Sociological Theories of Criminal Behavior

Sociological Theories of Criminal Behavior

The biological and psychological theories have identified some physical and mental factors that are assumed to be responsible for criminal behavior and separate criminal from noncriminal. In other words, the focus of these theories is on individual humans, particularly the criminal.

Limitations of Individual Focus: Crime Rates in Society

These theories do not explain why crime rates differ from one neighborhood to another, from group to group, within large urban areas, or between villages and urban areas. The biological and psychological views of crime were challenged by sociologists in the early twentieth century.

Crime as a Product of Social Forces

They argue that crime takes place in a society and is the product of social forces. Society is very basic to every individual in that different social institutions mold up and influence his/her behavior.

Sociological Theories: An All-Encompassing Perspective

Sociological theories consider society instrumental in explaining all behavior, with a particular focus on criminal behavior. Their outlook is very wide, and they bring almost all the social institutions, namely, family, education, economy, and government, to give meaning to deviation and delinquency.

Social Learning Theories: Understanding Criminal Behavior

Some theorists ponder over all the human behavior learned; criminal behavior is not an exception to it. This type of theory casts light on the process by which the learning of criminal behavior takes place. Those theories also cover cultures and subcultures containing ideas supportive of criminal behavior.

Control Theories: The Restraints on Criminality

Control theories try to explain why people commit crimes. There are some controlling forces, in their view, in a society that restrain people from committing crimes. These forces break down in certain circumstances, giving rise to crime and other deviant behavior. Consistent operation of these forces is, therefore, necessary to ensure social order. Control theories are important to explain both juvenile delinquency and adult criminality.

Chicago School

The Great Migration and Urbanization in the 1920s

During the 1920s, 5 million new people arrived in large cities in the USA. This time, Chicago expanded remarkably, and its population doubled within 20 years. New arrivals got very poor salaries, and their working and housing conditions were bad.

The Rise of Organized Crime in Chicago

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, organized criminal groups chose Chicago for their delinquent activities. With the growing number of newcomers, corrupt politicians, and notorious bootleggers, Chicago’s crime rate increased rapidly.

Chicago School of Human Ecology: Understanding Social Disorganization

The city became a laboratory for criminologists, many of whom were associated with the Department of Sociology of the University of Chicago. Taking a model from ecology, the Chicago school conducted its research; hence, sometimes, it is called the Chicago School of Human Ecology.

Scholars at Chicago University studied the socially disorganized neighborhoods of Chicago, where criminal values developed and replaced the conventional ones. It was then transmitted from one generation to the next.

W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki’s Explanation

W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki attributed the high rate of crime to social disorganization. They saw that the social bonds, family, and neighborhood associations became ineffective, and social controls in neighborhoods and communities were broken down. These caused increased crime and delinquency.

Ecological Model Applied by Robert Park and Ernest Burgess

Robert Park and Ernest Burgess took an ecological model from nature and applied it to the study of human society. Ecology is the study of plants and animals, their interrelationship, how the balance of nature continues and how organisms survive. Park and Burgess studied human ecology, the mutual relation between the people and their environment.

Concentric Circle Theory: Understanding Chicago’s Growth

They described the growth of American cities like Chicago in terms of ecology.

According to them, growth took place through a process of invasion, dominance, and succession. The history of America is the best example of this process, as Europeans invaded, dominated, and succeeded the territory of native Americans.

Likely, in cities of America, “a cultural or ethnic group invades a territory occupied by another group and dominates the new territory until it is displaced or succeeded by another group, and the cycle repeats itself.”

Application of the Concentric Circle Theory to Study Crime Rates

They developed a concentric circle theory to study the distribution of population, social change, and characteristics of Chicago city, and it was divided into five zones under the theory.

The concentric circle theory is an ecological theory that divides cities into different zones based on environmental characteristics. The theorists then try to find a relationship between these divisions of zones and crime rates.

Shaw and McKay’s Study of Juvenile Delinquency

Later on, Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay used the model of human ecology in their studies of juvenile delinquency in Chicago. They found that delinquents were not much different from nondelinquents; rather, areas of high delinquency were socially disorganized.

According to Chicago theorists, where society is disorganized, its control weakens or is absent, and parents and neighbors approve of delinquent behavior. This social condition gives a wide scope for delinquent behavior and little opportunity for legitimate employment.

