Friday, May 2, 2014


Unit 2 Assignment
By Michelle Hoffmann
Kaplan University

CJ499: Bachelors Capstone in Criminal Justice
Prof:  Terry Campbell
April 29, 2014

     There are many reasons why a person will commit a crime.  Many psychologists, sociologists and other scientists have attempted to come up with a single reason or unified theory for why all crimes are committed.  However, the impetus for the commissions of crimes cannot be that easily defined.  The reality is that there are a multitude of reasons that people commit crimes, be it upbringing, the society that they live in, psychological reasons or even a combination of several or more factors. 

Biological Theory of Crime Causation

     According to the biological theory of crime causation, "the brain is the organ of behavior..." and the basic determinants of human behavior are basically genetically based and may be passed from generation to generation, therefore it stands to reason that a tendency towards the commission of crime may be inherited (Pearson Prentice Hall, 1995-2010).
     One study, done at the University of Texas in Dallas, "analyzed the genetic and environmental influences on criminal traits of 4,000 people. The researchers discovered a strong link between genes and criminality" (Searles, 2012).  The study determined that for those criminals who were life-long offenders, the criminal behavior was influenced more by their genes than their environment.  One journal, Criminology, suggests that "genes play a key role in determining who leads a life of crime and who stays on the straight and narrow" (Searles, 2012).
     The case of Scottish cannibal, Alexander “Sawney” Bean, and his crazy incestuous family is a perfect example of this theory.  The family would ambush unsuspecting passers-by at night and rob and murder them. After committing the murders, the victims were taken back to the cave where the family hid, dismembered and cannibalized them, removing all evidence of the crime. It has been said that the Bean family even started robbing fresh graves for ‘food’ (Ronnie, 2010).

Sociological Theory of Crime Causation

     The sociological theory of crime causation tends to make the assumption that the criminal acquires his interest, ability, and means of self-justification in crime through his network of acquaintances and associates, i.e. his friends, family or pseudo-family, the society and culture in which he is brought up (Giasr, 1958).
     A perfect example of this theory of crime causation would be any gang.  Take MS-13, for example.  MS-13, otherwise known as Mara Salvatrucha 13, has been called one of the most violently dangerous and most organized gangs in the United States (Top Documentary Films, 2005).
     Gangs are made up of a hierarchy of individuals who have their minions (the members in the lower echelons of the organization) do their dirty work for them in order to prove their loyalty.  In return for their obedience, the leaders of the gang give their subjects drugs, status or money; enhancing their prestige within the group.  Children who are either recruited into the gang at a young age, or who are born into the gang, are raised to become future members and committing crimes is simply the way of life for them.  It is this society which acts as a pseudo-family for them that inducts them into this way of life from early on.

Psychological Theory of Crime Causation

     According to the psychological theory of crime causation, the reason people commit crimes is because of personality imbalances that have been developed early in childhood.  These people may be suffering from some sort of disease or may not have had the type of upbringing that society deems "normal" and their responses to different situations seem inappropriate or abnormal to the rest of society. 
     Sigmund Freud is possibly the most noted of psychologists who subscribed to a psychological theory of crime causation.  "He believed that every individual carries [the] residue of the most significant emotional attachments of our childhood, which then guides our future interpersonal relationships” (Siegel, 2005).  Although his theories have been subsequently later questioned, they remain the basis for many other theories also attempting to explain the reasons behind why people may commit crimes. 
     Probably the most famous case involving the psychological theory of crime causation would be the Patty Hearst kidnapping case.  In this case, 19 year old Patty Hearst was abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in an attempt to "incite a guerilla war against the U.S. government and destroy what [the SLA] called the 'capitalist state'" (FBI, 2014).  The SLA also began brainwashing Patty Hearst in the hopes of turning their captive into the "poster child for their coming revolution (FBI, 2014). “
     The brainwashing resulted in what is more commonly known as Stockholm syndrome.  A condition where a captive identifies with their captors and builds an empathic relationship.  In this case, the Stockholm syndrome caused Hearst to change from a sweet, upper echelon young woman into one of the gun toting, bank robbing members of the SLA, demonstrating the Stockholm syndrome in action where the victims begins to sympathize with their kidnappers; becoming emotionally attached to their captors and beginning to have positive feelings toward them. 
     Whichever of the preceding theories a person may subscribe to, one thing can be said about criminals and why they commit crimes... it is complicated.  One case may have the markers of one type of crime causation, but if you search hard enough into the reaches of the criminal's mind and history, you will most likely be surprised to find that perhaps there are a multitude of possible reasons why they committed their crime, while another case may appear to be cut and dry and describe a certain theory to a "T".


FBI. (2014). The Patty Hearst Kidnapping. Taken from
Giasr, Danin. (1958).The Sociological Approach to Crime and Correction. Retrieved from
Pearson Prentice Hall. (1995-2010). Major Principles of Biological Theories. Retrieved from
Ronnie. (2010). Scottish cannibal, Alexander “Sawney” Bean, and his crazy incestuous family. Midnight Showing. Retrieved from
Searles, Rebecca. (2012). Genes, Criminal Behavior Linked In University Of Texas Study. Retrieved from
Siegel, Larry J. (2005). Criminology. California: Thomson Wadsworth.
Top Documentary Films. (2005). MS13: World's most Dangerous Gang.  Retrieved from