Criminal Justice Paper on Sutherland’s Theory Of Differential Association

Criminal Justice Paper on Sutherland’s Theory Of Differential Association

Edwin Sutherland’s theory of Differential Association was presented in 1939, though it was revised several times. Differential association theory holds that theer is high probability of crimes being committed in areas that lack functional social structures and instituions to control and organize human activities. Sutherland developed this theory to explain how criminals learn the techniques of a particular criminal activity and how to vindicate such behavior as normal and enjoyable (Sutherland and Cressey 120). According to the theory, social class, age and race among other factors can be used to explain the occurance of crime. He established his theory  to clarify how these factors were associated with crime.

There are nine propositions that are the pillars of differential association. The first proposition suggests that criminal behavior is learned. Sutherland notes that learned behavior is not inherited or invented, so the skills learned for criminal activity are automatically obtained through associations with criminals or from birth through a process of learning (Sutherland and Cressey 123). The second proposition posits that one learns criminal behavior through communication and social interactions (Sutherland and Cressey 123). The third one describes the remarks of McKay and Shaw, who claims that constant high rates of crimes within members of same social circumstances. Sutherland maintains that most learning about delinquency takes place in collaboration with members of peer groups or means of impersonal communication such as films or television. The fourth proposition describes the process through which individuals learn the techniques and skills that facilitate crime commission. This proposition also focuses on the drive, attitude and the motive to engage in criminal behavior (Sutherland and Cressey 123).

The fifth one elaborates that the precise direction of drives and motives is learned from the delineations of law as either favorable or unfavorable. A person develops sentiments of legal codes that either encourage or discourage the crime. The sixth proposition posits that the person becomes a criminal due to excessive definitions favorable to violations of legal codes over definitions unfavorable to violation of law (Sutherland and Cressey 123). Moreover, in the Seventh proposition, he describes how excessive definitions are affected by factors such as duration, intensity, priority, and frequency. The eighth propostion refocuses on the rationality and logic used by criminals during the process of learning criminal behavior. Criminals perfect their skills to become more efficient and effective, learning over time to become more precise in these activities. The last proposition maintains that the inspiration for criminal behavior is not the same, so the delinquency cannot be a result of common needs and values(Sutherland and Cressey 123).

Differential association theory is the best-known explanation for criminal behavior, and it reflects an interpersonal approach. Sutherland is credited with making the breakthrough in criminology theory as part of differential association theory. He used the term ‘white collar crime’ which he described as a delinquency committed by a person of high class in the course of his profession. Besides, the differential association theory has been used to describe the gang culture and youth criminals. When examining youth gang culture, the significance of the ‘definitions’ conveyed by peers is vibrant, especially when one considers that one of the toughest correlates of juvenile delinquency is illegitimate peers.

Primary empirical studies of Juvenile crimes utilized the differential association theory using the idea of associations with criminal peers, and the period, intensity, priority, and frequency of such relations (Lilly, Cullen and Ball 42). These studies found overall support for Sutherland’s theory. Many juveniles who conveyed more criminal friends inclined to commit more criminal acts. Moreover, most criminal activities are learned from one’s peers, and these peers are more likely to transfer these behaviors, so the conception of criminal peers is highly associated with the idea of connotations with definitions favorable and unfavorable to crime.



Works Cited

Lilly, James Robert, Cullen, Francis T. and Ball, Richard A. Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. 4th ed. London: Sage Publications, 2007.

Sutherland, Edwin H. and Donald R. Cressey. “A Theory of Differential Association.” (1960) Criminological Theory: Past to Present. Ed. Francis T. Cullen and Robert Agnew. Los Angeles: Roxbury Company, 2006. 122-125.