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Causes of Crime

Explaining Crime

Modern criminology began in Europe and America in the late eighteenth century. During this time people began to accept scientific explanations for occurrences in the world around them and rule out supernatural influences. People increasingly believed individuals had control over their own actions. The idea that people were driven by reason and influenced by their social environment began to dominate explanations about why people behaved the way they did. Naturally, such ideas changed how people thought about criminal behavior as well.

The belief that individuals could be rehabilitated or treated gained more acceptance since crime involved weaknesses in the individual and not mysterious supernatural forces. In addition, special treatment was given to children, the insane, and the mentally disabled in the judicial system since they were less capable of understanding right and wrong.

Explanations about how people became criminals varied for the next two centuries. In the nineteenth century it was believed that people with certain physical abnormalities, insanity, or the excessively poor were considered more likely to be criminals. Late in the twentieth century other factors such as peer pressure, substance abuse, family or school problems, lack of money, and body chemistry figured into the mix.

Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso believed that some people were simply born criminals. (The Library of Congress)

Throughout time various explanations for criminal behavior fell into two basic categories—individual abnormalities, both physical and psychological; and social environment, which included financial matters, such as whether a person was rich, poor, or in between.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCauses of Crime - Explaining Crime, Physical Abnormalities, Psychological Disorders, Social And Economic Factors, Broken Windows, Income And Education