Thinking Critically About Crime

Thinking Critically About Crime

The classic definition of crime was developed by Edwin Sutherland and states that “Criminology is the study of the making of laws, breaking of laws, and society's reaction to the breaking of laws.” Each element of this definition is explained. Criminology is an interdisciplinary field, as it draws upon a wide variety of other academic disciplines. It emerged from sociology because social scientists wanted to understand the social problem of crime. Criminal justice has emerged from criminology because practitioners want to understand the social mechanisms developed for dealing with crime. However, the two fields overlap significantly.

There are a wide variety of criminological theories that focus on understanding why offenders behave as they do. By improving our understanding of antisocial behavior, theories help improve criminal justice response, offender rehabilitation, treatment programs, and victim assistance. Criminologists use theories to explore antisocial behavior in a systematic way. Theories come and go as new evidence is presented, new social conditions appear, and scholars improve their research. The challenge is to appreciate the often subtle differences among theories, examine the evidence supporting each theory, and apply the theories to real-life crime problems.