A Review of Criminology and Victimization Theories and their Implications for Crime Control and Prevention within Societies

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2019

36 Pages













Dr. Wee P. Leong


This article provides a synthesis of criminology and victimization theories and offers an explanation on the causes, control and prevention in crime particularly on criminals and victims behavior and their interaction within the society. In addition to explaining why it is important to understand the causes, control and prevention on crime, the author described the relevant criminology and victimization theories and explained the implications of criminology and victimization theories on developing and implementing crime control and prevention strategy. The final segment of the paper provides an illustration with explanation on how effective crime control and prevention strategy can be explained through criminology and victimization theories and how these efforts serve as a strategy to control, prevent and reducing crime.

Crime persists as one of the challenges societies face. As crime happened in our everyday life, as such it is important for us to know why do individuals commit crimes? Why are some people so prone to become a victim? Why does there seem to be more of a certain type of crime in some societies and not others? Does increased imprisonment lower the crime rate? There are indeed many crime control and prevention strategies that have been implemented, but they are seldom developed from sound theories. As Torraco (1997) mentioned, "A theory simply explains what a phenomenon is and how it works." Swanson (2001) emphasized that theory is required to be both scholarly in itself and validated in practice, and can be the basis of significant advances.

Given the large investment in the effort on crime control and prevention strategy within a society, it is rational to identify, analyze and critique the criminology and victimization theories underlying the causes of crime in a society. High crime rates can force societies to re-examine crime control and prevention strategy as part of their efforts to maintain and to increase public safety and peace but rarely develop these practices from existing theories. The author therefore described the important of understanding causes of crime as well as crime control and prevention strategy and explained how crime control and prevention strategy can be more effective by identifying, analyzing, and critiquing criminology and victimization theories and showing the relationship between causes of crime and crime control and prevention strategy. According to Global Peace Index (2019 report), there is a strong correlation between perceptions of peacefulness and actual peacefulness. Both men and women in more peaceful countries are more likely to report that they feel safe walking alone at night than people in less peaceful countries. There is also a greater level of trust in police in more peaceful societies. Even when crime rate is low, societies are particularly concerned about maintaining the effectiveness of the crime control and prevention strategies.


This paper presents the underlying theoretical aspects of this study; in particular, this paper looks at the literature on causes, prevention, reduction and various theories on crime. The literature review focuses on four primary areas; the causes of crime, the prevention and control of crime, critiques on various theories on criminology and victimization, and latest methods on crime control and prevention practices.

Crime is a highly complex phenomenon that changes across cultures and across time. Activities that are considered legal in one country for example alcohol consumption are sometimes considered illegal in others. Similarly, as cultures change over time, behaviors that once were not considered criminalized may become criminalized. Hence, different types of crime often have their own distinct causes.

Much research has been done on the causes, prevention and reduction on crime, in other words, the focus is more on the offenders. However, relative to the field of criminology, victimology is a young field with roots in the late 1940s. Since that time, several generations of scholars have advanced its theoretical beginnings and promoted the interest in the victim through a wide range of research questions and methods. Hence, this paper also discussed the social-cultural factors that are most likely to produce victims, and also why are some people repeatedly victimized.

Interestingly, further research on crime prevention and reduction considers the need for a new discipline “crime science” in which it argued that it is necessary if crime control is to be improved and suggests that greater emphasis on experimentation and a more scientific approach to crime problems will make a significant difference (Smith and Tilley 2005).

Other approaches to crime control and prevention will be explored further in this paper such as Justice Reinvestment approach, environmental approach and Big Data analysis.


Why is it necessary to control and prevent crime?

