Criminology Theories

IV. Policy Implications of Integrated Theories

Much like traditional theories, each integrated theory has implications for the development of policies designed to reduce delinquency and crime. Because integrated theories are generally perceived to be more complex than traditional theories, it stands to reason that their implications generally tend to be more complex. Using the integrated theories discussed in the previous section, this section offers a variety of policy implications derived from the aforementioned theoretical developments.

A. Implications of Elliott, Ageton, and Canter’s Integrated Theory

The inclusion of theoretical concepts from three competing mainstream theories offers a unique, yet challenging, set of policy implications. According to the principles of the theory and the initial focus on the levels of social control, it follows that policies will be determinative on the basis of whether individuals are experiencing low or high levels of social control. For those experiencing lower levels of social control, policies should initially be geared toward increasing levels of social control. Most importantly, however, policies emanating from Elliott et al.’s (1979) integrated theory should focus on reducing access and exposure to delinquent peers, because it is this construct that rises in the level of importance in the explanation of delinquent and criminal involvement.

B. Implications of Thornberry’s Interactional Theory

Similar to the policies identified in the discussion of Elliott et al.’s (1979) integrated theory, the policies emerging from Thornberry’s (1987) interactional theory are relatively complex and involve focusing on mechanisms of building social controls and decreasing access to delinquent peers. What makes interactional theory unique is that the policy initiatives are developmental specific; that is, because the importance of the theoretical factors fostering crime and delinquency vary over the life course, the policy initiatives seeking to impact delinquency and crime should also be different depending on the age of the individual. In childhood, programs designed to build and strengthen familial relationships would provide a foundation to reduce the likelihood of the onset of delinquency. In terms of the persistence in delinquency and crime, effective policies or programs would emerge if they were geared toward the reduction of exposure to delinquent peers during the adolescent period. However, because Thornberry placed significant emphasis on the reciprocal effects of the social bonding and delinquent peer variables during childhood and adolescence, it stands to reason that a dual-pronged policy approach focusing on both sources of delinquency would provide the most complete program initiative to the reduction of these behaviors.

C. Implications of Agnew’s General Strain Theory

Given that all individuals will experience several of the strains articulated by Agnew (1992), it stands to reason that the policy implications relevant to general strain theory are not geared toward reducing the experience of strain. Instead, policies from a general strain tradition might be more effective if they are focused on enhancing the conditioning factors that result in prosocial responses to strain. For example, programs that educate individuals in how to manage their anger or channel the energy related to their anger into positive directions (i.e., positively cope with strain) would be particularly advantageous to reducing delinquency and crime. On a related note, policies geared toward initiating programs targeting the development of self-control early in the life course would provide an additional prosocial mechanism for responding to strain. In terms of familial and community alternatives, programs guided toward the development or enhancement of social support networks would provide an individual with access to external supports when faced with a crisis. In short, the policy implications for general strain theory have the highest probability of being successful if they focus on the concepts related to individuals’ responses to experiencing strain.

D. Implications of Moffitt’s Dual Taxonomy Theory of Offending

Because Moffitt’s (1993) theory partitions the theoretical explanation of delinquency and crime into two distinct theories, it logically follows that the policy implications of the theory are approached in a similar bifurcated process. Not surprisingly, most of the aggressive and impactful policy implications are geared toward life-course-persistent offenders; specifically, because this pathway of development is argued to be difficult to redirect, the policies need to be aimed at reducing the likelihood that individuals will begin offending early in the life course. Programs such as nurse home visitations to help disadvantaged parents provide appropriate parenting strategies to children experiencing deficits associated with neuropsychological disorders have been found to be particularly successful at redirecting the pathway of the troubled child. On the other hand, because the adolescence-limited population is likely to discontinue their offending as they enter into adult social roles, the policies geared toward this population are likely to be much more hands off. For example, this population might particularly benefit from after-school programs that focus on keeping youth actively involved in prosocial and/sports-related activities during the peak time of adolescent offending.

E. Implications of Cullen’s Social Support Theory

Arguably one of the more simplistic integrated theories, Cullen’s (1994) social support theory also receives the title of the theory with one of the most straightforward policy initiatives; that is, crime and delinquency at all levels (i.e., individual, family, neighborhood, rates within cities, states, and across the nation) would be reduced if increases in social support were observed. Moreover, offending over the life course would begin later in life and have a shorter duration, and desistance would be enhanced if only social supports were increased. Finally, the probability of experiencing a victimization and the victimization rate would both decrease if social supports across society were enhanced. In summary, the primary policy implications related to Cullen’s social support theory are focused toward developing and enhancing social supports within individuals or within the larger neighborhood environment.

F. Implications of Tittle’s Control Balance Theory

The policy implications of Tittle’s (1995) control balance theory are significantly more complex than those identified for the theories just discussed. If the goal of a policy is to implement a program (or set of programs) to reduce delinquency, then using control balance theory implies that policies should be aimed at developing programs to keep individuals’ control ratio at a balance and/or providing assistance to individuals to manage or restrict their behavior when they are experiencing a control imbalance. These policy initiatives appear to be more reasoned for individuals experiencing a control deficit; however, they appear to be more suspect for those experiencing a control surplus. Specifically, programs designed for individuals experiencing a control deficit could arguably resemble those designed for general strain theory discussed earlier. Designing programs to convince individuals who are experiencing a control surplus to refrain from extending their control, or relinquish their control, appears to be a more daunting task.

G. Implications of Colvin’s Differential Coercion Theory

Programs designed to reduce delinquency and crime using the differential coercion theoretical framework would primarily target efforts to reduce the likelihood that coercion is destructively applied to individuals and secondarily target the social-psychological outcomes related to coercion. Colvin (2000) highlighted four possible outcomes through which controls can be manifested. The most compelling non-delinquent outcome is related to Type 1 (non-coercive, consistent). As such, parents and other individuals delivering social control might be educated or informed on the benefits related to Type 1 and the detriments associated with each of the remaining possibilities of delivering control. Assuming that some individuals will experience coercive types of control, programs might also be effective if they seek to strengthen the social-psychological dynamics (i.e., self-control) related to experiencing coercion.