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A General Theory of Crime

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A General Theory of Crime

(Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi)

Term Paper

Soc 203

Prof. Ortiz

12th December 2002

Crime is a serious issue in the United States and research shows that it is running rampant, and its effects are felt in all socioeconomic levels. Each economic class has its own crime rates and types of crime. It is a mistake to think of crime as a lower class problem. Crime is a problem for all people. The lower classes commit crime for survival while the upper class commits crime to supplement capital and maintain control.

Research also highlight that middle class crime is the most popular while lower class neighborhoods are deteriorating. This paper will focus on "A General Theory of Crime" using classical theory (Schmalleger, 2001, p.96-98), such as the relationship between crime and socioeconomic class structure. The essential nature of crime and results of scientific and popular conceptions of crime. In reading the book, there is a broad perspective and comprehensive explanations of crime per se, as well as a breakdown of crime under capitalistic system of government. In doing this the authors explore the typical patterns of crime associated with specific classes and attempts by the state to regulate and control capitalist marketplace activities and working class life. An important theme also highlighted was dynamic and contradictory relationship between the structural reproduction of capitalism and capitalist methods of crime control.

The actual patterns of social relations are determined by the economy, institutionalized forms of the state or political power, and associated forms of culture and ideology (Gottfredson, 1998). Modes of behavior and their definition as criminal vary accordingly. Class structure gives rise to different types of criminality, which relate fundamentally to the needs of the dominant minority to control the laboring majority. Such a pattern ensures the continual production of social wealth, but it also ensures a continuation of economic exploitation and class struggle over the distribution of social surplus. Crime is simply one such expression of this class struggle, an endemic feature based upon the functional and dysfunctional characteristics of living in a class-based economic system.

There is no perfect way of measuring crime, and it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly how much crime is going on in any particular jurisdiction at any given time. To a certain extent, crime or criminality is a label placed on some behaviors and not on others. There are known inaccuracies in the labeling process, much crime go undetected and some crimes are not reported to police. Crimes that go undetected and unreported obviously are not included in the overall statistics at the same time making it difficult to perform accurate studies due to the dark figures. Law enforcement agencies at times, may omit/neglect to record something as a crime, or inaccurately report something as a crime when it is not. Criminologists refer to all crime that escapes counting for any of the above reasons as the dark figure of crime.

Crime statistics serve a number of purposes such as the determining of public policies, budgets, legislation, funding priorities, and evaluation of existing programs. Politically, crime data is often used to persuade voters of the success or failure of crime control policies. Private and nonprofit agencies also use crime data to justify their position on crime issues. A criminologist on the other hand might use the same data to study incarcerated offender population and how they relate to crime rates overall. Most of the data used are obtained from a number of major sources such as the UCR (Uniform Crime Report) published by the FBI. Law enforcement agencies across the country; city, state, and county report to the FBI every year the number of crimes reported and recorded within their respective jurisdictions. The main purpose for the UCR is to serve as an indicator for comparisons, estimates, and for indexing crime and how it relates to the well being of the country as one entity. Crimes highlighted in the UCR are broken down into eight categories of offenses also known as part I offenses, i.e. as rape, murder, burglary, motor vehicle theft, aggravated assault, robbery, larceny-theft, and arson (Siegel, 2001, p.52).

The UCR utilizes the hierarchy rule that implies that when multiple crimes are linked to one offender within the same reporting year, only the most serious crime is counted. The UCR also uses another category termed clearance rate, this category highlights number of cases solved based on arrests, usually some cases where there are suspects but cannot be cleared for one reason or another when suspect flees the country, commits suicide, dies, or is convicted in another jurisdiction.


The assumptions and implications of labeling theory in criminology are not agreed upon by all of society, but it is essentially a conflict theory that can explain the process of harmful labeling at the community level. There are communities dominated mostly by African Americans, and communities dominated mostly by those not of African American descent. One of the assumptions in labeling theory is a focus upon the micro level of explanation, but the implications are important for the whole of society. Labeling simply means singling out individuals, tagging and segregating a particular individual or group. Many believe that labeling is biased to the lower class in apprehending offenders. Labeling does not measure the amount of crime that's in a certain given area as much as they measure what class, race, and gender committing the crimes.

Perhaps the surge in crime rates and offending within the lower class is based on weak social bonds and natural predispositions toward crime. These components act as social controls on deviant and criminal behavior. As they weaken, social control suffers and the likelihood of crime and deviance increase. Social bonds can be described as emotional attachments to family members or friends, obligation or attachment to a certain lifestyle, an involvement conventional values accepted by society and the belief and attachments in following social order and rules of society.

The most important element of the social bond is attachment such as affection and sensitivity to others. Attachment is said to be the basic



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