The best theory for explaining crime is the strain theory compared to the Messner and Rosenfeld’s Institutional Anomie Theory and the Social-Disorganization Theory This theory best explains the causes of crime compared to the other two as it is a modified form of the above mentioned other two theories. The theory has significantly evolved from the other two since its beginning in 1938 with Robert Merton and the classical tradition. The theory encompasses aspects and ideologies from the other two as Merton; the theorist argues that criminal behaviour motivation emanates from the disjunction between aspirations that are socially prescribed and avenues that are structured socially for the realization of these aspirations (Burton & Cullen 19)
The theory can be easily understood and related to the American society and many other societies across the globe due to its simplicity in explaining the cause of crime unlike the other relatively complex crime theories. It is based on the fact that American Dream refers to goals and objectives that are particularly important to this very perspective. Frustration and production of a sense of normlessness or anomie is then caused by the failure to achieve the set goals. Individuals who lack conventional ways to achieve their set goals, they innovate new means of criminal activities or reinvent their goals to achieve them. The theory, unlike the other two specifies different types of adaptations to strain namely innovation, rebellion, conformity, ritualism and retreatism. The theory further makes it easy to understand different causes of crime as each adaptation given gets a definition by an actor that has different combinations of goals and means. For instance, the innovator can aspire to the goals that are prescribed by the standard society but do not have the means towards their achievement through normal activity channels (Agnew 123).Different from this, other people use retreatism to adapt to strain. For instance, retreatists do not aspire to either the standard means or the objectives and retreats from attaining their goals via drugs and alcohol use. Initially, the theory did not have empirical support which called for revision, later becoming the most empirically supported theory explaining causes of crime (Agnew 151).
To counter its critics, the theorist had to build on the classical tradition through giving further definition on new forms of strain, further differentiated between strains that are either objective or subjective, put more emphasis on the role that emotions play in the root cause of crime and coping with deviance, as well as giving predictions on the factors that can likely increase the probability that an actor reacts to a certain strain with deviance (Akers et al 647). In the other two crime theories, in-depth empirical information like this is not provided. To further shed some light on the theory, Agnew adopted a strain source from the classical tradition as goal blockage. He further added two new major strain types namely; strain as positive stimuli removal and strain as negative stimuli presentation (Sampson & Groves 780).The theory is much applicable to human’s life in its definition of strain that it is any issue, relationship or event in the life of a human being that is given a negative perception. Strain’s perceptions that are negative are equally important if not more than indicators that are objective in the prediction of behaviours exhibiting criminal activities or deviance. Strain also generates effective states that are negative which produce corrective action motivation. So as to meditate the relationship that exists between crime and strain, the emotion of anger is important as well as the emotions that are depressive such as hopelessness and despair that are related to mechanism of coping that are deviant such as drugs and alcohol use. Every human being can relate to this unlike the Institutional Anomie Theory and the Social-Disorganization Theory (Sampson & Groves 779).
The empirical research report on the suitability of this theory compared to others is based on a current research that draws on strain theories that are both general and classical in explaining the use of drugs and alcohol in Canada by use of a sample from a general population. For instance, while exploration of the relationship between drug use and strain is done, there has been an examination by few studies on its relation to the use of alcohol and majority have analysed samples from the university and school aged. From a more practical perspective, alcohol and drugs usage can be given the interpretation of a way through which one can cope with strain’s negative emotions, more so, hopelessness, anguish, depression and despair feelings. From this empirical study, an examination of how the objective indicators of strain perceptions that is subjective and strain itself has a direct association with the use of alcohol and drugs (Akers et al 651).Finally, results from an empirical study which explored the relationship between strain, gender and substance abuse led to the finding that men and women experience strain differently and those that men experience have a greater likelihood of leading to criminal coping, even though use of drug and alcohol predictions have a less clarity since differences in gender in substance abuse are highly limited. This makes the strain theory most suitable at explaining crime.
Burton, Velmer & Cullen, Francis, The Empirical Status of Strain Theory in Journal of Crime and Justice Vol. XV, No. 2, Anderson Publishing Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. 1992: Pp.1-23. Print.
Agnew, Robert. A longitudinal Test of Social Control Theory and Delinquency in Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers- Newark. Florida State University Library,Vol. 28, No. 2 1991: Pp. 126-156. Print.
Sampson, Robert & Groves, Byron. Community Structure and Crime: Testing Social-Disorganization Theory in American Journal of Sociology,Vol. 94, No. 4. 1989: Pp. 774-802. Print.
Akers, Ronald et al,. Social Learning and Deviant Behavior: A Specific Test of a General Theory in American Sociological Review, Volume 44, American Sociological Association, University of Lowa, 1979:Pp. 636- 655. Print.