Although a surging social science today, criminology matured through an evolutionary process of shifts in primary focus, from philosophy to crime prevention/ legal reform and then, ultimately, science. As an intellectual domain, criminology comprises contributions from multiple academic disciplines, including psychology, biology, anthropology, law, and, especially, sociology. Although the defining statements of criminology are rooted across these diverse areas, contemporary criminology is becoming ever more intertwined with still additional sciences and professional fields such as geography, social work, and public health.
II. Defining Criminology
III. The Origins and Scientific Maturation of Criminology
IV. Theory: Methods Symmetry and Criminology’s Disciplinary Status
V. Criminology as Social Science
VI. Theoretical Praxis and the Future of Criminology
Criminology is the study of crime, as indicated by the formative Latin terms crimin (accusation or guilt) and -ology (study of). As an intellectual domain, criminology comprises contributions from multiple academic disciplines, including psychology, biology, anthropology, law, and, especially, sociology. Although the defining statements of criminology are rooted across these diverse areas, contemporary criminology is becoming ever more intertwined with still additional sciences and professional fields such as geography, social work, and public health.
This plurality of influences, often referred to as multidisciplinarity, is altogether logical given the complex subject matter and diverse nature of crime. Scholarly attention to crime from various perspectives allows for an extensive range of research questions to be addressed, making possible a fuller understanding of the criminal mind, the nature of crime, and social control processes. Legal scholarship, for example, ranges from philosophical attention to social justice issues to technocratic factors determinant of case outcome. Alternatively, psychology approaches the topic of crime with a focus on individual-level maladjustment and behavioral abnormality. Sociological criminology differs still by concentrating on the multiple causes and nature of crime, as well as society’s reaction to it.
The individuals who study crime, criminologists, engage research on virtually every imaginable aspect of illegality and society’s reactions to it, ranging from the development of theories of crime causation, the roles and uses of social control (e.g., police, courts, and corrections), crime prevention, and victimization. Of course, criminologists have also developed substantial knowledge bases on specific offenses, which are often categorized as (a) crimes against property (e.g., burglary, theft, robbery, and shoplifting); (b) crimes against a person (e.g., homicide, assault, and rape); (c) morality/social order crimes (e.g., gambling, prostitution, substance offenses, vandalism); and now (d) technology crime/cybercrime, which overlaps with and often facilitates crime in each of the other categories. The collective basic knowledge that criminologists have generated through the scientific process has great potential for informing social policy and criminal justice practice through enhancement of the effectiveness and efficiency of prevention, intervention, enforcement, and rehabilitative strategies and practices in the 21st century.
This introductory research paper quickly surveys the emergence and evolution of criminology, from seminal contributions to its contemporary state in academe. While tracing criminology’s history and acknowledging its intellectual diversity (these matters are more fully addressed in Research Paper on History and Evolution of Criminology), it is contended that criminology is correctly understood and best practiced as a social science. Furthermore, as a field of scientific inquiry criminology is no longer a specialty area of other established disciplines, such as deviance within sociology or abnormal psychology, but instead is a new and steadily growing independent academic discipline in its own right. Last, the rise of academic criminal justice is acknowledged as a shaping force on criminology that is steadily moving the discipline toward greater interdisciplinary status and public policy utility.
II. Defining Criminology
The terms criminology and criminologist are used rather broadly and interchangeably by the news media and in everyday popular culture expression. Criminologists are, in fact, social scientists, but frequently and erroneously they are confused with other crime-related scientific and investigative roles (e.g., forensics scientist/medical examiner, psychological criminal profiler, and ballistics specialists). Much of the confusion and definitional misunderstanding of what criminology is stems from the different functions the individuals in these roles serve. Although each role is important in the fight against crime, some are not scientific at all and certainly not social science in practice or purpose. Although a surging social science today, criminology matured through an evolutionary process of shifts in primary focus, from philosophy to crime prevention/ legal reform and then, ultimately, science.
