In conclusion, the theories of differential association and
differential reinforcement help to explain the offending behaviour that
occurred by helping to explain the impact that interacting with others has on
an individual’s opinion of committing crimes. However, the theories are limited
as they do not account for criminals who later show genuine remorse.

 

The Midmores were both drug dealers so it is likely that
they both shared definitions which approved of crime. As Akers explained, it is
the positive or negative definition we give an act that determines how likely
we are to commit it. In the case of the Midmores, upon finding out the Geoffrey
had been robbed Billy believed sending death threats to Carla was acceptable.
The two brothers also believed that the crime they committed was acceptable
because it was simply revenge. The Midmores approved the crime of grievous
bodily harm as for them, it was retribution for Geoffrey being robbed. After
the attack had been carried out the two were seen high fiving a friend and showing
no remorse as they did not define the crime as unfavourable. Sutherland
believed that “whether criminal or conventional influences are stronger in a
person’s life – determines whether the person embraces crime as an acceptable
way of life. “Lilly, Et Al (2015, p44). Criminal influences were an extremely
strong part of Billy’s life and as Geoffrey is his brother it inevitably became
a part of his life too. Although Akers’ theory is useful in explaining why the
brothers carried out the attack on Carla Whitlock, it does not explain
Geoffrey’s condemnation of his actions. Despite being the one to throw the acid
and showing no initial remorse in the CCTV footage, Geoffrey posted a status to
facebook stating “i’ve done something really proper bad”. According to Acker’s
criminals have favourable definitions of the crimes they commit which is why
they commit them. However, Geoffrey may have initially seen the act of throwing
acid as favourable but upon reflection he had given the act a completely new
definition. Ackers’ theory does not account for criminals who commit crimes but
later show remorse for what they have done.

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Sutherland’s theory of differential association as well as
Akers’ theory of differential reinforcement help to explain the offending
behaviour that occurred. Billy Midmore spent five years of his life in prison
from the ages of 16 to 21 which undoubtedly had a profound effect on him. From
the ages of 16 to 21 is when most young people form an identity. However, in
Billy’s case the main identity he formed was a criminal. Becker believed that
social stigmatization “prompts those who are stigmatized to adopt the label of
criminal and behave in ways that are consistent with this label “Snodgrass, Et
Al (2011, p.1152). From a young age billy was branded with the label of
‘criminal’ and acted accordingly. This is a classic example of a self-fulfilling
prophecy occurring which also helps explain why billy is a repeat offender and
was not rehabilitated by the prison system. In the year of the crime “41.8% of
juvenile offenders in the October to December 2015 cohort reoffended within one
year” Ministry of Justice (2015,
p.6). Being labelled as a criminal was not the only negative effect of
prison for Billy. His constant interaction with other criminals resulted in his
attitude towards committing crime becoming increasingly more favourable. In
accordance with the theory of differential association, “individuals learn
behaviours through de?nitions transmitted from interactions primarily within
intimate personal groups” Snodgrass, Et Al (2011, p.1152). Arguably, prison is
one of the most intimate environments for an individual to live in which makes
it the perfect place for differential association to occur. Sutherland stated
that differential associations “that last longer, are more intense and occur
earlier in life that are likely to be more influential” Newburn (2017, p.206).
This supports the idea that prison failed to rehabilitate Billy and instead
allowed him to form new definitions which were more favourable to
committing crime. Unlike Billy who had received 26 previous convictions for 52
offences, the only previous offence Geoffrey had was travelling without a rail
ticket. Geoffrey worked for his younger brother and this enabled him to be
exposed to the favourable attitude towards committing crime that Billy had
established in prison. “As social creatures humans are affected by those with
whom they interact with.” Lilly, Et Al 
(2015, p.60). Geoffrey was closely interacting with his brother which
resulted in him being greatly affected.

 

Akers went further than Sutherland and extended his theory
of differential association, producing the theory of differential
reinforcement.  For Akers, his main focus was on definitions and how some
are general but others are very specific. For example, an individual may define
stealing from the rich as a good act but murder as a bad act. Instead of
agreeing or disagreeing with crime a whole, most individuals have different
definitions on whether certain crimes are good or bad. Akers believed that “the
more a person’s definition approves of an act, the greater the chances are that
the act will be committed” Lilly, Et Al (2015, p.59)

 

9.       While criminal
behaviour is an expression of general needs and values, It is not explained by
those general needs and values since non criminal behaviour is an expression of
the same needs and values.” Lilly, Et Al (2015, p.45).

