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Theoretically, could anyone become a criminal? Discuss Essay Example

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Theoretically, could anyone become a criminal?


A lot of research has been done to establish the reasons why people indulge in criminal activities. Most of these studies are conducted in a bid to find mechanisms of averting or reducing the rising trends of crime. However, with much focus centred into finding a solution to this menace, a critical question arises as to whether anybody could actually become a criminal. The focus of this paper is to critically examine the available evidence with regard to this subject and clearly explore into detail the possibilities for this to happen. Many theories have been developed to try and explain the causes of criminal behaviour and therefore will provide useful insights into to this subject.

Rational Choice Theory

One of the theories used to explain criminal behaviour is the rational choice theory which states that people are more likely to commit a crime if after weighing their options they see limited chances of being discovered or caught. In this case, an individual is driven by self interest in order to personally benefit. In addition, the individuals planning to commit a crime have clearly outlined goals of how they are going to execute the criminal activity and have furnished themselves with adequate information of all the alternative methods available to use in order to achieve these goals (Samaha, 2006). A lot of decision making is involved in weighing the options available before embarking on the mission. For example, in the case of robbery, an individual can analyse their options whether to rob an ordinary shop, bank or simply mug an individual walking in the street. Based on this theory, the person intending to commit a crime can choose any of these places depending on whether he or she sees a lesser chance of being caught or discovered (Cote, 2002).

By critically analyzing the argument presented by this theory, we see that it places a higher degree of probability for any individual to commit a crime if they perceived themselves to be safe from being apprehended or discovered. This means that any individual could easily walk into a bank or a convenient store and steal if there was no security or anybody around. This theory seems to advocate that the deterring factor for occurrence of any crime is the possibility of punishment otherwise any individual would be willing to commit a crime in order to meet their own self interest. In my view, the theory presents a compelling argument to the effect that any individual is prone to committing a particular crime depending on their assessment of being caught and punished. However, it must be noted that, there are individuals who are driven by their own moral standings and therefore will not be persuaded to commit a crime simply because the chances of being caught and punished are non-existent. For example, those individuals who are driven by their religious persuasions may not be easily lured in to committing criminal activities suggested by this theory. Therefore, this theory fails to provide supporting evidence for such cases (Samaha, 2006; Cote, 2002).

Social Disorganization Theory

Another theory that would help to provide us with more insight with regard to this topic is the Social disorganization theory which explains that the drive towards crime is catalyzed by an individual’s social and personal environment which will influence the choices he or she will take with regard to indulgence in crime. If an individual lives in a neighbourhood with little or wanting social infrastructure and high rates of unemployment, they are more likely to fall into criminal activity. The drive to commit a crime is fuelled by the deplorable state of affairs in the society and therefore the individual is indulging in criminal activities in order to meet his needs since there are limited resources and infrastructure to make ends meet through legal means. It further attributes criminal activities to lack of communal environments such as family, church, schools or local governments which play a vital role in advocating for cooperative relationships between people living in a given setting. Therefore the outbreak of criminal behaviour is as a result of a breakdown in these cooperative relationships among people (Vito et al, 2007; Briggs & Friedman, 2009).

This theory makes a strong case in trying to explain the factors that contribute to criminal activity. It is true that majority of the criminal activities originate from areas with limited social facilities. As a result of the scarce and deplorable state of the social infrastructure such as schools, the individuals in such localities have limited access to venues of personal, economic and social development. In addition, if they are attracted to a better life style they are likely to commit a crime in order to economically empower themselves towards that direction. According to this theory, the reason for committing the crime is aroused by the deplorable state of affairs around them. This means that, in different situations with adequate social infrastructure the drive to commit a crime would not exist in such an environment (Vito et al, 2007; Briggs & Friedman, 2009).Therefore, it is true to argue that not every individual can commit a crime since our personal, social and economic status and environments are different. For, example, the person living his dream life and has found enough satisfaction in life cannot be induced in to any criminal activity. In addition, majority of criminal activities have a direct link with a strong desire for economic empowerment therefore an individual how has already achieved economically may not be easily enticed to commit a crime. However, it must also be stated that, there are other crimes which do not have an economic bearing therefore this theory does not adequately address the causes of such crimes. However, it succeeds in denting the notion that any individual is prone to committing a crime people (Vito et al, 2007; Briggs & Friedman, 2009).