The term criminology is attributed to the Frenchman Paul Topinard (1830–1911), who first used it during an 1889 anthropological study of criminality as a function of body types, a line of inquiry later made famous byWilliam Sheldon’s (1940) famous and controversial somatotype theory. Sheldon’s politically incorrect biological thesis, that criminal propensity is predictable according to body shape and size classifications (endomorphs, mesomorphs, ectomorphs), is still debated in popular culture outlets such as the New York Times (Nagourney, 2008) and the social science arena (Maddan,Walker, & Miller, 2008). Although criminology may have originated around physiological foci, most early philosophers of crime were concerned with the functioning of the justice systems of the 18th and 19th centuries and much-needed legal reform.
Over time, criminology has increasingly come to be understood as the study of the causes, dispersion, and nature of crime, with theoretical criminology (i.e., the relating of crime to a plethora of individual, familial, community, and environmental factors known as correlates of crime) dominating the field (Vold, Bernard, & Snipes, 2002). The rise of theoretical criminology between the 1940s and today has proven both scientifically rewarding and limiting. On the reward side is a wide range of empirically valid theories that, however, are often criticized for lack of real-world utility. Nonetheless, theoretical criminology is the cornerstone of academic criminology, both historically and today, and is the core of a young discipline that is evolving toward greater pragmatism in terms of applied criminology. An applied criminology suggests that strategies and initiatives intended to prevent and lessen crime are informed by scientifically established theoretical insights that are predictably capable of enhancing best practices within and around the criminal justice system.
The foremost pioneer of contemporary, and particularly American, criminology, Edwin Sutherland, offered what has proven to be a lasting definition, which is most often used to describe the field, in his seminal book Principles of Criminology (1939). According to Sutherland, criminology can be defined as follows:
Criminology is the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking laws, and of reacting toward the breaking of laws. These processes are three aspects of a somewhat unified sequence of interactions. (p. 1)
It is interesting to note that whereas criminology is typically considered the study of the causes and nature of crime, and is often contrasted with criminal justice, which is concerned with the response to the problem of crime, Sutherland’s famous definition clearly emphasized the significance of both. Consequently, criminology today is viewed somewhat dichotomously, with theoretical or sociological criminology denoting a focus on crime causation or the etiology of crime and applied criminology denoting work that is prevention, enforcement, or treatment oriented.
III. The Origins and Scientific Maturation of Criminology
Historical concern with crime is traceable to ancient Babylonia and the Code of Hammurabi, as well as biblical times, as evidenced by Old Testament dictates on restitution and the proportionality of punishment. Whereas such early edicts on infraction and punishment informed understanding of social control and justice, the origins of contemporary criminology stem from the Enlightenment period of the late 18th century, particularly the social and intellectual reforms then underway in western Europe. Philosophers from this period, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Locke, observed the superiority of reasoning based on direct experience and observation over subscription to faith and superstition that characterized collective opinion throughout the feudal era. Prior to this shift toward logic, crime was addressed informally within and between families whose recognition of justice was largely equated with realization of revenge (Larson, 1984).
The family-revenge model of justice, as observed in multigenerational feuds between Scottish clans, presented social-order maintenance and governing problems for feudal lords whose solutions were trial by battle and then trial by ordeal. Under trial by battle, either the victim or a member of the victim’s family would fight the offender or a member of his or her family; under trial by ordeal, the accused was subjected to some “test” that would indicate guilt or innocence, such as running through a gauntlet or being repeatedly dunked in water while bound by rope. Both approaches were vested in the spiritual notion of divine intervention. In battle, God would grant victory to the innocent side and likewise protect the falsely accused during trial by ordeal, as in the biblical report of protection afforded the prophet Daniel in the lions’ den (J. M. Miller, Schreck, & Tewksbury, 2008).