8.       The process of
learning criminal behaviour by association with criminal and anti- criminal
patterns involves all the mechanisms that are involved win any other learning.

7.       Differential
associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority and intensity

6.       A person becomes more
delinquent because of an excess of definitions favourable to violation of law
over definitions unfavourable to violation of law. This is the principle of
differential association

5.       The specific
direction of motives and drives is learned from definitions of legal codes as
favourable and unfavourable

4.       When criminal
behaviour is learned, the learning includes (a) techniques of committing the
crime, which sometimes are very complicated, sometimes are very simple; and (b)
the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations and attitudes.

3.       The principal part of
the learning of criminal behaviour occurs within intimate personal groups

2.       Criminal behaviour is
learned in interaction with other persons in process of communication

“1.       Criminal behaviour
is learned

A fundamental theory to arise from the Chicago school is differential
association.  Differential association
can be defined as “the process through which individuals are exposed to
definitions favourable and unfavourable to illegal or law- abiding behaviour” Lilly, Et Al (2015, p.59).
The theory was created by Edwin Sutherland who argued that “criminal
conduct is learned in interaction with others” Newburn (2017, p.205). The focal
point of differential association is the idea that exposure to particular ideas
can affect an individual and their views.  Sutherland believed that if an
individual comes into contact with ideas that favour breaking the law then the
individual becomes more likely to break the law themselves. If an individual
encounters multiple ideas that all promote different things then it depends on
the ratio of the ideas. If someone interacts with a large group who all promote
law breaking, then their interaction with two individuals who promote law
abiding behaviour will not have an impact. Due to the larger group outnumbering
the two individuals, the individual will still be inclined to commit a crime.
Differential association was summarised in a set of 9 points:

 

 

The Chicago school is the first branch of criminology to
have “rejected explanations of criminality that focused on particular
individuals” Tierney (2010, p.97) and instead chosen to view crime as a social
problem.  A core element of the Chicago
school is the zonal hypothesis, “the idea that the city evolved through a
series of concentric circles, each being a zone of social and cultural life” Newburn
(2017, p.203).  The zonal hypothesis was created by Ernest Burgess in hope
of producing a geographical explanation for social disorganisation in Chicago.
Burgess’ hypothesis consists of five different zones represented by circles. At
the centre of the circles is zone 1 which is called the ‘business district’,
zone 2 is referred to as the ‘zone of transition’ and is the most important
zone. Another key element from the Chicago school is Clifford Shaw and Henry
McKay’s cultural transmission. They set out to test Burgess’ work and to
explore ecological patterns of offending. They found that areas with high rates
of delinquency also had a high percentage of ethnic minority households, a
population in decline and a low rate of home ownership. Shaw and McKay’s
research “supported Burgess’s ecological thesis and they argued that the high
levels of juvenile delinquency found in the zone of transition were a product
of social disorganisation” Newburn (2017, p.204).

 

 On 17th September
2015, Carla Whitlock became the victim of an acid attack at the hands of Billy
and Geoffrey Midmore. She was left blinded in one eye and disfigured for life.
Prior to the attack Carla had arranged a meeting between Geoffrey and two other
males that she knew. Geoffrey met the two men believing they were going to
purchase drugs from him, however they robbed him of around £2000 of drugs. The
Midmore brothers blamed Carla and Billy sent her a threatening text message
telling her she was “dead”. CCTV footage then showed the brothers purchasing
‘one shot’ drain cleaner from Homebase. Geoffrey then sent a message to a
friend with a picture of the drain cleaner captioning it with “this is the one
face melter”, he was also the one to spray the drain cleaner. After the attack,
CCTV footage shows the brothers high fiving a friend on the train.

 

In this essay I will be using theories from the Chicago
school to help explain the offending behaviour that occurred in the acid attack
on Carla Whitlock. I will be focusing on Edwin Sutherland’s theory of
differential association as well as Ronald Akers’ development on Sutherland’s
theory, differential reinforcement.

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