Our present society is at war against crimes. History will show that we have been battling against increasing number of violent crimes every year. Some have proposed the imposition of harsher and stricter punishment as the solution to crime. Thus, the death penalty was imposed and it is still being practiced in some countries. On the other hand, some contended that the imposition of stricter and harsher punishment violates the person’s human rights. And so, they argue that stricter and harsher punishment, like the death penalty, has no place in the modern society. They thus proposed a more lenient treatment of criminal offenders with more emphasis on rehabilitation.
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The treatment of offenders and the appropriate punishment for those who have committed crimes are sensitive issues which have always been the subjecting of debate. It is proposed that before our criminal justice system may properly respond to crime it must first be able to understand the nature of the crime and the reasons why individuals commit the crime. The same is true for the public. If the public is to accept the legislative policy against crime and the criminal justice system’s response to the crime they must also be educated on the nature of the crime and the reasons why people commit the crime. Understanding crime is, therefore, the first step prior to its treatment.
This research paper seeks to discuss the different theories on the cause of crime. The purpose of this paper is to be able to recommend to the proper government agencies the proper treatment of the offenders to improve our criminal justice system.
In the early times, crime is attributed to supernatural forces. Thus, it was common for people to say that Satan was responsible for a person’s deviant behavior. Because of this theory, it was very easy for people not to accept criminal responsibility for their actions.
The classical theory, on the other hand, suggests that the person himself is responsible for the commission of the crime. Crime is a choice of the individual which is a manifestation of the person’s free will. As such, the punishment and treatment of the offender should be commensurate with the nature of the crime committed.
One of the offshoots of the Classical Theory is the Rational Choice Theory. It argues that man is by nature a moral creature endowed with a free will. Free will gives him the capability to choose between right and wrong. When the man performs an act, the assumption is that the same is a rational and conscious decision arising from a careful calculation of its possible consequences. It is to be presumed that the doer of the act has carefully weighed the consequences of his action so that he can achieve his end-goal. Crime is, therefore, a product of rational and conscious choice deliberately performed by an individual and not the result of the external forces surrounding him.
Labeling Theory, on the other hand, states that the labels we attach to individuals exert influence on them such that these individuals are unconsciously forced to live up to these labels. Specifically, by labeling a particular individual as a criminal or a felon or a convict we end up even promoting more deviant and criminal behavior. Sociologist Howard Becker states that:
Deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence
of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender. The deviant is
one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is a behavior that people so label." (“Labeling Theory”)
It cannot be denied that the society has the tendency to label people and things. The people, however, are not conscious of the negative unintended effects of these labeling. It may happen that the act of labeling may scare a person and help him reform. Psychologists, however, say that labeling has the negative effect of pushing the person farther away from the society. Persons who are labeled as criminals lose interest in conforming to the laws. They then live up to the label that the society has placed upon them. Thus, Labeling Theory suggests that crime is not a result of free will but rather actions of individuals who had a criminal status placed upon them by both the criminal justice system and the society.
Another theory which attempted to explain the cause of crime is the Conflict Theory. Some people may find it difficult to understand why the act of stealing a few hundred dollars is punished more severely compared to the act of a board of director embezzling thousands of dollars from his own company. Conflict Theorists suggest that conflict and power relations are at the heart of every society. For the poor, the purpose of the power struggle is to change the existing state of affairs while the goal of the rich is to maintain the status quo. Conflict Theorists suggest that the criminal justice system is being controlled by the elite for the sole purpose of maintaining the status quo. The punishment of crime, therefore, is seen as attempts by the rich to control the behavior of the poor so as to protect the rich and ensure the continued enslavement of the poor.
This theory makes sense even if it is applied to the existence of gang wars between rival gangs. Gangs may be in conflict with each other because of their desire for wealth, power, prestige, or respect. Thus, rival gangs may fight against each other because they both want to be considered as the most popular gang within their class. Beating and destroying a rival gang will help them gain notoriety within the community.
After analyzing some of the theories of the causes of crime, it can be concluded that crime is not a simple phenomenon. No single theory can be used to explain crime which can be utilized to explain all incidences of crime. All these theories sufficiently explain some of the reasons why crime is committed but none of these theories suffice to explain the cause of crime on all occasions. In this regard, it is suggested that these theories must be taken into consideration by our criminal justice system. Firstly, crime may arise as a result of anger or rage such as when a man catches his wife in bed with another man. When this happens the offender loses all volition and he is deprived of reasonable judgment causing him to commit the crime. Our laws should take these circumstances into account in reducing the person’s penalty. Secondly, there are crimes which can only be committed deliberately such as identity fraud or embezzlement. Our laws must take into account the deliberate planning of the accused as an aggravating circumstance so as to impose a stricter punishment. Thirdly, it is possible that persons who commit the crime of robbery or theft because of the necessity of feeding his ailing children. Though poverty should not be used as a justification for committing the crime, it must be taken into account in reducing the penalty to its minimum period.
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