Obviously, these methods failed to effect justice relative to a person’s true guilt or innocence, instead yielding outcomes specific to a person’s fighting ability, the capability to withstand various kinds of torture, or simply luck. The idea of being controlled by an evil spirit or that one’s criminal behavior is attributable to the influence of the devil or some other “dark” force has long been a basis by which people have attempted to account for the unexplainable. Examples from early U.S. history include the Salem witch trials, wherein crime and deviance problems that could not be solved through actual facts and inquiry were attributed to witchcraft and demonic possession. The origins, for example, of “correctional” institutions in Philadelphia by Quakers who believed that isolation, labor, and Bible reading would result in repentance, reflect an early spiritually based form of rehabilitation. The term penitentiary, in fact, refers to institutions where society’s crime problems were addressed through religious conversion and illustrates belief in spirituality as a source of and solution to crime. Although the Enlightenment period introduced a novel logic alternative to spiritual explanations, spirituality continued to affect interpretations of both crime causation and systems of justice for several centuries and is still relevant to current crime policy, as indicated by faith-based prevention and rehabilitation programming (Allen, 2003).
Although the Enlightenment period did not completely end the belief that spirituality affects crime, the momentum of experience-based reasoning led to a general view of social life and human behavior that served as a forerunner to criminology. One of the primary concepts from this era that was important for the development of criminology is the idea of the social contract. First introduced by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), the social contract involves the sacrifice of some personal freedom through internalization of law and endorsement of formal social control in exchange for protection and the benefit of all. For example, it is likely that either alone or with the aid of a friend you could forcibly take personal property, such as a wallet, purse, or textbook, from someone on an almost daily basis. Similarly, there is likely an individual or group that could forcibly take your property. Despite these obvious realities, everyone generally enjoys freedom of movement with peace and safety. By sacrificing your ability to take what you might from others, you are protected from similar victimization. This trade-off of loss of potential gain through limiting free will in exchange for law and order is an oversimplified example of the social contract (J. M. Miller et al., 2008).
As a result of the Enlightenment period, then, superstitionand spirituality-based orientations to crime were uprooted by innovative ways of thinking that emphasized relationships between criminal behavior and punishment. This newer approach, exemplified in the writings of the Italian Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794) and the Englishman Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), is known as the classical school of criminology, a perspective around which criminology would solidify and develop (Bierne, 1993). Notionally grounded in the concepts of deterrence and the dimensions of punishment (certainty, severity, and celerity), the classical school is significant for the development of criminological thought in at least two respects. First, crime was no longer believed to be a function of religion, superstition, or myth—views that largely placed the problem of crime beyond human control. Second, crime was seen as the result of free will. Viewing crime as a function of free will—in essence, as decision making—meant that it could now be explained as an outcome of rational choice. The ideation of rational thought (a calculation of gains vs. risks) suggests that crime is logically related to the elements impacting the decision to offend, such as the amount and relative value of criminal proceeds and the likelihood of detection, arrest, and conviction. The principles of the classical school, revised by legal reformers (neoclassicists) and now referred to as rational choice theory, continue to influence both the study of criminal behavior and the nature of formal social control as the criminal justice system continues in the attempt to achieve deterrence as one of its primary objectives (Paternoster & Brame, 1997).
Paradigm (i.e., model or school of thought) shifts are common to the history of all academic disciplines, and criminology is no exception. A new philosophy began emerging in Europe during the 19th century that first emphasized the application of the scientific method. This perspective, known as positivism, stressed the identification of patterns and consistencies in observable facts (Bryant, 1985). It was believed that, by examining known patterns, causes of behavior could be determined that would enable predictions about outcomes when certain conditions exist. For example, one can ascertain a pattern of comparatively high criminality in the lower socioeconomic class. Given the absence of other intervening factors, one can predict a rise in lower class criminality if a sharp increase in unemployment affects unskilled laborers. Regardless of whether this relationship is true, this line of thinking differs from the classical school’s attention to free-will decision making, positing crime instead as a manifestation of factors external to and often beyond the control of individuals. Criminology did not move straight from a free-will orientation to endorsement of external influences; in between these perspectives was an era dominated by determinism.
