Rational choice theory (RCT) Chapter 3

Rational choice theory (RCT), a product of the late 1980s, mirrors many of the principles found in classical criminology. The theory, as described by Ronald V. Clarke and Derek B. Cornish, 21 rests upon the belief that criminals make a conscious, rational, and at least partially informed choice to commit crime and employs cost–benefit analysis (as in the field of economics), viewing human behavior as the result of personal choices made after weighing both the costs and benefits of available alternatives. “[Rational choice] predicts that individuals choose to commit crime when the benefits outweigh the costs of disobeying the law. Crime will decrease when opportunities are limited, benefits are reduced, and costs are increased.”22 Figure 3–3 diagrams the steps that are likely to be involved in making a choice to commit a crime. Situational choice theory, an extension of RCT, provides an example of soft determinism, which views criminal behavior “as a function of choices and decisions made within a context of situational constraints and opportunities.”23 The theory holds that “crime is not simply a matter of motivation; it is also a matter of opportunity.”24 Situational choice theory suggests that the probability of criminal activity can be reduced by changing the features of the environment. Clarke and Cornish, collaborators in the development of the situational choice perspective, analyzed the choice-structuring properties of a potentially criminal situation, defining them as “the constellation of opportunities, costs, and benefits attaching to particular kinds of crime.”25 Clarke and Cornish suggested the use of situational strategies to lower the likelihood of criminal victimization in given instances. They also recognized that the rationality of criminal offenders is inevitably bounded or limited, as it is for all of us, by the amount and accuracy of information available to them at the time they are weighing the costs and consequences of future actions.26 In brief, rational choice theorists concentrate on “the decision-making process of offenders confronted with specific contexts,” and have shifted “the focus of the effort to prevent crime from broad social programs to target hardening, environmental design or any impediment that would [dissuade] a motivated offender from offending.”27 Twenty-five techniques of situational crime control can be identified, and each can be classified according to the five objectives of situational prevention.

psychobiotics Chapter 5

Within the last few years, a new field of study called psychobiotics has begun to emerge that looks at the psychological and behavioral effects that bacteria can have on the mind, feelings, emotions, and behavior.82 The central focus of study is what are referred to as gut bacteria—or those bacteria that live in the digestive system. Although bacteria are single-celled organisms, they are generally far smaller than human tissue cells; and there are far more bacteria living in a symbiotic relationship in any mammal than that animal has body cells. In human beings, gut bacteria, taken in total, weigh more than the human brain. Recent research has demonstrated that gut bacteria carry a vast array of genes that can produce thousands of chemicals. Many of these chemicals, once produced, are absorbed through the digestive system into the blood. Some of them are linked to brain signaling and include bacteria-produced dopamine, serotonin, and gamma-aminobarytic acid (GABA).83 In other words, gut bacteria appear to produce chemical messengers that interact with the brain and nervous system. Some studies have even led to the notion that chemicals from gut bacteria help to build and shape the physical structure of the developing brain. Studies of mice raised in the absence of gut bacteria showed that memory, emotional state, and behavior were far different among the subject mice than those exposed to normal environmental bacteria. These studies give support to earlier reports that the absence of the bacterium Bifidobacterium infantis in the intestines of human beings can lead to depression. Further, neuroimaging studies show that an identifiable mixture of specific digestive bacteria are associated with “the reduced response of a brain network involved in the processing of emotion and sensation.”84 Scientists now speculate that a chemical gut–brain axis exists within the body, with the two body regions involved in a constant form of chemical communication. They suggest that introducing the proper bacteria into the digestive system could produce positive results in mood and behavior by reducing blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol and by fighting inflammatory molecules produced by the immune system. The study of the interaction between gut bacteria and behavior is still in its infancy, and more studies will be required before any definitive statements can be made about the relationship between such bacteria and neurobiological conditions.

