Sample Criminal Justice Paper onTheories and Causes of Crime


Crime is an extremely intricate phenomenon, which varies across many settings and across time. Consequently, there is no single answer to what crime is and what causes it. Some of the theories developed to explain crime, its causes, and implication on the justice system include the principle of autonomy and the idea of rational action (Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research). Consequently, it is vital to evaluate the concepts of rational choice and the principle of autonomy and their interaction with crime to understand the misconceptions that cloud the definition in the context of criminal law and how they influence the dispensation of criminal justice.

Rational Choice Theory

The rational choice theory explains that individuals summon reasonable judgment when making choices and attaining outcomes aligned with their objectives. These actions are associated with fulfilling one’s self-interest to produce results that achieve the most significant benefit and satisfaction, given the choices available (Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services). The rational choice theory offers a micro-perspective on why offenders decide to undertake specific actions. It postulates that individuals engage in crime because it is easy, rewarding, and satisfying. The rational choice perspective resides in the utilitarian belief that a conscious assessment informs individual behavior’s actions. In this view, crime is a personal choice, for which perpetrators are liable for their criminality. Rational choice postulates that offenders weigh the potential benefits of their behavior and the consequences of committing a crime. Therefore, before committing an offense, an individual considers the chances of being caught and the severity of the expected penalty. The precepts of this theory are founded on several assumptions about behavioral motivations and decision-making. It assumes that individuals make careful considerations before acting in a particular manner. These actions may be motivated by money, thrill, revenge, or situational factors such as the victim’s vulnerability or lack of witnesses or authority.


Making a general assumption that crime is a rational choice may be an unwise decision because it overestimates the extent to which individuals consider the legal implications of their actions. It primarily focuses on the individual and their activities while ignoring the social factors and constraints that define the circumstance, life chances, and thought processes. These aspects exert considerable pressure on an individual. This theory asserts that crime is a rational decision overlooking the fact that behavior is an outcome of multiple factors. Moreover, it advocates for increasing penalties to deter crime because offenders are aware of the sanctions attached to misconduct. However, this assumption lacks supporting evidence, making specific and general deterrence activities ineffective to produce the outcomes predicted by rational choice theorists.

Individual Autonomy Approach

            This theory proposed to explain the existence of crime evaluates individualistic liberalism. This concept places individual autonomy at the premium, contending that autonomy and its attendant individual liberties are critical for society’s proper functionality (Reeves 35). This approach advocates for greater personal freedom, subject only to the restrictions necessary to accord other community members equal privileges. In this context, criminal law should be used against behavior that infringes on other people’s rights and well-being (Mason and Monaghan 33). The concept of harming others attributes people with sufficient mental maturity to judge what is appropriate and inappropriate.


This approach of defining crime is faulty because it fails to explain the application of criminal law in certain areas explicitly. For example, most people would agree that criminal law’s deterrent outcomes could be applied to ensure conformity to specific standards, such as wearing a seatbelt while driving. Besides, legal paternalism that provides criminal law to protect individuals who do not attain the maturity criteria is an inappropriate explanation because the focus is on individuals’ adequate degree of maturity to judge the risks associated with individual behavior (Lippke 28).


            Crime is a contentious phenomenon, mainly because it occurs in different cultures and across different times, making it difficult to define what it is and what inspires its occurrence. As a result, numerous theories, including rational choice and autonomy, have been conceived to explain this concept. Although both approaches provide a valuable base for defining the context of criminal law, the associated assumptions require a keen evaluation to validate their application to influence criminal justice.



Works Cited

Lippke, R. L. “The presumption of innocence.” Taming the Presumption of Innocence, 2016, pp. 11-32, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190469191.003.0002.

Mason, G., and J. Monaghan. “Autonomy and responsibility in sexual assault law in NSW: The Lazarus cases.” Current Issues in Criminal Justice, vol. 31, no. 1, 2019, pp. 24-39, doi:10.1080/10345329.2018.1556284.

Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. “Chapter 3: Rational choice and routine activities theory.” Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, 2016,

Reeves, C. “Criminal law and the autonomy assumption.” Journal of Critical Realism, vol. 13, no. 4, 2014, pp. 339-367, doi:10.1179/1476743014z.00000000039.

Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. “Theories and causes of crime.” SCCJR The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, 2016,