There have been several theories that seek to explain several issues about criminal activities and offenders. These theories explain the reasons behind criminal activities and the drives that make people to commit these crimes. In the criminal justice system, these theories are important since the crime management personnel use them to understand the reasons behind criminal activities as well as means to control these criminal activities. Felson and Clarke are also important contributors to criminal theoretical perspectives. They are responsible for the Crime opportunity theory, which has a subsection referred to as routine activity theory. The crime opportunity theory seeks to elucidate the occurrence of criminal activities in the society rather than the mere existence of criminal characters. This theory is important in emphasizing the important element in the criminal act of opportunity: how the criminal activity comes about, societal perception of the criminal activity, its evaluation as well as how the members of the society that possess criminal characters act upon it (Felson, & Clarke, 2012). Routine activity theory, however, explains victimization with regard to specific groups in the society such as gender, age groups and geographical locations of individuals within the society.
Crime Opportunity theory
According to this theory of crime, it suggests that offenders make rational choices thereby choosing their targets they consider to present a higher reward while they use the minimal efforts, and exposing themselves to minimal risks possible (Felson, & Clarke, 2012). This theory also asserts that the occurrence of criminal activities depend on the presence of a motivated offender who is prepared, ready, and willing to commit crime as well as the environmental conditions surrounding the crime scene that motivate the occurrence of the crime (Hannon, 2011). The crime opportunity further provides the possible means of reducing crime while recognizing that reducing opportunities of crime does not displace crime, but only reduces the possibility of its reoccurrence. The crime opportunity theory is based on ten basic principles according Felson and Clarke as discussed below.
Ten principles of crime opportunity theory
- The opportunity itself is the initial reason for a crime to take place: According to this principle, it is believed that without the opportunity, any person would not be motivated to commit crime. This principle explains that the presentation of the opportunity to a person for misbehavior will always result into that person breaking laws
- These opportunities are very specific: This principle helps in tailoring the responses to criminal activities. It proposes that the motives behind engaging in criminal activities are very specific. For instance, the stealing of items for luxury purposes are different from the patterns of stealing the same items for other purposes such as stealing to support one’s family.
- Crime opportunities are concentrated in time and space: according to this principle, criminal activities occur differently according to the differences in time of the day, or days of the week. This implies that dark places, or darker hours present more opportunities for offenders to perform criminal activities. Additionally, according to the nature of the criminal activity, days of the week determine the opportunities. Therefore, these days and times of the day present the opportunities for crime.
- Crime opportunities depend on the activities and movements of the day: This principle asserts that the activities of everyday such as work, leisure, and school present the opportunity for crime. For instance, home breakers or burglars brake to steal form homes during work and school days when they are sure that most people are out either at work or in school.
- One criminal activity provides the opportunity for other criminal activities to occur: This principle confirms that one successful criminal activity motivates the occurrence of another to occur. For instance, a successful robbery might instigate other potential criminals to attempt the same criminal activity hoping to achieve similar success. Additionally, a student whose phone has been stolen might feel justified to steel another student’s phone as a replacement of his phone lost in theft.
- Some items present more tempting criminal opportunities: According to this principle, valuable products provide more opportunities for criminal activities due to their appealing nature. For instance, the latest iPhones are very attractive to the youth. Therefore, whenever they have the opportunity to steal such valuable items, they would always have limited chances of denying the temptations
- Technological adjustments and social changes provide new opportunities for potential offenders to perform criminal acts. For instance, using the example of the Iphone, when the iPhone 4 was released into the market, it was very vulnerable to theft, however, with improvements and the outcome of more advanced iPhone 5, the former had flooded the market and most people had the phone. Therefore, theft would be shifted to the new iPhone.
- Reducing opportunities for crime helps in reducing the occurrence of these criminal activities. Just as all the aforementioned principles about opportunity for crime, criminal activities greatly depend on the opportunities for these crimes. Reducing these opportunities such as locking car doors, carefully keeping valuable items, and leaving people at home while leaving for work, reduces the motivation for crime.
- However much we can reduce the opportunities for crime, it does not imply that this reduction would result in the displacement of crime
- This is the final principle of crime opportunity. This principle suggests that focused opportunity reduces crime with a larger percentage. For instance, the crime prevention methods used in various places have led to reduced criminal activities in these areas since potential offenders have limited opportunities to conduct crime.
The crime opportunity theory deals with one of the most frequent causes of criminal activities. According to Felson and Clarke, the opportunity produces the most incentives towards committing crime. This theory additionally provides a probable solution to combating crime – reducing opportunities as well as controlling crime -, are very important in reducing crime. However, this theory fails to explain several other causes of crime apart from opportunity.
