Sociologists and criminologists have long tried to figure out why criminals commit crimes. Theories range from criminals getting a kick out of breaking the law to criminals only committing the crime because they had no other choice. Whether it be a matter of personal choice or because of necessity, the United States has chosen to use components of both theories in developing its criminal justice system.
Social Responsibility Theory
The social responsibility theory of crime focuses on an individual's reasons for committing crime. A concept inherent in social responsibility theory is that of free will. Theorists of social responsibility believe people commit crimes due to free will, or because they choose to do so. The crime might be fun, easy or simply provide an adrenaline rush. For example, a man robs a convenience store because it's fun and challenging to get away with the crime.
Social Problems Theory
This theory asserts that crimes are committed due to matters beyond the control of the criminal. People might commit crimes because of poverty, racism, social status and other constructs that hold the criminal down. For example, a man robs a convenience store to get money for medicine for his newborn baby. He cannot afford the medicine because he cannot find a job in his impoverished community.
What a Social Responsibility Community Would Look Like
If social responsibility theorists are correct and crime is committed only because people choose to do it, then one theory is that punishments should be stricter. According to this school of thought, if jail time, restitution and community service are given at the first offense, an individual will be less likely to commit again. The government response to this type of criminal should be to decrease the benefits of committing the crime, increase the punishment and make the punishment swift, severe and certain.
What a Social Problems Community Would Look Like
Crime prevention is the key component of this theory. This means creating programs that provide more education, job training and opportunity for low-income individuals before they decide to turn to crime. Under this school of thought, a man shouldn't feel the need to rob a store to pay for his children's medications. Instead, medications should be provided for that child.
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images