Why Do People Commit Crimes? Two Theories.


Crime Scene

I recently wrote a blog post and recorded a podcast episode in which I highlighted the benefits of asking “Why?” I maintain that continuously asking why forces one to whittle the problem down to the simplest possible answer. So, why do people commit crimes? Over the decades, there have been two major theories that have been pushed by social scientists, politicians, etc.

Crime Scene / Kat Wilcox

Developmental Theory.

Developmental theory is a relatively new idea, and was championed by Terrie Moffitt in 1993. This theory analyzed why some delinquent adolescents go on to become chronic criminal offenders and why some do not. Importantly, there are state funded community programs based on this theory still in use today.

Developmental theory employs an “interactional” model and operates in five primary domains. These include: Education, family, attachment to conventional values, attachment to delinquent values, and peer association. Developmental theory therefore holds individuals and communities accountable. It also seeks to restore order and tradition to society through conventional means like family and employment.

Critical Theory.

Prior to developmental theories becoming mainstream, critical criminology (rooted in Marxist doctrine) focused on societal roles in crime and behavior. It certainly began to broaden and become more elaborate as time progressed, and subsequently continues to manifest itself in 2019. It shows no signs of slowing down. Critical criminology continues to maintain that crime and behavior reflect power of establishments. It likewise seeks to alter some of these established institutions, while also recognizing and appreciating political economy of crime and control (Schram and Tibbetts, 2018).

Choose Wisely.

I wholeheartedly recognize the reality of class divisions as well as a means for keeping established powers in check. However, policies rooted in Marxism end up becoming the very things they are against. Moreover, there is the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and extreme Marxism maintains these institutions should be eradicated.

Meanwhile, developmental theory appears to hold individuals accountable. It seeks to restore order and tradition to society through conventional means like family and employment. There is certainly a risk of far right wing developmental policies becoming tyrannical as well, and there is evidence for this throughout history.

Above all, Marxist policies tend to lend themselves to tyranny much more efficiently. Mostly, I would maintain a developmental theory simply because it values individual, community, and restoration above all else.

Schram, P., Tibbetts, S. (2018) Introduction to Criminology (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.