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Introduction to Crime and Punishment

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 953 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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Theories were developed to help to explain and understand certain events, behaviors and/or situations. Over the years, sociologists have created these theories in hopes of explaining why things happen in society. For instance, social conflict theories try to explain why society creates conflict due to inequalities that are present in everyday life. In Karl Marx and Engels, economic determinism, economic activity shapes and defines all political, cultural, social and technological aspects of society. It proposes that laws and norms are made in the interest of powerful members of society. This conflict theory proposes three propositions. The first proposition explains that the more inequality the more conflict. The second explains that those who receive less needed resources question the legitimacy of social order, and the third proposition says that those who are getting fewer resources will organize and expose conflict to the public. Marx and Engel saw that unjust exploitation of one social class and social solidarity could be regained if we overthrown capitalism.

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In the interactional theory, developed by Terrence Thornberry, suggests that delinquent behavior is a result of a relationship between an individual, peer groups, social structures, weakened bonds and learning environment. This theory is broken into three different stages in a life course. The first stage is delinquent behaviors are developed during childhood, primarily because of a dysfunctional family, school failure and association with delinquent peers. The second stage is during mid-adolescence where they are no longer influenced by family, but their peers. The third stage is during adulthood where their delinquent behaviors are shaped by their place in society and his or her own family.

According to Durkheim, Punishment is an expression of social solidarity. He believed that punishment serves positive functions in society. There are three parties that help enact punishment. The “controller” is the person that administers the act, the “controlled” is the person being punished, the one who committed the crime, and the “onlookers” which is the general public. Durkheim saw punishment as a moral education. Punishment is an essential part of moral order in society and it helps limit the spread of deviance and disobedience.

The two theories that I found interesting were Marx and Engel’s economic determinism and Durkheim’s punishment as a moral education. I agree with Marx’s idea of the inequality of power in society and how it influences deviant behavior among people who can’t get the resources that they need in society. When an individual seem to not have the resources, they go about getting it another way. This relates back to Robert Merton’s strain theory that focused on the emphasis of the American Dream. Those who can’t obtain it, find other ways, such as stealing or selling drugs. The conflict theory explains that inequality causes more conflict. Those who receive less needed resources would organize and come forth to open it up to the public. Capitalism is considered the root of conflict because it is taken to be the source of unjust inequality. I agree that we should overthrow capitalism and form a just social solidarity, like communism, as Marx and Engel suggests. This way everyone is on the same level of social class and has the opportunity of receiving the same resources needed in society.

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In Durkheim’s, punishment as a moral education, I agree that punishment is essential for social order. For most children, when they are born they are taught morally right from wrong, such things like, stealing, lying or fighting. This is reinforced with punishment that can range from “time-outs” to physical beatings. As a result it ensures that whenever the child has an urge to do something wrong, they know the consequences. Personally, for as long as I can remember I have always been reprimanded by my parents whenever I did something I knew I wasn’t suppose to. So as a result at any time I felt like misbehaving I would avoid it so that I wouldn’t get punished for it. The same idea relates to when an individual thinks about committing a crime, they know that punishment will be a result of that.

Like many other theories they aren’t concrete. They are developed to make sense of why and how certain things happen in society, but there are some criticisms that can be made about them. Durkheim says that punishment is a positive function in society. It reinforces social solidarity and strengthen common values. Although I agree, I question whether he believes punishment of criminals has more of a positive function than reforming criminals? I do believe that some criminals deserve to punished for their actions, but I also believe that developing systems or policies where we can help an individual, that has committed crime, become a better person in society. There are circumstances where an individual had to commit a crime not because they wanted to but because they had to. For instance, a mother that is struggling to make ends meet for herself and her family, steals food from the grocery store because she has no money. In a technical sense she has committed a crime of stealing, but I’m sure if she had the money she wouldn’t steal. Instead of punishing her by putting her into a correctional institution, why not help her find a job where she can have steady income. This way she is able to provide for her family and we don’t have to separate her from her kids.


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