Strain Theory

Strain theory is another theory that attempts to explain the causes of criminal activities. The theory argues that crime results from an individual’s determination to achieve personal and social expectations if their effort to achieve this through the socially approved means fails. It outlines crime as a secondary means of achieving ones goals when the primary means fails to materialize. According to this theory, criminals try to meet their delayed gratification by committing a crime since they see this as their only chance to finally achieve their goal in life. The theory further articulates that the great emphasis placed on material wealth and success yet with minimal and unequal channels in society to achieve this end is a principal cause for crime. In addition, the theory also identifies stress and frustration as possible contributors to criminal activities in individuals. The theory argues that those individuals who are unable to control and cope with high degrees of stress and frustrations are more likely to commit a crime (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2010; Cote, 2002; Cordella & Siegel, 1996).

By critically analyzing this theory we are able to see that it also provides a compelling picture into the social aspects that contribute to criminal behaviour in individuals. The drive to achieve certain goals and amass wealth for personal gratification is a key pointer to this. For example, the drive to attain the ‘dream life’ by individuals can easily entice some individuals to criminal activity in order to attain this goal. However, from this theory we are able to see that not all individuals are expected to follow the path of crime if their primary means fails to land them within their set goals. The theory articulates that only the individuals who are incapable of coping with stress or frustrations are likely to take the path of crime in order to achieve their goals (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2010). This is a valid explanation since not all individuals who are poor, stressed or frustrated have resulted to criminal activities to vent out their disappointments or meet their goals in life. Therefore, it is true to say, based on the submissions made by this theory, that any individual cannot naturally become a criminal. The drive to criminal activities therefore depends on an individual’s capacity to handle stress and frustrations arising from failures to achieve set goals in life. The individuals who are able to withstand, cope and manage failure in life are more unlikely to indulge in criminal activities (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2010; Cote, 2002; Cordella & Siegel, 1996).


Although, there are various factors that drive individuals to commit crimes, there is no supporting evidence that if all these factors existed across the board that all individuals will be capable of committing a crime. It has been clearly pointed out that the desire to commit a crime is primarily fuelled by an individual’s desire to find personal gratification through secondary means (Tibbetts & Hemmens, 2010). However, though this desire to find gratification in life exists in every individual, it must be noted that not all individuals will take the same route to find gratification. It is also important to note that the source for personal gratification is not the same for every individual therefore the likelihood of committing a crime is not central to all. For example, there are individuals who find personal gratification in religion and therefore are least likely to commit a crime to find gratification. In addition, we could also argue that, all poor and disadvantaged people will at one point commit a crime in order to raise their economic standing. However, this is not a true reflection and therefore based on the argument presented by the above theories, it is safe to conclude that not anybody can become a criminal. It is also important to note that there are crimes committed outside the drive for personal and social gratifications and therefore since the nature and the drive to commit a crime is not the same for all individuals it would be misguided to argue that all individuals are prone to committing criminal activities (Cordella & Siegel, 1996).


Briggs, S. & Friedman, J. (2009). Criminology for Dummies. Indiana: Wiley

Cordella, P. & Siegel,L. (1996). Readings in contemporary criminological theory. New York:

Northeastern University Press.

Cote, S. (2002). Criminological theories: bridging the past to the future. California: Sage Publications.

Samaha, J. (2006). Criminal justice. New York: Thomson wadsorth.

Tibbetts, S. & Hemmens, C. (2010). Criminological Theory: A Text/Reader. California: Sage

Vito,G,, Maahs,J. & Holmes,R. (2007). Criminology: theory, research, and policy. Ontario: Jones and Bartlett.