Criminal Justice Theory: An Introduction

By Roger Hopkins Burke | Go to book overview

2 Explaining crime and
criminal behaviour

The previous chapter discussed four models which have each sought to explain the development of criminal justice in the modern era and in whose interest its various agencies operate. This chapter considers the various different ways in which crime and criminal behaviour has been variously explained during the modern period and it is divided into four sections. The first three sections consider a different model – or tradition – which has been developed during the modern era to explain crime and criminal behaviour.1 Different explanations, or theories, can generally be located in terms of one of these models and in this chapter these are introduced chronologically in order of their emergence and development within the context of their particular model of criminal behaviour. The fourth section considers more recent attempts to integrate theories both within the different models and across model boundaries with the purpose of developing a more rigorous explanatory tool. We start by considering the rational actor model of crime and criminal behaviour.


The rational actor model

The rational actor model of crime and criminal behaviour can be broadly conceptualised in the context of the social progress model of criminal justice development and central to this tradition is the notion that people have free will and make the choice to commit crime in very much the same way as they choose to indulge in any other form of behaviour. Its emergence in the late eighteenth century was heavily influenced by the social contract theories and utilitarianism we encountered in the previous chapter and which had provided the basis of modernist political thought.

It is the ideas of the Classical School of Criminology or Criminal Justice associated with Cesare Beccaria in Italy and Jeremy Bentham in England that provide the central theoretical foundations of the rational actor tradition and, from this perspective, it is argued that people are rational creatures who seek pleasure while trying to avoid pain. Consequently, the level of punishment inflicted on them must outweigh any pleasure that might be derived from a criminal act in order to deter them from committing further transgressions. Thus, the punishment meted out to the individual should be proportionate to the crime committed and all

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Criminal Justice Theory: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Criminal Justice Theory i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • 1- Introduction - Modernity and Criminal Justice 1
  • 2- Explaining Crime and Criminal Behaviour 29
  • 3- The Philosophy of Law and Legal Ethics 58
  • 4- Policing Modern Society 84
  • 5- The Legal Process in Modern Society 111
  • 6- Punishment in Modern Society 144
  • 7- Youth Justice in Modern Society 172
  • 8- Conclusions - The Future of Criminal Justice 194
  • Notes 215
  • References 222
  • Author Index 249
  • Subject Index 256
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