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What are the Different Theories of Crime Causation?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 16, 2024
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Crime causation theories can vary greatly. Some people believe that concentrated poverty is the cause of crime. Others believe that criminal behavior is generally the result of negative reactions to ordinary human characteristics. There are also theories that suggest that substance abuse and mental health problems are largely responsible for criminal offenses.

Poverty concentration is one theory for what causes crime. People who support this line of thinking tend to believe that criminality is the result of deteriorating communities. Those with money and education tend to neglect and retreat from areas where people have less money and education. This results in a concentration of people with insufficient resources and life skills. The environments in which these individuals live and the influences to which they are regularly exposed are believed to steer many of them toward criminal activity.

While some people support complicated theories for crime causation, others believe criminal behavior is easily explained by human characteristics. Most people, at some point in life, experience desire, jealousy, and anger. Most people choose to deal with these human characteristics in a legal manner. Some criminologists believe that criminals simply allow their actions to be directed by these feelings.

Crime is also commonly associated with poor or abnormal upbringing. It is believed by some that children who are abused, exposed to violence, or reared by sociopaths are more likely to become criminals than other children. There are other negative childhood experiences that may also have this effect. The individuals who believe in this theory also tend to believe that these effects are passed from one generation to the next.

Criminal acts are often linked to substance abuse, which is a problem that is experienced around the globe. The need to support their addictions drives many people to commit criminal acts, such as robbery, theft, and prostitution. A lack of control after consuming intoxicating substances often leads to violent crimes, including assault, rape, and other crimes.

It is believed that poor upbringing, substance abuse, and other factors can contribute to or cause psychological illnesses as well. It has been argued that a large number of people who are convicted of crimes and subsequently imprisoned are actually in need of mental health treatments. While the law does tend to recognize that offenses, in some cases, are caused by psychological problems, it is often believed that this factor is not considered often enough.

Unaddressed psychological and substance abuse problems are believed to be major crime causation factors. Individuals with these issues are often recidivists, meaning that they commit crimes and are punished, but instead of being rehabilitated by the justice system, they usually go on to commit more crimes. Theories regarding recidivism suggest that this cycle cannot be broken until the underlying causes are addressed.

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Discussion Comments
By GreenWeaver — On Dec 01, 2010

I just wanted to say that the crime statistics in South Africa are really high.

As a matter of fact, crime statistics in South Africa rank it number one in the world for rape, murder with firearms, and assault.

The population of South Africa is a little over 48 million, but the per capita income is just merely $5,000. The ending of Apartheid was supposed to bring peace to this nation but instead the government has to spend 11% of its national budget to fight crime and they still have the highest crimes statistics in the world.

By Crispety — On Nov 30, 2010

Subway11-It is true that crime statistics are the highest in government housing projects in most major cities.

But poverty is one of many theoretical schools of crime causation. Sometimes drug abuse or mental illness leads some to commit a crime.

It has been highly documented that people addicted to drugs often do anything that they can to get another fix on their drug.

The drug becomes something that they have to have and they will resort to theft or prostitution in order to have the means of buying more drugs.

Criminal justice views these types of people differently than the drug dealer who is selling harmful drugs in order to make a profit. The person addicted to drugs really feels that there are no other options because going without drugs would be too painful.

By subway11 — On Nov 29, 2010

The sociological theories of crime often involve the element of poverty. Often the neighborhoods that are the poorest suffer the highest incidents of crime and are considered the most dangerous to visit.

Sometimes poverty is generational because the people that live in these neighborhoods may find it difficult to move out of these neighborhoods.

Some people that live in perpetual poverty often resort to a life of crime because they find it easier to earn a living. People attracted to this sort of criminal lifestyle often see very little options and most have a poor education.

They see that dealing in drugs and stealing is the only way that they will have anything of value. They see these types of crime as acceptable because they were offer few other choices.

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