A Commentary

Social scientists assert that crime results from poverty, racial prejudices and deprived individuals who are not able to access basic needs.  They say that the only substantive strategy to tackle this problem is to attack such causes with programs aimed at ending poverty, reducing discrimination and increase the access to necessities. Recently, some criminologists pointed to two significant works that reviewed the subject of crime back in the 1960s.  The books are ‘Principles of Criminology’ written by E. H. Sutherland and D. R. Cressey, and ‘Delinquency and Opportunity’  written by R. A. Cloward and L. E. Ohlin.This paper explores the perspective of the social scientist concerning crimes and offers an insightful alternative that would alter the view of crime if implemented.

There has been a hot debate by the criminologists both in the past and today, as to what causes crime. These books and others like them pose similar questions, seek the same answers and derive similar policies albeit not using specific theories but the perspective of some of the assumptions.  Surprisingly, the outlook does not focus on poverty, race, economic class or anything that is perceived to cause crime (Sutherland, 2017). On the contrary, the perspective focuses on factors that the government cannot control, and even the social policy is unable to reach. Thus, when called upon to advise the national system making authorities on how to reduce crime, the social scientists could not give answers derived from their work, but the responses came from their political view rather than the expert knowledge they were thought to have.

In the 1960’s, the views of crimes developed from the perspective of Sutherland and Cressey whose work reviewed many criminology thoughts and upheld only the ‘sociological approach’, which says that one learns a criminal behavior from having a close relationship with the people they interact with, value their opinion and who find crime to be a desirable habit.

They rejected ‘classical’ theories put forward by Bentham and Beccaria because they used psychological assumptions that before committing a crime, individuals weigh both pains and pleasures (Beccaria, 2016).   If pleasures outweigh pains, then they go ahead and commit the crime. Using freedom of will does not give room for any further investigation as to why people commit a crime and also do not help in the efforts to prevent it. Additionally, Bentham’s hedonistic psychology was rejected for being individualistic and voluntaristic.  Concerning poverty, Cressy and Sutherland thought it did not have a lot of impacts.  According to them, while crime related strongly with the neighborhood of the needy individuals, there was little correlation with the economic cycle. This means that, while one might observe an increased crime in the communities that were considered inferior, the decrease was not noted as areas became prosperous (Tatum, 2017).

According to another social scientist, Albert K Cohen, delinquency among the youth of the working class consisted of actions as vandalism and destruction, which had little to do with finances (Friedrichs, 2017). This means that if individuals committed crimes primarily because of poverty, then it would be predicted that delinquency for financial gain would be found in the poor areas and crime for fun would be common in the affluent areas. The reverse is true, and thus Cohen concluded that poverty could not be considered as an essential cause for crime.

The other assumption that Sutherland and Cressey refuted crime results from an individual feeling marginalized and prejudiced.  While such an observation might be correct and apply to African-Americans where the rate of crime is high, the American Japanese did agree with the view, as the crime rate among them is low. Other theories of crimes that were published in the 1960s were reviewed, and most of them were founded on the sociological approach.  For example, according to Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, their theory put forth data that showed key variables that distinguished delinquents from others as closely related to the family backgrounds such as affection, discipline, and stability (Hirschi, 2017).  Children from a stable environment, they argued, were less likely to be involved in acts of crime, despite their economic status.  All these and other theories sought to explain crime and why it persists.  They all had a critical variable which stressed that behind a crime was an attitude that was shaped by an intimate group such as family or friends.  All the observations pointed out many trends of crimes but could not give a reasonable basis to advocate public policy (Sutherland, 2017).

One of the reasons for this conclusion is that these theories directed their attention to the states that accompanied the criminality.  These states or conditions are not easily changed or altered.  It is true that society has a significant role in shaping attitudes and values through its institutions, practices, and examples albeit slowly and with great difficulties (Tatum, 2017).  If a family inculcates good habits and virtues, it does not do so because it is an excellent agent of society, but it is because the family is okay. Similarly, if a school teaches the children to value education and perform well, it is rarely because the school is well-designed, but it is because the children already have the attitudes of good learning in them already.  Even the government with the best intention of making families successful would make small gains even with the increase of resources to raise the standards of living.  This shows how hard it is to make the good better and therefore it might be impossible to make wrong to be tolerated when one tries to influence values and attitudes directly.

If an individual is made a delinquent by their family or his friends encourage him to be, it would be impossible for the society to convince him otherwise. How would a government restore discipline, affection, and stability to a family which does not respect such? Or even help a child who has gone past the formative years and does not relate to their parents? The government may give the low class with resources, but if it thrives on its values rather than income, it is hard for theories to convince how the increase on the latter would influence the former (Hirschi, 2017).

Similarly, if the lower class glorifies crime and makes it inevitable, then the government would find it hard for the government to provide it with new values to make them abide by the law.  Indeed, trying to impact new costs, should the sociological theory be correct, would make the lower class members to resist the intrusion more strongly and become more determined to cling to their views. The existence of peer groups is mainly to defend the members from an alien invasion that attempts to supply them with provisions for self-respect (Tatum, 2017). Interestingly, such a group that encourages crime would perceive any effort of reform as a confirmation of the hostile societal intentions and reaffirms the significance of the group.

The challenge lies in the confusion of the casual analysis which attempts to point the human activity source in the factors which are not caused by the elements known as independent variables (Hirschi, 2017). Something ceases to be a cause if it is influenced by something else and the ultimate objects cannot be changed. For instance, it is a fact that men commit most crimes, but it is a worthless fact for the policymakers because they cannot turn men into women.  Therefore social behaviors which are influenced by biological or social processes cannot be changed. Failure to understand this leads to the casual fallacy that every problem needs to be addressed from its roots.  Sutherland and Creesy commit to this fallacy when they say that the greatest need for crime prevention is to know the cause and transform this knowledge into action.  This would be hard in a community that condones crime through family ties, and the theory does not show how to break these ties.

On the other hand, policy analysis takes another perspective where it dwells on the cause of the problem but rather the conditions one would want to bring, the measure to tell the existence of the situation and the government policy tools that when applied will steer the case to the desired end (Tatum, 2017).  The government can use various instruments such as job creation, hire people to give advice, hire surveillance and detection, put up street lights, alter the prices of alcohol and drugs, make installation of alarm systems a requirement and so on. In short, the government can use money and technology to minimize the risks of crime, increase non-criminal occupations, make the things worth stealing accessible and improve the mental state of criminal through providing counselors (Hirschi, 2017).

In conclusion, sociology assumes that behavior is determined by social processes and therefore makes it hard for reasonable policies to be developed because it deals with conditions which are objective instead of subjective ones which the society can use to change the crime rates. A stable policy analysis, by contrast, would emphasize on manipulating the actual conditions because behavior can be changed more easily than attitudes.  Also, because society has the tools to improve their practices by assuming that people act and respond to what they think will have the best returns and benefits.




Beccaria, C. (2016). On crimes and punishments. Transaction Publishers.

Friedrichs, D. O. (2017). Edwin H. Sutherland: An Improbable Criminological Key Thinker—For Critical Criminologists and Mainstream Criminologists. Critical Criminology25(1), 556

Hirschi, T., & Gottfredson, M. R. (2017). Self-Control and Opportunity. Control Theories of Crime and Delinquency(pp. 5-20). Routledge.

Sutherland, E. H. (2017). The crime of corporations. In White-collar Criminal (pp. 3-19). Routledge.9.

Tatum, B. L. (2017). Crime, violence and minority youths. Routledge.

Hirschi, T. (2017). Causes of delinquency. Routledge.


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