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Criminological Perspectives

November 20, 2015

In the study of criminal behavior, there are several ways in which criminal activities are conceptualized. In the United States, two models are used to determine how the criminals will be sentenced. These models are in applied in relation to how the criminal behavior is perceived. These perceptions include viewing criminality from trait, classical and social perspectives. This paper will differentiate the three perspectives with reference to how determinate and indeterminate models of sentencing apply to them. Following that, the paper will recommend the most effective sentencing model.

Trait Criminological Perspective

Trait criminology perspective pays credence to the nature of the criminal. In so doing, it considers the biological and psychological state of the criminal. The theories derived from this approach state that criminals are inherently dissimilar to normal regular people in their somatic and behavioral make up. Following that, theorists have argued that some members of society who fit certain biological and psychological profiles are more predisposed that their regular counterparts to get involved in criminal activity. On the issue of redemption of these individuals, some theories argue that they can be taught on how to divert from their criminal ways, while other theories argue that they are irredeemable from their ways (Lowery, 2013).

These theories have been promulgated by behaviorists, evolutionists, biochemists, neurophysiologists and psychoanalysts. From a biological perspective, Lombroso asserted that certain morphologies are a determinant of criminality (Gibson, 2002). Criminals could, thereby, according to his theory, be profiled from deviation in their heads shapes from the majority of individuals in their locales. Facial asymmetry, ocular defects, fleshy lips, twisted noses and excessively long arms were other triggers that highlighted criminality. Sheldon differentiated body types by stating that some were ectomorphs due to their thinness, others were mesomorphs due to their excessive body fat and others mesomorphs due to their athleticism (Maddan, Walker, & Miller, 2008). Mesomorphs were thusly regarded as prone to criminal tendencies. However, these earlier theories were abandoned due to their incorrect methodology. From a neurophysiologic perspective, criminals are viewed as mentally impaired (Peters, 2010). Biochemical perspectives relate criminality to deficiencies in certain crucial nutrients such as vitamins. Genetic perspectives on the other hand believe in the inheritance of criminality, where criminal parents are predisposed to yield delinquent offspring.

Social Criminological Perspective

Social perspectives of criminal behavior are made up of the process theory and the structure theory. The process theory professes the idea that social interactions and processes in institutions and organizations are to blame for invoking criminal behavior in individuals. The structure theory on the other hand promulgates the idea that social structure is responsible for spawning criminality. In essence, variances in economic empowerment of the classes leave a disparity in power that makes the underprivileged to perpetrate crimes on the more affluent. However, both social theories affirm the truism that people will always behave as their environment’s product. In contrast to trait theory that lays an emphasis of the nature of humans in explaining criminality, this theory emphasizes that nurture is to be blamed for driving otherwise well-intentioned individuals into crime.

Therefore, the criminal himself is not as castigated as the neighborhood for the crime he or she commits since necessity and not defect was the key motivator. In essence, criminals are viewed as without free will since their behavior is determined by their nurture (Lynch & Stretsky, 2003). This perspective is linked to Marxist undertones since it asserts that most criminal behavior emanates from the oppressed classes. The theory is, therefore, relevant in the contemporary world since criminality levels in society can also be used to gauge and respond to poverty and class variance levels, which in turn will reduce the criminality levels. According to this perspective, by ensuring that the welfare of the lower classes is considered, criminal behavior can be minimized. This could happen through the awarding of grants, cheap affordable loans and tax concessions to them so as to empower them to be productive members of society.

Classical Criminological Perspective

The final category of criminological perspectives is the classical theory, also known as choice theory. This theory employs the truism that criminals should be viewed as rational beings. In that light, before they engage in a certain criminal activity, just like other human beings, they must have pondered on the merits and demerits of the crime but still went further to commit the crime. The idea of free will is primarily useful in this perspective since it dictates that human beings have the liberty to choose their actions, so long as they are ready to endure the consequences of their actions. The idea of deterrence is linked with the classical perspective of criminology. Deterrence refers to the concept of preventing criminal activities in society from happening through social control (Paternoster, 2010).

Researchers of the justice system have asserted that from this perspective, extant criminal behavior should not be attributed to the irrationality of the criminal but on the effect of criminal experiential effects. This refers to the idea that criminals who have repeatedly broken the law without detection often diminish and downplay perceived risk or demerit and engage in the crime anyway so as to be rewarded by his or her perceived utility. This theory, therefore, regards criminals as dangerous individuals, who were ready to suffer the legally accorded punishment even before they perpetrated the crime.

Sentencing Models

There are two sentencing models: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate sentencing refers to the concept of explicitly stating the punishment accorded to every conceivable crime type and sentencing each individual offender with accord to the punishment. In determinate sentencing on the other hand refers to the tailoring and customization of sentences for each individual offender through active scrutiny of the circumstances revolving around the crime. While the difference in the sentencing model may seem subtle, when criminology perspectives are integrated into the mix, choosing a model may prove difficult. In my opinion, however, when viewing a crime from a trait perspective, determinate sentencing is more effective, because letting each individual serve the full sentence allows him time for learning and readjustment since the theory suggests that natural predisposition can be controlled via learning.

Moreover, it rids society off criminals who cannot control themselves. From a social theory perspective, indeterminate sentencing should be applied since what this type of criminals need is to learn healthy integration into their environment. Upon serving their sentence, signs of good behavior should be enough to free them. From a classical criminology perspective, indeterminate sentencing would be more effective since once criminals learn how to make productive choices, they can be functional citizens upon reintegration into society.


It can be thereby concluded that indeterminate sentencing has more potential in enforcing crime deterrence. In the light of the above evidence, it can be said that the decision of choosing either determinate or indeterminate sentencing bears heavily upon the criminal and the society at large. This is because the wrong choice may put society at risk of the criminal’s brutality or inhibit the reform the criminal. However, since one cannot practically attribute criminality to a single perspective of the drivers of human actions due to the complex nature of the mind, it is important to consider a combination of perspectives so as to come up with the least biased decision.