A society is defined as a conglomerate of people with shared principles defined by law that is used to guide their conduct, more often than not; people have very different perspectives as to what the law is and the best way to carry themselves (McLaughlin & Muncie, 2005). Because of this difference in perspective, their arise issues that are regarded as criminal in law. According to Hobbes (1976), the law exists to shape the society as human beings are inherently evil; he argues that without the law, the society will be brutish, nasty and short. He came up with the social contract theory of law that dictated that human beings should be subject to some authority. As a result of the breaking of the laws, there came the origin of the word “crime” which refers primarily to activities that are against the law. A subject that aimed at discussing the theories of law as well as ways of curbing it emerged and it was referred to as criminology (McLaughlin & Muncie, 2005).
By definition therefore, criminology is a body of knowledge that focuses on crime and delinquency as a social issue, within its roots, is an understanding of the process of making, breaking and reaction towards the breaking of the laws.” There are three major divisions of crime namely criminal etiology which is the scientific analysis of the causes of crime, sociology of law which is an analysis of the conditions, procedures and policies used in the administration of law and finally penology basically dealing with control of crime. Criminology serves a major objective of developing general and verified principles from other sources of knowledge as regards the process of law; it aims at understanding social behavior ass means of combating crime. Various scholars have come up theories that explain the reasons why people engage in criminal activities, they include psychological theories, social theories, biological theories as well as anthropological theories (McLaughlin & Muncie, 2005)
The first school of thought is what is primarily referred to as the positivist school, proponents of this theory argue that primitivity is a major cause of crimes; they say that primitive people failed to evolve into humans and a civilized state. They further assert that crime did not primarily arise from the common features that criminals had in society but from their distinct defects, either mental or physical originating from their primitivity. Proponents of this theory look at themselves as scientists in the sense that they aim at distinguishing the determining reasons for criminal behavior in offenders. They believe that people were not born criminals but instead, they believe that crime exists in a cause and effect manner. Unlike the Classical school of thought which believes In the principle of free will to choose what is right from wrong, they argue that a human being’s behavior is determined by various factors that are psychological, biological or sociological, they believe that a human being is only but a vehicle of this factors and therefore, he does not have a free will (Hobbes, 1976).
The origin of this school of thought is Italy and Lombroso is credited as its founder. According to his experience as a medical doctor, he believed that there are biological factors that lead one into crime; he argues that criminals are somewhat mentally defective. They strongly believe that criminality is determined and therefore, the main aim of studying criminology should be to for the causes. As a matter of fact, they tend to look at crime as a disease or sickness and rehabilitation of the offenders is key in “healing” them, they are of the opinion that various parties ranging from professionals to the offenders should participate in correctional decision making.
They believe that an individual should not be held responsible for an offence since it is not within their ability to commit crimes but there are social factors that push the offenders to commit the crimes. They identify among the factors, poverty, illiteracy, peer pressure among other variables. According to Thrasher & Short (1963), where there is a high rate of the afore mentioned variables, there exists higher rates of crime. Unlike the classic theory which states that criminals should be punished, positivists believe that they should be treated instead, in their theory, punishment is not a way of preventing crime. They argue that various classes of criminals should be accorded different ways of reformation, they further assert that discovering early those behaviors that are likely to lead to delinquency as well as avoiding the conditions necessary for the occurrence of crime is key in avoiding crime, that it should be upon the entire society to ensure that crime has been combated and as a result, there has been the establishment of Juvenile Courts to serve the purpose of education, probation, education as well as other services aimed at controlling social crime. They argue that the law should exist to help the offender and not punish them, unlike the classical theory; punishment should be given to suit an individual and not the case (Young, 2003).
Over the years, there have emerged three different theories that explain the origins of crime within the positivist school of thought: these are biological, sociological and psychological. Biological positivism states that criminals can be identified through physical make up, defended by Lombroso, the physical shape of an individual’s head and face can be used to determine a criminal. Sheldon another proponent of this idea identifies three major body shapes related to different types of personalities, he states that there is the endomorphic shape who are normally fat and soft and most often than not sociable, there is also ectomorphic identified as thin and fragile and finally the mesomorphic who are muscular and hard and therefore very aggressive, in his humble opinion, the mesomorphic form a greater percentage of criminals while the ectomorphic were less criminal (Coleman & Norris, 2000). We also have psychological positivism whose proponents are of the opinion that the causes of criminal behavior are strongly laid in faulty personality development of an individual. Sociological positivism is the other class of positivist theory that asserts that crime arises from factors that surround an individual’s environment; this is defined by culture as well as the social structure.
The second major theory of criminal behaviour is what proponents call classical theory; this theory was developed by an Italian named Cesare Becacaria and Jeremy Bentham, an Englishman. According Young (2003), human beings have a free will to do whatever they want to at any given point in time, they state that a human being is hedonistic and as a result, human beings are constantly in the business of avoiding pain and maximizing pleasure. They argue that the main thing that controls the actions of a human being is the fear of pain; they categorically state that punishment for criminal offences is a principal way of creating fear in individuals and therefore a necessary tool in controlling human behaviour. They further state that the existence of some code of conduct set in criminal law is very imperative in responding to crime, they believe that with this principle in mind, a human being will opt not to commit crime for the fear of the consequences.
