Many famous criminologists have influenced the field of criminology for years. While some have attempted to explain the factors of crime causation, others explored its consequences in terms of punishment. This paper aims to analyze the development of general strain theory by Agnew and its implications in the field of criminology. The paper further explores crime, punishment, and the criminal justice procedures as presented by Cesare Beccaria.
In modern criminology, the general strain theory presented by Robert Agnew has gathered much repute. Agnew constructed his theory as an extension of Merton’s strain theory which posits that crime is a result of strain caused when individuals are unable to achieve their financial aspirations. An important critique in this regard is that Merton’s theory concentrated crime to lower class however, in reality, individuals engage in crime regardless of their socioeconomic status. Agnew’s theory sought to address the shortcomings of Merton’s theory that failed to explain crimes other than financial ones, and also could not provide a reason for why only some individuals adopted criminal behavior under strain (Seigel, 2016).
Agnew’s theory explained crime in terms of negative emotions such as depression, anger, and fear stemming from strain. It is one’s ability to effectively cope with such negative emotions that determine the occurrence of crime. The defining factor of Agnew’s theory is that it explains crime beyond financial strain and accounts for domestic abuse, drug usage, sexual assault, as delinquencies that do not seek any economic goal (Agnew, 1992). An example of this would be a male who would engage in sexual assault towards a female who refuses to engage in such relation willingly. Through assault, the offender copes with anger stemming from rejection. The Shafia murder case can be explained in terms of the general strain theory. The crime was a result of anger that stemmed among the male members of the family due to their inability to exert control over the females who wanted to adopt the western culture, in contrast to their traditional values.
In every society, certain consequences are associated with particular crimes. In the olden times, crime was considered a sin and was mostly attributed to the acts of devils and demons, therefore, harsh punishments were imposed on the perpetrators. The intellectual discussion put forth by Beccaria called out the barbaric practices and arbitrary methods upon which the criminal justice operated; the corruption within the system; and the secretive measures adopted for accusations and trials. He also highlighted the inequalities of the criminal justice systems which deemed the people of high status above accountability.
Beccaria’s ideas are central to the criminal justice systems of today as he promoted the establishment of laws to prescribe punishment and all personnel including the magistrate are bound to follow the legislature. As practiced today, Beccaria highlighted equitable accountability for all, regardless of social status, power, and wealth. His contributions in making law and its enforcement public have helped in making the criminal justice system transparent and accessible to the common people. He argued against the death penalty and also disregarded severe punishments. He believed that severe retribution does not prevent crime therefore it should not be used. The purpose of punishment should not be to cause pain to the offender rather it should prevent future occurrences of the crime. Punishment should be swift and certain to be most effective. He also believed that torture should not be imposed until a crime has been established. Beccaria’s ideas proved to be a major step in reforming the criminal justice system of today. Although it caused a lot of controversy at the time, today, however, his ideas are accepted and practiced as well (Beccaria, 2009).
Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 47-87.
Beccaria, C. (2009). On Crimes and Punishments. Routledge.
Seigel, L. J. (2016). Criminology: The Core. Cengage Learning: Boston, MA.