Tarde’s Laws of Imitation

Gabriel Tardé (1843-1904) was an early criminologist who considered a crime as normal learned behavior and theorized his proposition. The doctrinal proposition of Lombroso did not convince Tarde that physiological anomalies of individuals were responsible for criminal activities.

Rather, Tarde held that criminals were basically normal people, but accidentally, they had been nurtured in such an environment where they learned crime. Tarde spelled out three laws of imitation.

  • Tarde’s first law is that people imitate one another. How much one individual imitates another depends on how much close contact s/he stands with that person. In cities, imitation is most frequent and changes very rapidly, which Tarde described as “fashion.” In village areas, imitation is less frequent and changes slowly, which Tarde defined as “custom.” Like any other social phenomenon, crime begins, Tarde argued, as a fashion and later becomes a custom.
  • The second law of imitation was that the inferior usually imitates the superior.
  • The third law of imitation is that older fashions are replaced by newer ones. Tarde argued that when murder by shooting is on the rise, murder by knifing will go down.

Tarde’s theory of imitation bears some value because when he propounded this theory, Lombroso’s view was dominating the criminological discourse. At that time, psychological explanations were also gaining momentum.

Rather than explaining crime in terms of biological or psychological defects, Tarde’s theory was the first attempt to explain criminal behavior as a learned behavior.

A simplistic model of learning is the basis of Tarde’s theory of imitation. Later on, Edwin H. Sutherland elaborated on the idea, retaining the basic proposition that criminal behavior is the result of normal learning.

Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory

After being born in Nebraska, Edwin H. Sutherland (1883-1950) got his bachelor’s degree from Grand Island College. He spent several years teaching at a small Baptist college in South Dakota. He obtained his PhD from the University of Chicago.

His dissertation addressed the problems of unemployment. After his graduation, he taught for six years at a small college in Missouri. Then, he went to the University of Illinois and wrote a book on Criminology, which was published in 1924.

In 1933, Jerome Michael and Mortimer J. Adler severely criticized the state of criminological theory and research. Sutherland responded to the criticism by trying to formulate a general theory.

He tried to organize many diverse facts active behind criminal activities into some logical arrangement, which is known as the differential association theory of Sutherland. He organized his theory under the following nine points:

  • Criminal behavior is learned…
  • Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other persons in the process of communication…
  • The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups…
  • When criminal behavior is learned, the learning includes:
    • (a) techniques of committing the crime, which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes very simple;
    • (b) the specific direction of the motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes…
  • The specific direction of the motives and drives is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favorable or unfavorable. In some societies, an individual is surrounded by persons who invariably define the legal codes as rules to be observed, while in others, he is surrounded by persons whose definitions are favorable to the violation of the legal codes…
  • A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law. This is the principle of differential association…
  • Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity. This means that associations with criminal behavior and also associations with anticriminal behavior vary in those respects…
  • The process of learning criminal behavior by association with criminal and anticriminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning…
  • While criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by those general needs and values since noncriminal behavior is an expression of the same needs and values. Thieves generally steal in order to secure money, but honest laborers work in order to secure money. The attempts by many scholars to explain criminal behavior by general drives and values, such as the happiness principle, striving for social status, the money motive, or frustration, have been and must continue to be, futile since they explain lawful behavior as completely as they explain criminal behavior. They are similar to respiration, which is necessary for any behavior but does not differentiate criminal from noncriminal behavior.

Two basic elements have been embedded in this theory of Sutherland: the content consists of some ideas about the motives and drives of committing crimes and the process means by which the actual learning takes place.

The content subsumes particular techniques for committing crimes, appropriate motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes, and more general “definitions favorable to law violation.”

All these are ideas rather than behavior, thus containing cognitive elements. The process is the real learning method by which people learn criminal behavior and which takes place in intimate personal groups.

Sutherland took both elements from “symbolic interactionism,” a theory developed by George Herbert Mead (1863-1931). When Sutherland was working on his doctorate, George Herbert Mead was at the University of Chicago. People get meanings from particular experiences that they have encountered, and these meanings, as theorized by Mead, determine behavior. Mead then spelled out that people tend to construct relatively permanent definitions out of these meanings. After generalizing the meanings by formulating definitions, the people form a set way of looking at different situations.

Different people in similar situations may act in very different ways because of these different definitions, and finally, whether people obey or violate the law depends on how they look into the matter and how they define their situation.