Left-realist criminology, Chapter 9

Left-realist criminology, a natural outgrowth of concerns with street crime, the fear of crime, and everyday victimization, approaches criminology based on the ideas of left realism, which uses a pragmatic assessment of crime and its problems. Left-realist criminology faults radical-critical criminologists for romanticizing street crime and the criminals who commit it. It does not reject the conflict perspective inherent in radical critical criminology but shifts the focus to the assessment of crime and the needs of crime victims, seeking to portray crime in terms understandable to those most affected by it—victims and their families, offenders, and criminal justice personnel. The test insisted on by left-realist criminology is not whether a particular perspective on crime control or an explanation of crime causation complies with rigorous academic criteria but whether it speaks meaningfully to those faced with crime on a routine basis. “For realists crime is no less harmful to its victims because of its socially constructed origins.”45 Left-realist criminology is generally considered synonymous with left realism (also called radical realism or critical realism) but tends to distance itself from some of the more visionary claims of early radical and Marxist theory.46 Daniel J. Curran and Claire M. Renzetti portrayed left realism as a natural consequence of increasingly conservative attitudes toward crime and criminals in both Europe and North America: “Though not successful in converting many radicals to the right, this new conservatism did lead a number of radical criminologists to temper their views a bit and to take what some might call a less romanticized look at street crime.”47 Some authors credit Walter DeKeseredy48 with popularizing left-realist notions in North America, and Jock Young49 is identified as a major source of left-realist writings in England. Prior to the writings of DeKeseredy and Young, radical criminology, with its emphasis on the crime-inducing consequences of existing power structures, tended to portray the ruling class as the “real criminals” and saw street criminals as social rebels who were acting out of felt deprivation; DeKeseredy and Young were successful in refocusing leftist theories on the serious consequences of street crime and on the crimes of the lower classes. Left realists argued that victims of crime are often the poor and disenfranchised who fall prey to criminals with similar backgrounds and saw the criminal justice system and its agents not as pawns of the powerful but as institutions that could offer useful services if modifications were made to reduce their use of force and to increase their sensitivity toward the public. A central tenet of left realism is that radical ideas must be translated into realistic social policies if contemporary criminology is to have any practical relevance. Concrete suggestions with respect to community policing models are indicative of the direction left realists are headed. Instead of seeing the police as oppressors working on behalf of the state, left realists recommend that the police work with, and answer to, the communities they serve.50 The major goal of left realism is to achieve a just and orderly society through a practical emphasis on social justice.51 Critique of Left-Realist Criminology Left-realist criminology has been convincingly criticized for being more of an ideological emphasis than a theory. As Don C. Gibbons explained, “Left realism can best be described as a general perspective centered on injunctions to ‘take crime seriously’ and to ‘take crime control seriously’ rather than as a welldeveloped criminological perspective.”52 Realist criminologists appear to build on preexisting theoretical frameworks but rarely offer new testable propositions or hypotheses, but they do suggest crimecontrol approaches in keeping with the needs of the victimized. Policies promulgated by left realists understandably include an emphasis on community policing, neighborhood justice centers, and dispute-resolution mechanisms, whereas right realists are more punitive in their policy suggestions. Piers Beirne and James W. Messerschmidt summarized the situation this way: “What left realists have essentially accomplished is an attempt to theorize about conventional crime realistically while simultaneously developing a ‘radical law and order’ program for curbing such behavior.

