Criminological theories derived from the study of sociology vary significantly regarding their explanations for the existence and causation of criminal behavior. This paper shall examine social structure, social process, and social conflict theories as they have been applied by the state in it is
As humanity has progressed over the course of history, sociological and criminological theories have been developed with the intent of explaining the root causes of crime, the composition of society, and the manner in which society functions. With the advent of the scientific method, the industrial revolution, and the modern state, it was only a matter of time before the state would apply the lessons of these sociological theories. This paper shall first consider unemployment benefits in the context of social structure theories, followed by education in the context of social process theories, and conclude with local restoration programs in the context of social conflict theories.
Social structure theories assert that an individual’s likelihood of committing criminal acts is heavily influenced by their position within the social structure. The idea is that those most economically disadvantaged feel the most strain upon relative to other segments of the population, and as such, will have greater incentive to engage in criminal activity. In the United States, unemployment benefits are a joint federal-state program, with each state partnering with the federal government to fund the program. (Employment and Training Administration, 2015) This program provides unemployment insurance in the form of payments provided to those who have lost their jobs over a set amount of time in order to provide means of subsistence until new employment is found. According to social structure theories, the existence of this program lessens the economic strain on the unemployed population, therefore reducing crime.
Social process theories state that criminal behavior is a learned process, and as such, that exposure to crime and to the cultural element of crime most greatly influences an individual’s propensity to commit crime. Educational programs in the United States, typically joint local-state-federal efforts, seek to create safe learning and acculturation environments which produce individuals that wish to seek, and are capable of acquiring, gainful employment as productive members of society. Not only do these educational programs impart skills to their participants, but the existence of mandatory universal education creates a powerful bulwark against the acquisition of criminal tendencies, and instead acculturates these individuals within their school wide community to behave by their own non-criminal norms. (Harper, 2014)
Social conflict theories emphasize that the structure of society is predicated upon the struggle for resources (wealth and power), and that as a result, one class of people will tend to be the dominant class which seeks to maintain its disproportionate power, with the other classes seeking to gain more power for themselves. Social conflict theory extends this line of thinking down to the community and individual levels. The idea behind restoration programs is that individuals who have done harm to their communities meet with prominent members of the community, as well as their victims, in order to express regret, and to hear the perspectives of the community members, both in regards to their feelings about being harmed, as well as advice they may give in terms of what to do better in the future. In this way, healing and restoration may take place, and as such, conflict (crime) reduced. (J. Siegel, 2000)
In conclusion, sociology demonstrates that there are many plausible contributing factors to the existence and rate of crime, and there are many ways of taking action to address them.