People with whom the individual associates in intimate personal groups attribute meaning to criminal activities, whether it is murder, shoplifting, or prostitution.

Sutherland argued that people attribute this primary meaning to criminal activities, which will give rise to the meaning of delinquent act ultimately accepted by an individual.

Sutherland argued that associations vary in “frequency, duration, priority, and intensity,” which is why some associations were more important than others for the learning of these definitions.

There was a differential association process behind the general social conditions, which Sutherland discussed elaborately. He explained general social conditions in the light of cultural conflict in the 1939 version of his theory.

In his language, cultural conflict meant that different groups in society had different ways to respond in a similar situation and might collide. He then introduced social disorganization to elaborate on the presence of cultural conflict in a society.

In his final version of his theory, Sutherland replaced it in 1949 with the term differential social organization, as social disorganization means that there is no organization at all.

Sutherland argued that numerous groups in a society have different interests, lifestyles, and purposes; some of these groups have been organized for criminal activities, some are neutral, and some are self-consciously law-abiding. Sutherland very correctly defined this condition as “differential social organization.”

Sutherland then argued that differential associations give rise to differences in behavior, including criminal behavior.

The simple meaning of the theory then stands to say that a person who associates with a communist is likely to become a communist, a person who has a close association with a politician is likely to become a politician, and a person who associates with criminals has a fair possibility of becoming a criminal.

Assessing the Value of Sutherland’s Theory

Sutherland’s theory finds support when explaining juvenile delinquency rather than explaining adult criminality. Delinquent youths, as considered by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, may choose other youths who have values and behavior similar to their friends’.

In that case, delinquency causes delinquent friends, not delinquent friends causing delinquency. Moreover, everyone who mixes with criminals will not adopt delinquent behavior.

What is then the worth of the association, which in one instance leads to the acceptance of criminal behavior, but in another instance leads only to be conversant with, but not acceptance of, them.

Sutherland suggested that how much impact associations may have on an individual depends on the “frequency, duration, priority, and intensity” of associations. He substantiated his argument with case histories and self-appraisal statements.

Finally, the question comes whether Sutherland’s theory was inherently beyond the test, and in 1960, Donald Cressey, Sutherland’s co-author, argued that differential association theory is untestable at the broadest level.

In 1988, however, Matsueda asserted that differential association theory is not beyond verification, and it is supported by numerous research reports.

First, he cited many research works that found that juveniles who had more delinquent friends committed more delinquent acts.

Second, Matsueda referred to a number of studies that underlined the content of definitions favorable to law violation and showed that these definitions had increased tendencies to be involved in delinquent activities.

Third, Matsueda argued that the ratio of definitions favorable and unfavorable to violating the law can be determined by applying advanced statistical techniques.

Two different branches of modern theories, namely cultural and subcultural theories and social learning theories, have been developed on the basis of Sutherland’s original formulation.

Retaining the cognitive value of Sutherland’s theory, cultural and subcultural theories vivisect the role of ideas in causing criminal behavior. Social learning theories, on the other hand, concentrate on the process by which learning takes place.

Cultural and Subcultural Theories

Under the formulation of Sutherland, some ideas, like “the definitions favorable to law violation,” are actual causes of criminal behavior.

Cultural and subcultural theories examine the role of ideas. It is the ideas themselves, rather than the social conditions, which are active behind the commission of delinquent activities.

When explaining gang delinquency, Walter B. Miller propounded one such cultural theory. He argued that lower-class people have their own culture distinct from that of the middle class, and their culture determines their lifestyle. Values like education, honesty, achievement, etc., have high value to the middle class.

In contrast, masculinity, strength, smartness, excitement, etc., have greater value to the lower class people.

They blindly believe in fate and consider most things that happen to people are beyond their control, and nothing can be done about them. They have strong rancor against the authority. This lower-class culture, as viewed by Miller, generates gang delinquency.

The social conditions and lower-class culture have become obvious reasons for gang activity.

Wolfgang and Ferracuti presented a theory that they called the “subculture of violence.” Wolfgang found that a huge number of homicides occurred between lower-class Negros and Whites out of very trivial events which they considered culturally valuable for them.

Any attack on the name or honor of the mother or any derogatory comments about race cause violent conflict between two lower socio-economic class males of White and Negro, which ultimately causes homicide.