Determinism takes the position that human behavior is caused by factors specific to the individual, such as biological and psychological traits. Perhaps the most famous figure associated with determinism in the context of criminality is Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), whose “criminal type” illustrated in his influential work Criminal Man (1863) suggests that some people, such as convicted murderer and notorious contract killer, who has been featured in several HBO documentaries, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski (1935–2006), are simply born criminals. Lombroso’s work, furthered by his student Raffaele Garofalo (1851–1934), was essential to viewing crime in a newer, more scientific light. As criminology continued to develop, determinism became more broadly viewed, with the inclusion of environmental and community criminogenic influences. In the evolution of American criminology, positivism began replacing the classical approach to crime during the 1920s, largely due to the rise of the Chicago School, a movement resulting from a series of seminal studies conducted by staff of the University of Chicago sociology department. From the 1920s through the 1940s, the Chicago School demonstrated that crime is largely a function of ecology, in particular the social disorganization that characterizes much of urban life.
The social ecological approach to crime is less concerned with the ways in which criminals and noncriminals differ in terms of intelligence, physical characteristics, or personality and more attentive to economic disadvantage, community cohesion, collective efficacy, and social stability. The Chicago School crime studies of Shaw and McKay (1942), Merton (1938), and Sutherland (1939) grounded U.S. criminology in sociology and established a dominant paradigm, or model of inquiry, oriented toward specifying environmental and community-level causes of crime and delinquency (e.g., Kornhauser, 1978). American criminology since its inception, then, has been conceptualized in theoretical terms—a perspective that has very much shaped its maturation. Although theory is vital to criminology in terms of justifying scientific status, confirmation of hypotheses (i.e., empirical proof) is also necessary and, as discussed in the next section, engaged through an intellectual process of theory–methods symmetry.
IV. Theory: Methods Symmetry and Criminology’s Disciplinary Status
Science is the discovery of truths that comprise knowledge bases on particular topics. Determination of what is to be included or excluded in a knowledge base is a result of which ideas stand the test of scientific scrutiny, that is, which ideas are consistently observed in a systematic manner as factual according to real-world evidence. Accordingly, science is an outcome of theories (ideas) validated by research methods (empirical confirmation). Although leading criminological theories and many of the frequently employed research methods are treated in greater detail throughout the research papers in this category, the general nature of theory and its importance to criminology’s past, present, and future warrants a little more introductory discussion.
What exactly is theory? Perhaps the most concise definition of theory is simply “explanation.” Too often, theory is erroneously thought of as philosophy or logic that has little relevance for real-world situations. In reality, theory is a part of everyday life, an attempt to make sense and order of events that are otherwise unexplainable. Think, for example, about the following common scenario. After dating for a long time, a college couple’s relationship is abruptly ended by one of the parties. Surprised and disturbed by this sudden and unwanted change, the rejected person will usually contemplate, often at great length with the counsel of friends, the reasons or causes leading to the outcome. Even if knowing why will not change the situation, we still want to know the reasons—the sole or set of causal factors— perhaps because making sense of seemingly random events reassures us that the social world is not chaotic and arbitrary. On a more pragmatic level, knowing why things happen enables us to modify our behavior or change relevant circumstances for a more preferable outcome in the future. In the case of criminology, the more fully we understand crime, its causes, and the evolution of criminal careers, the more ostensibly enhanced is our ability to prevent victimization and reduce crime rates.
Developing explanations for everyday events, then, is a common practice that entails identifying and weighing the relevance of potential causes and effects, which is a form of theoretical construction. Although theory is useful and commonplace in everyday life, academics often refer to scientific theory. Simply put, scientific theories are a means of explaining natural occurrences through statements about the relationships between observable phenomena. Observable phenomena are specified as either a cause or an effect and then positioned in a temporally ordered relationship statement. The causes and effects are termed variables (a variable is simply something that varies and is not constant). These formal statements, which are presented as hypotheses, are formed to explain or predict how some observable factor, or a combination of factors, is related to the phenomena being examined (in the context of criminology, some aspect of crime or social control). These relationships, which form specific theories of crime, are developed according to the logic of variable analysis. This analytic strategy specifies causal elements as independent variables and effects as dependent variables.
