Criminal Justice Paper on Strain theories

Strain Theories

Strain theories were developed to explain the reasons why some individuals are more likely to commit crime. According to the theories, there are particular strains that increase the chances of a person to commit crimes. Examples of these strains include: the inability of a person to achieve their goals such as status or monetary goals, the loss in life such as the things they value, friends or death, and negative stimuli such as physical and verbal abuse (Baron, 2004).  All these strains results into individuals having negative emotions like anger and frustration. The bad emotions form pressure causing them to take corrective action. Studies have found that most of the time, they respond by committing crime as a way to escape or reduce the strain. Strain theories recognize that the presence of any minor strain can turn them into criminals. The aim of this paper is to critically look at the reasons behind strains increasing the chances of crimes and find strains which are most crime conducive.

Merton (1938) came up with a major strain theory known as classic strain theory that has dominated criminology. He looked at the kind of lifestyle that most Americans live. He took into consideration strive for success especially monetary success among all the classes. Merton found that most lower-class were not able to acquire the legal channels to achieve this success (Warner & Fowler, 2003). The inability to become success or achieve the monetary success prompted most of these individuals into crimes. However, this is not only found among the lower class, but also the middle class too has the strain that would lead them into crimes. The cases of juveniles who form gangs do that because they want to achieve respect and status quo. It is all about the desire to be something and it is this strain to achieve or acquire it that makes them criminals. Several researches also show that most juveniles pursue various goals such as harmony with parents and popularity among peers (Agnew, 2009). Most of them claimed that their inability to acquire any of these goals led them into delinquency.

General strain theory (GST) is currently being used in criminology to explain the dominant strain factors that leads individuals to commit crimes (Agnew, 2009). Many criminals fall under this specific strain. However, it is not always that these strains create conducive environment for one to commit crime. For instance, homelessness can be considered as a certain strain type which might lead an individual to commit crime. Studies have shown that not all individuals who are homeless are criminals.

According to GST, stains can lead to crime only when the magnitude is high, there is an association with low social life, are seen as unjust, and associated with pressure (Baron, 2004). This is what leads most people with various strains to commit crimes. When you find a homeless person, who perceives his/condition as unjust, has association with inability to control their social life, and has a high desire to move out of the stress, the possibility of such an individual to commit crime is very high. It is the pressures that are associated to live a better life or engage more with people that would lead them into engaging in various crimes. They may end up stealing to meet their needs or become part of a gang to achieve social life and control.

In conclusion, strain theories recognize that majority of individuals commit crimes because of the pressures to achieve monetary values or acquire certain social position in the society. They end up committing crimes to meet these needs. However, the same theory acknowledges the possibility of people to cope with strains such as a homeless person who deals with their strain in a manner that is legal. The stains that lead an individual to commit crime are caused by pressures and desire to escape a lifestyle.



Agnew, R. (2009). Juvenile delinquency: Causes and control. New York: Oxford University Press

Baron, S.W. (2004). General strain, street youth and crime: A test of Agnew’s revised theory. Criminology, 42, 457–483.

Warner, B. D., & Fowler, S. K. (2003). Strain and violence: Testing a general strain model of community violence. Journal of Criminal Justice, 31, 511–521.