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How useful are Sociological Theories in explaining crime and the control of crime? Consider the implications for contemporary probation practice?

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Introduction

Criminology How useful are Sociological Theories in explaining crime and the control of crime? Consider the implications for contemporary probation practice? This paper seeks to explore the usefulness of Sociological Theories in explaining crime and whether in doing so there arises implications for probation practice. I shall begin by providing a brief explanation for the historical development of criminological thinking, starting with Classicism and moving onto Positivism both which lay the foundations for the development of sociological theories in the 1960's and 1970's. Analysis of the literature has highlighted the vast array of theories to which my attention will be paid. However, due to the limitations of this piece of work and in order to provide an in-depth account of the usefulness of particular theories I have chosen to focus on two; Labelling Theory and Subcultural Theory. I will provide a thorough account of how they attempt to explain crime and how offenders are propelled into crime and the usefulness of such theories. Finally my analysis will focus on the role of these when working with offenders and will highlight the implications for probation practice. Different writers have attempted to construct historical connections for the development of criminology. I will begin with the emergence of Classicism, which grew out of the Enlightenment movement in the eighteenth-century. This was influenced by the work of Cesare Beccaria and his publication the Dei Delitti e Delle Pene (On Crimes and Punishment) in 1764 (Beccaria, 1963, cited Cavadino and Dignan 2002, p46). This book provided a critique of the Criminal Justice System in Europe, which was deemed arbitrary and harshly retributive, dominated by capital and corporal penalties. Beccaria's philosophical movement called for clarity in the law and due process in criminal procedure, combined with certainty and regularity of punishment. Classical thinking viewed individuals as free-willed rational decision-makers whose choice to commit crime was guided by hedonism, in terms of maximum pleasure for minimum pain. ...read more.

Middle

Those offenders who have come to accept the criminal label may see no way out and may be resentful towards probation, holding the opinion that nothing and no one can help them. Many offenders once labelled see themselves as targets by officials and therefore negative experiences of dealings with the law may mean that they have little respect for authority. These negative attitudes are likely to lead offenders to justify and neutralise their offending behaviour via condemnation of the condemners (Sykes & Matza 1957). This reduces the likelihood of them accepting responsibility for their actions and may mean that they are uncooperative and show little respect for officers, which will limit the effectiveness of work undertaken. Probation's ability to successfully re-integrate offenders into the community will be limited as once labelled it is significantly harder for offenders to find work, and housing and hence they are likely to remain excluded. Whilst referrals to partnership agencies, for example Housing, Employment, Drug Agencies can be made, these are only the fist step towards re-integration and it is down to the individual organisations, employers, educators and members of the public who will ultimately allow inclusion. Labelling Theory is limited in terms of the control of crime as once labelled it is noted that offenders are more likely to re-offend (Lemert 1967). However it is noted that the threat of being 'labelled' may act as a natural deterrent, as it is only natural that we would prefer to avoid being stigmatized and hence may encourage people to consider their behaviour. Attention needs to be paid to ways in which labelling may help to reduce crime. According to Tyler (1990), the focus has shifted towards re-integrative shaming, a form of labelling which is seen to reduce crime. This is said to be most effective when practiced by someone whose opinions matter to the offender. These 'significant others' may include parents, partners and probations officers, providing that they have had a positive experience in dealing with these individuals. ...read more.

Conclusion

Probation must also attempt to increase their opportunities in society, in order to encourage re-integration. This can be done by focusing on areas such as employment, education and housing all of which will help to develop and maintain links with the community, however the success of this lies with society and whether they will accept offenders. In conclusion, the foundations of criminological thinking reside in the historical development of Classical criminology which reflected contemporary ideas about the social contract, rationality and utility and Positivist criminology, which celebrated what seemed to be the successful application of science and technology to human beings. Both of these have played a role in the development of Sociological Theories. This paper has discussed the usefulness of two major Sociological Theories, that of Labelling and Subcultural and has identified that whilst both of these provide some insights into crime and the causes of crime they are not without limitations. Particularly they both fail to address how the individuals come to be labelled or to why some subcultural groups commit crimes and others do not. Furthermore, both theories are based upon lower class males and therefore their applicability to women offenders and offenders of other classes and cultures is limited. Attempting to control crime using these theories is difficult as the circumstances under which offenders come to be labelled criminal or involved in criminal subcultures are deeply rooted in the macro environment, something which as Probation Officers, we have little control over. Whilst we can attempt to address aspects of offenders lives, for example by making referrals to partnership agencies who are able to assist in finding employment and suitable housing, this will not and does not address the person's problems immediately or the wider social conflict, for example area degradation and social disorganisation. However, it may act as a stating point, directing the offender in the right direction and may provide them with some hope to encourage them to make changes for themselves. ...read more.

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