Routine Activity Theory
The routine activity theory is a subsection of the crime opportunity theory that was developed by Marcus Felson and Cohen Lawrence to focus on the situations of crime. This theory asserts that in there must be three criteria involved for any crime to be committed. These criteria are that there must be a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian (Navarro, & Jasinski, 2012). This theory seeks to explain that macro changes such as unemployment rates and economic recessions do not generally affect crime rates. This theory proves the situation in America following the Second World War, after which crime rates increased despite the economic prosperity compared to the period before the war (Navarro, & Jasinski, 2012). In the definition of the routine activity theory, the lifestyle of an individual plays a key role since it determines the possibility of committing a crime. As the Crime Opportunity Theory explains that opportunities expose people to criminal behavior, this theory advances to explain that the more an individual is exposed to criminal activities in his everyday lifestyle, the higher the chances that this individual would engage in criminal activities.
While examining 500 high school students, Cullen, Henson, and Wilcox studied the difference in gender involvement in crime with relation to the routine activity theory. These researchers found out that criminal lifestyle particularly affected minor and serious victimization of crime. They also realized in their study that girls had a more structured lifestyle than the boys did, which implies that there were more supervisory activities on the girls, which consequently means that the girls have lesser possibilities of engaging in criminal activities than the boys do. Additionally, this result of the research study further confirms the fact that crime is common with boys between the ages of 15 and 25. This could be because adolescents have less structured lives than adults who are engaged in jobs and have responsibilities such as family (Henson, Wilcox, Reyns, & Cullen, 2010).
The Problem Analysis Triangle above was derived from the routine activity approach to explaining how and why crime occurs. This theory argues that when a crime occurs, three things happen at the same time and in the same space.
Proving the routine activity theory involves several experiments, examples and statistical interpretations. Considering the geographical studies, criminal activities are usually crowded in specific areas with relatively few offenders responsible for most of these criminal activities. This therefore implies that these neighborhoods expose the residents to criminal lifestyles, which motivates their engagement in crime. Cyber bullying, which is a new trend in internet technology also defines the routine activity theory. While on the internet, there are many suitable targets as well as exposure to criminal activities. This leads to vulnerability of the internet users. This theory also suggests that controlling crime entails increasing guardianship and supervision on the lives of specific groups. Parents can supervise their boys and girls while law enforcement agencies supervise adults.
However, the routine activity theory has been criticized considering how it addresses crime. While only considering three factors about crime such as the presence of a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian, this theory overlooks the social aspects of committing crimes such as socio-economic factors and personal education among others. Additionally, since this theory majorly explains victimization, some people have argued against it asserting that it fails to point out the offenders.
This triangle shows how this theory explains the occurrence of crime. It explains that other people know as handlers can sometimes control the offenders. Other people known as the guardians can sometimes protect targets and victims as well. The managers in this case represent the people controlling the place. Therefore, in a bid to effectively solve a problem using this theoretical approach, it is important to have a clear understanding of how the offenders and their targets meet in places as well as understanding how well these places, offenders and victims are not well controlled (Navarro, & Jasinski, 2012).
The criminal justice systems rely on the crime opportunity theory and routine activity theory to understand the causes of crime as well as devising methods to curb criminal behavior. Parents to control the criminal behavior of their adolescent children by ensuring that they exercise control over these children have also used the latter theory. Cyber crimes are the most recent emergencies in the criminal justice system. Most people have fallen victims of cyber bullying, or cyber fraud among other forms of cybercrimes. These theories both explain the possibilities of offenders engaging in such criminal activities. While the crime opportunity theory explains that, the internet has provided the opportunity for people to commit crimes, the routine activity theory also maintains that the internet exposes motivated offenders to intimidate vulnerable and suitable targets because of lack of guidance. Consequently, internet service providers have resorted to parental control and intensive audits of internet contents in order to curb such crimes. Most governments have also enacted legislations permitting trial and persecution for crimes committed in the internet. In my opinion, despite the limitations of these theories, I believe that Felson and Clarke made great contributions to criminology and their contributions have further developed crime prevention as well as control. While recognizing that crime cannot be displaced, but only reduced, I have realized that these theories are very important in understanding why specific groups of people are identified with criminal activities. However, I believe that these theories could be modified to accommodate other possible causes of crime such as social and economic factors.
Hannon L., (19 Jan 2011). Criminal Opportunity Theory and the Relationship between Poverty and Property Crime. Sociological Spectrum: Mid-South Sociological Association. 22:(3).363-381. DOI: 10.1080/02732170290062676
Navarro, J. N., & Jasinski, J. L. (2012). Going Cyber: Using Routine Activities Theory to Predict Cyberbullying Experiences. Sociological Spectrum, 32(1), 81-94. doi:10.1080/02732173.2012.628560
Henson, B., Wilcox, P., Reyns, B. W., & Cullen, F. T. (2010). Gender, Adolescent Lifestyles, and Violent Victimization: Implications for Routine Activity Theory. Victims & Offenders, 5(4), 303-328. doi:10.1080/15564886.2010.509651
Felson, M., & Clarke, R. (2012, September). Comments on the special issue. Trends in Organized Crime. pp. 215-221. doi:10.1007/s12117-012-9165-1.