Chapter 10

Demographic correlates of Victimization

Demographics describe the statistical qualities of a given population. While victims of crime may be of any gender, age, race, or ethnicity, demographic characteristics are significantly correlated with victimization risk (Table 10-3). Young single women, for example, are more likely to be sexually victimized than any other subgroup in the American population. In general, however, studies show that the “typical victim” of violent crime is a socioeconomically disadvantaged young black male, especially one living in the inner-city region of a large metropolitan area.13 This is not to say that females and older people are not similarly victimized; they are, but the rate of violent victimization is notably higher for young African-American males than for other demographic groups. In and of itself, demographic characteristics tell us nothing about why victimization occurs. Even so, a number of additional social factors can be identified that are associated with increased risk of victimization. They include the region of the country in which a person lives, and family factors including low socioeconomic status (SES), family criminal history (parental crime), single-parent household, and poor parental supervision.14 According to information published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2014, those living in urban locations were 150% more likely to be violently victimized than people in rural areas; while those in the South were considerably less likely to be violently victimized than people living in the Northeastern or Western parts of the United States. Risk of property crime, however, was highest in the West and South, but slightly lower in the Midwest, and lowest of all in the Northeast. An even more recent BJS compilation of victimization data (Figure 10-4) shows that during the period 2008–2012, persons living in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000).15 The percentage of persons reporting violence to police was also higher among households at or below the FPL. More than half of victims of violence from poor households (51%) reported the victimization to police compared to 45% of victims from high-income households. Finally, victimization risk varies considerably by type of crime. Young minority women, and especially those living with male partners, for example, are more likely than other demographic groups to experience domestic violence. Similarly, victims of white-collar crime are more likely to be older and to be of relatively high socioeconomic status.A related term, revictimization, refers to continued victimization by the same offender committing the same type of crime. Revictimization, while still quite serious in its consequences, does not appear to create the same degree of lasting social and other handicaps as does polyvictimization. Repeat victimization and chronic victimization are other terms used by victimiologists to describe continued victimization of the same individual.

Chapter 11


The terms homicide and murder are often used interchangeably, although they are not the same. Homicide is the willful killing of one human being by another, whereas murder is an unlawful homicide. Some homicides, such as those committed in defense of oneself or one’s family, may be justifiable and therefore legal. In legal parlance, criminal homicide means “the causing of the death of another person without legal justification or excuse.” According to the Uniform Crime Reports/National Incident Based Reporting System (UCR/NIBRS), 14,249 murders were committed throughout the United States in 2014.3 The 2014 rate of criminal homicide was 4.5 people murdered for every 100,000 individuals in the U.S. population. As is the case with other major crimes, rates of criminal homicide in the United States increased between 1960 and the early 1990s, but then began decreasing until they reached levels not seen since the 1960s (Figure 11–2). General features of criminal homicide in the United States today are shown in Figure 11-3. Jurisdictions generally distinguish among various types of murder. Among the distinctions made are first-degree murder, also called “premeditated murder”; second-degree murder; and third-degree murder, or negligent homicide. First-degree murder differs from the other two types of murder in that it is planned. It involves what some statutes call “malice aforethought,” which may become evident by someone “lying in wait” for the victim, but can also be proved by a murderer’s simple action of going into an adjacent room to find a weapon and returning with it to kill. In effect, any activity in preparation to kill that demonstrates the passage of time, however brief, between formation of the intent to kill and the act of killing itself is technically sufficient to establish the legal requirements needed for a first-degree murder prosecution. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, is a true crime of passion. It is an unlawful killing in which the intent to kill and the killing itself happen almost simultaneously. Hence, a person who kills in a fit of anger is likely to be charged with second-degree murder, as is one who is provoked into killing by insults, physical abuse, and the like. For a murder to be second-degree, however, the killing must follow immediately upon the abuse. Time that elapses between abuse or insults and the murder itself allows the opportunity for thought to occur and hence for premeditation. Both first- and second-degree murderers intend to kill. Third-degree murder, although it varies in meaning between jurisdictions, most often refers to homicides that are the result of some action that is unlawful or negligent. Hence, it is frequently called “negligent homicide,” “negligent manslaughter,” “manslaughter,” or “involuntary manslaughter.” Under negligent homicide statutes, for example, a drunk driver who a bank patron succumbs to a fear-induced heart attack may leave a surviving robber subject to the death penalty under the felony murder rule. Hence, felony murder is a special class of criminal homicide whereby an offender may be charged with first-degree murder when that person’s criminal activity results in another person’s death. Significant contributions to the understanding of the crime of homicide are being made today by the Homicide Research Working Group (HRWG). The HRWG brings together researchers, academicians, and investigators working in the area of interpersonal violence from numerous disciplines. Prior to the creation of the HRWG, work in lethal violence had been scattered among numerous disciplines and was largely uncoordinated. To address this lack of coordination, homicide experts from various disciplines, including criminology, public health, demography, medicine, sociology, criminal justice, and other fields, joined together to create the HRWG. Although homicide offenders include men and women, young and old, rich and poor, homicide offending is very much patterned in terms of sociodemographics, with members of some groups being disproportionately represented as offenders. Distinctive patterns of homicide can be identified by such factors as individual characteristics, cultural norms, community characteristics, geographic region, availability of weapons and weapons used, gang activity and affiliation, and the victim– offender relationship. All of these sociodemographic features have been used to further our understanding of homicide patterns and to create typologies surrounding homicide.

