Criminal Justice Policy Exploring Crime Government Intervention

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Criminal Justice Policy

  • Exploring Crime

Government Intervention

  • In a market-oriented society, the question becomes: Is the market performing satisfactorily in this area, and if not, why not?

Defining Intervention or Policy

  • Clarke E. Cochran, et al.: "The term public policy always refers to the actions of government and the intentions that determine those actions."
  • Clarke E. Cochran, et al.: "Public policy is the outcome of the struggle in government over who gets what."
  • Thomas Dye: Public policy is "Whatever governments choose to do or not do."
  • Charles L. Cochran and Eloise F. Malone: "Public policy consists of political decisions for implementing programs to achieve societal goals."
  • B. Guy Peters: "Stated most simply, public policy is the sum of government activities, whether acting directly or through agents, as it has an influence on the life of citizens."

Criminal Justice Policy

  • Most policy-making in criminal justice is “based on criminological theory, whether the people making those policies know it or not.  In fact, most of the failed policies (what doesn't work) in criminal justice are due to misinterpretation, partial implementation, or ignorance of criminological theory.”

Simply Put

  • Understanding criminal justice policy, requires and exploration of crime and theories of crime.

Every criminological theory contains

  • Assumptions
  • Description of the phenomena to be explained
  • Explanation, or prediction, of that phenomenon


Description of the phenomena to be explained

  • “The description is a statistical profile, figure, diagram, or table of numbers representing the patterns, trends, and correlates of the type of crime taken as an exemplar (most appropriate example) of all crime.”

Explanation or Prediction

  • “The explanation is a set of variables (things that can be tweaked or changed) arranged in some kind of causal order so that they have statistical and meaningful significance.”

Classical theory

  • “A product of the Enlightenment, based on the assumption that people exercise free will and are thus completely responsible for their actions. In classical theory, human behavior, including criminal behavior, is motivated by a hedonistic rationality, in which actors weigh the potential pleasure of an action against the possible pain associated with it.”
  • Classical Theory
  • “In 1764, criminologist Cesare Beccaria wrote An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, which set forth classical criminological theory.
  • He argued that the only justified rationale for laws and punishments was the principle of utility.”


  • The principle that a policy should provide “the greatest happiness shared by the greatest number.”
  • Classical Theory
  • “Beccaria believed the basis of society, as well as the origin of punishments and the right to punish, is the social contract.”
  • “The only legitimate purpose of punishment is special deterrence and general deterrence.”
  • Neoclassical Theory
  • What might prevent free will?
  • What about premeditation?
  • Neoclassical Theory
  • Classical and neoclassical theory are the foundation of the criminal justice system in the United States.

Legalistic or Normative

  • “Almost all criminologists today use a legalistic rather than normative definition of crime. A legalistic definition of crime takes as its starting point the statutory definitions.”
  • “A normative definition sees crime as a violation of norms (social standards of how humans ought to think and behave)”
  • “However, there are times when criminology can shed light on norms and norm violators.”
  • “The theory of the positivist school of criminology grew out of positive philosophy and the logic and methodology of experimental science.”
  • The Positivist School of Thought
  • Key Points:
  • “Human behavior is determined and not a matter of free will.
  • Criminals are fundamentally different from noncriminals.
  • Social scientists can be objective in their work.
  • Crime is frequently caused by multiple factors.”
  • Positivist Approaches
  • At present, criminologist tend to believe crime is a result of a “complex interactions” of different variables.
  • As an example
  • “Biology or genetics gives an individual a predisposition to behave in a certain way.”
  • External conditions (social, etc.) cause a person to act in or against that predisposition

Criminological Theory

  • 13 theories
  • Three are considered “mainstream”
    • Stain
    • Learning
    • Control
  • “Biological theories of crime causation (biological positivism) are based on the belief that criminals are physiologically different from noncriminals. The cause of crime is biological inferiority.”
  • Psychological Theories
  • Among the primary are:
  • Intelligence and crime
  • Psychoanalytic theories
  • Prior to 1931, “The idea that crime is the product primarily of people of low intelligence has been popular occasionally in the United States.”
  • Psychoanalytic Theories
  • “Psychoanalytic theories of crime causation are associated with the work of Sigmund Freud who believed that people who had unresolved deep-seated problems were psychopaths.”
  • Sociological Theories
  • “Most sociological theories of crime causation assume that a criminal’s behavior is determined by his or her social environment and reject the notion of the born criminal.”
  • Chicago School
  • “In the 1920s, a group of sociologists known as the Chicago School attempted to uncover the relationship between a neighborhood’s crime rate and the characteristics of the neighborhood.”
  • Chicago School
  • High delinquency correlated to high disorganization
  • Anomie or Strain Theory
  • “Robert Merton in 1938 wrote about a major contradiction in the U.S. between cultural goals and social structure. He called the contradiction anomie.”


  • “ the contradiction between the cultural goal of achieving wealth and the social structure’s inability to provide legitimate institutional means for achieving the goal.”
  • Anomie or Strain Theory
  • “Merton argued that the limited availability of legitimate institutionalized means to wealth puts a strain on people. People adapt through:
  • Conformity—playing the game.
  • Innovation—pursuing wealth by illegitimate means.”
  • continued…
  • Learning Theories
  • “Edwin H. Sutherland—in his theory of differential association—was the first 20th-century criminologist to argue that criminal behavior was learned.”
  • Learning Theories
  • “Among the policy implications of learning theory is to punish criminal behavior effectively, according to learning theory principles. This is not done effectively in the U.S.”
  • Probation does not function as an aversive stimulus.
  • Most offenders are not incarcerated.
  • continued…
  • Learning Theories
  • Punishment is not consistent and immediate.
  • Offenders are generally returned to the environments in which their crimes were committed.
  • There is no positive reinforcement of alternative, prosocial behaviors.
  • Social Control Theories
  • Why don’t people commit crime?
  • Social Control Theories
  • “The most detailed elaboration of modern social control theory is attributed to Travis Hirschi who wrote the 1969 book, Causes of Delinquency.”
  • Social Control Theories
  • “Hirschi argued that delinquency should be expected if a juvenile is not properly socialized by establishing a strong bond to society, consisting of:”
  • Labeling Theory
  • “once a person commits a first criminal act and gets processed in the system, they are labeled negatively as a criminal.”
  • Conflict Theory
  • “Conflict theory focuses on the conflict in society between rich and poor, management and labor, whites and minorities.”
  • Radical Theory
  • “capitalism requires people to compete against each other in the pursuit of material wealth.”

Legal positivism

    • laws are rules made by human beings; and
    • That there is no inherent or necessary connection between law and morality


  • “The view that the meaning and value of human beliefs and behaviors have no absolute reference. Relativists claim that humans understand and evaluate beliefs and behaviors only in terms of, for example, their historical and cultural context. Philosophers identify many different kinds of relativism depending upon which classes of beliefs allegedly depend upon what.”


  • is a particular approach used in the study and interpretation of texts.  It seeks to understand what an author of a particular text is attempting to convey to others.  The term refers to the act of interpreting

Is there interpretation in…

  • Assumptions
  • Description of the phenomena to be explained
  • Explanation, or prediction, of that phenomenon. . .


  • Bohm, R. & Haley, K. Introduction to Criminal Justice, McGraw-Hill (2003)
  • NewBurn, T., Crime and Criminal Justice Policy, Longman (2003)
  • Siegel, L. Criminology Wadsworth (1998)
  • O'Connor, T. In Crime Theories, MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from
  • Frey, R. Contemporary Issues in Anthropological Theory, retrieved from

Criminal Justice Policy Exploring Crime

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