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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Essay on Control Theory of Crime

            Socrates, a philosopher, once argued that man is by nature good.  Evil, according to him, is consequence of man’s ignorance or the lack of knowledge. For him, an individual will not knowingly and willingly commit crime.  When an individual commits a crime it is because of the limitation and imperfection of his present knowledge.  Though it may be true that man is not morally corrupt by nature Socrates’ explanation of the presence of crime and evil in our society does not suffice to answer the question why people offend and commit crime.  Why are there serial killers like Eileen Wuornos? Why it that the highest ranking CEOs of multinational companies, like Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay of Enron, manage to steal money from their investors and stockholders?  It does not explain why even educated people become criminal offenders and violators of the law.  This could only mean that there is more to crime than just the goodness or badness of the individual. 

            It is because of this reason that Sociologists have turned to other causes or factors that may influence human behavior into committing crimes.  This has resulted in several theories attempting to explain crime and deviance.  One of these theories is the Control Theory.  The Control Theory proceeds from the assumption that man is by nature delinquent and is capable of committing crimes. (“Control Theory” 1)  We all have the capacity to commit crimes and become criminals.  Instinct drives human behavior to commit crime.  Whatever one’s reason for committing crime, the point is that we are all capable of committing crime. 

The most important question, however, is why do some people do not commit crime? Why are there some individuals who manage to become law obedient for the rest of their life? Travis Hirschi, the proponent of Social Control Theory, explains that the reason is that some individuals are restrained and controlled.  Hirschi suggested that despite a person’s inclinations to commit crime, it can be controlled and his behavior can be regulated so as to make man conform to certain social rules or laws.  For Travis Hirschi, it does not matter whether an individual has all the reason and motive to commit a crime if his behavior can be controlled and regulated. 

There are several ways by which man’s behavior can be restrained and controlled.  First, it can be done directly.  For instance, when a child is punished for bad behavior he learns early on in his life that bad behavior is something to be avoided.  On the other hand, when a child is rewarded for good behavior he also learns early in life that a good behavior merits the approval of his parents, family and other figures of authority.  There are some, however, who criticize the rewards and punishment system of controlling behavior.  They say that it is focused only on the end-result.  The child avoids bad behavior because he knows he will be punished. Or, the child engages in good behavior because of the rewards.  What if the child knows that he will not punished will he still pursue his bad behavior? Or, what if there is no longer any reward for engaging in good behavior will he still be motivated to continue his good behavior.  The individual does not appreciate and understand the real essence of obedience to social norms. 

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Second, it can also be done indirectly.  For instance, when a parent through their own behavior shows to the child the behavior that are permissible and those that are not permissible they become role model for the child.  Or, when the parents early on in their life teach their children to regularly go to church and pray.  Or, when an individual gets a college education or pursues a graduate degree.  Or, the individual gets interested in helping the community through active involvement in charity and other social work. 

In these instances, the individual is strongly attached to the society.  His social bond with the society is strong.  According to Hirschi's theory of social control persons whose social bond with their society is weak are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior.  In the first example, the child is emotionally attached to his parents and has a strong connection with them.  He considers his parents as his role model.  Thus, parents should set a good example to their children.  In the second example, the child is closely connected to the church.  It follows that he goes to church regularly and reads the bible.  Thus, when it happens that the individual’s strong faith is challenged these individuals are more likely to make the right decision.  In the third example, a person who goes to college and is busy with school activities is more likely to stay away from the streets and be associated with gangs and other juveniles.  In the fourth example, an individual who is involved with the community and whose mind is preoccupied by his many social and charity works is also less likely to engage in delinquent behavior. 

It must be stressed that all persons have the potential to abuse drugs and engage in delinquent behavior.  The point however of the Control Theorists is that those individuals who are strongly attached to their family, friends, church and the society are morel likely to contemplate their decision, think about the consequences of their action and avoid deviant behavior because of their strong values. (Reginald Alston 1)

Control Theorists argue that most effective means of controlling behavior is not to punish an individual for bad behavior or reward him for good behavior.  For them, the individual does not really understand meaning behind his actions.  Control Theorists argue that the restraining and controlling factors must be internalized by the individual.  It must become part of his personality.  This could be done by strengthening man’s social bonds with the people around him. (Downs et al 2) These social bonds include attachment, commitment, involvement and belief.  The stronger these social bonds are, the more committed a person is to conventional activities and the greater his attachments to his parents and friends, the less likely it is that he will engage in delinquent behavior.  Conversely, once this social bond is weakened then it is likely that individuals will engaged in delinquent behavior.  (Reginald J. Alston, 1995, p.3)  Thus, according to E.A. Ross the most effective means for controlling and regulating behavior is not the enactment of laws and the threats of punishment but the belief and value systems that helps man obey with the rules.

The family plays a very important role in strengthening man’s social bonds with his society.  As the primary agent of socialization, the family is mainly responsible for the internalization by the child of the social values.  Because the family is directly involved in child rearing, it is also the family who teaches the child the different values of love and care and obedience to laws.  It is also these values which the child internalizes and absorbs as he grows up.  Thus, when the child does not learn anything from his parents or when there is no role model whom the child can emulate, social bond is weak.  As a consequence, there is greater likelihood of delinquent behavior.  For instance the fact that divorce rate is constantly rising is one reason why crime is rising.  According to National Center of Health Statistics, divorce rates started to climb during the 1960s which started at 2.1% per 1000 people. It however peaked at 5.3% in 1981.  Moreover, families where both parents are working are also increasing.  Consequently, children are being deprived of the opportunity to grow up with their parents.  Both parents do not also have the time to monitor the activities of their children, ask them about their grades or schools and inquire about their friends and peers.  

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