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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 of age, got accused of murdering five people in Kansas and Missouri. According to police reports, the suspect killed four men in Kansas City in his friend Kan’s home then killed his other victim in New Florence about one hundred and seventy miles away. Serrano-Vitorino is not a first-time offender after U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as well as Prosecutors revealed that he 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. He had 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. According to Salinger (2016), the Missouri Attorney General asserted that Serrano-Vitorino will get his first prosecution in Missouri and later in Kansas.

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 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 from the differences in the cultures of different individuals as well as the goals and social standards existent in the society. Anomie’s theory has two segments, the first being the inability of 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 crime 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 his attempts at explaining crime and delinquency is that negative emotions brought forth by strain typically result in diverse outcomes including delinquency. Agnew asserts that various strains exist, such as the inability to achieve positive results such as power, status, success, or money, withdrawal of positive stimuli such as loss of leadership positions or property, as well as the presence of negative stimuli including sexual harassment or physical abuse (Agnew, 1994). The general strain theory revolves around these three sub-branches under which most strains responsible for crime and delinquency lie. Agnew further points out that there are various strain levels, including high magnitude strains, highly unjust strains, strains of weak social control, and strains that act as motivators for criminal behavior and delinquency. The theorist additionally gave two methods of measuring the strain in an individual’s life. The first method involves a subjective test which is more direct while the second one is objective and includes the predetermined 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, including situations that may be out of their control. The harsh or unfriendly conditions imposed by other individuals on 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 of obtaining money. Similarly, the pressure to achieve power and status in society could lead an individual into committing a crime in a bid to accomplish their desire. Noteworthy, individuals may adopt different types of delinquent adaptations to cope with negative emotions and internal pressure within then. Such adaptations may include escapist delinquent adaptation, delinquent instrumental adaptation, and retaliatory delinquent adaptation. 

Escapist adaptation includes acts such as drug abuse aimed at helping one get away from reality and escape the predicament at hand. Retaliatory adaptation involves the individual taking part in acts that seek to pay back the wrongs done to them and that resulted in the negative emotions. Such acts may include violent offences such as murder, physical assault, and rape. Instrumental adaptation involves an individual taking part in offences involving property so as to acquire what they lack or restore whatever got taken away from them. Such offences may include robbery and carjacking. It is worth noting here that adaption of adolescents to 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. On the same note, peer pressure also plays a significant role in adolescents’ diversion to crime. These are some of the reasons why teenagers have a lower ability to escape from stressful environments 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 claims the top position in this respect because once it gets accumulated in an individual, the individual might explore and adopt detrimental avenues to get rid of the feeling, including through revenge and violent crime (Agnew, 1985). Short-term anger created by strain emerges as the quickest avenue to violent crimes especially among teenagers 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 little mediating impact on delinquency, and violent crimes could still lead to revenge crimes in the long-term.

It is further noteworthy that Agnew had to revise his theory before it could adequately explain the relationship between strain and crime, as described above. Before the revision, such crimes as drug use, sexual assault, and domestic abuse could be not explained by the theory because these are not crimes aimed at achieving en economic goal. After the revision, the theory could now explain that the aforementioned forms of crime are illegitimate means of coping after a person would have failed to achieve their goal (Agnew, 1992). For instance, if a man sets out to engage in sexual intercourse with an identified female but the female rejects his advances, he might decide to achieve this goal by resorting to sexual assault or crime. It was also after the revision that the confrontation of a negative stimuli and the removal of a positive stimuli were added by Agnew as other sources of strain.

Application of the Theory to Serrano-Vitorino’s Crime

Agnew’s general theory of crime would perfectly explain the five crimes Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino is alleged to have committed in Kansas and Missouri. The historical background of the suspect predisposed him to the strain to acquire positive values of success, money, and a real life and this explains why he illegally entered the U.S. The five killings he allegedly committed happened with no specific intention to steal or rob the victims. They might thus be 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 suspect’s age can get linked to the possibility that he had a strain during his teenage life. The crimes appear to have been instigated by some inner anger and as such can get attributed to a train. In the same breadth, the fact that four of the victims got killed in Kansas may point to some prejudice and hatred the suspect held for victims about their locality. As Agnew postulated, 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.

References

Agnew, R (1985). A revised strain theory of delinquency. Social Forces, 64(1), 151-167.

Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30, 47-87.

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 June 1, 2020 from http://m.nydailynews.com/news/crime/illegal-immigrant-caused-murdering-5-attempts-suicide-article1.2560255

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