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What is Criminology?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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Criminology is the study of crime from a social and individual perspective. As a social science, criminology is not only concerned with the causes and preventions of crime but the social impacts and reactions to crime, as well as the criminals themselves. The term criminology was coined by an Italian law professor named Raffaele Garofalo.

Criminologists often study what, exactly, goes on in the criminal's mind to make him or her decide to act in a criminal manner. Criminologists can work law enforcement agencies, either on the local level or national level, to come up with certain profiles they see in some crimes. This can be very helpful as law enforcement pursues an investigation. Often times, those interested in criminology become police officers, federal law enforcement agents, criminology teachers or other related jobs.

Criminology attempts to explain why certain things are considered crimes in certain societies and explain any variances between societies and cultures. In some cases, things considered crimes in some areas may be legal in others. Criminology hopes to explain why there are differences and why there are some crimes that are nearly universal. It also seeks to explain why societies may choose some of the punishment options they do.

Criminology includes the study of a number of different theories to suggest why crimes are committed. Some of the most popular are: classical, positivist, and individual trait. In addition to these major theories, there are approximately a dozen other theories widely discussed and debated by criminologists.

The classical theory of criminology suggests that people commit crimes when they perceive the benefits outweigh the possible costs. Under this theory, the logical way to prevent crimes is to provide harsher punishments for crimes. If the punishments are harsher, then criminals will not perceive the benefits to outweigh the possible consequences.

The positivist theory of criminology suggests that crime is created by both internal and external factors outside of an individual's control. These may include biological factors or social factors. Social factors leading to criminal behavior include such things as poverty and education. In some ways, opening up educational opportunities and employment opportunities could prevent crime, according to this theory

The individual trait theory of criminology indicates the biggest factor in distinguishing differences between criminals and non-criminals are biological and psychological traits. As individuals with these traits interact with society as a whole, crime is the natural result. In this case, the only way to prevent crimes may be to limit this interaction between the individual and society at large as much as possible.

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Discussion Comments

By anon348591 — On Sep 18, 2013

Can criminology help me become a detective? Yes or no. Thank you for your help.

By anon311761 — On Jan 03, 2013

I heard that a course in criminology for first years can prove to be a foundation for law school. However I'm not sure about police officers directly.

I'm in my teens as well, and although it's a ways off, I'd love to study criminology and psychology. Maybe criminals shouldn't just be blindly punished all the time. Maybe. I believe in hope for humanity.

By anon284024 — On Aug 07, 2012

I'm so glad I found this website. I am in my teens and I'm really considering studying criminology and psychology. It's very interesting.

By anon271782 — On May 28, 2012

Would, gaining a degree in Criminology give one a better chance of becoming a police officer?

By anon226821 — On Nov 02, 2011

Criminology is fun to study. This article really helped a lot. Even though others think I'm nerdy for writing and studying in this area, I think law enforcement and criminology are two of the most interesting fields to study. Just thought I'd give my opinion out there.

I also want to give thanks to this website for posting this anonymously. Thank you, and happy studying!

By anon107917 — On Sep 01, 2010

@Sunny27: While i do largely agree, i also think that there are certain circumstances that have caused people to commit minor crimes, which have received severe punishment according to the laws of the relevant countries.

I don't think that one can make such a statement as to say that there are no 'undesirable circumstances' desperate enough to cause a crime to be committed. I assume that you are overlooking the example of parents in deprived countries, who have a hand cut off for stealing a loaf of bread to feed their starving children. This is a desperate situation that thankfully we have not had to experience, and therefore i don't think we can judge.

The argument can be put forward that they made the choice to have the children during situations of dire poverty, so one could decide to use that against them. However, with the lack of birth control in some of those countries, it would be asking that a father murder his own new born child in an attempt to save from having to steal to feed it.

So i do believe that there are certain situations where crime is practically unavoidable. Even some drug ridden prostitutes are ruled by fear and the drug habit has been forced upon them, but they would be seen as meaningless criminals if they were to say, steal money to escape their life.

As i said originally, i do agree largely and i believe that the statements made regarding criminals having a choice, are made in either, ignorance of the above circumstances, or merely overlooking them and dealing specifically with the more commonly known criminal acts, but it can be damaging to make a statement without first considering all consequences.

By anon107396 — On Aug 30, 2010

does a criminology course help you you to get into the police force?

By sneakers41 — On Jul 06, 2010

Sunny27- You are so right. I hate when criminals get away with committing crimes. What especially upsets me is the drunk drivers who continually drive on the road even though they have had too much too drink.

There was a case like that a few weeks ago about an actress who killed a man because she was drunk. Now she is charged with vehicular manslaughter. The actress did not have a single scratch, but the poor man lost his life. What a shame, but see this actress chose to drive drunk.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 06, 2010

Cmsmith10- I agree that the media does not depict criminologist accurately. I also want to say that I disagree with the notion that a criminal is biological disposed to crime so it is really not their fault.

The thing that makes us different from animals is our reasoning ability and our conscience. While most people in society display an appropriate level of moral behavior some feel that committing a crime is justified because of undesirable circumstances.

Committing a crime is a conscious choice and people who commit these crimes should be jailed regardless of their unfortunate childhood. No excuse should be accepted for anyone committing a crime.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 01, 2010

I think that a lot of the television shows that are on these days depict criminologists in a different light. I think that they downplay the importance of the work that criminologists do. It’s not all fun and games and there is not always a happy ending. Criminologists study the behavior of criminals, drug addicts, juvenile delinquents, etc. The FBI often uses criminologists as profilers to study the details of a crime and create a profile that could help solve the case.

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