Theories of Criminal Behavior and Rehabilitation Overview
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Theories of Criminal Behavior and Rehabilitation Overview

The video for this presentation is available on our Youtube channel: A continuing education course for this presentation can be found at

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Examines theories that attempt to explain the motivation for criminal behavior in order to help reduce recidivism and relapse among people with and without addictions in the criminal justice system

Theories of Criminal Behavior and Rehabilitation Overview

  1. 1. Theories of Criminal Behavior An Overview Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes Executive Director,
  2. 2. Psychological Theories (?) of Crime  Cognitive theory suggests that an individual’s perception and how it is manifested (Jacoby, 2004) affect his or her potential to commit crime.  Good or Bad Attributions of Self and Society  Stable or changeable  Internal or external  Global or specific  Definitions: Firmly held concepts that may make a behavior or outcome rewarding or punishing
  3. 3. Psychological Theories of Crime  The antisocial personality is characterized by  Low levels of guilt, shallow emotions, lack of empathy  Superficial charm  Above-average intelligence  Persistent violations of the rights of others  An inability to form enduring relationships  Impulsivity  Risk taking  Egocentricity  Manipulativeness
  4. 4. Psychological Theories of Crime  Neurotransmitters  Norepinephrine, which is associated with the body’s fight-or-flight response  Dopamine, which plays a role in thinking and learning, motivation, sleep, attention, and feelings of pleasure and reward  Serotonin, which impacts many functions, such as sleep, sex drive, anger, aggression, appetite, and metabolism
  5. 5. Critical Theory  The elite of the society, decide laws and the definition of crime  Those who commit crimes disagree with the laws that were created to keep control of them.  Crime is a product of oppression of workers and less advantaged groups within society, i.e. lower socioeconomic status, sexism and racism.
  6. 6. Conflict Theory  Crime results from the conflicts among the different social classes  Laws arise from necessity as a result of conflict, rather than a general consensus. (Drug laws)  The fundamental causes of crime are the social and economic forces operating within society.  The criminal justice system operates on behalf of rich and powerful social elites, with resulting policies aimed at controlling the poor.  The criminal justice establishment aims at imposing standards of morality and good behavior created by the powerful on the whole of society.
  7. 7. Conflict Theory  Focus is on separating the powerful from the have-nots protecting themselves from crime.  In the process, the legal rights of the poor are ignored.  The middle class are also co-opted, siding with the elites rather the poor, thinking they might themselves rise to the top by supporting the status quo.  Example: Street crimes are routinely punished quite severely, while large scale financial and business crimes are treated much more leniently. Theft of a car might receive a longer sentence than stealing through illegal business practices.
  8. 8. Deterrence and Rational Choice Theory  Behavior, is NOT determined by biological, psychological, or environmental factors acting on the person, compelling him or her to commit crimes (Cornish & Clarke, 1986; Kubrin et al., 2009).  People voluntarily, willfully choose to commit criminal acts  When people are thinking about committing a crime, they consider the related costs and benefits (McCarthy, 2002).  There are costs and benefits of not committing crime, and this theory presumes that, before making a decision, people consider the costs and benefits of non-crime as well.
  9. 9. Labeling Theory  Labeling is an intrinsic feature of all human interaction.  A complete picture of crime or deviance can be attained by examining • Offenders and their characteristics • Societal reactions to incidents of rule-breaking  A person labeled as a deviant may accept that deviant label by coming to view himself or herself as a deviant (i.e., internalizing the label) and then engage in further behavior that is both consistent with the label and the way in which the label was applied.  Ex: Good Girl/Boy Phenomenon
  10. 10. Labeling Theory  This creates additional deviance and criminality because of the application of a deviant label • once an addict always an addict • once an offender, always an offender  According to the labeling perspective, a person will generally behave in a manner that is consistent with the way in which that person believes others view him or her.  Cooley (1926) referred to this process as the looking-glass self, which is a reference to the socially shaped self.
  11. 11. Psychological Theories (?) of Crime  Psychodynamic theory is centered on the notion that an individual’s early childhood experience influences his or her likelihood for committing future crimes.  Crime  Drugs  The second is behavioral theory to include behavior modeling and social learning.  Crime  Drugs