Chapter 12


Larceny-theft is defined by the UCR Program as “the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession, or constructive possession, of another.”60 Just about anything can be stolen. In California during November 2000, for example, thieves stole “more than 1,200 young orange trees during nightly raids at the San Joaquin Valley, heartland of the state’s citrus crop.”61 The FBI reports that during 2014, there were an estimated 5.8 million larceny-thefts nationwide and larceny-thefts accounted for an estimated 71% of all property crimes. The rate of larceny-theft is 1,837 per every 100,000 people living in the United States. On average, larceny-theft offenses cost victims an estimated $7.6 billion in lost property annually. Larceny is the most frequently occurring property offense according to official data compiled by the FBI and data from the NCVS. Within the offenses subsumed under the category of larceny in UCR/NIBRS data, the largest category is theft from motor vehicles, followed by shoplifting and theft from buildings (Figure 12–4).62 Offenses such as pocket picking and purse snatching constitute a small percentage of all larcenies, less than 1% each. Just as rates of different offenses within the category of larceny differ, so, too, do estimated losses to victims. As a form of theft, larceny (as opposed to burglary) does not involve the use of force or other means of illegal entry. For this reason, among others, larceny is a crime “less frightening than burglary because to a large, perhaps even to a preponderant extent, it is a crime of opportunity, a matter of making off with whatever happens to be lying around loose: Christmas presents in an unlocked car, merchandise on a store counter, a bicycle in a front yard a marketing director who commented, “You don’t want to hinder sales by intimidating the shopper. We used to think just about stopping shoplifting. We didn’t think enough about selling more merchandise.”66 Technology represents one of the best ways to address both shoplifting and employee theft. The use of computerized inventory counts to track merchandise is useful in quickly identifying thefts by employees. As will be discussed shortly, the widespread prevalence of shoplifting among youths who are fast and often operate together in small gangs means that increased security personnel in stores are less successful at detection than are electronic and other devices. Shoplifting continues to be an offense that crosses class lines, although it is not an offense committed primarily by women. The dominant motivation used today to explain shoplifting does not rely on medical labels. Even though “respectable” people continue to be found among those who commit this offense, there is no evidence that these individuals constitute a significant segment of offenders.

