Social control theories emerged in the early 1900s which questioned why not all humans commit crimes. Unlike the criminology theories that examine why an individual commits criminal activity, the social control theories focus on how certain individuals refrain from it. There were several notable sociologists who expressed their ideas on how the society and its traditions can ensure that an individual will conform to a law-abiding lifestyle. They identified two types of controls in their theories. Informal and formal control. The informal control mechanisms are family, friends, or their individual social circles. The formal control is from the Government or the law. The conformance that these theorists were advocating through control theories had multiple problems. The timing to introduce these theories explaining criminally deviant behavior came at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. These theories provided the basis for acquittals in early Civil Rights violation cases. The foundation is that the society and its tradition did not allow a broad spectrum for the Civil Rights violators. It was tradition and custom that prevented otherwise law-abiding citizens to accept equality.
In the 1960s, Travis Hirschi released a paper on social bond theory. According to this theory, all human behavior is attributes of the social environment. Hirschi believed that if an individual establishes strong ties with his society and family, it will not be possible for him to indulge in criminal activity. He added that if the social bond is continual and the individual will follow the letter of the law throughout his life. In addition, the social bond theory exemplifies that a child loved by both or one of the parents is more likely to avoid crime (Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2013). Hirschi theorizes that abuse, neglect, and discontentment towards a child increase the likelihood of criminal activity in the future (Alston, Harley, and Lenhoff, 1995). Unlike the other sociologists of his time, Travis Hirschi provides four elements as a foundation to his social bond theory.
Elements of Hirschi’s social bond/control theory
Travis Hirschi’s theory expanded into four elements that account for social bonding. They are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.
Attachment forms a large portion of an individual’s life. There is emotional attachment, material attachment and spiritual attachment. The emotional attachment for a father who is a police officer will inspire the son to emulate his father’s morals, beliefs, and convictions. Similarly, people experience attachments towards academic achievements, spiritual morality, and towards friends. They form a subset to the attachment element in Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory.
The treatment of a child by a parent can have long-standing implications on the level of volatile behavior expressed by the individual at a later stage in life. The relationship between a parent and child is critical to this theory. Parents are the first authority figures that a child will encounter in life. The reception to future authority figures such as teachers and law enforcers will transpire from this relationship. An active parent-child relationship will lead to the society gaining a confident law-abiding citizen.
A neglected child is more likely to exhibit an inhibition towards other relationships in the society. Eventually, this inability to create any new relationships will strain existing circles and may even lead to suicide or mental disorders. On the other hand, an abused child will not only lose dependency on the primary authority figures, there will be no respect, or expectation for the secondary authority figures. These children have an increased chance to lead a life of crime. Moreover, there are chances that some of them will resort to violent crime. The early lives of almost all serial killers are identical. They suffer severe emotional distress during their childhood.
The school is the child’s first experience with society. Politics and social standing will take center-stage for the first time in the life of the youngster. Gaining acceptance into the social circles becomes an enormous part of their lives. There is a direct correlation between the child’s schooling and the chances of indulging in violent crime. The children who stay involved in school activities such as sports, and clubs are less likely to choose a life of crime. A general lack of involvement in school activities or academic pursuits often results in the child’s increased participation in violent behavior (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 2014).
In a social set up, peers dominate the actions of younger members. Confident children will be in a position to deal with peer pressure however; the neglected or abused children will find it a herculean task. Moreover, future relationships such as friends and spouse, often materialize from the peer group or with the influence from the peer group. While this is a positive attribute to society, the abused or neglected tend to form their own groups. These groups mature into street gangs or worse.
The term commitment in this theory reflects upon the level of involvement an individual has within the society. A person brought up in a loving environment with reasonable academic accomplishments is very unlikely to get involved in criminal activity. For example, there will be a lot to lose for a well-established small business owner in the neighborhood by getting involved in any form of illegal activity. However, that will not be the case for a person who has a reputation of being irresponsible. The role of society is also under scrutiny in this element. It points out to opportunities that society fails to capitalize on when it chose to ignore its weaker sections.
This element of Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory is problematic. Hirschi’s contention is that if a teenager is involved in activities at school, the chances for his involvement in criminal behavior are relatively low. However, this might not work out for all individuals uniformly. If a group of children from the same low income or crime riddled neighborhood are jointly involved in an activity, the risk of criminal delinquency increases significantly. Moreover, the youngsters who are already delinquent utilize school activities to recruit others for criminal activities. The crack cocaine of the late 1960s to the early 1970s is a testament to this behavior. Schoolchildren dropped out in droves to become drug pushers, and to provide security for drug dealers. Incidentally, the majority of the students were of African-American origins who were the linchpins of the entire operation.
