Crime and Punishment Crime and Punishment

Punishment has been a part of law enforcement. These punishments vary
from mild ones such as community service to extremely punitive ones such
as the death penalty. Experts are divided as to the effectiveness of
punitive measures in law enforcement. Several research activities have
been conducted to this effect and the finding as vary based on gender,
age, social class and experiences. There are three main social theories
that explain the effectiveness of punishments or lack of it. These are
social learning theory, self-control theory and strain theory. These
theories explain the causes of crime, and these are what determine the
effectiveness of punishment. This paper shall discuss these theories in
According to the social learning theory of crime, people engage in
crime based on the company they keep. It holds that crime is a learned
behavior and thus, it should be tackled by deterring association with
the wrong company. It holds that crime is a socialization process just
like any behavior and thus, everyone has a potential to become a
criminal. Through socialization, a person learns attitudes that are
favorable towards crime (Valier, 2002). A person learns to justify
crime, and this reinforces criminal behavior. Thus, the best way to
tackle a criminal according to this theory is to dissocialize the person
and teach him or her favorable social factors. Thus, criminals should
not be punished. Thus, criminals should be taught on the negative
effects of crime and its lack of social desirability. This deters crime
by teaching criminals the negatives of crime.
The strain theory holds that crime is propelled by societal
expectations of society and its definition of success. According to this
theory, society has different definitions of success. While success is
clear, the means of achieving this success are not accessible to
everyone. Thus, disconnect between success and the means of achieving
this success cause a strain on individuals. These individuals then turn
to crime to try and achieve success as defined by society (Brooks,
2012). Thus, disconnect between social structures and societal
expectations are what lead people to engage in crime. Thus, according to
this theory, the best way to tackle crime is to change social structures
to enable everyone achieve success legally, or change society’s
definition of success. Punishment does not deter crime because it does
not solve the underlying problem.
The self control theory holds that crime is as a result of poor
parenting. The theory notes that individuals who lack self-control are
those who lack self control due to poor parenting, especially by the
time a person reaches the age of ten years. Thus, crime is an impulsive
behavior and criminals are people who lack the ability to determine the
consequences of their actions. The theory relates to Freud’s pleasure-
principle and reality- principal. An individual who engages in crime is
inclined towards pleasure instead of reality. Thus, the individuals are
more inclined to make decisions based pleasure and not reality (Brooks,
2012). Thus, according to psychologists, crime should be controlled
through counseling and different socialization. This is because
punishments do not train individuals to control their urges and
impulsiveness. Punishments only control the individual’s ability to
exercise self- control for a short period.
According to the above analysis, the sheriff was more punitive because
the sheriff had constant contact with the locals. Thus, the sheriff was
always aware of crimes and acts that contravened the law. The aim of the
sheriff was to deter crime through strong punitive measures. Based on
the statistics, the social learning theory best explains the prevalence
crime in the area. This is because the rate of crime was higher at
certain ages than others. The male gender also tended to commit crime
more often that the females. This shows peer influence in the area,
which created high crime rates at certain ages and for certain genders.
In conclusion, punishments are not effective in controlling crime.
Punishments only tackle the problem and not the underlying problem.
Effective punishments should incorporate behavior change based on
different socialization (Valier, 2002). This is because punishments
alone do not tackle the problem that leads to criminal behavior. Thus,
punishments do not always lead to behavior change if the underlying
problem is not tackled. An emphasis should also be put on preventive
measures through the strain theory of crime, self- control theory of
crime and social learning theory of crime.
Valier, C. (2002). Theories of Crime and Punishment. London: Longman
Brooks, T. (2012). Punishment. New York: Routledge.