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Application of Gottfredson and Hirschi's General Theory of Crime

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1717 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Bobby is a white male that was born and raised in Whitestone, Queens during the 90’s until present. Whitestone is noted one of the best places to live in New York. The neighborhood is considered to have an above average safety from crime. It is a very diverse neighborhood with mostly Greek and Italian heritage. Those who live in the neighborhood are upper-middle income, making it an above average income. In Whitestone, 39.4% of the working population are employed in executive, management, and professional occupations. Then followed by sales and service jobs, from major sales accounts, to working in fast food restaurants, with 25.3% of the residents employed. The other residents work in clerical, tech support occupations and in manufacturing and laborer occupations.

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Bobby came from a middle-class working family that was dysfunctional in a way. His father worked as a Lieutenant in the police force most of his life until he was fired one day after a positive drug test. Because he had been fired from his job, he could not collect unemployment. After he lost his job, he became an alcoholic. Bobby’s mother continued to work to support him and his 3 siblings. His parents separated when he was around 10 years old. After the divorce, his mother started staying out late with random men and barely spent time at home with her kids. They were left to fend for themselves. She also revealed to her children that their father had begun to abuse her once he lost his job.

Bobby’s parents had made sure he went to a private, catholic elementary school. For high school, his mother sent him to Holy Cross. Freshman year, Bobby started getting into trouble and his grades started slipping. He was expelled from Holy Cross. The following year, he attended a public high school but later on during the year, he dropped out. He started smoking marijuana and drinking a lot. Years went on and he tried to get a job to help out his mother but without a high school diploma he found it hard. It wasn’t until he was 21 years old that he got his GED. He also accidently got his girlfriend pregnant and had two kids with her. He continued smoking and drinking and eventually found it hard to keep a job when he was always stoned or drunk.

 Bobby began to steal money from his girlfriend. Bobby used his children as a distraction in order to steal alcohol, using the bottom of their stroller as a hiding spot for stolen items. Eventually his lies caught up with him, and his girlfriend noticed what he was doing and decided to leave him. His girlfriend than took Bobby to court, opened about their relationship to a judge and filed child support to be paid immediately. Under the new circumstances, Bobby was forced to look for a new job. He finally landed a job in a fast food chain, only to get fired two weeks later for drinking and smoking on the job.

Out of desperation, Bobby purchased a gun from one of his ex-employees in the fast food restaurant, using borrowed money from his mother, which he said was for child support. At the age of 25, Bobby attempted to rob a Bayside convenience store at gunpoint, but during the altercation, the store clerk reached for a shotgun they had hidden under the counter. Out of fear and intoxication, Bobby fired his gun twice, shooting the man in the torso. Bobby than ran out of the store, completely horrified with the reality with what had occurred. The store clerk died, and Bobby was arrested two days later due to the security camera footage in which helped identify him to the police. He was charged with first degree robbery and manslaughter.

Theoretical Content

The theory that best explains Bobby’s behavior is Gottfredson and Hirschi’s A General Theory of Crime which states that the absence of self-control primarily taught by parents that explains most offending. They argue that people who offend demonstrate an array of high-risk behaviors both legal and illegal. The trait of low self-control exists from childhood to adulthood and explains high risk behaviors indicative of individuals who abuse drugs. Self-control is an enduring propensity or individual difference that has general effects in a person’s life which explains the stability across the life course. It also explains why offenders engage in many noncriminal deviant behaviors. There are many elements of self-control some of which include: being very impulsive, lack of diligence, tenacity, or persistence, unstable relationships and employment, lack of manual skills that require training, being self-centered, indifferent, insensitive to suffering, unkind, antisocial and many others. Those who are experience limited self-control also are more likely to use drugs, drink, skip school, and be involved in accidents (e.g., fires, crashes, unwanted pregnancies).

Gottfredson and Hirschi state that self- control is the result of early socialization in the family and, therefore, only preventative policies that take effect early in life and have a positive impact retain a chance of reducing crime and delinquency.  According to their theory, an individual can only be prevented from the tendency to commit crime. The theory implies that once a person engages in deviant behavior, he or she cannot be deterred from it. This theory argues that self-control is learned in childhood and is a product of the socialization practices of childhood caregivers. Self-control does not change much once the child leaves the home, remaining relatively constant during the life course. However, even if self-control is learned in the childhood context, there is some possibility of policy manipulation to spread successful child-rearing techniques more widely among caregivers or to help create familial circumstances conducive to effective child rearing. Self-control is maximized among children when caregivers love them enough to monitor their activities and act when misbehavior is discovered. Effectiveness assumes that loving caregivers also have the resources and are in circumstances that permit actual monitoring, but it also assumes that caregivers recognize misbehavior when it occurs. Finally, those who would produce strong self-control must express disapproval, correct the child, or impose punishments.

Correct Application

Bobby’s criminal behavior began from his childhood. Experiences in his childhood are shaped by our parents. Bobby unfortunately did not have the best role models. Self-control is produced by parenting but, once established, self-control is set for life. According to the theory, Bobby’s self-control should have become stable around the age of 10-12, which during this time his parents were getting divorced. He found out his father was an alcoholic and that his mother would spend most of her time away from home. Low self-control effects other life domains including work, employment, education and relationship which are all of the things we saw Bobby struggle with throughout his life. Individuals with low self-control, like Bobby, are expected to have a higher likelihood of engaging in crime and deviant behavior and have little success in other life domains (i.e., poor jobs, low education, poor relationship quality, etc.).

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Bobby’s behavior is best explained by this theory because of the childhood that he had. Bobby’s weak social bonds and crime are caused by low self-control. His unstable home life lead to his low self-control as an adolescent which caused him to drop out of school, do drugs, get his girlfriend pregnant and start stealing money. It also explains his behavior as an adult which included continuing to use drugs, stealing, a poor job and being fired from that job and being involved in a robbery. For Bobby to have had self-control be instilled, four factors must have been present. His parents must have concern for the welfare and behavior of him. His parents must have supervised him more frequently. Those children who are less monitored are more likely to commit crime. For supervision to have an impact on self-control, his parents must perceive deviant behavior when it occurs. If Bobby engaged in deviant acts, he must have been punished.

Policy Recommendation

The policy that I think is best as a preventative measure would be training for parenthood. The United States doesn’t train people for parenthood. Anybody can have a child and raise them, if they don’t abuse them or neglect them. Parents raise their children as they were raised. If a parent was raised with weak self-control, they will raise their children with weak self-control. Also, life circumstances often prevent caregivers from teaching their children effective techniques such as working strenuous job or being a single parent. Weak self-control can be produced by both single parenthood or not being home as often. Parent training might require that parents can exercise the correct techniques. The states should require parents to be licensed. If authorized parents are financially unstable to monitor the child, the state should be providing subsidies. If self-control is a result of parenting, then such policies might help improve self-control in a society. Government programs to provide aid for parents should become more popular in the United States.


  • Cullen, F. T., Agnew, R., & Wilcox, P. (2018). Criminological theory: past to present: essential readings. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Gottfredson, M.R. and T. Hirschi. (1990). A General Theory of Crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Neighborhoodscout.com. (2019). Whitestone Queens, NY 11357, Neighborhood Profile – NeighborhoodScout. [online] Available at: https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ny/queens/whitestone.
  • Unnever, J. D., F. Cullen, and R. Agnew. (2006). Why is “bad” parenting criminogenic? Impli-cations from rival theories. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 4:3–33.


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