There is growing interest by both the public and policy makers in crime control and prevention through early youth interventions (Farrington and Welsh, 2007; Farrington, 2003). As crime happened in our everyday life, as such its costs and effects touch just about everyone to some degree. Losses to both victims and nonvictims can come in the form of increased security expenses such as security alarms for homes and cars. Some costs of crime are less tangible such as pain and suffering. Crime not only affects economic productivity when victims are unable to work, but communities also are affected through loss of tourism and retail sales. Apart from this, victimless crime like drug abuse also has major social consequences such as it affects worker productivity, uses public funds for drug treatment programs and medical attention, and leads to criminal activity to support the expenses of a drug habit. However, victims and their families are not the only individuals to directly suffer from crime. The offender and his family also suffer costs. There are lost wages of the offender while in jail or prison, lost future earnings because of the criminal record, loss of productivity to industry, and loss of a family member to others including children.

Communities and governments spend public funds for police departments, prisons and courts, treatment programs, salaries of prosecutors, judges and so forth, apart from that, the amount of time spent by victims, offenders, their families, and juries during court trials also take away from community productivity.

Cohen (1998) estimated the present value of external costs imposed by a typical career criminal to be $1.3 million to $1.5 million in 1997 dollars. However, the worst offenders were estimated to impose costs as high as $36 million. Comparable estimates are $370,000 to $970,000 for a heavy drug abuser and $243,000 to $388,000 for a high school dropout. Combining these three different costs resulted in an estimate of the present value of the monetary value of saving a high risk youth of $1.7 to $2.3 million. A more recent study by DeLisi and Gatling (2003) estimated lifetime costs of career offenders to be $1.14 million. Lengyel (2006) attempts to estimate the social costs of imprisoning a drug offender to be $776,698 – which includes $430,906 in “pain and suffering” to the offender, partner and children. Miller et al. (1996) estimated costs of crime to victims for murder $3.7 million, rape $109,000, robbery $9,900, Aggravated Assaults $30,540, Simple Assaults $3,700, Burglary $1,640, Motor Vehicle Theft $3,700 and Larceny $370 while a recent study by Cohen & Piquero (2007) shows an increase for murder $4.5 million, rape $134,800, robbery $12,200, Aggravated Assaults $37,070, Simple Assaults $4,5, Burglary $1,968, Motor Vehicle Theft $5,518 and Larceny $450.

The rising cost of crime prevention and criminal justice systems reflects the rising cost of crime to society. Estimating the costs and effects of crime is important to authorities in the criminal justice system. Policymakers weigh the various costs posed by different crimes to determine which crime prevention measures have the highest priority. In crime prevention, law enforcement uses a similar calculation of risks in deciding where to assign patrols or to alter an area to reduce potential of crime.


In criminology, examining why people commit crime is very important in the ongoing debate of how crime should be handled and prevented. Many theories have emerged over the years, and they continue to be explored, individually and in combination, as criminologists seek the best solutions in ultimately reducing types and levels of crime. The author identified the relevant theories and explained the respective theories of criminology in relation to causes and control and prevention of crime:


The biological theories asserts that behaviors are determined by factors largely beyond individual control. These theories can be classified into three types: a) Physical Trait Theories - those that attempt to differentiate among individuals on the basis of certain innate outward physical traits or characteristics. In a detailed study of facial fragments, Johann Kaspar Lavater (1783/1993) concluded that one could determine criminal behavior through an examination of a person’s eyes, ears, nose, chin, and facial shape. b) Heredity and Evolution Theories - those that attempt to trace the source of differences to genetic or hereditary characteristics. Lombroso determined that serious offenders inherited their criminal traits and were “born criminals,” they had strong jaws, big teeth, bulging foreheads, and long arms. Lombroso believed that criminals were born with these traits and did not commit crimes according to free will, as the classical school of criminology had suggested. David Hartley (1749) explained that actions and thoughts that do not result immediately from an external stimulus are influenced by the constant activity of the brain because of man’s past experiences, mediated by the current circumstances, causing man to act in one way or another. Galton (1869) in his book “Hereditary Genius”, in which he concluded that human ability was inherited. c) Brain Structure and Function Theories - those that attempt to distinguish among individuals on the basis of structural, functional, or chemical differences in the brain or body. Diana Fishbein (2003) concluded that behavioral problems may originate in the hypothalamic– pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA) that connects the brain to the adrenal glands, which regulate the production of important hormones. Fishbein claimed that increased levels of cortisol, produced in response to stressors, cause the HPA to shrink and become ineffective. An ineffective HPA depletes cortisol and results in the inability to regulate emotions and behavior. A dysfunctional HPA may be caused by stress in childhood that impedes its development, or it may be caused by damage later in life.

