Social Control Theory

III. Commitment

Everyone seems to understand the paraphrased song lyric that freedom is another way of saying that one has nothing left to lose. Control theory captures this idea in the concept of commitment, the idea that conforming behavior protects and preserves capital, whereas crime and delinquency put it at risk. The potential delinquent calculates the costs and benefits of crime. The more he or she has to lose, the greater the potential costs of the crime and the less likely it is to be committed. What does one lose or risk losing from crime? The short answer is life, liberty, and property. The long answer, attachments aside, is that it depends on one’s assets and prospects, on one’s accomplishments and aspirations.

For young people in American society, the main arena for the display of accomplishment or achievement is the school. Athletics aside, and however diverse the curriculum, the currency of this realm is academic achievement. Also, truancy aside, of the available measures of school-related activities, grade point average appears to be the best predictor of delinquency. Good students are likely to aspire to further education and are unlikely to commit delinquent acts or to get into difficulties with the police. Grade point average accounts for the correlation between IQ test scores and delinquency. Put another way, IQ affects delinquency through its effect of grades. It has no direct effect on delinquency. This means that the ancient idea that, other things equal, intelligent people are better able to appreciate the consequences of their acts is not supported by the data; instead, the data suggest that the correspondence between achievement and prospects on one side and delinquency on the other is just what one would expect from rational actors, whatever their level of intelligence.