Positivist Theory – Crime

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24 March 2016

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Positivism is a theory of knowledge which states that science is based upon theories that have been derived solely upon empirical evidence. The positivist theory approach to crime consists of three major features which include biological, psychological and social positivism. Biological: The biological component of positivism seeks to examine data from sources such as twin studies, family studies, genetic patterns and biochemical aspects in an attempt to conjure an explanation for a particular behaviour. Biological positivists generally look for biological causes generally in genetic inheritance. Psychological: The psychological component of positivism also seeks to observe biological factors but also adds behavioural factors such as child rearing practices and brain abnormalities that cause identifiable behaviour outcomes.

Those who are extroverts are easy to condition and easy to de-condition those who are introverts are difficult to condition and also difficult to de-condition. Psychological positivism emphasized counselling and improving the lot of potential criminals. Social: Sociological positivism claims that societal factors such as poverty, membership of subcultures, or low levels of education can influence people to conduct criminal behaviour. Adolphe Quetelet made use of empirical evidence such as data and statistical analysis to investigate the relationship between crime and sociological factors. It was found that age, gender, poverty, education, and alcohol consumption were important factors related to crime.

This is the theoretical aspect of this unit. Criminal theory is the study of criminal behaviour and is often known as the study of criminality or of law breaking behaviour. Some criminal theories take a psychological approach, some a biological approach other emphasise the sociological aspects of criminality and of course many emphasise all – taking a multi-disciplinary approach an approach that is often clumsily referred to as a psycho/bio/social approach. All of these orientations aim fundamentally to understand criminal behaviour – its nature, its causes, and ways of dealing with it. This will include the incidence of crime, crime in adults, youth and children, gender differences, differences in types of crime e.g. crimes relating to property and violent crime. A relatively new area of study is referred to as ‘Victimology’ the study of the effect of crime upon those who are the victims or criminal behaviour. In the notes to follow we will discuss a number of criminal theories.

Basically we will try to cover the basic approaches and illustrate the differences. This will not be an exhaustive description of all criminal theory and students may wish to study other approaches not covered here. We will look at Classical Criminal Theory and is updated version known as Neoclassical Theory. We will also look at what are referred to as the more scientific approaches known collectively (and probably in the strict meaning of that term erroneously) as Positivism many of which have biological or genetic components. Other approaches have a more sociological character while others examine the phenomenon of rational choice that is a modern offshoot of the classical/neoclassical tradition. Some of the readings will give you some historical introduction to criminal theory – the introductory reading by Henry and Einstadter is useful as is the reading by Beirne. The biological perspectives is overviewed in the reading by Fishbein. Other readings examine mental illness and crime and female criminality. Module 2 Penal Theory and Practice

This is the practical side of this unit. Here we examine strategies for dealing with criminal behaviour – this covers strategies for punishment, correction, rehabilitation and preventative strategies. All of these are controversial and are the subject of much debate. All relates to issues about what we should do about crime as a society – what to do to those who commit crime, how to prevent it. Historically and amongst different societies there have been different answers. Some form of punishment or retribution is nearly always the case but the form it takes and on what crimes it is visited varies. Punishment may take the form of social and personal deprivation (locked away from the community in an institution (a gaol are correctional institution) the infliction of pain (corporal punishment) or the death sentence (capital punishment).

The choice of these options depends on what a society views as the seriousness of the crime, the level of responsibility of the person committing the crime and sometimes the gender and age of the offender – and at times the damage to the community and the victim/s. In the second module we wil also discuss the implications of imprisonment (incarceration) for certain disadvantaged groups. This will obviously include indigenous groups (now known as Aboriginals and Torres Straight Islanders) who are very much over-represented in the criminal justice system and in jails. The special issues relating to women and children in jails will also be discussed. Also we need to look at issues of those who are incarcerated who have a mental illness, an intellectual disability and those with drug and alcohol overuse problems. The Jail environment is a microcosm of the everyday problems in the community and all the probems we see in the community are there in the jails many times exagerrated. Finally the way a society deals with crime also depends on what it considers to be the nature of the criminal personality or the nature of criminality as such. Criminals are variously seen as mentally ill (mad), evil (bad) or more recently nowadays in the popular media inexplicably intelligent and fundamentally evil (terrorism and serial killing).

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