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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Week 1 Follow-up - Criminological Theory

Cesare Becarria states that crime is a choice made by offenders, while biosocial theorists contend that it is the product of one’s environment and genetics in combination. Which of these two positions on crime appeal to you more? Why?

With the preference of criminology theories resting on the central issue of free will, I would assert that the Classical school appeals to me over the Positivist school. This is a preference choice made due to my core personality beliefs. I don't see enough evidence to support the idea that policies influenced by Positivist thought to overcome my core beliefs and my views on morality.

  • Have your views about an individual’s ability to make a free choice to commit crime changed any over the past week? Why or why not?
The material this week did not change my previously held opinions. While I can see that empirical effects can have an influence, the final decision to commit a crime is a free will choice. While there are legal ramifications to the decision as in the cases of juveniles, the mentally handicapped, and the insane, the decision to act on impulse is still a free will choice. Again, the arguments made by McShane, Williams, and other Positivists are not strong enough to convince me to their case. I will make the contention that Williams and McShane are biased towards the Positivist school. The following quote makes their position clear: “This makes it easier to blame the offender for all aspects of a crime, rather than share some of that blame with society for creating conditions that force some people into crime. “ (Williams & McShane, 2014, p.22)
  • How have your perspectives developed about the policies used in the criminal justice system and why they are used?
My perspectives about criminal justice policy have not changed this week. Politicians will promote a policy due to their perception of their targeted voting population, and will use the arguments of criminal theory, whether Classical or Positivist, to appeal to that demographic. At the same time, elements of the criminal justice system will promote various policies based upon their experience and knowledge. Some policy makers will also allow other factors to influence how policy is developed, not necessarily based on theoretical efficiency; the bureaucratic politics model suggests that some policy will be developed with the goal of increasing the power and influence of an agency, the politics model model suggests that members of criminal justice agencies will curry favor with politicians by promoting one idea over an other, even to the point of data manipulation. An example this occurred when the Philadelphia police Department was required to resubmit crime reports to the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) prepared by the FBI after hiding data that made the city look bad. (Albanese, 2013)
I will also provide an example of politicians pandering to voter populations in a criminal justice situation, although this is not a case of determining policy. Recently, the mayor of New Bern chose to attend the funeral of a convicted felon who had been killed in a shootout with police, while the city chose to cancel services for a police officer killed in the same shoot out (Examiner, 2014)
While it is necessary to understand criminology theory to make effective policy, it is also necessary to understand that effective solutions are not always the main focus of policy making.
  • How have the theoretical explanations discussed this week helped you better understand criminal justice policies? Do you support certain criminal justice policies more than other policies? Why?
The discussion of Classical versus Positivist thought has helped my understanding of criminal justice policy in two ways; the discussion of Classical theory has helped me to better organize views I held without a “formal” framework, and secondly by understanding the underlying theory behind policy I can criticize or defend the policy without relying solely on the outcome, or results, of the policy. I want to reiterate this because assigning the result of a policy to only that policy ignores so many factors that may also influence the results.
For example, the violent crime rate has dropped over the last decade and a half steadily, only to begin rising over the last two years. Truth in Sentencing advocates would point to that timeline as proof that TIS guidelines work. Others have argued that changes in age demographics could account for the decline. Something that I have looked at has been comparing the rate of suburbanization to the decline ( as victimization rates do correlate with population density). There is the possibility that all of these factors could have played a role in the decline...or even the possibility that all of the factors played a role except for the particular factor that an advocate would like to claim as the determining factor. Without the ability to control all factors or to eliminate them as possible factors, then it is impossible to assign a result to a particular policy.
Finally, although I do believe that incapacitation policies work best for mala in se criminals, I think that rehabilitation policies can work for many people, and should not be discarded. One of the primary duties of the criminal justice professional would be to honestly appraise which policy to pursue for each criminal.

Albanese, J.(2013). Criminal Justice (5th ed.). Virginia Commonweal University
Examiner.com. (2014, April 4). Mourning for New Bern police officer marred by controversy. Retrieved April 11, 2014 from http://www.examiner.com/article/mourning-for-new-bern-police-officer-marred-by-controversy
Williams, F. & McShane, M. (2014) Criminology Theory (6th edition). Pearson

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