In criminology, not surprisingly, crime itself is the foremost dependent variable. It is imperative to note that the strategy of variable analysis is not interested in explaining crime per se; that is, the objective is not to explain what crime is in a definitional, policy, or legal sense. Instead, the variable analysis process seeks to account for variation in crime. Most theories conceptualize crime as a generic dichotomy, that is, the separation of phenomena into one of two categories. When crime is the dependent variable in a theory, further scrutiny usually reveals that theorists are actually referring to either criminality or crime rate. Criminality refers to the extent and frequency of offending by a societal group, such as the young, minorities, illegal immigrants, the unemployed, or people from a certain region. Crime rate, on the other hand, refers to the level of crime in a location such as a city, county, or state. The focus on either criminality or crime rate is observable in the framing of different research questions: Why is there more homicide in Los Angeles than in San Antonio? Why are males more criminal than females?Again, the goal is not to explain or define the crime itself but rather to account for variability and fluctuation in criminality or crime rate across locales, social settings, groups, or over time.
After specifying causal and dependent variables, criminologists consider the nature of observed relationships to determine inference and possible implications. The information revealed from a theoretical proposition is interpreted by the condition of correlation: a covariance of factors or variables specified by the direction and strength of fluctuation in a dependent variable attributed to one or more independent variables. Directional correlation generally specifies either a positive or negative relationship. These terms do not mean the same thing as when used in everyday language. The expressions “My bank account is finally positive” and “She has a negative attitude” are value laden and indicate desirable and undesirable conditions. In the social sciences, a positive correlation more simply means that an independent variable and dependent variable fluctuate in the same direction, such as a group’s level of unemployment and involvement in criminal activity. A negative correlation indicates that independent and dependent variables covary in opposite directions, such as educational attainment and crime (with the obvious exception of white-collar offenses).
Consideration of the relationship between school grades and the status offense of truancy provides a clear illustration of directional correlation. Suppose a criminologist gathers data on both absences and grades from a large sample of randomly selected middle and high school students. If findings support the hypothesis that increased absences (the independent variable) bring about lower grades (the dependent variable), then a negative correlation exists, as would a decrease in absences be associated with academic improvement. In the latter scenario, the correlation, though negative in social science jargon, is the desirable outcome.
The strength of a correlation, on the other hand, specifies the degree of covariance between independent and dependent variables. For example, a gang prevention program delivered to an increased number of parents may effect only a minimal decrease in new gang affiliations. This relationship suggests an undesirable outcome, not because the correlation is negative but because the independent variable generated only little change in the dependent variable—perhaps because the parents of gang members are less likely to sincerely participate in an awareness program in the first place. The strength of a correlation is ascertained through statistical analysis, enabling the exact determination of covariance between variables as indicated by statistical significance parameters.
To analyze theoretical propositions, independent and dependent variables are transformed from a nominal or categorical to a measurable level, a conversion process known as operationalization. Operational definitions, then, enable empirical examination of cause-and-effect relationships by specifying measurable indicators for variables. How a variable is defined will affect the nature of a relationship and yield different (and possibly undesirable) implications for addressing crime. The following example of measuring recidivism demonstrates how important the measurement process is and how easily measurement error can occur.
Recidivism (repeat criminal offending) is one of the most common theoretically based dependent variables used in criminological research, especially as an effectiveness indicator for criminal justice prevention and enforcement programs. Depending on whether recidivism is being considered in a law enforcement, court, or correctional context (all three of which conduct deterrence and rehabilitation programs whose success is largely indicated by recidivism), the act of reoffending is likely to be operationally defined differently according to the immediate context. Repeat offenses are typically measured in law enforcement contexts as the rate of rearrest. Although it is seemingly natural and understandable that rearrest be used as a measure of police productivity, it falsely conveys the assumption that everyone who is rearrested will be convicted and thus potentially overestimates or exaggerates the perceived level of reoffending. Court-based operational definitions more accurately measure repeat offending as reconvictions, which is technically more consistent with legally determined official realities, but in correctional contexts reoffending is often calculated as reincarceration. Measuring reincarceration as an indicator of recidivism can also distort the true level of reoffending by not including convicted persons whose sanction did not include jail or prison time (J. M. Miller et al., 2008).
