Criminal activities and theories


In the management of crime in the society, it is significant for individuals working in the criminal justice system to understand theories that are put forward by various scholars explaining the fundamental issues related to criminal activities. The Crime theories such as the social learning theory, self-control, and labeling theory have long been used to expound on the understanding of criminal and criminal activities in the society. Among the aspects of crime that can be understood through the study of the theories include the aspects that drive individuals to engage in criminal activities. Scholars in the field of criminology have employed different theories to explain crimes. Such theories include social learning theory, self-control theory, and labeling theory. A firm grasp of the concepts involved in each of the theories will be instrumental to learners in the criminal justice system with interest in criminology such as detectives, prosecutors as well as other law enforcing agencies that want to decode criminal activities.

The first theory is social learning theory. The theory posits that individuals learn criminal activities through their social interactions. The theory suggests that the kind of people a person associates with will determine whether they develop conforming or deviant behavior when it comes to adhering to laws. The interactions that may necessarily affect one’s bearing to criminal activities include those that involve groups (Akers, 2011). The maxim of the theory is that criminal behavior in learned via social interactions with intimate groups. Therefore as an individual gets immersed in circles that are likely to influence them to engage in criminal activities, the first thing taught within the association is the mechanisms of committing the crime. They learn how to bypass the various mechanisms put in place to deter the crime such as hoe to access illegal products such as drugs or guns in their society without getting the attention of the law enforcement organizations (Akers & Jensen, 2011). Besides that, the individual also learns the motives behind committing a crime. Those are reasons that are meant to rationalize and justify the hitherto seemingly illegal action (Akers & Jensen, 2011). For instance, an individual will learn pro-criminal definitions of committing a crime from those persons engaged in criminal activities within the social group that the individual belongs. Likewise, individuals learn unfavorable definitions of criminal activities from those who conform to the laws and, therefore, less likely to commit a crime. If the pro-criminal definitions are more favorable to the individual than the anti- criminal definitions, then the individual is susceptible to be engaged in criminal activities (Akers & Jensen, 2011). Individuals who commit crime are thus said to be influenced more by fellow criminals than by those who conform to the laws.

In addition to the self-learning theory, self-control theory has also been used to explain why people develop criminal lifestyles. The theory that was developed by criminologist Travis Hirschi, and Michael Gottfredson from the 1990s onwards theorized that there was a strong correlation between a person’s age and their involvement in crime, therefore, suggesting that the main reason people are driven to commit a crime is because of lack of self-control (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). In the society, the theorized aspect by the researchers can attribute to the fact that self-control gradually improves with the age of individuals. This is because the various factors that may contribute to an individual improving their self-control as they age are biological, socialization, and opportunity cost (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). Regarding the biological aspects of an individual, various hormonal changes are bound to occur as the individual grows in age, which improves his/her, self-control (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). Socialization also plays a key role in one improving their self-control. Older people have interacted and socialized with a variety of people with different personalities. They have experienced many different events in their lives and therefore, gradually developed self-control via the many experiences they have been through.  For example, in the present day, many gang members joining the gangs are as young as 15 or 16 years old due to lack of experience while on the other hand it is seen that reformed gang members are as old as 26 years to 30 years due to the lengthy experience that they have had such as repeated incarceration and gang violence. Lastly, there is the opportunity cost of losing self-control that tends to be higher among older individuals that are have got considerably more responsibility in the society that the young counterparts (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). Therefore, older people have more self-control than their young counterparts. The proportion of young to old people that commit a crime is also very high, thus the connection between crime, age, and self-control (Miller & Morris, 2004).

The self-control denotes a situation whereby an individual desires immediate gratification; using pleasure principle, rather than delaying the immediate gratification for more definitive goals and reality principles (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). The desire for these immediate pleasures is the major reason people end up losing their self-control.  Choosing immediate gratification usually has future unwanted consequences for the individual. People may either suffer from acute or chronic loss of self-control. The acute loss of self-control involves an individual losing their self-control once in a non-typical way (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). They commit a crime during such times that happen intermittently. The second one is a chronic loss of self-control whereby, in this case, the loss of self-control is typical of the individual causing criminal activities are a way of life for such persons (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). The theory, therefore, has shown that self-control can be correlated to criminal activities that are either premeditated or happen impulsively.

The next theory that has been employed by scholars in the field of criminology to decode what drives individuals to commit a crime is the labeling theory. The labeling theory posits that the self-identity of an individual is usually socially constructed and therefore people get their self-identity based on how other members of the society judge them (Anderson, 2015). An individual will gradually identify with the terms being used to refer to them in a particular social setting. If negative labels are used, that means the society views the individual as deviant, that is, they don’t abide by the social norms that have been set to be followed by that specific social group (Anderson, 2015). On the other hand, the use of positive labels means the society views the individual as conforming to the set social norms.

