Criminological Theory Context and Consequences Explained

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Written by J. Robert Lilly, Francis T. Cullen, and Richard A. Ball, Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences, is textbook series with several editions that explores the context, theory, and policy choices that can lead someone to become a criminal. The foundation of the theory is quite simple: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

That opposite reaction, if left unchecked, can talk to the “criminal man” inside everyone. The textbook also covers several theories of criminology throughout history, looks at US criminology and how it is currently applied, and explores Hirschi’s theories of criminology.

It then looks at the new directions that critical theories in criminology are taking, how gendering has affected criminology, and why white-collar crime seems to be punished less often and with less severity than blue collar crimes.

How Do People Decide to Become a Criminal?

Are some people born to be criminals? Do socioeconomic circumstances influence this “internal criminal” so that a desire to break the law becomes a temptation that cannot be ignored? Is the decision to become a criminal a value proposition, much like a business transaction?

Numerous theories attempt to answer this question. Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences offers readers the answers which the various theories have proposed throughout history.

An overview of the various theories covered in this textbook results in several risk factors that can be identified which may increase the risks of a person deciding to become a criminal. No single risk factor is great enough to exert a singular influence on this decision, especially when considering violent criminal behavior.

It is a combination of factors that leads to criminal choices. Every additional risk factor that a child experiences increases their risk of becoming a criminal or violent before the age of 18 when compared to children with zero or 1 risk factor.

Here are the most common risk factors that are examined.

  • Family Influences. Families that feature poor parenting skills, have a larger family size, or struggle with domestic abuse tend to exert the strongest influences on a child considering whether to become a criminal.
  • Mental Illness. People with a mental illness, even if undiagnosed, or over-represented in the US criminal justice system. Someone with a mental illness is 4 times more likely to be convicted and imprisoned because of criminal conduct.
  • Peer Pressure. People who have groups of friends where criminal behavior is encouraged and accepted are more likely to become criminals themselves.
  • Socioeconomic Status. When a child has access to few resources and limited educational opportunities, then there is a greater tendency toward criminal behavior.

20% of children who come from a low-income home are charged with a crime before the age of 24. For children who come from Middle Class families, 16% are charged with a crime, while high-income families see 12% of children charged with a crime.

Education can be a mitigating factor on the value proposition that criminal behavior offers. Nearly 70% of inmates in the United States have not received a high school diploma. About 1 in 5 children decide to drop out of school before graduating in the US for various reasons.

Yet none of this describes the reason why a child from a “perfect” background with numerous resources and supports, including a college education, decides to become a criminal.

Personal Factors Must Weigh into the Decision.

In Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences, there are personal motivations that strongly influence the decision to engage in criminal behavior. The reasons behind why a decision is made to break the law are many, though there are several common reasons that are explored.

  • Criminal behavior can provide a thrill that is enjoyed more than the satisfaction that comes with following the law.
  • People may choose to pursue criminal behavior because that is the only way they can meet their personal needs.
  • There is an emotional reaction that is not controlled by the individual and this leads to an impulsive decision that breaks the law.

By recognizing what a person’s unique contributing factors happen to be, it becomes possible to encourage that person to avoid criminal conduct. It is a needs-based equation. If the needs of that person can be met without the need to pursue criminal behavior, then that person is more likely to follow the law.

If those needs cannot be met, then that person is more likely to break the law.

Studying criminology helps us all understand the human mind a little better in this area. That is the benefit received when reading Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences.