyze it based on the principles of the choice and deterrence theories.
Forty one year old Mark Hartford is laid off from a systems security major during the recession. He is unable to find suitable employment during the recession years and manages meager revenue from freelance assignments on the internet. One of his assignments is a small project for an offshore call center that sells services of Empire Today. Around the same time, the mortgage payments on his house have fallen behind so much that the bank sends a notice. It was Mark’s parents’ house that they had passed on after their time. He had grown up in that house and every chip on the window had a story to tell.
During this period, Mark stumbles on an article that features the risk of providing credit card information to offshore call centers. Mark realizes that the sample data that he holds to test the call center application consists of real credit card information and using it through a mirrored server could make it look like the fraud originated from the offshore center. His house, a memory filled building that completes his life is at risk of being possessed by the bank and he has the transactional information for 200 credit cards in his possession.
Although he dismisses the thought, he is unable to move on. He eventually gives in and transfers $40,000/- from various credit card accounts to anonymous accounts that he creates. Eleven months later, he is arrested and charged with committing credit card fraud. He is awarded a suspended sentence since he had no prior criminal record. A week after the sentencing, he is employed by the same credit card company he defrauded to prevent future incursions.
Choice Theory
Mark Hartford did not have any prior criminal records. He was brought up by loving parents who left their house for him after their passing. He used to hold a lucrative position in a systems security firm. None of this points to an upbringing or social failure however, once he lost his job, things changed. The economic model that shaped his life was no longer available to him. His only possession, his parents’ home was threatened by the bank. Now, he had motive from his altered background. He does not act immediately which proves that he was not inclined to take up a life of crime only because of its appeal. However with no legal alternative at hand, he takes up the credit card fraud. His analyzing skills were really good since it took nearly an entire year to pin the crime on him. The choice theory proves in this case that if Mark had a different financial position, he would not have transformed the random idea into action.

Deterrence Theory

In the case of Mark Hartford, there was no real deterrence except for morals. He only hesitates on the grounds of facing shame or isolation if he is charged of the crime. His upbringing probably deterred him initially. However, the reward and effort required were too hard to resist. Moreover the lack of scope in being incarcerated for a long time provided a major push to commit the crime. It is also possible that since he was working for a system security company and perhaps knew of their hiring policy that accommodated ex-fraudsters.
Crimes on the internet often bring minimal sentences and a near certainty of a lucrative position with an anti-virus or network Security Company. Even banks hire former fraudsters to help them strengthen their securities. It took eleven months to arrest him of the crime hence; his level of expertise could help revolutionize the credit card company’s securities. Unlike cases of fraud in the real world, the world of computers lacks serious laws or punishments that deter cyber criminals.


Criminology has progressed significantly in understanding the mind of the perpetrator and finding ways to prevent the crime from happening. The understanding of the choice theory enables law enforcement to identify and discourage criminal tendencies in the society especially among young adults from low income neighborhoods. This theory also provides an insight into the criminal’s decision making process allowing law enforcement to spot criminal intentions even before a crime can take place. Deterrents are the key to keeping the crime rate under control. The lack of deterrents for computer and internet based crimes is alarming. Several young adults around the world attempt to script the next malicious code to cripple networks around the world for want of recognition; perhaps even a job. Companies will continue to hire individuals who indulge in internet security based crimes to keep their clientele safe however; this action encourages several college dropouts, aspiring programmers and kids from low income economies to try and make the big score. Ironically, Edmund Kemper’s morals forced him to surrender and today we are faced with a generation of computer proficient super criminals who have nothing more than moral deterrence to consider before pulling off the next sensational cyber crime.


Clarke, Ronald V. and Derek B. Cornish (1985). Modeling offenders' decisions: a framework for research and policy. Chicago: University of Chicago. Print.
Gennaro F. Vito, Jeffrey R. Maahs, Ronald M. Holmes (2005). Criminology: Theory, Research, and Policy. Jones & Bartlett Learning. Print.
Hagan, John, A.R. Gillis, and David Brownfield (1996). Criminological Controversies: A Methodical Primer. Boulder: Westview, Print.

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