Based on the theory, when an individual is consistently being labeled as a criminal, they are likely to identify with that image. That may push them to commit a crime in affirmation of their assumed socially constructed identity. In many social settings, the police and other law enforcing agencies are responsible for most of the stereotyping labels that may eventually lead one into committing crime. Usually, the stereotypes are directed to those members of the society that are deemed powerless. Labeling an individual is usually not obsolete since certain acts are labeled as being deviant in a specific social setting, but the same is alright in another social setting (Inderbitzin, Bates, & Gainey, 2015). Therefore, conformation and deviance are relative in nature.  For instance, take a fight between kids in a poor neighborhood whereby the police may come and report the activity as criminal activity. Likewise, a fight between kids in a proper neighborhood may be described as the kids being in high-spirits. Even the two acts are similar; the social settings make them seem different. The same police that labeled the act as being criminal in one neighborhood interpreted it trivially in another neighborhood. It thus goes to show that being labeled criminal or conformist is relative and depends on the individuals that will use the label that will stick whereby it is seen in the case of the police and the justice system. Usually, the labels they use for certain actions seem to stick. The people who are labeled negatively in the society, therefore, tend to self-fulfill their socially constructed identities in a way those labeled as criminals will start engaging in criminal activities.

In addition to the three theories discussed herein, I have developed a personal theory that comprises of an in-depth study and combination of all the three theories that is referred to as Joseph’s Characterization theory (JCT). Joseph’s Characterization theory (JCT) involves a combination and application of the knowledge attained through the study of social learning, self-control, and labeling theories of crime. That was arrived at after the realization that most criminal activities are developed as a result of factors that overlap in all the various crime theories. This is because a specific crime cannot be tied to one theory because the factors that come into play are seen to be a combination of the factors highlighted in the three theories. For example, an individual may indulge in criminal activities because the person is compelled to commit the crime because they lack basic needs justifying the self-control theory.  However, the same person may have interacted with individuals who also lack similar needs such as food thus influencing each other that the only way to achieve their needs is by indulging in criminal activities such as burglary or dealing drugs in their neighborhood reaffirms the significance of self-learning theory of crime. The basic assumption of Joseph’s Characterization theory (JCT) is that an act of crime is influenced by self-factors that are inherent to an individual due to psychological and behavioral aspects of the person and the individual interaction with the environment. The factors interact with each other causing an individual to do whatever possible to balance the internal and external influences amidst pressure.

A classic example of the kinds of crimes committed affirming Joseph’s Characterization theory (JCT) theory is economic crimes committed by politicians. When politicians decide to undermine the interests of their constituents, they are driven by a variety of factors. The first affirms the self-control theory whereby politicians are usually ordinary citizens that have been given opportunity by their constituents to lead them. With that position, comes the privilege to oversee the resources of the nation and safeguard the interest of their constituents. However, with weak self-control capabilities, they may be tempted to loot resources of the nation simply because of the ease of access. Secondly, Joseph’s Characterization theory (JCT) theory involves the reaffirmation of the self-learning theory. Most politicians who end up committing economic crimes start up as highly principled individuals upon joining the world of politics. However, as they start interacting with veterans, they are starting how to loot public resources and undermine the interest of their constituents. The embezzlement and corruption are rationalized when they interact with peers, therefore, do not feel any guilt when stealing from the public. Finally, there is the labeling theory. In most societies, a lot of criticisms and labels are usually thrown onto the way of politicians. They are labeled as a being corrupt and unscrupulous in their practice, especially in the capitalistic societies. That labeling kind of makes them self-fulfilled prophesy of theft there are usually stereotyped to have already committed.

Overall, there are various theories that have been put forward to explain reasons and factors that lead individuals to engage in criminal activities. The theories can also be combined to create one theory that covers all theories. That brings an approach that is rather extensive in expounding crime. The Joseph’s Characterization theory (JCT) theory is important in the management of crime in the society among individuals in the criminal justice system because it offers an opportunity to understand the internal and external factors within an individual that prompt them to indulge in criminal activities. The understanding of these factors is important in the development of strategies that can be used in the development of crime management strategies in the society.

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  1. Akers, R.L. & Jensen, G.F. (2011). Social learning Theory and Explanation of Crime. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publisher.
  2. Anderson, J.F. (2015). Criminology Theories: Understanding A a crime in America. (2nd Ed)
  3. Inderbitzin, M.L., Bates, K.A., & Gainey, R.R. (2015). Perspective on Deviance and Social Control
  4. Miller, B., & Morris, R.G. (2014). Virtual Peer Effect on Social learning theories. A a crime and Delinquency., 62(12) 1543-1569
  5. Tittle, C.R., Ward, D.A., & Grasmick, H. G. (2003). Gender, Age, And Criminal Deviance: Challenge to Self-Control theory. Journal of Research in A a crime and Delinquency, 40(4), 426-453
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