This type of passion crime is neither planned nor an expression of mental illness. Wolfgang and Ferracuti identified underlying conflicts of values between the dominant culture and the subculture of violence as the cause of this type of homicide.

In response to the trivial jostles or remarks, normative conflicts (which already exist) between the subculture of violence and the dominant culture take place and constitute the cause of so many homicides. Social rewards and punishments support those norms.

People who follow the norms are respected, and those who do not are ridiculed by other people in the subculture, even if they become victims of violence.

In the subculture, everybody has been put in a wartime situation because each individual may respond to a situation violently, as s/he expects other individuals to respond violently, though none approves of violence.

Like Sutherland, Wolfgang, and Ferracuti argued that cognitive elements are immediate causes of these passion homicides. Values and norms are very strong among the lower socio-economic classes of both Negroes and Whites. For certain historical reasons, the subculture originated in the past and then it was transmitted from generation to generation as a set of ideas. Gradually, the original social conditions in which the ideas had developed disappeared. To them, these ideas, not the social condition, are important because these are the cause of violent behavior.

So they are not interested in dealing with the social conditions; rather, their policy recommendations suggested breaking up the ideas that constituted the subculture of violence.

According to one of their major policy recommendations, the subculture was to be dispersed by scattering low-income housing projects throughout the city instead of centering them in inner city areas. “Once the subculture was dispersed, individuals would gradually be assimilated into the dominant culture, and the violent behavior would diminish.”

A large number of additional theories and studies were generated by the thesis of the subculture of violence. Some theorists tried to explain higher levels of violent crime among South Americans and African Americans in terms of the subculture of violence.

Some theorists showed that the Southern subculture of violence has its roots in the excessive sense of ‘honor’ among Southern gentlemen.

The subculture of violence arose in the South due to the defeat at the hands of Northerners in the Civil War, the subsequent economic exploitation of Southern states by the North, etc.

These ideas have been transmitted from generation to generation in the South, though the original conditions that gave birth to the ideas had disappeared long ago.

Higher levels of violence have been found among African Americans, which has flourished on the basis of the “code of the street.”

According to Elijah Anderson, there is a high concentration of very poor African Americans in the inner cities of America. People of this area do not have a sufficient number of legitimate jobs but rather have an increasing scope to be involved in criminal activities.

Here, drugs and guns are available, crime and violence are frequent, welfare payments are declining, and people have little hope for the future. A feeling of isolation and alienation develops among the African Americans.

In these circumstances, they feel detached from the rest of the Americans. This feeling of total despair has generated the “code of the street,” and they have no faith in the criminal justice system.

Physical control of the immediate environment is extremely important for inner city residents, as at the core of the code of the street lies the struggle for existence and the issue of respect. “If someone disses (disrespects) you, you got to straighten them out.”

Being dissed (disrespected) by another person is a warning of a possible physical attack, so everyone is likely to be prepared to hit the first strike in return.

In the absence of sufficient adult supervision, children of ‘street’ families stay on the street until late at night. They socialize primarily with other children and largely grow up on the street.

In this environment, people of this area, from their very childhood, understand that they have to survive through continuous struggle, and they learn how to fight.

The constant dangerousness of the inner-city environment causes all the children to become physically tough and show nerves. Strong nerve is very important because it can save an individual from actual fighting.

In the code of the street, the point is to subtly communicate a predisposition to violence, a willingness, and an ability to create total chaos and mayhem in order to deter potential aggression.

This is done through clothing, jewelry, and personal grooming. Jackets, sneakers, gold chains, and even expensive firearms are not just fashion. They all are part of a look that is designed to prevent problems before they happen.”

In the code of street, “nerve” and “manhood” are very important, and manhood requires an individual to be physically ruthless with other people.

Physical strength earns respect for an individual in the inner city areas. Nerve means a lack of fear of death and a sense that death is preferable to being disrespected. The combination of strong ‘nerve’ and ‘manhood,’ therefore, constitutes an inevitable part of the code of the street.

Individuals who live in inner cities are blamed because they are said to be devoid of moral values. Anderson argues that instead of blaming them, their socio-economic reality— their joblessness, the historical legacy of slavery, and their alienation should be taken into consideration.

He points out that the attitude of the wider society has deep implications on the code of the street; at least a sense of rejection and contempt from mainstream society has been embedded into some of the most alienated and vulnerable children.

