The causes of crime are usually physical abnormalities, psychological disorders, social and economic factors, broken windows, income and education. By the twenty-first century criminologists looked to a wide range of factors to explain why a person would commit crimes. These included biological, psychological, social, and economic factors. Usually a combination of these factors is behind a person who commits a crime. Reasons for committing a crime include greed, anger, jealously, revenge, or pride.
Criminologists focused on the physical characteristics and sanity of an individual. They believed it was "predetermined" or that people had no control over whether they would lead a life of crime. For example, criminologists believed people with smaller heads, sloping foreheads, large jaws and ears, and certain heights and weights had a greater chance to be criminals.
As late as the 1950s researchers continued to investigate the relationship of body types to crime. Aside from biological traits indicating a natural tendency toward criminal activity by some individuals, Lombroso and other early twentieth century researchers also reasoned that criminal behavior could be a direct result of psychological disorders. They believed these mental disorders could be diagnosed and possibly cured. If this was true, then criminal activity could be considered a disease and the offender could be "cured" through psychiatric treatment.
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In addition to studying the biological and psychological causes of criminal behavior, others looked toward society in general for possible causes. In the early 1900s researchers believed social changes occurring in the United States, such as an industrial economy replacing the earlier agricultural economy and the growth of cities, as well as the steady flow of immigrants from eastern Europe affected crime levels.
In the 1990s a new idea spread through the criminal justice field concerning the influence of a person's social environment on crime rates. The idea was that general disorder in the neighborhood leads to increased antisocial behavior and eventually to serious crime. For most of the twentieth century, police primarily reacted to serious crimes such as rape, murder, and robbery often with little overall success in curbing crime rates. So, the thinking went, if authorities eliminated disorder, then serious crimes would drop. Disorder creates fear among citizens of unsafe streets; they avoid public areas allowing criminals to gain a foothold. The neighborhood goes into a downward spiral because as crime increases, then disorder increases further.
Another theory from 1930s criminologists was that unemployment could be a major cause of crime. Society teaches that persistence and hard work lead to personal financial rewards; however, educational opportunities are often limited to those who can afford to attend college. People who do not receive higher education or college degrees are often forced to take lower paying jobs. Some attempt to achieve material success through illegal means; in this sense social forces can lead a person into crime. The belief that education plays an enormous role in deterring crime led to educational programs and job training in prisons. Education and job training not only provide a way to find a job and make a legal living, but potentially places the person into a better social environment once he or she is back in society. Criminologists believe a good job creates social and personal attachments to a person's community that in turn influence whether or not to commit a crime. A person is less likely to commit a crime, even if there will be substantial rewards, if he or she is tied to the community and is respected by its members.
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