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A General Theory of Crime

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Stephen J Heffernan

General Theory of Crime

Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi have devised the General Theory of Crime, or the GTC, as a way of explaining root causes of criminal behavior in an effort to find a solution to the problem of crime in America. The GTC is defined as: A developmental theory that modifies social control theory by integrating concepts from biosocial, psychological, routine activities and rational choice theories. (1)

Unlike other crime theories, the GTC considers the criminal offender and the criminal act as separate concepts. According to this theory, crime is "rational and predictable." Crimes such as burglaries or robberies, usually committed by young males, provide easy, short-term gratification. The theory suggests that, " the propensity to commit crimes remains stable" throughout a crime-prone persons life. Given the right criminal opportunities, such as having a lot of free time and living in a neighborhood with unguarded homes containing valuable merchandise, crime-prone people have a much higher probability of violating the law then do non-criminals.

The main factor to making someone crime-prone, according to Gottfredson and Hirschi, is the persons' level of self-control. A person with low self-control tends to be impulsive, taking a "here and now" approach to life. They refuse to work for long-term goals and have little, if any, consideration for the feelings and needs of others. They also are likely to gain pleasure from engaging in acts of deviance as opposed to feeling shame. Dangerous behaviors, such as drinking, smoking and reckless driving, are very common among these low self-control types as well. They tend to be self-centered in the extreme, and lacking in diligence, tenacity and persistence. As they mature, they often have unstable marriages, jobs and friendships.



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