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Colin, from the Bad Side of Town

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Growing up on what is considered as the “bad side” of town has its own repercussions. Colin was a young man who grew up on the bad side of town; however, he had friends who were from the “right side” of town. The town saw its usual flow of problems revolving around youth and crime and one day, Colin was that troublesome youth. Colin at fifteen was picked up from stealing gas from a neighbour’s truck. He did not commit this act alone and there were no charges laid against him, but, the whole community found out about his actions. Even though he did not commit the theft on his own, he still took the full responsibility for the theft. When Colin turned 17, his life took a turn when he was accepted into trade college and he was happy to leave the town. Two theories will be used to discuss Colin’s actions and why or how they may have transpired. The first theory would be rational choice theory and the second isn’t a theory but more like a variable called environmental toxins. These two theories will be compared and contrasted, then it will be questioned as two whether rational choice theory and environmental toxins can be integrated, and finally I will aim to consider any policy changes that can be made in regards to rational choice theory and environmental toxins.

As mentioned by Faubert (2018), rational choice theory suggests that rationality depends on the time, ability, as well as availability of relevant information which then is further elaborated on background factors, stages of involvement, situation, opportunity, and motivation. All these factors look at the steps behind the reasoning as to why an offender should continue on the path of prosecuting a certain offense.

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Paternoster and Bachman (2001, p. 1) argued that the criminal behaviour is a result of the decision made by the offender where they believed that the benefits of the crime was more significant that the cost of the crime. Rational choice theory argues that before an offender decides to commit a crime, they perform a balancing act in the sense that they weigh the advantages and disadvantaged of committing the crime because “crime is chosen for its benefits,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 32). An asset to understanding how rational choice theory works would be to understand that this theory “seeks to understand why offenders choose to commit particular offenses, or how they undertake them,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 32). Rational choice theory suggests that there is some sort of rationality before a person commits a crime in the logic that the offender is an individual who puts much forethought into outweighing the benefits of committing a crime before actually committing it.

Rational choice theory would be applicable into the present situation with Colin in regards to why he committed the crime. As a youth at fifteen, Colin decided he was bored and there wasn’t much to do around town especially on the weekends. The next best thing he could think of doing was stealing gas from a neighbours’ truck. The rational choice theory would imply that Colin weighed out the advantages and disadvantages before actually committing the crime. To fifteen year old Colin the advantages could involve having something to do, not being bored, having his friends get together with him to have ‘fun’. The disadvantages to Colin would be that he got caught. To a fifteen year old youth, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Rational choice theory furthers our understanding of Colin’s situation by implying that there clearly was thought put into why he should commit the theft with others who I will assume are his friends.

Environmental toxins are part of what is known as the risk factor paradigm which is “integrative based on probabilities,” (Faubert, 2018). The risk factor paradigm is an integration of biological, sociological, and criminological theories of crime. The sociological aspects of environmental toxins stem from social disorganization in regards to poverty, residential mobility, urbanization (Faubert, 2018). The biological aspects of environmental toxins can stem from prenatal conditions, environmental toxins, and genes such as hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes (Faubert, 2018). When looking at the sociological aspects of environmental toxins, there is a “possibility that children growing up in a poor home environment … might condition into antisocial lifestyle [whereas] children living under more privileged circumstances … may not adopt this lifestyle,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 69). “One can be pulled toward delinquency by [factors such as] media portrayal of crime, the level of crime in one’s neighborhood, and the presence of delinquent companions,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 77). Environmental has individualistic characteristics because “an environmental hazard may be associated as much with walking to school in the morning, running a business, or raising one’s children – along with all of the other factors salient in these daily situations – as with health or disease,” (Clapp et al. , 2016, p. 144)

The strength of rational choice theory lays in its ability to be a broad theory in the sense that it can encompass situational crime prevention like for example, preventing robbery by having clear windows so any onlookers, or passerby’s, can see what is happening in the store (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 20). “[Rational] choice theory provides a general framework for understanding every kind of crime,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 33). Because it’s ability to be generalizable, it can tackle issues with preventable approaches like the situation mentioned above in the case of a robbery. Today, it can be said that most stores do have a large window at the forefront of their store or they design the layout of the store in way where people can be held accountable for what they do because others can see them. In this situation with Colin, his community had its usual share of problems relating to youth. Rational choice theory would probably suggest that to make the crime preventable, the neighbour could fence up their yard and take some measurable steps so that it doesn’t happen again. However, a weakness of rational crime theory is that criminals are irrational, not all crimes are rational, and it doesn’t offer much new information (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 38-39). It was noted by Paternoster & Bachman (2001) that criminals, who leaned towards being more instrumental offenders, actually reported less planning before committing crimes such as burglary and they don’t usually put much forethought into it (p. 38). This would make sense because committing a burglary usually is dependent on the availability and opportunity to be able to commit that offense. If an offender were to try to rationalize their decision before committing the act, there would be good probability that the opportunity to even commit that offence is now gone. Another argument as to what weakens rational choice theory is the fact that not all crimes are rational where it is “[argued] that rationality isn’t completely absent for crimes that have sexual components to them, or for crimes of violence,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 38). Rational choice theory cannot explain crimes done on a larger scale that goes against the morale of a community. For example, we would argue that a rational person wouldn’t believe there are any benefits to serious offences such as rape, but, rational choice theory would argue that the offender is rational and the crime was done by balancing rationality.