The attitude of the wider society and deprivation internalize a strong hatred among them towards conventional society. This, in turn, gives rise to the subculture of inner-city people.

Anderson concludes: A vicious cycle has been formed. The hopelessness and alienation many young inner-city black men and women feel, largely a result of endemic joblessness and persistent racism, fuels the violence they engage in.

This violence serves to confirm the negative feelings many whites and some middle-class blacks harbor toward the ghetto poor, further legitimating the oppositional culture and the code of the street in the eyes of many poor blacks.

Unless this cycle is broken, attitudes on both sides will become increasingly entrenched, and the violence, which claims black and white, poor and affluent, will only escalate.

Anderson, unlike Wolfgang and Ferracuti, correlates the code of the street to the socio-economic conditions that generate it.

The theory of Anderson is partly a cultural theory like that of Wolfgang and Ferracuti because it elaborates on how ideas influence external behavior, particularly criminal behavior, and is partly a structural theory like the strain theories, which describe how general social conditions impact behavior.

Anderson argues that ideas (like the code of street) as well as their causes (socio-economic conditions) must be addressed simultaneously.

Social Learning Theories

Maintaining Sutherland’s original view that criminal behavior is normally learned behavior, social learning theorists have updated the conception.

They started from Sutherland’s original cognitive formulation that only ideas are learned. They then adopted the view that both operant conditioning and social learning are very effective in direct learning of behavior.

Ronald Akers, in an article with Robert Burgess, rewrote the principles of differential association in terms of operant conditioning. Akers later updated this theory, which threw light on four major concepts. Akers considers differential association as the most important source of learning.

This means the nature of interactions one has with others. In the normal course of life, an individual interacts with different types of people who influence his/her behavior; most importantly, they are the source of definitions that are either favorable or unfavorable to violating the law.

Akers agrees with Sutherland that depending on “priority, duration, frequency, and intensity,” differential associations have varied impacts on the behavior of an individual.

But he emphatically said that the process includes not only the direct transmission of the definitions through interpersonal communication but also the indirect transmission, which takes place through more distant reference groups.

The definitions, in accordance with the view of Akers, signify the meanings which one attaches to his/her behavior.

Overall, religious, moral, or ethical values constitute the “general” definitions. Particular meanings that one attaches to his/her behavior are called “specific” definitions.

When any person is involved in any criminal activities, like smoking marijuana, robbery, theft, or killing, and tries to give some meaning to such activity with an intention to justify it, then it is called a specific definition favorable to violating the law.

Differential reinforcement indicates the actual or anticipated consequences of a given behavior of which people have real concern.

People are always anxious about the possible consequences of any particular activity. If any activity tends to result in punishments rather than rewards, they refrain from doing that activity. Finally, imitation depends on its possible consequences and utility.

Whether any behavior of any person will be imitated or not depends on the characteristics and behavior of the concerned person and the observed consequences of that behavior.

The learning of criminal behavior follows a specific sequence of events as proposed by Akers. “The sequence originates with the differential association of the individual with other individuals who have favorable definitions of criminal behavior, who model criminal behaviors for the person to imitate and who provide social reinforcements for those behaviors.

Thus, the initial participation of the individual in criminal behavior is explained primarily by differential association, definitions, imitation, and social reinforcements.

After the person has begun to commit criminal behaviors, differential reinforcements determine whether the behaviors are continued or not.

These include both social and nonsocial reinforcements in the form of the rewards and punishments directly experienced by the individual as a consequence of participating in the criminal behavior, and also the rewards and punishments the person experiences vicariously by observing the consequences that criminal behavior has for others.

Control Theories

If people are left to their own devices, control theorists assume they would tend to commit crimes. Control theorists, therefore, presuppose the existence of some social forces which restrain people from committing crimes.

If those forces break down or weaken, society will experience an increased rate of crimes. Control theories have great utility in explaining juvenile delinquency as well as adult criminality.

In 1951, Albert J. Reiss published an article in which he reviewed the official court records of 1,110 white male juvenile probationers, whose ages ranged from 11 to 17. He found that probation revocation was more likely when the juvenile had a weak ego or superego.

Reiss discussed the effects of “personal control’ and ‘social control’ on juvenile delinquency. Here, ‘personal control’ means the ability of a juvenile to control his/her intentions to fulfill his/her needs in socially unacceptable ways. A formulation similar to Freudian was utilized to assess individual control.