However, Lombroso’s work mentioned above was heavily criticized for being simplistic and greatly flawed (Ainsworth 2002, Henry and Lanier, 2006). In a study of the comparison between criminals and noncriminals, Charles Goring (1913) found no significant physical differences between the two populations except height and weight. However, Hooten (1939) in his study of prisoners and nonprisoner on the basis of types of crime and by geographic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Hooten agreed with Lombroso’s idea of a born criminal and argued that most crime was committed by individuals who were “biologically inferior,” “organically inadaptable,” “mentally and physically stunted and warped,” and “sociologically debased.” He argued that the only way to solve crime was by eliminating people who were morally, mentally, or physically “unfit,” or by segregating them in an environment apart from the rest of society. However, Hooten was widely criticized because of his failure to consider social factors and his myopic focus on biological determinism.

Biological theories have provided us a theoretical understanding of human behavior as well as our technological capabilities of measuring human biological characteristics and processes. The increasing awareness of this complex interrelationships among our environment, our biology, and our behavior has enabled us to be closer able to predict behavior and therefore being able to better control it.


As opposed to biological theories which suggest that crime is related to factors such as physical traits, heredity and brain structure which means more on individual and internal, however, sociological theories suggest that crime is shaped by factors external to the individual which means their experiences within the neighborhood, the peer group, and the family.

i) Social disorganization theory

Shaw and McKay (1942) proposed that areas with high delinquency rates tended to be physically deteriorated, geographically close to areas of heavy industry, and populated with highly transient residents. They also concluded that delinquency was higher in areas with low economic status relative to areas with higher economic status. In other words, economic conditions indirectly influence a delinquency rate that is affluent areas offered an atmosphere of social controls, whereas areas of low affluence produced an environment conducive to delinquency because of the diversity of the residents. The theory was not intended to be applicable to all types of crimes but mainly to street crimes at neighborhood level. However Bursik and Grasmick (1993), has argued that one of the most important confusions surrounding Shaw and McKay’s work was the lack of distinction between social disorganization and crime. According to Bursik and Grasmick (1993), and in their systemic models of social disorganization, they attempt to identify the factors that decrease the “regulatory ability” of neighborhoods. They proposed that social ties which are seen as critical to social control for they are the mechanism through which individuals in a neighborhood come to know each other, establish common values, and carry out informal social control. More recent is a second model of neighborhood crime found in the recent work of Sampson, Randenbush, and Earls (1997) on collective efficacy. The term “collective efficacy” as defined by them involves informal social control and trust/social cohesion. The link to trust and social cohesion is that neighbors are unlikely to be willing to intervene if levels of trust and cohesion are low. Nevertheless, Sampson and Raudenbush (1999) concluded that the level of crime could be explained by collective efficacy, meaning that disadvantage, not race or the ethnic composition of a neighborhood, was responsible for high levels of crime.

Shaw and McKay (1942) - Social Disorganization Model

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ii) Anomie/Strain theory

Merton (1938) found that people from lower socioeconomic classes were more likely to commit crimes that involve acquisition (stealing in one form or another). He argued that when people cannot attain the "legitimate goal" of economic success through "legitimate means"—dedication and hard work—they may turn to illegitimate means of doing so. The cultural value of economic success looms so large that some people are willing to acquire wealth by any means necessary. According to Agnew (1992) strains are most likely to lead to crime when they (a) are high in magnitude, (b) are perceived as unjust, (c) are associated with low social control, and (d) create some pressure or incentive for criminal coping. For example, parental rejection, harsh discipline, criminal victimization, and homelessness have all been found to have relatively large effects on crime. Cohen (1955) and Cloward and Ohlin (1960) have suggested that strained individuals may associate with other criminals in an effort to cope with their strains. Agnew (2006), Paternoster & Mazerolle (1994) found that strains do tend to reduce social control, foster the social learning of crime, and contribute to traits such as negative emotionality.

