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Crime and Delinquency

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Crime and Delinquency

In 1939 Criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland proposed his theory of Differential Association in his Principles of Criminology textbook. Differential Association theory states that criminal behavior is learned behavior. Sutherland along with Richard Cloward, and Lloyd Ohlin attempted to explain this phenomenon by emphasizing the role of learning. To become a criminal, a person must not only be inclined toward illegal activity, he or she must also learn how to commit criminal acts. Sutherland’s differential association theory contends that people whose environment provides the opportunity to associate with criminals will learn these skills and will become criminals in response to strain. If the necessary learning structures are absent, they will not. Sutherland relied heavily upon the work of Shaw and McKay, Chicago school theorists, in high rates of juvenile delinquency. Sutherland's theory of differential association still remains very popular among criminologists due to its less complex and more coherent approach to crime causation. It is also supported by much evidence.

Sutherland did not mean that mere association with criminals would lead to criminal behavior. What he meant was that the contents of patterns in association would differ from individual to individual. He viewed crime as a consequence of conflicting values.

Differential association is a theory based on the social environment and its surrounding individuals and the values those individuals gain from significant others in their social environment.

According to Differential Association, criminal behavior is learned based on the interactions we have with others and the values that we receive during that interaction.

We learn values from family, friends, coworkers, etc.; those values either support or oppose criminal behavior. Sutherland also noted that individuals with an excess of criminal definitions will be more open to new criminal definitions and that individual will be less receptive to anti-criminal definitions. The theory does not emphasize who one's associates are but rather upon the definitions provided by those associations. Once techniques are learned, values (or definitions) supporting that criminal behavior may be learned from just about anyone.

Differential Association is based on nine postulates:

1) Criminal Behavior is learned

2) Cri...

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... criminals, which in real life is almost impossible to happen). Sutherland stressed the criminal behavior is learned and learned through communication. The slum where Sonny and his friends lived in provided the perfect area to cultivate criminal behavior. The slum was crowded; everyone knew everyone and they have enough time to interact with one another in an intimate setting.

As for the labeling theory, Sonny who was a squatter saw himself as such. He rationalized to himself that he was poor and there was no other way to achieve his goals through legal means. Probably at first he controlled his urge to do illegitimate actions but all his friends were involving him so it was only a matter of time before he caved in to their pressure. Howard Becker and Edwin Lemert noted that criminal definitions are enforced by the powerful and the act of getting caught begins the labeling process. So the moment the handcuffs were slapped on Sonny’s wrist, he was already seen by society (in the movie, the uzi-zeros and the neighbors) as a criminal even if he was innocent. Plus, the family of the victim who was rich did not want to hear the side of Sonny and pushed that he be punished severely.
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