  12. 12. Self-Control Theory  At the heart of criminal events and criminals was one stable construct: low self-control.  Self-control is “the tendency of people to avoid criminal acts whatever the circumstances in which they find themselves” Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990)  Low self-control is a lack of that tendency.  Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) believed low self-control explained criminal acts and behavior across time, gender, ethnicity, and crime types.
  13. 13. Self-Control Theory  Individuals with low self-control are characterized as  Impulsive  Here-and-now orientation  Indifferent, and insensitive.  “Risk-taking, short-sighted, and nonverbal”  Lack diligence, tenacity, and persistence  Self-centered  Have unstable relationships and professional lives.
  14. 14. Self-Control Theory  Individuals with low self-control are characterized as  Having minimal tolerance for frustration, responding to conflict physically rather than verbally  Not possessing or valuing verbal, academic, cognitive skills.  Gottfredson and Hirschi believe that a child with low self- control is the product of “ineffective childrearing” (p. 97).  Consistent supervision and discipline, coupled with affection, results in the proper development of self-control.
  15. 15. Self-Control Theory  Socialization can be impeded by parents who  May not feel affection toward their children  Lack the time or energy to devote to supervision  May not see problem behavior for what it is  Are reluctant to discipline children despite witnessing and understanding the child’s behavior  Engage in behavior indicative of low self-control themselves.
  16. 16. Social Control Theory  Most people would commit crime if not for the controls that society places on individuals through institutions such as schools, workplaces, churches, and families.  It is society’s responsibility to:  maintain a certain degree of stability in an individual’s life  make the rules and responsibilities clear  create other activities to thwart criminal activity.
  17. 17. Social Control Theory  The effects of poverty such as not having enough food to eat or children being left alone at home while their parents work plant the seeds for crime  It is society’s obligation to prevent crime by giving children alternative activities and full bellies
  18. 18. Social Learning TheoryCriminal behavior is learned according to the principles of operant conditioning  Anticipated, observed and/or experienced rewards and punishments affect the probability that an individual will participate in a behavior and repeat it  Behavior is learned both in social and nonsocial situations that are reinforcing, punishing or discriminative  The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs in those groups which comprise the individual’s major source of reinforcements (Bronfenbrenner's Micro and Macro systems)
  19. 19. Social Learning Theory  The learning of behavior, including specific techniques, attitudes, and avoidance procedures, is a function of the effective and available reinforcers, and the existing reinforcement contingencies  Criminal behavior is a function of norms which are discriminative/rewarding for criminal behavior  The strength of criminal behavior is a direct function of the amount, frequency, and probability of its reinforcement
  20. 20. Strain Theories  Behavior strain occurs when the reward for prosocial behavior is less than the rewards for criminal/antisocial behavior.  Most people have similar aspirations, but they don’t all have the same opportunities or abilities.  When people fail to achieve society’s expectations through approved means such as hard work and delayed gratification, they may attempt to achieve success through crime.
  21. 21. Summary  Reducing relapse/recidivism requires both the clinician and the client to understand the benefits and drawbacks to prosocial and criminal behavior.  Some of these “benefits” may come in the form of achieving firmly held beliefs and definitions about concepts such as “success,” “loyalty,” and “being a man”  Most theories of criminal behavior boil down making the more rewarding choice.  Part of reducing recidivism means making the criminal behaviors less rewarding to the person
  22. 22. Summary  Part of the rehabilitation process may involve  Examining definitions using the FRAMES approach  (Feedback, Responsibility, Advice, Menu of Options, Empathy)  Developing communication, coping, life and occupational skills  Ensuring frequent rewards (that are rewarding to the client) for small achievements  Exploring societal interventions to make prosocial choices more rewarding  Bonded workers  Housing (contingency enforced)
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The video for this presentation is available on our Youtube channel: A continuing education course for this presentation can be found at Unlimited Counseling CEUs for $59 Specialty Certificate tracks (including criminal justice counseling professional) starting at $89 Live Webinars $5/hour Instagram: AllCEUs Pinterest: drsnipes Examines theories that attempt to explain the motivation for criminal behavior in order to help reduce recidivism and relapse among people with and without addictions in the criminal justice system


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