The strength and direction of correlations, then, serve the objective of determining causation, that is, whether the independent variable(s) prompt change in a dependent variable and, if so, in what manner. In order to have confidence in observed causal relationships, there must also be both specificity and accuracy in the measurement process, a methodological challenge in the study of a phenomenon that is inherently hidden, covert, and secretive.
Not all criminological research is engaged according to positivistic variable analysis toward the goal of establishing causal relations per statistical significance demonstration; instead, subjectivism exists as the foremost alternative philosophical paradigm in the social sciences. Subjectivists focus on discovery and description of the nature of criminal events; the social dynamics of group interaction in the specification and maintenance of criminal stereotypes and definitions; and the role of social forces, such as culture, that are not easily measured for variable analysis. Often referred to as fieldwork or ethnography, qualitative criminological research is vital to the overall criminological knowledge base because it enables scientific attention to realities that cannot be measured because they are unknown (e.g., the population of prostitutes in a city) or are unreachable by traditional overt criminological research methods such as surveys or official data analysis. Some qualitative criminologists, known as edge ethnographers, go so far in the research endeavor as to place themselves in active criminal settings so as to observe first hand the immediacy of crime (Ferrell & Hamm, 1998; J. M. Miller & Tewksbury, 2001).
V. Criminology as Social Science
Numerous causal explanations that constitute theoretical criminology have been developed and tested; similarly, various research methods, both quantitative and qualitative, are regularly applied in the analysis of crime phenomena. Criminology thus offers, and is defined by, theory–methods symmetry to the practice of social inquiry. Characterizing theory as scientific means that inferential claims about relationships (the observed correlations) can be falsified. Research entails gathering data according to the operationalization process so that the theory is framed for systematic observation of cause and effect. The analysis and conclusions concerning the existence, nature, and implications of relationships are then compared with the conceptual logic of the theory itself.When observations are inconsistent with the basic premises of a theory, that theory is falsified. Observations that are consistent with a theory’s statements about the relationship between cause-and-effect statements are customarily deemed more credible, but this does not mean the theory is necessarily true, because alternative theories might explain the same relationships.
Criminologists especially seek the answers to a wide range of research questions that focus on causality: Will increasing the severity of punishment lower the amount of crime in society? Do fines levied against the parents of truant children increase levels of parental responsibility and ultimately result in less truancy? Does a substance abuse treatment program in a correctional setting impact prisoners’ rate of recidivism and drug relapse? These and similar questions reflect the desire to specify causal relationships that in turn may yield implications for criminal justice practice. Causation, in the context of scientific theorizing, requires demonstration of four main elements: (1) logical basis, (2) temporal order, (3) correlation, and (4) a lack of spuriousness. These are discussed in turn in the following paragraphs.
Scientific theory, just like any type of accurate explanation, requires sound reasoning. There must be a logical basis for believing that a causal relationship exists between observable phenomena. Criminologists are not concerned with offenders’ hair or eye color when attempting to account for their behavior, for example, because there simply is no logical connection between these physical traits and criminal behavior. A second necessary element for scientific theory construction is temporal order—that is, the time sequence of cause-and-effect elements. In short, causal factors must precede outcomes, as in the relationship between religious involvement and morality crime. Faith-based initiatives are vested in the belief that religious-based programs will better social conditions, including a reduction in crime. If offenders participate in religious programs (the independent variable) and subscribe to the convictions of religious doctrine condemning behavior such as gambling, commercial sex, and recreational substance use and abuse, then a reduction in their commission of these vice crimes (the dependent variable) would appear to be a causal relationship, because the religious programming both preceded and logically prompted the decreased involvement in the specified behaviors.
