Crime: The Main Theories and Forms


The two main forms of crime are violent crime and nonviolent crime. In contrast to nonviolent crimes like fraud, embezzlement, possession, and others, violent crimes include assault, homicide, armed robbery, and other comparable offenses. Nonviolent and violent crimes have a partial correlation and are not always mutually exclusive. People respond differently to different social experiences and problems, resulting in deviance and crime. The two main theories used to study crime are biological theories and sociological theories. Biological theories are those that are based on the physical, mental, and neurological characteristics of the criminal. Sociological theories discuss the outside forces that motivate people to commit crimes.

Biological Theories

The foundation of a biological theory is that there is an internal desire to do the crime that originates from within the individual, despite the fact that there are numerous biological theories in the fields of criminology and sociology. The internal drive, whether it be physical or mental, is naturally determined within the person and is not influenced by the environment in which the person lives. However, physical traumas that change a person’s neurological makeup are not disregarded by biological theories. For instance, many people have aggressive criminal conduct that is known to be triggered by brain trauma or recurrent head trauma.

This has been shown to occur in people who have sustained repeated head injuries throughout adulthood, as well as brain injuries at a young age. Biological theories, in general, include those that contend that a person’s physical or neurological make-up is fundamentally responsible for their criminal behavior and cannot be changed. Although there are many biological theories, biological positivism, and psychological positivist are two of the most well-known and influential.

Biological Positivism

The origin of biological positivism can be traced back to Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist and prison psychiatrist who lived in the late 19th century. Lombroso’s theory, which essentially asserts that certain criminals are simply born criminals, is based on anthropology and biology. According to Lombroso, some people have a genetic predisposition to crime due to a range of biological causes rather than environmental influences later in life or purely voluntary action. Biological inferiority as a cause of criminal behavior is still a prevalent theory and practice today.

When it comes to biological positivism, there are physiological considerations like vitamin shortage, food, hormonal and chemical imbalances, as well as brain function that comes into play. Therefore, drunkenness, as a physical element against the body, is not disregarded by biological positivism as a potential contributor to criminal behavior. However, drunkenness also significantly affects a person’s mental health, which gives rise to the psychological positivism theory.

Psychological Positivism

Psychological Positivism was theorized in the late 1800s, just like Biological Positivism. According to French criminologist Alexander Lacassagne, unlike Biological Positivism, the underlying reason for a person’s propensity for criminal behavior was a mental illness rather than a physical one. However, Biological Positivism and Psychological Positivism have roots in the same idea that criminal behavior is a tendency that people are born with. According to psychological positivism, personality issues and mental illness frequently determine a person’s chances of committing crimes rather than their own free will. That does not mean that all people with mental illnesses are criminals or predisposed to act in a criminal manner.

Sociological Theories

Sociological theories of criminology are grounded in environmental and societal elements that affect a person’s tendency for violent and/or criminal activity, as opposed to biological theories of criminology. Crime patterns are perceived differently from a sociological standpoint than they are from a biological perspective. There is a distinction between criminal behavior and deviant behavior from the perspective of sociology. While deviancy violates social norms and conventions, it does not necessarily indicate criminal behavior.

Instead, it violates social laws and includes the commission of an act that violates social laws. Criminal behavior and aberrant behavior, however, are not incompatible and can undoubtedly coexist. Given that sociological theories address both crime and deviance, it is important to distinguish between the two terms. There are several theories relating to criminal behavior in the field of sociological theories. Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, Social Strain Typology, and Labeling Theory are the four basic approaches used in sociological theories of deviance.

The death penalty, corporal punishment, incarceration, probation, close supervision, community service and labor programs, fines, restitution to the victims, and mandatory enrollment in treatment programs are some of the most often utilized kinds of punishment to deter crime.


According to deterrence theory, adequate sanctions prevent illegal behavior since sensible people won’t engage in behavior that causes them more pain than pleasure. Can fear stop crime? The effectiveness of deterrence has been heavily disputed. According to supporters, punishment deters if it is applied with certainty, swiftness, and severity. Critics use the high rates of recidivism among those who receive jail sentences as proof that particular deterrence is ineffective. Critics also point out that the effectiveness of general deterrence has its boundaries. Some crimes, such as those done out of passion or while under the influence of drugs, cannot be prevented because the offenders do not logically analyze the pros and cons of breaking the law, which includes the cost of punishment.


The rehabilitative ethic is summed up by the phrase: “Let the punishment fit the culprit”. Rehabilitation is modifying the offender as a whole through corrective measures like drug rehab centers. Correctional treatment, however, has not consistently been shown to prevent or lessen crime, according to assessments. The complete effectiveness of rehabilitation has not been evaluated due to insufficient funding. Additionally, some criminals, like those who commit nonviolent crimes and first-time offenders, have a higher chance of successfully undergoing rehabilitation than repeat offenders and dangerous criminals.


Retribution is best described as letting the punishment fit the crime. According to an offender’s moral culpability, retributivists seek to impose punishment as measured by the severity of crimes of which the offender was convicted. The severity of penalties ought to, in theory, correspond to how serious the offenses were. In practice, it is challenging to match penalties to crimes since it is impossible to gauge objectively how morally repugnant a crime is or how painful a penalty is.

The philosophy of punishment known as retribution is archaic. When deciding what to do in the present, it considers the past. Although using punishment to alter behavior has been criticized, there are occasions when it is proper to do so. Additionally, there is strong evidence that, under the right circumstances, punishment may be an effective strategy. Immediate application of punishment after a bad response increases its efficacy.


Punishment can be used to achieve two beneficial goals: deterrence and education. By itself, punishment does not serve an educational purpose; imprisonment will be ineffective unless it inspires offenders to reconsider what they did wrong. However, when applied appropriately and in conjunction with justifications, punishment can teach offenders better ways to behave and discourage others from committing crimes. Restitution programs aid people in understanding their mistakes and the harm they have done, which is a significant advantage. Restitution schemes have led to significant and fast drops in misbehavior.

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"Crime: The Main Theories and Forms." LawBirdie, 8 Nov. 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'Crime: The Main Theories and Forms'. 8 November.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Crime: The Main Theories and Forms." November 8, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "Crime: The Main Theories and Forms." November 8, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Crime: The Main Theories and Forms." November 8, 2023.