In the contemporary society, there is an increased number of crimes. A crime is an action that constitutes a criminal offense that can attract a punishment. These crimes fall into many categories, which include but are not limited to violence, assault, home invasion, homicide, and criminal fraud. All these criminal offenses are committed depending on the objectivity of the person committing them (Jenkins, 2017). This gives criminologists a hard time to understand the nature and reality of the crimes. However, many criminologists have found the theory of self-control to be helpful. Self-control refers to the ability to forego acts that have negative consequences for oneself. The theory was composed by Gottfredson and Hirschi (Burt, 2020). They developed the theory as a result of not being satisfied by the explanations that were explicit from the discipline of criminology about the nature of the crime. The theory contains strong arguments that lend it validity.
One of the strong propositions that validate Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory is that individual differences in the tendency to commit unlawful acts often remain stable despite the change in the social locality of an individual (Choi & Kruis, 2020). As a result, the two saw the need to clearly differentiate between crime and criminality. Crime is the actual event in which the law gets broken. On the other hand, criminality is the predisposition to offend, but the offense has not yet been committed (Criminal Justice, 2021). This prompts the conclusion that a tendency to commit a crime is dormant unless initiated with an opportunity to do so. Therefore, crimes rise due to individuals’ failure to control the illegal opportunities that come along them.
In addition, the two argue that parents play a greater role in shaping a child’s behavior. A family is considered the first socializing agent to a child. Therefore, parents who refuse to monitor a child’s behavior effectively or fail to recognize undesirable behavior produce a child with low self-esteem (Gottfredson, 2017). In addition, parents who fail to punish any desirable behavior are at risk of producing an unlawful child. Further, the theory insists that children who are poorly attached to their parents are more likely to develop poor self-control thus prone to committing crimes (Criminal Justice, 2021). Still, the theory suggests that family size and maternal employment greatly impact the likelihood of criminal behavior developing in a child. Therefore, parents should play their role effectively in order to minimize the number of crimes. This can be reached by partnering with the body of government responsible for policymaking. However, Gottfredson and Hirschi state that when parents fail to instill good behaviors in a child, a school can take up a role and correct the behaviors (Choi & Kruis, 2020). Schools closely monitor a child’s way of conduct while in school and have the ability to punish undesirable behaviors.
Moreover, the theory illuminates that impulsivity which results from low-self discipline, causes crime. Impulsivity refers to the actions that are poorly perceived, prematurely expressed, and are often inappropriate to a situation (Criminal Justice, 2021). The two argued that the actions are often associated with undesirable rather than desirable outcomes. These actions include difficulty waiting turns which often make individuals misbehave. Another example of an impulsive behavior is intruding in conversations that sometimes may upset individuals, ending up in a fight or a quarrel (Jenkins, 2017). These behaviors have been attributed to phobias and mood disorders among individuals. This argument is valid as all these impulsive behaviors have to a greater extent, caused crimes in society today.
Another substantive argument in the theory that is binding is that preference for simple tasks and avoiding the hard task cause of crimes. This is a clear manifestation of the low self-control. Gottfredson and Hirschi retained that individuals who need an immediate gratification are more prone to committing a crime as they are concerned with the present; they want it now (Choi & Kruis, 2020). These individuals are often risk-takers, thus committing unlawful behaviors. They give little attention to the possible consequences that may arise as a result of their behaviors. Gratification is associated with self-centeredness; individuals take risks for their good (Burt, 2020). Besides, self-centeredness creates an attitude in individuals that allows them to exclude themselves from the harm they do other people. This gives the individuals a justification for committing crimes to others.
The theory argued that criminals were inherently different from non-criminals. The differences between criminals and non-criminals are noticeable, thus can be measured (Burt, 2020). The theory attempt to explain that this difference is caused by nature which has placed humankind under the control of two sovereign masters; pain and pleasure (Criminal Justice, 2021). This is consistent with what is imminent today, many individuals try to avoid discomfort, and in the process, they commit unlawful acts that are regarded as crimes. This has made the theory to be relevant and valid.
Still, the theory explains that most people with low self-control are driven by temper. Among the many crimes committed within a community, without a doubt, are caused by anger (Jenkins, 2017). Anger is caused by emotional strain in one’s life. Strain can result from job firing, losing something valuable, or having stressed personal relationships. This has greatly resulted in unnecessary violence among people as some regard it as the way to solve the underlying stress or problem. Additionally, Gottfredson and Hirschi explain that little self-control is associated with audacious physical activities, which makes individuals be prone to crime. Individuals with low esteem often focus on physical than mental activities (Gottfredson, 2017). They mostly think that physical activities satisfy their self-interests, unlike the mental activities. More often, physical activities result in inflicting pain on individuals, resulting in crimes.
The other valid reasoning in the theory is that crimes that are done by people with low-self control are mostly general; that is, they do not focus on one specific area. Gottfredson and Hirschi argue that individuals with little self-discipline get it hard to specialize in one specific area, even in one crime (Criminal Justice, 2021). This is ascribed to their lack of commitment and persistence. Furthermore, these individuals find it easier and quicker to commit crimes; the opportunities to engage in unlawful behaviors are continually available to them (Choi & Kruis, 2020). For instance, individuals with low self-control often have unstable marriages full of conflicts and get it hard to maintain jobs as they become impatient.
In conclusion, unlawful acts have become a great concern in many countries today. Criminologists have taken up a role in understanding the nature of crimes in view of looking for ways to curb them. They have found the self-control theory to be useful to their role. The theory explains clearly the difference between criminality and crime. The difference is important in understanding the nature of different crimes committed. Besides, the theory explains the major dimensions of self-control which include impulsivity, temper, preference for simple tasks, and self-centeredness.
Burt, C. H. (2020). Self-Control and Crime: Beyond Gottfredson & Hirschi’s Theory. Annual Review of Criminology, 3, 43-73.
Choi, J., & Kruis, N. E. (2020). Gender, self-control, and opportunity: applying the general theory of crime to online harassment. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 14(1), 267-282.
Criminal Justice. (2021). Self-control theory. Retrieved from https://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/criminology/theories/self-control-theory/3/
Gottfredson, M. (2017). Self-control theory and crime. Retrieved from https://oxfordre.com/criminology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264079-e-252
Jenkins, W. J. (2017). An Analysis of Michael R. Gottfredson and Travish Hirschi’s A General Theory of Crime. CRC Press.
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