Correlation, as described earlier, is a third required element of a scientific theory. Correlation, again, indicates the presence of a relationship between observable phenomena and the nature of the relationship in terms of direction and strength. The last essential element for scientific theory development involves the condition of spuriousness. Most subcultures, for example, tend to be characterized by poverty, which confuses the causal relationship between subculture and crime in that it may be poverty that causes crime, and subcultures simply emerge within impoverished groups. Alternatively, it could be that cultural values encourage behavior manifested in both poverty and crime. Thus, the relationship among subculture, poverty, and crime is spurious, because cause and effect cannot be determined. Theorists, then, must frame relationship statements that reflect an absence of spuriousness. By adhering to these four axioms, criminologists increase the likelihood or probability that relationship statements are accurate.
VI. Theoretical Praxis and the Future of Criminology
Although much of the criminological theory construction during the 1950s through the 1970s was basic research (the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake), criminologists came to observe that, once constructed and established, theoretical perspectives yield consequences, both intended and unintended, for criminals, victims, policymakers, and the general public. The idea of theoretical praxis (Shover, 1977) concerns not only the historical and cultural relativity but also, more importantly, the real-world impact of theories. Theories, once established, not only explain crime but also can significantly influence the behavior of both criminals and agents of social control.
The emergence of academic criminal justice during the 1970s has profoundly impacted criminology in both contrasting and complimentary ways. Given that criminology was primarily a specialty area within sociology and that the bulk of social control and deviance research therein (e.g., theory construction and testing) was pure, no academic discipline was postured to address crime per se, a very real and pressing concern during the late 1960s and 1970s—a period of great social unrest characterized by a failing economy, civil rights controversies, and the Vietnam conflict. Through the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration Act, Congress sought to professionalize the criminal justice system with graduates of newly created “police science” and “penology” baccalaureate programs that were springing up around the nation. Established by the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and abolished in 1982, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration Act was a U.S. federal agency within the U.S. Justice Department that administered federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies. Funding was provided for research, state planning agencies, local crime initiatives, and educational programs— the primary catalyst for what we know as criminal justice programs today (Morn, 1995).
Experientially based and rooted more so in public administration than social science, criminal justice programs originally focused on preparing students for practitioner and administrative careers in the prongs of the criminal justice system (policing, courts, and corrections) and were quickly dubbed a “professional” field—a somewhat pejorative term based on the atheoretical and thus unscientific nature of criminal justice. It is illogical to attempt to solve problems, social or otherwise, that have not been thoroughly defined or understood. Relatedly, the anti-crime suggestions offered by early criminal justice scientists were often based on what had proven successful in the past, with little or no concern for the scientific axioms discussed earlier. On the other hand, the most comprehensive knowledge base on crime is of little practical utility for social betterment without a real-world-applicable context.
For several decades, there has been tension between criminology and criminal justice that has witnessed the emergence of both criminology and criminal justice as independent fields of study. The future of criminology will no doubt remain rooted in theory construction and testing, but it is also obvious that increased attention will be devoted to developing best practices for policy based on these models. In this sense, criminology will likely continue to evolve from its theoretical origins, but in a manner more mindful of public policy. Whether criminology and criminal justice merge into a master discipline is doubtful, but theory will remain vital, for several reasons. It provides a scientific orientation to the phenomenon of crime, in which observations of facts are specified and classified as causes and effects. It grounds several styles of inquiry in the logic of systematic analysis. More important, the relationships between causes and effects can be identified, thus composing a knowledge base to guide decision making and planning concerning how to best address the problems presented by crime. Criminological theorizing is increasingly generating practice and policy implications and, as such, bolsters and is an integral part of applied research. Even the pure theorists, who may have no particular interest in addressing a specific crime or delinquency issue, may generate the knowledge necessary for others to modify the criminal justice system’s efforts. There is, then, a connection between theory and policy reflected in the increasing multidisciplinarity of contemporary criminology that is likely to be a major force in the future of the discipline.
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