Lastly, another weakness noted about rational choice theory is that it doesn’t have anything new to offer. Rational choice theory can be traced back to economic theory, social learning theory, routine activity theory, and the general theory of crime,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 39-40). With Colin’s situation, some of the weaknesses in rational choice theory can be noted. First important thing to mention is that his decision to the theft he was a part of was rational to him by just the fact that he was bored. The benefits for him was that he wouldn’t be bored and got to commit this theft with some of his friends which overrode the cost in this situation which was being caught. But, it is arguable that a rational person wouldn’t commit theft because they were bored. Generally when a rational person is bored they would turn to other things that aren’t criminal in nature. Also, this leads to the fact that theft for Colin isn’t a rational crime, because it could be argued that it was irrational for a child to commit theft out of mere boredom.

A strength of looking at environmental toxins as a variable to the risk factor paradigm is that it encompasses a multitude of other theories such as sociological, biological, and criminological theories of crimes. Environmental toxins therefore can be seen as a flexible variable in the sense that for each theory there is a definition as to what environmental toxins can attribute to crime. As mentioned earlier, it was noted that environmental toxins in regards to sociological theories started looking at social disorganization and how factors such as poverty and urbanization were viewed as environmental toxins effected an individual on their own trajectory. Biological theories looking at environmental toxins considered other factors such as genes and how hormones, neurotransmitters, as well as enzymes affected an individual’s rate of crimes or ability to commit a crime. Another important factor to consider about the strengths of environmental toxins can be seen by Santiago-Rivera et al. (2007) where exposure to different environmental contaminants gave rise to health issues such as depression and psychological distress (p. 33). Taking the strengths of environmental toxins into consideration, when looking at the case of Colin, there are a few important factors to consider such as the fact that he was brought up on the bad side of town. Because he was brought up on the bad side of town, his exposure to poverty and urbanization, may have influenced how he viewed crime. Perhaps in this bad side of town there were also environmental toxins such as poison or other toxins that he was exposed too that could have increased his likelihood to be deviant. Clapp et al. (2016) discussed how communities that were damaged by environmental toxins were being neglected by the government (p. 150) and this could potentially explain the characteristics of Colin’s community. Because of the fact that the community was so divided into the good side and bad side, perhaps government funding was less for those individuals that lived in the bad side and therefore they were constantly under the influence of environment toxins.

The scenario doesn’t discuss to many biological factors but it could be implied through some toxins that he may have been exposed to on this bad side of the town. A weakness that could be argued for environmental toxins would be the fact that it is a variable. It is a variable that works in conjunction with other variables to produce reliable results and can become somewhat of a mess as a result of theoretical integration of biological and sociological theories (Faubert, 2018). This can be seen in Colin’s situation where the environmental toxins weren’t really enough to discuss the larger picture. For example how it was mentioned that most of his friends were from the good side of town which makes it safe to assume that those who were a part of the theft with Colin were these friends from the good side. This then leads to the bigger question; if these friends from the good side of town also had partaken in this theft, than how reliable is it to use environmental toxins as an explanation to justify their behaviour because they are not exposed to the same environmental toxins as Colin. Overall, rational choice theory is a theory that argues that an offender makes rational decisions based of different known factors to them and environmental toxins are more of a variable that integrated theories use to justify or branch together the reasons as to why someone may commit a crime. I would argue that the more compelling out of the two would be environmental toxins just because of how it can be manipulated to be defined into different theories.

I would also argue that environmental toxins is more compelling than rational choice theory because it factors in that there are differences that people may be exposed to and those differences could account to why someone may be more susceptible to criminal acts. I would argue that the theories can’t be integrated because rational choice theory looks at the offender and on the other hand environmental toxins looks at what surrounds the offender. It would be hard to integrate two theories that aim to look at different, specific things. Also, in this situation I would argue that an environmental toxin is a variable and in order for rational choice theory to take environmental toxins under consideration, it would have to change its lens and look at the larger picture and the background of each offender which isn’t the case. Rational choice theory isn’t considered with the life of an offender but only really concerned with the thought process that went into committing to following through with an act of crime. Rational choice theory would advocate four things in regards to policy change.

The first being “increasing the perceived effort required by crime [the second would be] increasing the perceived risks [the third would be] reducing the anticipated rewards [and lastly] removing excuses for crime,” (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001, p. 37). In Colin’s situation, rational choice theory would suggest to make it harder for youth to commit the crime like build a fence around your house with a lock and key. The second thing it would suggest would be to increase the risk by having more enforcement officials going around the town or increasing the fine for committing theft. The third thing rational choice theory would suggest is to reducing the anticipated rewards. Even though with Colin the only real reward he felt like he was receiving was the fact that he wasn’t going to be bored anymore, maybe in this situation the community could reduce the anticipated rewards by creating clubs and events for youth so that they have something to be engaged in. Lastly, rational choice theory would suggest removing the excuses for crimes committed by the youth in the community by perhaps teaching them why it’s bad or teaching parents on how to prevent their children from stealing.

The policy that could be a result from environmental toxins could come from biological theories as well as sociological theories. When it comes to biological theories and we are considering young child genes, the best way to ensure that the child is born healthy is to ensure that the pregnant mother is healthy. Environmental toxins would propose to reinforce the importance of not smoking, drinking, or doing other activities that may bring risks to the unborn child when concerned with physiological and psychological problems in their functioning. On the other hand when looking at sociological theories, environmental toxins would recommend to reduce the gap between those living in poverty and those that do not by reducing the air contaminants or low-quality life that those in poverty might be exposed too.

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