Chapter 13

Organized crime

Organized crime specifically refers to unlawful activities of the members of a highly organized, disciplined association engaged in supplying illegal goods and services, including prostitution, gambling, loan-sharking, narcotics, and labor racketeering. In 1967, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice investigated organized crime in the United States and found that—at the time—many organized crime families were of Italian descent. The Commission depicted the structure of a typical Italian American organized crime family as shown in Figure 13–3. Much of what most Americans traditionally think of today as organized crime—sometimes called the Mafia or La Cosa Nostra—has roots that predate the establishment of the United States. For hundreds of years, secret societies have flourished in Italy.66 Italian criminal organizations that came to the United States with the wave of European immigrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included the Mafia and the Black Hand. The Black Hand (in Italian, La Mano Negro) “specialized in the intimidation of Italian immigrants, typically extorting protection money and valuables. The Mafia worked to become a quasi-police organization in the Italian ghetto areas of the burgeoning American cities of the industrial era—often enforcing its own set of laws and codes. Secret societies in Italy were all but expunged during the 1930s and early 1940s under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Surviving Mafia members became vehemently anti-Fascist, sentiments that endeared them to American and Allied intelligence services during World War II. Following the war, mafioso leaders resumed their traditional positions of power within Italian society, and links grew between American criminal organizations and those in Italy. Other organized criminal groups, including Jewish and Irish gangs, flourished in New York City prior to the arrival of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the late 1800s. Ethnic succession has been as much a reality in organized crime as in most other aspects of American life. Ethnic succession refers to the continuing process whereby one immigrant or ethnic group succeeds another through assumption of a particular position in society. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example, Jewish gangsters such as Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, “Dutch” Schultz, and Lepke Buchalter ran many of the “rackets” in New York City, only to have Italian immigrants who arrived a few years later take their places. Around the middle of the twentieth century, organized criminal activity in the United States became the domain of Italian American immigrants and their descendants, especially those of Sicilian descent. Keep in mind that most Sicilians who immigrated to this country did not have ties or experience with Mafia organizations in the old country. Many Sicilian Americans immigrated to the United States to escape Mafia despotism at home, and most became productive members of their adopted society. The few who did involve themselves in organized crime created an organization known variously as the Mafia, the Outfit, the Mob, La Cosa Nostra (“our thing”), the syndicate, or simply the organization. Because Mafia is used most often, we will use it to describe Sicilian American organized criminal groups.

EXTRA INFO SUBTOPIC FOR CHAPTER 13: activities of organized Crime

The 1976 federal Task Force on Organized Crime identified five types of activity that may qualify as organized crime: racketeering, vice operations, theft/fence rings, gangs, and terrorism. Throughout the past half century, Sicilian American criminal cartels have continued to be involved in (1) the establishment and control of both legalized and illicit forms of gambling, including lotteries, bookmaking, horse race wagering, and bets on athletic contests; (2) loan-sharking, which involves the lending of money at rates far higher than legally prescribed limits; (3) large-scale drug trafficking; (4) the fencing of stolen goods, including securities; (5) infiltration of legitimate businesses, including labor unions and corporations that can be used as quasilegitimate fronts for money laundering and other activities; and (6) labor union racketeering through which legitimate businesses are intimidated by threats of strikes, walkouts, and sabotage. Organized crime is involved in many kinds of rackets, including gambling and the illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted software, music, and other forms of recorded media. The provision of elaborately staged recorded pornographic productions, including “snuff movies” (in which a sex “star” is actually killed in front of the camera), and elements of child pornography can also be traced to organized criminal activity

Chapter 14

types of Illegal Drugs

The DEA identifies seven categories of “dangerous drugs”: stimulants, depressants, cannabis, narcotics, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, and inhalants, while the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA) includes five “schedules” of illegal drugs. Table 14-1 shows the five schedules of controlled substances, the criteria for inclusion of a drug under each schedule, a list of drugs in each schedule, and street names for drugs. Federal law also allows for the control of other dangerous drugs, a term used by the DEA to refer to “broad categories or classes of controlled substances other than cocaine, opiates, and cannabis products.”10 The availability of precursor chemicals, such as the popular decongestant pseudoephedrine used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, is also limited under the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. One category of drugs that deserves special mention is inhalants. Nitrous oxide, carbon tetrachloride, amyl nitrite, butyl nitrite, chloroform, Freon, acetate, and toluene, as well as other volatile solvents, are all in the inhalant category. Inhalants are found in fast-drying glues, nail polish remover, room and car deodorizers, lighter fluid, paint thinner, kerosene, cleaning fluids, household sealants, and gasoline. Although some of these substances (e.g., ether, nitrous oxide, amyl nitrate, and chloroform) have legitimate medical uses, others are employed only to produce a sense of light-headedness often described in colloquial terms as a “rush.” Inhalants are generally sniffed, inhaled, huffed, or snorted. It has been estimated that there are over 1,000 substances that are abused. The use of inhalants “can disturb vision, impair judgment, and reduce muscle and reflex control.