According to this theory, six principles have been arrived at as the key tenens of the classical theory; they believe that everyone is a potential criminal owing to their self seeking nature; this is unlike the positivist theory which believes that there are certain types of people who are born criminals. There second principle states that there exists a supreme law endowed on a central state, they are of the opinion that in order for a society to live harmoniously, there must be a “war of all against all” so that the people agree to let go certain freedoms so as to be protected by the state. They believe that it should be upon the state to administer punishment for crime and as such punishment should be used to punish a criminal and not to rehabilitate the offender as suggested by positivists. That in administering punishment to an offender, there should be a keen observance of an individual’s rights, they believe that every individual should be held responsible for his/her actions and as such, they do not believe in the theory of circumstances that may influence ones behaviour as argued by positivists.
There third principle is that of utilitarianism; according to this principle, legislation should primarily be governed by the doctrine of “the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers”, that punishment should be based on its usefulness, a punishment as such, should fit a crime and not an offender as argued by positivists. The fourth principle is that punishment should not be deemed as an act of violence and as such it must be administered publicly, promptly, necessarily and in proportion to the crime as stipulated in the laws, this principle further dictates that the law should primarily prevent crime through deterrence (Coleman & Norris, 2000). Their fifth principle is the rational choice theory that states that criminals always plan keenly by identifying targets basing on vulnerability, this may be basing on age, security inter alia. This principle has one disadvantage which is the fact that people undergoing their daily duties are most likely to be victimized since this theory assumes that people should stay at home so as to avoid victimization.
This school of thought has two different models of criminal justice namely liberalism and conservatism: according to the latter school of thought, it is important to protect citizens from crime than their civil liberties, a criminal justice system should aim at repressing crime and as such the criminal justice system should be an equivalent of an assembly where offenders are not released on technicality but rather on justice, as long there is public safety, individual freedom can be overlooked. the former however operates like a dual system, proponents o this model believe that the criminal justice should not be an assembly line to look at individual cases but rather an “obstacle cause”, they assert that it is far much better to observe the rights of an individual than to incriminate an innocent person, this is based on the belief that the criminal justice system is always perverted by human error in many cases and as a result, the innocent ones always suffer, they observe that an individual’s rights must be safeguarded at all costs.
It is not without doubt that there being contrast in the above mentioned models. The classical approach has its flaws among them is the fact that it is not always that people will act rationally neither are they always hedonistic, this theory has an assumption that people are equal with regards to life’s chances and therefore there cannot be equal justice in an unequal society., this theory further does nothing or very little to address the causes of crime as the Positivist theory does, a careful analysis is that a person simply opts to commit a crime. This theory operates in a vacuum in the sense that there is no connection between human behaviour and the social context of the occurrence of the crime; it focuses on punishment with undue regard to the underlying nature of parties to a crime as well as the prevailing circumstances that facilitated the crime (Coleman & Norris, 2000).
Other theories that have been put forth in trying to understand crime are the psychological, biological and psychological theories. Under the psychological we have psychoanalytic theories fostered by Sigmund Freud and mental Illness and Crime. Psychologists are of the opinion that crime arises as a result of low IQ. They believe that feeblemindedness and crime are in a way related to genetic theories. Psychoanalytic Theories argues that the id controls the ego and the ego controls the superego. He says that an individual’s behaviour is controlled by irrational drives and those drives are not largely conscious and the attempt to meet desires into awareness is met by external resistance thereby facilitating an environment for crime, this is what Freud refers to as the id, ego and super ego. In the mental illness theory, proponents argue that lack of mental faculties will necessitate crime, although it has not been proven that specific mental disorders cause crime, it is without doubt that many inmates suffer some kind of mental disorder (Thrasher & Short, 1963).
Under the psychological theories, we have social ecology which states that crime normally arises from certain factors common to a neighbourhood, this factors may be poverty, illiteracy, high mobility and rates of unemployment among others, according to this theory, high crime rates exist in an environment over a long period regardless of the inhabitants, as such, there is something about those paces that perpetuate high rates of crime, there has been developed the theory of concentric zone which states that most crimes occur in the inner city, more often than not, the inner city is characterized by unemployment, mental illness, infant mortality and the like.
People in such areas lack a sense of community since industrialization, immigration and urbanization have weighed down the roles of local institutions in providing guidance to the inhabitants. The concentration of such problems in these areas is merely attributing to the actions of planners, politicians as well as the rich class in the society. According to Thrasher & Short (1963), crime is normally caused by the failure of local institutions caused by a break in family values, inefficiency of schools, corruption, unemployment, low wages, and lack of opportunity as well as the external and formal nature of religion. This is principally the tenets of the theory of gangs; he argues that gangs engaging in crimes are born of the above stated problems. Thrasher believes that he gangs offer a substitute for the failure of the society as well as relief from suppression and unpleasant behaviour.
There is also the Strain Theory that states that the way the society and cultures view success in terms of money, status and power yet there is unequal distribution of the means to obtains such is the major cause of crime, this concept tends to look at the gap between societal conditions, opportunities for growth, productivity and fulfillment within a society.
In conclusion, there are various theories that try to explain the causes of crime and the necessary means to combat the vice, criminologists are supposed to have a clear understanding of the available theories in order to thoroughly administer justice to offenders, the positivist theory as well as psychological theories provide a more logical explanation of the causes of crime, the classical theory on the other hand is more academic and theoretical and less practical in explaining the causes of crime. The positivist theory much more practical and according to Young (2003), it offers very major implications on policy which in turn may be detrimental to the society. Classic theory believes that crime is a personal choice owing to their free will concept while in positivist theory; it is associated with various factors in the society that will necessitate crime.