A Theories of Crime course is typically a core course for anyone undertaking a degree in Criminology or Criminal Justice. As criminologists hunt for the best methods of reducing and ultimately preventing crime, examining why people may commit crime in the first place is paramount, and criminological theories can clearly have vast implications on social policy making. Furthermore, theories of crime are continuously changing and evolving. Students of criminological theory often go on to have distinguished careers in teaching and research or find employment in the field of criminal justice.
Theories of crime can be loosely divided into two very broad categories, social structure theories and individual theories.
Social structure theories of crime explore the idea that environment is the principle cause of criminality, and concentrates on notions of economic deprivation, unachievable dreams, culture or class, and alarming social phenomena as determining factors. By paying close attention to crime rates in any given geographical area, social structure theories of crime try to answer questions like “Why are crime rates in the U.S higher than in many other developed countries?” or “Why is criminal behaviour so much more prevalent in inner city areas?”
Individual criminological theories focus on ideas like familial upbringing, or rational choice, suggesting that the origin of criminal behaviour is rooted in the individual rather than society. Case studies on individual crimes are examined closely in order to discover individual criminal motives in answer to questions like “Why did a mother murder her two children?” or “What makes a man become a serial arsonist?” Individual theories of crime will look closely at the psychological and biological make up of criminals.
After completing a typical Theories of Crime syllabus, students will be able to understand and evaluate most major theoretical opinion on the causes of crime. They will also recognize that all theoretical perspective is based to some extent on assumption, and critically review in accordance. While analyzing real-world case studies, students will learn to apply their own theoretical knowledge. Students will be well practised in undertaking empirical analyzes of specific theories before reviewing and reporting on the methods employed. Lastly, students will understand the significant implications that criminological theory can have on social policy, specifically that which is related to criminal deterrence and justice.
Whilst undertaking courses in Theories of Crime at well respected colleges in the field of Criminology, including The University of Maryland, students can expect to come across a variety of texts of varying perspectives. “‘The Great American Crime Decline” from Oxford University Press, offer Theories of Crime notes explaining why US crime rates dropped so dramatically in the 1990’s, and “Researching Theories of Crime and Deviance”, also from Oxford University Press, focuses on the research methods employed to test theories of crime, and encourages students to evaluate the effectiveness of the techniques.