Sunday, August 29, 2010


The problem with criminology today is dead-end research. This should be evident from two persistent mythologies of crime, which have needlessly consumed so much time and money: the conservative "war on drugs" and the liberal "war on poverty". 

Drugs, conservatives have argued for decades, cause crime by affecting the consciousness of their user. The drug user loses his moral restraint and commits crimes to support his addiction. In order to reduce crime, conservatives sought to eliminate the supply of drugs. After many years of drug enforcement, supply has exploded, drugs are cheaper, and drug-related crime and violence remains as big a problem as ever.

Advocates of the "war on poverty" argue that without disparities of wealth, crime would decrease. The premise is that criminals are not unlike the law abiding in their life goals, but due to economic disadvantages they are compelled to pursue these goals by criminal means. For example a youth, failing to see bright career opportunities due to his poverty, joins a gang. In response, many social programs have attempted to transform poor communities to reduce the attractiveness of crime. Following the policies of President Johnson intended to address this disparity, crime skyrocketed.

Today, conservatives still fight the drug trade in the name of reducing crime, and liberals continue to fight for social welfare programs. The political struggle remains largely immune to consequences. To evaluate the results of a policy risks questioning its validity, something neither side appears willing to do.

Both of these perspectives share a common trait: in neither literature is there an attempt to study the criminal's actual thinking and motivation. Both sides assume a deterministic, "a priori" stance, by projecting a mockup of a human being and speculating on the inputs required to produce criminal behavior. The resulting policies expose a difficult truth: to understand crime you have to study the criminal.

My purpose with this blog is to share an alternative: to present research I find in my studies that addresses, even in part, criminal thinking and motivation. Crime is a choice. Any worthwhile theory of crime has to identify the reasons for that choice in the field, not the researchers own head.