However, strain theories of Merton (1938), Cohen (1955), and Cloward and Ohlin (1960) had a major impact on efforts to control crime. Agnew (2006) suggests that the strategies fall into two broad groups. First, General Strain Theory recommends reducing the exposure of individuals to strains that are conducive to crime. Second, reducing the likelihood that individuals will cope with strains through crime. The preschool enrichment program which focuses on preschool-age children in disadvantaged areas to equip them with the skills and attitudes necessary to do well in school and program that focuses on older juveniles and adults. which attempts to equip individuals with the skills and attitudes necessary to obtain a good job.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

iii) Subcultural Theory

Albert Cohen (1955) argued that lower-class youths could not aspire to middle-class cultural goals and so, frustrated, they rejected them to create their own subcultural system of values. Cloward and Ohlin (1960) continue to build on these ideas, pointing to the differential opportunity structures (meaning that youths in a critical financial situations or unstable environments might be tempted to turn to criminal activity in order to meet their needs) available to lower-class young people in different neighborhoods: a) Criminal subcultures (making a living from crime) - they arise only in neighborhoods with a longstanding and stable criminal culture with an established hierarchy of professional adult crime. In these subcultures the young people can climb up the professional criminal ladder by committing more crimes. b) Conflict subcultures (territorial violence and gang fighting) - tend to emerge in areas where there is little organized adult crime, so instead of learning how to commit serious monetary crimes the young people instead focus on gaining respect through gang violence. c) Retreatist subcultures (drugs and alcohol) - are for young people who have even failed in the criminal subcultures, these people are ‘double failures’. They tend to retreat to drugs and alcohol abuse to deal with the fact that they have been rejected from other subcultures.

In short it is the pull of the peer group that encourages individuals to commit crime, rather than the lack of attachment to the family or other mainstream institutions. Deviance is a collective response to marginalization. The primary focus of subculture theory is juvenile delinquency, due to the notion within criminological theory that if adolescent offenses can be understood and appropriately responded to, it will prevent the development of the individual into a criminal.

Albert Cohen (1955) – Subculture Theories of Crime and Deviance

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iv) Social Control Theory

Social Control Theory focus on those forces that keep people from committing crime, or our bonds to society. Just as the family maintains its unity because its members behave in a similar manner in accordance with family norms. In other words, it believe that conformity to the rules of society is produced by socialization and maintained by ties to people and institutions— to family members, friends, schools, and jobs.. Travis Hirschi (1969) proposed that people generally conform to social norms due to strong social bonds. Conversely, they engage in delinquent acts when these bonds are broken or weak. The key components of social bonds are: a) Attachment: the stronger the attachment and the stronger the expectations, the more likely it is that the individual will conform. b) Commitment: the more an individual commits his/herself to a particular lifestyle (for example, being married, being a parent, having a job), the more he/she has to lose if he/she becomes involved in crime (and so deviate from the lifestyle). c) Involvement: the more time the individual spends engaging in law abiding behavior, the less time he/she has to engage in law breaking behavior. d) Belief: If an individual has been brought up to be law abiding, they are less likely to become involved in crime.

Social control theory claims that people differ in the strength of their bonds to society. It therefore predicts that people who are strongly bonded are less likely to engage in activities that provide opportunities for delinquency and are less likely to see them should they arise.

