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Why Do Criminals Offend?: A General Theory of Crime and Delinquency

NCJ Number
Robert Agnew
Date Published
252 pages
In answering the question regarding why some individuals are more likely than others to engage in crime, this book synthesizes the best of current crime theory and research into a unified whole with a clarity that will enable students, the general public, and policymakers to understand and respond appropriately to crime and those who commit it.
The first chapter poses the seven questions that a general theory of crime must answer if it is to satisfy the quest for the causes of crime and provide guidance to those responsible for controlling crime. The second chapter lists the major constraints and motivations that affect crime, noting that crime is most likely when the constraints against crime are low and the motivations to commit crime are high. This is followed by a chapter that explains and critiques the dominant strategy for grouping the variables that have a relatively moderate to large direct effect on crime, arguing that the direct causes of crime should be grouped into clusters organized around the life domains of self (personality traits), family, school, peers, and work. The major variables in each of these domains are listed, followed by explanations of how they affect the constraints against and the motivations for crime. The next chapter describes the effects of these life domains on one another. This is followed by four chapters that explain the mechanism by which prior crime influences subsequent crime; how the causes of crime interact in affecting crime and one another; how the causes of crime tend to have contemporaneous and nonlinear effects on crime and one another; and how the life domains are influenced by a range of outside factors, including biological and environmental factors. A chapter then uses the general theory of crime to explain group differences in crime and patterns of offending over the life course. The remaining three chapters test the general theory of crime, recommend ways to control crime, and present the general theory as an integrated theory of crime. Chapter discussion questions, 350 references, and author and subject indexes