This element of the social bond theory represents the societal values that inhibit criminal activity. This aspect of Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory finds precedence only if the first two elements of attachment and commitment are already in place at some level. An abused or neglected child will not relate to any societal values or morals since it is not relevant. The years of abuse and possible oppression not questioned by society often points to insignificance of societal values. The problem is worse if there is sexual abuse involved. The beliefs of parents, teachers, peers, friends, and of the police needs to influence an individual positively for him to remain uninterested in criminal activity.
Comparison with other theories
At the time of introduction of Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory, there were a few theories in the sociology field. The pioneers of social control theory, Albert J. Reiss, Ivan Nye, Walter Reckless, and David Matza. This section compares their theories to that of Hirschi.
Comparison with Albert J. Reiss
Albert Reiss came up with is theory of social control in 1951. Reiss constructs his theory of social control around the family and the society. In his theory, he categorizes someone deviant of criminal activity as individuals with strong family and societal ties along with a moral belief system. Although this theory seems to agree with Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory to an extent concerning attachment, there is no specific origin for the subject’s resilience to do the right thing. Hirschi is able to split the delinquency creating elements and specifically identifies how an individual refrains from any criminal activity.
Comparison with Ivan Nye
The first of the real expansions on the social control theories came from Ivan Nye in 1958. He underlined the importance of family like Reiss. However, he added two more elements to the equation. They were incentives and the inner self. He classified his elements as direct control, indirect control and internal control. He implied that direct control was the incentive deriving recompenses or penalty. Indirect control was the hospitable environment the individual was subject to at home. Internal control relied on the inner conscience of an individual. This theory faces criticisms for not conducting the research with relevant populations. There were also concerns that the survey used for the research did not have sufficient question that can identify strains of criminal activity. Tested with relevant populations across the world, Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory is more accurate. Despite inconsistencies in some areas, Hirschi’s social bond theory is comparatively more reliable.
Comparison with Walter Reckless
In 1961, Walter Reckless published his contentment theory. According to this theory, the success of an individual’s lawful behavior depends on an emotional defense mechanism known as inner containment. Reckless contends that inner containment is the youngster has perceived image of self. This image is important enough to resist peer pressure and eventually criminal delinquency. The other quotient is the outer containment that is the image acknowledged by other members of the society. Reckless’s contention is that the inner containment will counter any adverse circumstance. While the theory borders with Travis Hirschi’s social bond theory elements of attachment and commitment, it is not clear about how the individual gains the qualities that help build the inner containment.
Comparison with Gresham Sykes and David Matza
Gresham Sykes and David Matza came up with the theory of neutralization in 1957. In their work, they describe that everyone is susceptible to criminal behavior including the supposedly safe group. They believe that the defendants simply disown responsibility by denying consequence. For example, if a person throws a rock at a bus, and it enters through an open window to drop safely in the midst of passengers, the person denies consequence by stating that “nobody got hurt”. Although the act is punishable, the individual neutralizes the magnitude of the action by downplaying the intent based on the outcome. It contradicts Hirschi’s social bond theory that some people are incapable of delinquent behavior. It makes another observation that the urge to indulge in criminal behavior diminishes with age. Even though the testing of this theory did not yield any conclusive proof, it is widely accepted within the law enforcement fraternity.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Social bond theory
The social bond or social control theory is subject to appreciation and criticism from the law enforcement fraternity. In this section, the advantages of this theory will be under scrutiny based on possible application.
Provides insights into the early beginnings in criminal activity.
Emphasis on providing stable family support by parents. This will enhance the quality of social structures.
Identifying populations of children who might require immediate intervention to save them from a possible life of crime.
Increased awareness for juvenile delinquents and their families to avoid recidivism.
Successful rehabilitation of juveniles is possible due to information pertaining to what type of remedies will work.
Provides a guide for youth to evaluate self and seek assistance at an appropriate time.
Enables the government to take necessary steps for the at-risk children.
Relies heavily on society’s customs and family traditions. This creates a social problem if the family is not in favor of Civil Rights or other social reforms.
Involvement’s success is insignificant if the activities host memberships to juvenile delinquents.
Not all commitments are lawful. Sometimes the values learnt at home can me more harmful.