Travis Hirschi (1969) – Social Control Theory

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v) Rational choice approach

Rational choice approach refers to a set of ideas about the relationship between people’s preferences and the choices they make. The conceptual foundations of the Rational Choice Approach originate in Cesare Beccaria’s (1764) works on deterrence approach and Jeremy Bentham’s (1789) works on self-interest. Hence, the Rational Choice approach to crime builds on Beccaria’s and Bentham’s founding principles and the centrality of self-interest for understanding behavior. The key assumptions behind the approach are a) people have preferences for outcomes (goods, services, states of being, etc.); preferences do not typically refer to actions or behaviors, b) people’s preferences are influenced by the expected benefits of an outcome, relative to its costs. There are several types of potential benefits (e.g., monetary, emotional, and social) and costs (e.g., opportunity, external, emotional, and social). The anticipated cost-benefit ratio associated with an action is an indicator of its expected utility, c) people may believe they have adequate information when they do not, they have imperfect memories, and they often miscalculate. In other words, people have subjective expectations about the utility they will receive from their choices, d) time preferences are not fixed across all decisions but are influenced by several factors, including a person's current level of a valued outcome e) preferences are affected by attitudes toward risk and uncertainty, f) it does not assume that people are always conscious of their attempts to maximize their interests but simply argues that many of their actions can be understood as rational. Cornish & Clarke (1986) and Kubrin et al. (2009) further explained that offenders are not compelled to commit crime because of some extraordinary motivation: Offenders do not have different personalities than nonoffenders; neither were they socialized into a criminal belief or cultural system whose norms require crime. Rational Choice approach believes that crime is due to people making choices to commit crimes (Nagin, 2007). Rational Choice approach is a very broad and general theory of crime that is able to explain property, violent, drug, sexual, and politically motivated offenses (Weisburd, Waring, & Chayet, 1995). The Rational Choice approach differs from many theories of crime in that it provides an account of how people’s preferences affect their choices, rather than explaining the source of their preferences. Thus, it is a sharp contrast to theories that argue that crime is a result of low self-control, differential association, weak social bonds, strain, labeling, disadvantaged neighborhoods, or other social experiences or forces.

In terms of what causes crime, in the rational choice approach perspective, crime will occur whenever a would-be offender thinks that the advantages or benefits of crime outweigh both the costs of crime and the benefits and costs of non-crime. This means that there are several different avenues by which to pursue public policy if one wanted to reduce crime through an appeal to rational choice approach such as a) increase the cost of crime, b) increase the benefits of non-crime, c) reduce the benefits of crime and d) reduce the costs of non-crime.

Rational Choice approach is criticized in criminology because it does not answer important questions like who the offender is, what the offender is thinking when they commit or plan to commit the crime, and how the offender acts. It only answers as to why the crime is committed and how to prevent further crime from happening. It is a crime prevention theory that tries to come up with a way to stop or to reduce crime from happening to people.

Cesare Beccaria’s (1764) and Jeremy Bentham’s (1789)

conceptual work on Rational Choice Approach

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vi) Social learning theory

Social learning theory emphasizes the societal context of socialization rather than the individual mind. This theory postulates that an individual’s identity is not the product of the unconscious (such as the belief of psychoanalytic theorists), but instead is the result of modeling oneself in response to the expectations of others (Bandura, 1977). Learning criminal or deviant behavior is the same as learning to engage in conforming behavior: it is done through association with or exposure to others.

According to Burgess and Akers (1996), Akers (1973, 1977, 1985, 1998), the specific mechanisms by which the learning process takes place are primarily through operant conditioning or differential reinforcement. Stated more clearly, operant behavior, or voluntary actions taken by an individual, are affected by a system of rewards and punishments. These reinforcers and punishers ultimately influence an individual’s decision of whether to participate in conforming and/or nonconforming behavior. There are three mechanisms by which individuals learn to engage in crime: a) Differential reinforcement of crime - individuals can teach others to engage in crime by reinforcing and punishing certain behaviors, b) Beliefs Favorable to Crime - other individuals can also teach a person beliefs that are favorable to crime. For example, many people will say that fighting is wrong, however, that it is justified if the individual has been insulted or provoked, c) Modeling (imitation) - Individuals often model or imitate the behavior of others, especially if it is someone that individual looks up to or admires. For example, an individual who witnesses someone they respect committing a crime, who is then reinforced for that crime, is then more likely to commit a crime themselves. The process of imitation is often referred to as vicarious reinforcement (Bandura, 1977).