Here, conformity means an individual has accepted the social norms and values and indicates that the individual possesses a strong super ego.

The opposite of this denotes delinquency. ‘Social control,” on the other hand, means the ability of society to make its norms and rules effective. Conformity means the submission of individuals to social norms and values.

Reiss tried to correlate personal and social control to individual behavior and to use this formulation to predict juvenile delinquency.

He found social control to be an invalid predictor. He found a much better predictor in the personality analysis of psychiatrists.

In 1958, Ivan Nye published a study that outlined the importance of the family as the strongest agency of social control for children.

Most delinquent behavior, according to Nye, was the result of inadequate social control. Nye pondered over social control from a broader outlook, and it was the aggregate of internal and external control.

  • Social control subsumes almost all the individual and institutional controls, namely,
  • direct controls imposed by social restrictions and lawful punishments;
  • inner control of individuals, which is exercised through conscience and social values;
  • indirect control operates through the affectionate authority of parents and other respected persons and
  • sufficiency of lawful means to fulfill necessary demands.

Nye argued that if all the individual needs could be fulfilled sufficiently by legitimate means, the question of law violation would not come. He emphatically said that a minimum of internal, indirect, and direct control would suffice to secure the submission of individuals to social norms and values.

Matza on Delinquency and Drift

Traditional theories of crime, according to Matza, laid emphasis on constraints and differentiation. Those theories pictured delinquents as fundamentally different from normal individuals, and the differences compelled them to commit crimes.

Some theories asserted that the causes of criminality were inherent in the differences between physiology and psychology and that the compulsion to commit a crime came from biological or psychological elements.

Some theories told that the differences were social, and the constraints took the form of commitment to delinquent values.

Matza argued that traditional theories overlooked two major points:

  1. If one went through the theories, s/he would develop an idea that delinquents would always be committing crimes, but that was not the reality because most of the time delinquents behaved like law-abiding citizens;
  2. The delinquents settled down to law-abiding lives when they reached late adolescence, but the traditional theories did not account for it.

Matza’s theory of drift, in contrast to the traditional theories, subsumes free will and individual choice. Because of drift, individuals situated between law-abiding and delinquent behaviors never fully committed to either type of behavior.

Delinquents do not fully deny the values of the larger society but “neutralize” them in a wide variety of circumstances and try to justify their criminal activities with reference to extenuating circumstances.

This self-justification causes them to think guiltless, and this sense of irresponsibility makes delinquent drift possible. Matza argues that delinquents do not internalize any particular type of norms; rather, they learn delinquent behavior, justify it, and subscribe to, at the same time, many of the conventional middle-class values.

Matza and Sykes have listed five justifications or excuses that delinquents may use to explain or neutralize criminal acts:

  • Delinquents may deny their responsibility by claiming that the delinquent act was the consequence of some extenuating circumstance, such as an accident, parental negligence, poverty, broken home, bad company, etc. Not only do juveniles try to justify their delinquent activities with reference to these excuses, but white-collar and corporate criminals also use these excuses in favor of their criminal activities.
  • The criminal may tend to rationalize the criminal activity by claiming that no physical or financial harm was caused. If items are stolen from a moneyed man or big shops, it may be argued that they can afford the loss or that the insurance company will compensate the loss. The same person who stole the item may consider taking away anything from his fellow individual as illegal. Its perpetrators do not consider a different set of delinquent activities as delinquent. Those perpetrators may be law-abiding but consider their particular delinquent activity justified.
  • Criminals may assert that the victim deserved the injury and s/he was not the true victim. This type of excuse is frequent when the victim is a criminal or the victim starts the problem and receives the consequence. In sex crimes, this type of excuse is extensively used: “She was asking for it because of the way she was dressed.”
  • A criminal may justify his/her delinquent activity by saying that everyone is a potential criminal and has at some time committed a criminal act, so there is none to put stigmata on him/her.
  • When the group within which one has to stay asks to commit delinquency, that is justified.

These justifications partly pinpoint Matza’s proposition that an individual has larger freedom to choose delinquent behavior, though many factors influence free will. The group subculture or gang may promote delinquent behavior.

But it does not make any compulsion. To Matza, an individual has a greater freedom to decide whether to commit a criminal act.