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There are two sets of theories that offer explanations for violent crime. Although these

sets of theories have similarities in their explanations, they come from different

perspectives. I will be discussing the social organization theories as well as the social

process theories. I will not go through the sub theories that I feel are not relevant. I will

merely stick to the ones that I feel apply most to violent crime for causation or

explanation. I will compare them and ultimately decide which one offers the better

explanation for violent crime.

Several theories fall under social organization theory. The first is the social

disorganization theory. This theory is defined as any disruption, disturbance, conflict, or

lack of consensus within a social group or society which affects established social habits

of behavior, social institutions, or social control so as to make relatively harmonious

functioning impossible without some significant intermediate adjustments. (Elliot

1967:280-81)

Shaw and McKay (1942) put a different spin on this theory by saying that weak

community controls lead to geographic areas with high crime and delinquency. They

believed that people are not inherently deviant or delinquent, but the area is. Their studies

show that areas of high crime stayed high crime areas regardless of who moved in or out

of the area. Changing the people did not change the crime or delinquency; it had already

been embedded into the area. They went further to say that the residents of these areas

were often exposed to conflicting values and norms. For example, it is a case of anything

goes as long as you can get away with it. People often use the phrase “crime doesn’t pay,”

but in some cases it does. Kids in these areas watch their friends and even their family

members use crime as a way to get what they want or need. Someone may tell these kids
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that they should obey the law no matter what their friends and family do, but the society

around them is giving them an education in dishonesty and unlawfulness. Shaw and

McKay make a good argument for their case that the problems lay in the areas in which

the people live, and not in the people themselves. (Shaw and McKay 1972:172)

This theory can offer an explanation of any crime, including violent crime.

Sampson and Groves (1989) redefined social disorganization. They added the belief

that informal control, formal control, and collective supervision related to troublesome

concerns in the community could help reduce crime. The informal controls consist of a

person’s family or friends. This is his personal network of control. The formal controls

are religious or civic groups, and the collective supervision could be a youth group. They

also believed that social order could be regained by programs like community policing.

This theory is valid in my opinion because I believe fully that every individual values, in

some way, the opinions or beliefs of the people he respects. This could be any number of

people, and if he had a bad family, he could fall into the formal control, or vice versa. I

do believe also that this could be a good explanation for violent crime, since a person

who lacks these controls would be left to his own devices and without a strong set of core

values of his own, could easily turn to crime of a violent nature.

All social organization theories blame social environment for behavior in some way.

They argue that a person’s environment can cause him to be prone to violence. In

subculture theories, like reaction formation, it is shown that some people might

misbehave for status. Miller’s lower class hypothesis states that the lower class people

often have a different set of norms and rules than their middle or upper class counterparts.

The subculture of violence explains that members of very definable groups commit the
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majority of violent crime. Here we see members of groups who endorse violence as a

way to settle problems or disputes, or to turn a wrong into a right. These groups are found

primarily in ethnic and racial minority groups, or in the lower class.

It has been stated many times that it takes a village to raise a child. According to social

organization, this is true. If a child or teenager lives in a high crime area, he is likely to

have role models who are criminals or even family members and close friends who are

criminals. All of these theories show us how a person can become involved in behavior

that is criminal and that may lead to violent crime. Overall, the social organization

theories show us how your environment can mold you into a violent criminal.

Social process theories show us that behavior is learned or influenced by other

people. Social learning theory states that all behavior is learned through the process of

operant conditioning. Some behavior is reinforced while some behavior is put to rest.

This is achieved through reward and punishment. Social control says that all people

would engage in self-serving behavior if left without social control. This particular theory

seems to me to relate so much to (Sampson and Groves) the redefined social

disorganization theory. The norms of society tend to keep mainstream people “in check.”

Social control goes further to say that often the kids who don’t have a bright future are

more likely to misbehave since they risk nothing but punishment.

Although both sets of theories offer valid arguments for causes and explanations of

violent crime, I believe that social process theories are more honest. My reason for this

opinion is that social process offers the self-control theory. This theory brings biological

and psychological factors into play. It raises the assumption that each person is

responsible for his own behavior. This self-control theory (Gottfredson and Hirschi) gives
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us a profile, if you will, for people who are more likely to commit a violent crime. These

people look for immediate gratification and simplicity in everything that they do. Also,

they are prone to anger and do not conform to the norms of society. All their behavior is

self-serving so that they can avoid pain while gaining pleasure. These people will not

consider the feelings of others and do not have the ability to feel another person’s pain.

They lack compassion and understanding. Gottfredson and Hirschi gave us studies

showing that these individuals cause many of the social problems we have today,

including violent crime.

Although I see valid points in both sets of theories, I do believe that social process

does offer the best explanation for violent crime. I see the social organization theories

weakened every day when many of the “ghetto” kids go out and make something of

themselves, or even remain poor by earning a meager but honest living for themselves. I

do believe that society plays a part in who kids become as adults, but I believe more that

some individuals would still turn to crime no matter where they grew up. In my opinion,

every individual has a force inside that steers him in a certain direction, and even if he

takes a wrong turn, he will see the error of his ways and get back on his correct path. Isn’t

that the exact reason that they seal juvenile records? Young people often get on the wrong

path due to influences in their lives, but it is what’s inside them that decides if they

become a good person or a violent criminal.