Social learning theories deals with the understanding of how and why individuals form emotional attachments, adopt gender roles, make friends, learn to abide by moral rules, and change in countless other ways. It can help us to understand how aggression and violence might be transmitted through observational learning. By studying media violence, one can gain a better understanding of the factors that might lead children to act out the aggressive actions they see portrayed on television and in the movies. However, social learning can also be utilized to teach people positive behaviors. One can use social learning theory to investigate and understand ways that positive role models can be used to encourage desirable behaviors and to facilitate social change. Today, both teachers and parents recognize how important it is to model appropriate behaviors.

Akers’s Social Learning Theory

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vii) Labeling theory

Labeling theory was the first to address both individual criminality and the impact of social reaction on criminal behaviors, it states that the reaction of the society, the community, or a social group will affect the rule-breaker in one critical way: Becker (1963) argued that when a “rule is enforced, the person who is supposed to have broken it may be seen as a special kind of person . . . an outsider” (p. 1). A person labeled as a deviant may accept that deviant label by coming to view himself or herself as a deviant and then engaging in further behavior that is both consistent with the label and the way in which the label was applied. As described by Tannenbaum (1938 p. 19),”The entire process of making the criminal is a process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing, emphasizing, making conscious and self-conscious; it becomes a way of stimulating, suggesting, emphasizing, and evoking the very traits that are complained of”. The person thus takes on the characteristic of the so-called tag.

Becker (1963) identified four types of deviants: (1) falsely accused - someone who has not broken any rules and yet is labeled. (2) conformist - someone who does not break rules and is not labeled. (3) pure deviant - someone who breaks rules and is so labeled, and (4) secret deviant - individual who engages in rule-breaking but is not labeled.

Lemert (1974, p. 12) observed that the labeling perspective does not fully explain the process in which a society engages when reacting to behavior; a reaction may identify a deviant act, but it does not explain why the behavior is considered deviant. Farrington (1977) examined the effects of public labeling and found that a) public labeling did lead to increased deviance; b) repeated labeling of an individual led to greater deviance amplification. Gibbs (1966) also argued that labeling theory puts the focus on the reaction to a type of behavior. This means that the deviant act is external to the actor and the act. In essence, it does not matter that the individual engaged in some deviant or criminal activity, only that there was some kind of reaction from society.

Howard Becker (1963) - Labeling Theory

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viii) Conflict Theory

Conflict Theory suggests that deviant behaviors result from social, political, or material inequalities of a social group. In response to these inequalities, certain groups will act deviantly in order to change their circumstances, change the social structure that engendered their circumstances.

According to Karl Marx, legislation supports the interests of rich people. Quinney (1977) says “Capitalist justice is belong to capitalist class and against to working class.” Marxist idea of crime centered on the concept of “demoralization” and that in the capitalist society, there are huge numbers of people who are unemployed or underemployed. Because those people cannot produce anything, they become demoralized and tend to every kind of crimes. Marx also ignored the idea that joining to social contract for the common good. However, he maintained that this view damaged in the way that people who do not have wealth or power, also do not form the social contract. People who have power and wealth produced social contract for their interests. (Vold, 2002)

Conflict theory can be used to look at wars, violence, revolutions, and other forms of injustice and discrimination by explaining that there is a natural disparity in a society that causes these problems. The theory is that if the wealth gap becomes too wide, social unrest will ensue. If the government doesn’t help reduce the degree of inequality, conflict will run out of control and protests, movement, or even civil wars will break out.


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A Review of Criminology and Victimization Theories and their Implications for Crime Control and Prevention within Societies
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Crime, Criminology Theories, Victimization Theories, Causes of Crime, Crime Control and Prevention
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Dr. Wee Leong (Author), 2019, A Review of Criminology and Victimization Theories and their Implications for Crime Control and Prevention within Societies, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/506910


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