The theory is gender specific. For example, the lack of proper mechanisms to protect teenaged girls from sexual abuse at homes result in the girls running away. The boys however, are likely to react differently. Hence, not all inputs will emerge with unilateral outcomes.
The theory is heavily reliant on the role of the society. If the society fails to adopt the weaker minded children, the presence of this theory is futile.
The theory only exhibited partial success especially when tested among women.
(Pratt and Cullen, 2000)
Application of Social bond theory in criminal behavior
All theories of sociology are subject to testing and application. The social bond theory is no exemption to that rule. Hence, this section explores the possible implementation of this theory in our social system.
The identification of patterns emerging from the social bond theory provides a profile of youngsters who are at risk of opting for a life of crime. This allows school administrations and child welfare departments to take appropriate action to counter the negative inputs. It is imperative to prevent crime altogether or rehabilitate juvenile delinquents without delay. The lack of African-American fathers in the house is a concern according to this theory. Hence, the theory will provide valuable inputs to enhance the crime prevention abilities of the government and police (Hindelang, Hirschi, and Weis, 1979).
Recidivism is the key issue in criminal justice today. Despite stringent laws and lengthy jail terms, recidivism is on the rise. The Social bond theory works best in a correctional facility since prisoners who enjoy visitation from family are likely to rehabilitate. Hence, prison officials are encouraging family members to visit more often in recent times (Friedmann, 2014).
Improving the quality of mentors
The Social Bond theory sets the benchmark for quality mentors in the house as well as at school. These expectations can translate into a law-abiding society that nurtures its young people with the correct values. Parent awareness on the importance of providing a stable support system for children at home is possible due to this theory (Chriss, 2007).
Justification: Ted Bundy v. Bill Gates
The justification for the Hirschi Social Bond theory is set for explanation in detail by comparing the lives of two prolific individuals in the nation’s history. The aspects of the theory will apply to both of these individuals to prove the justification of this theory in modern criminology. The two subjects are Theodore Robert Bundy (Ted Bundy), America’s most notorious serial killer and Bill Gates, the World’s richest man.
This section analyzes the behavior of both subjects during their early life and childhood while noting the type of family and social structure around them. The elements checked in this section are attachment and commitment.
Ted Bundy did not know his biological father and assumed that his maternal grandfather and grandmother were his adoptive parents. He was also under the assumption that his mother was actually his sister. Despite the scandalous start, young Ted was unaware of the actual circumstances. He performed well in school and was enthusiastic about skiing. His grades in law school were particularly good and his professors liked him enough to give an exemplary recommendation letter. He had a steady girlfriend and was looking forward to his law degree (Rule, 2016).
Bill Gates grew up in a home with his parents and siblings. He shared a very close relationship with his mother. His grades were particularly high. He was involved in any school activity that involved computer programming. He was also very active in other clubs in school. He met his future wife in college.
Both subjects had the knowledge of a supporting and loving family. They performed really well in relationships and both were academically ambitious.
Ted Bundy uncovered his origin by accident. His interest in academics suddenly waned. His girlfriend dumbed him since found his lackluster behavior intolerable. His world of illusions was vanishing quickly.
Gates decided to leave Harvard and start his own company. He discussed the move with his parents who supported his move all the way. This was the stepping-stone to establishing Microsoft.
The commitment of Gates grew with support from his family despite his unconventional move to drop out of Harvard. Bundy on the other hand unable to cope up with the double blow started his murderous reign claiming his first two victims in 1970.
Social involvement for Ted Bundy ended with his steady girlfriend in college. He was unable to absolve the break-up. It would be an irony that most of his victims sported the same hairstyle as his one-time girlfriend (Rule, 2016).
Gates established Microsoft in 1977. He constantly involved in the society and activities such as charities. This involvement along with support from friends and family made him a prosperous man.
Gates’ involvement in the society kept him on track without losing focus on what he started out to do. Bundy on the other hand spiraled downwards lacking any social involvement.
Bundy strongly believed that his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend ruined his life. Unable to extract revenge on the people directly, he set out on a killing spree where proxies would take the place of his nemesis.
Gates became the World’s richest man with the belief in the law of the land and moral absolutes that his parents and family instilled in him. He also became the largest contributor for charity after the US Government.
The Social Bond Theory is justified in the lives of both subjects. The kid from the dysfunctional family ended up in an electric chair around the same time Microsoft released the Windows x program (Biography.com, 2016).
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