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Theories of Crime and Delinquency

Summary of the Crime

An illegal immigrant in the United States, Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, forty years old, got accused of murdering five people Kansas and Missouri. According to police reports, the suspect killed four men in Kansas City in his friend’s Kan home then killed his other victim in New Florence about one hundred and seventy miles away. The suspect is not a first-time offender after U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as well as Prosecutors revealed that Serrano-Vitorino had previously got convicted of driving under the influence offence in November 2014. In June 2015, he got arrested for domestic violence and in August the same year for driving without a license (Salinger, 2016).  Also, a previous conviction in 2004 had got him deported back to Mexico. Serrano-Vitorino attempted to commit suicide using a safety razor in jail on 10th March 2016 amid facing various charges. He got arrested a day before the suicide attempt hiding in a ditch with a rifle beside him. He faces four counts of first-degree murder committed in Kansas and one count of first-degree murder in Missouri. The Missouri Attorney General asserted that Serrano-Vitorino will get his first prosecution in Missouri and later in Kansas (New York Daily News, 2016).

Explanation of Agnew’s General Strain Theory

The general strain theory by Agnew has its origins from an amalgamation of works by Durkheim and Merton as well as Anomie’s theory of crime and delinquency. Durkheim’s mainly focused on the breakdown of societal restraint and its relation to individuals and their relation to crime. Merton worked on the imbalance or gap that resulted due from the differences in culture of different individuals as well as the goals and social standards existent in the society. Anomie’s theory has two segments; the first is the inability of the society to set a body of principles or morals that apply to every individual irrespective of race or culture. The second segment involves the high-risk disposition to deviance due to the imbalance and breakdown of the society. The second section of Anomie’s theory mediates the increased need to commit criminal and socially wayward acts to the reduced general laws and regulatory measures. Agnew linked the two sections of Anomie’s theory to the learning theory and afterwards came up with an enhanced strain theory after addressing the various loopholes in Anomie’s theory. The modifications included by Agnew’s new general strain theory include broadening the platform of strain theory to include several other aspects such as social class, expectations of success and money. Agnew also added that anger resulting from adverse treatment by other people may lead to violent crimes committed by the individuals who receive such treatment.

The dominant position postulated by Agnew in attempts to explain crime and delinquency is that negative emotions brought forth by strain typically result in diverse outcomes including delinquency. Agnew asserts that various strains such as the inability to achieve positive results such as power, status, success or money (Agnew, 1994), the withdrawal of the positive stimuli such as loss of leadership positions or property, as well as the presence of negative stimuli including sexual harassment or physical abuse. The general strain theory revolves around these three sub-branches under which most strains responsible for crime and delinquency lie. Also, Agnew further sets out the conditions under which the strains occur or operate to include high magnitude strains, highly unjust strains, strains of weak social control and strains that act as motivators for criminal behavior and delinquency. Also, Agnew gave two methods of measuring the strain of an individual’s life. The first method involved the subjective test which is more direct while the second method is objective and includes the pre-determined causes of the strain. In the first method, a researcher might ask the individual whether they encounter harsh treatment or harassment while the second case the researcher might request the individual to hypothesize some of the factors that might have contributed to the present strain.

The general strain theory studies the personality of criminals who engage in crime as a result of experiencing strain and gives characteristics such as negative emotions and low self-worth. The individuals take up the blame for every misfortune in their lives even the situation is out of their control. The harsh or unfriendly conditions imposed by other individuals into their lives prove integral in shaping their path to delinquency and crime. The negative emotions create a heap of emotional pressure within the person making them adopt different mechanisms to get rid of the pressure or cope with it. The pressure to become successful for instance could make an individual go beyond the legal limits to obtain money for instance. Also, the pressure to achieve power and status in the society could lead an individual to commit a crime in a bid to accomplish their desires. The individuals may adopt different types of delinquent adaptations to cope with the negative emotions and internal pressure within then. Such adaptations include escapist delinquent adaptation, delinquent instrumental adaptation, and retaliatory delinquent adaptation. 

Escapist adaptation includes acts such as drug abuse to get away from reality and escape the predicament at hand. Retaliatory adaptation involves the individual taking part in acts that would seek to pay back the wrongs done to them that constituted the negative emotions and such would include violent offences such as murder, assault and rape. Instrumental adaptation involves the individual taking part in offences of property to acquire what they lack or restore whatever got taken away from them. Such offences would include robbery and carjacking. The adaption of adolescent to the internal pressure and negative emotions manifests through illegal activities, and the rationale for that is the fact that they have limited coping resources at their disposal. Also, peer pressure plays a significant role in the diversion to crime as well as the truth that teenagers have a lower ability to escape from the stressful environment within which they develop the strains. 

Agnew postulates that of all negative emotions, anger emerges as the strongest link between crime, violence and the strains of delinquency. Anger arises top because once it gets accumulated, the individual might adopt detrimental avenues to get rid of the feeling such as revenge or violent crime (Agnew, 1985). Short-term anger created by strain emerged as the quickest avenue to violent crimes especially among teenagers especially because most teenagers have little self-control and can easily get influenced to act in the short term due to instantaneous feelings of anger (Agnew, 1995).  Other negative emotions such as anxiety and depression have the little mediating impact on delinquency, and violent crimes could still lead to revenge crimes on the long-term.

Application of the Theory to Explain the Crime

Agnew’s general theory of crime would perfectly fit to explain the five alleged crimes that Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino perpetrated in Kansas and Missouri. The historical background of Serrano-Vitorino predisposed him to the strain to acquire positive values of success, money and a real life which explains the reason he illegally entered the U.S. The five killings by the accused happened with no specific to steal or rob the victims might get interpreted as revenge killings according to the general strain theory. Serrano-Vitorino’s crimes might have been a result of an inward pressure caused by the strain developed during the perpetrator’s early life. The commission of the offences and the perpetrator’s age can get linked to the possibility of Serrano-Vitorino having a strain during his teenage life. The crimes appear to have been instigated by some inner anger and as such can get attributed to as train. Also, the fact that four of the victims got killed in Kansas may point to some prejudice and hatred the perpetrator held for victims about their locality. As Agnew postulated that whenever an individual gets mistreated during their early life, they might seek to vent their frustrations and anger later on in life through the commission of violent crimes. Also, the inward pressure that resulted from the strain appears to have shaped Serrano-Vitorino’s criminal path, and that can get supported by the conviction on a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery.


         Agnew, R (1985). A Revised Strain Theory of Delinquency. Social Forces. 64(1), 151-167.

         Agnew, R (1994). Delinquency and the Desire for Money. Justice Quarterly. 11(4), 411-427.

          Agnew, R (1995). Controlling Delinquency: Recommendations from General Strain Theory. In Barlow, Hugh D. (Ed). 

          Salinger, T (2016). An illegal immigrant accused of murdering five attempts suicide. New York Daily News. Retrieved from

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