Scarce research is available on active offenders due to their unwillingness to corporate with researchers and past and convicted offenders may have changed their perspectives after being convicted or left their lifestyle of crime. The most reliable data on these offenses and their perpetrators may come from active burglars themselves. Richard T. Wright and Scott Decker’s book, Burglars on the Job seeks to explain the reasons why burglars commit the crimes they do. They have taken their research to another level by gaining the trust of active offenders in the St. Louis area and gaining inside knowledge of these criminals’ daily lives and their crimes.
This paper will address anomie and bond theories and how it relates to the offenders in this study and the socialization of these subjects into criminality and the street culture in which they live. Conventional Goals? According to Robert Merton’s anomie theory, people are not born criminals; they conform to the environment in which they live. Conventional means of reaching a goal are often more readily available to some than others in our society. Merton suggests that crime is a result of this bias due to the anomic culture in America.
Our society places great emphasis on the “American Dream” but conventional means of reaching this goal are denied to some unfortunate individuals, placing strain on them. The burglars in Wright and Decker’s book have conventional goals, but lack the capacity to achieve them by conventional means. Burglar #30 Mark Smith says, “I didn’t have the luxury of laying back in no damn pinstriped suit. I’m poor and I’m raggedy and I need some food and I need some shoes… So I got to have some money some kind of way.
If it’s got to be the wrong way, then so be it. ”(pg. 7) This burglar has the conventional goal of buying food and shoes but, as anomie theory suggest, does not have the conventional means of getting what he wants, therefore he commits crime to obtain the money to buy what he desires. Not every burglar in this study claimed to have conventional goals, drugs were a popular desire among these offenders as well. These burglars want to get high and party continuously, but rather than gain lawful employment to supply their habits, they would rather burglarize a residence to gain the financial means to keep the party going.
This is evident in one burglar’s response to why he chooses to commit the crimes he does. Burglar #009 Richard Jackson replies, “You ever had an urge before? Maybe a cigarette urge or a food urge, where you eat that and you get to have more and more? That’s how the crack is. You smoke it and it hits you in the back of the throat and you got to have more…”(pg. 39) The majority of these offenders’ wanted the status and appearance of being successful, the “American Dream”, but lacked the resources or drives to reach their goals conventionally. The book describes the majority of the offenders as having very few resources in which to work with.
Wright and Decker write, “Decent employment opportunities are limited for inner city residents and the offenders, who by large are poorly educated, unskilled, and heavy illicit drugs and alcohol users, are not well placed to compete for the few good jobs available. ”(pg. 50) When field researchers asked them why they chose burglary over other legitimate means some replied that they were unable to gain suitable employment or they just didn’t want a job to infringe on their current lifestyles. Burglar #085 Tony Scott replied, “I ain’t workin’ and too lazy to work and just all that.
I like it to where I can just run around…”(pg. 48) Some burglars wished to gain lawful employment, Wright and Decker write, “43 of the 78 unemployed subjects who said they did burglaries mostly for the money claimed they would stop committing offenses if someone gave them a good job. ”(pg. 49) Since the overall expectation of these offenders’ was financially motivated, conventional goals are present as is innovation. Some of these offenders’ burglarized for drug’s, even burglarizing their drug dealer’s home, making them rebels instead of innovators.
Burglar #24 James Brown says, “My house burglaries are based on dope dealers. ” (pg. 66) Merton describes rebels as those who lack conventional goals and the conventional means of reaching them. I would even describe some of them as retreatist, according to Merton’s theory, as they use drugs and criminal behavior as a way to escape the pressures or strains placed on them. One burglar, Ricky Davis #015 describes how he burglarizes and spends his money on drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. He has unconventional goals, with no apparent desire to live a conventional lifestyle.
He says, “I spend the money on something to drink, then get me some marijuana. Then I’m gonna find me a duck. ” (pg. 42) Weak Social bonds A bond theory explanation would suggest that the offenders lacked adequate social bonds which, in turn, gave them the freedom to commit crimes. They did not have the parental guidance to steer them away from crime. The social bonds in Travis Hirshi’s bond theory are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Several of these offenders seemed to be lacking in at least one of these areas. Attachment, or emotional closeness to others, was lacking in many of these offenders.
They were more attached to the street culture than decent culture. Those offenders who did mention their families never spoke of engagement with them other than in the context of trying to borrow money from them or burglarizing them. This shows that these offenders had very weak, if any, attachment bonds. Most of these offenders’ had very little commitment either. As stated earlier, they had little education, no jobs, and no social networks to deter them from a life of crime. They had nothing or almost nothing to lose. The offenders’ involvement in conventional activities was also very limited.
Their strongest involvements seemed to be with their “street life. ” They felt that jobs or other conventional activities would damper their party time. Burglar #85 Scott says, “… I ain’t got to go to bed at a certain time to get up at a certain time. Go to bed around one o’clock or whenever I want. Ain’t got to go to work and work eight hours. Just go in and do a five minute job, get that money, and that’s basically it. ”(pg. 48) It is the quick and easy, with very little planning or effort, that makes burglary a choice crime for these offenders.
While some offenders seemed to hold some conventional moral values, others seemed only to be thinking of themselves in their day to day activities. Burglar #13 Larry Washington states, “see, if you rob a person, they can identify you cause you lookin’ right at em’ you know? They lookin’ right at you and they can identify you. And armed robbery is what? Five to ten years? Or ten to fifteen years? ” This offender prefers burglary over robbery out of fear of a harsher punishment for himself if caught. He shows no consideration of the victim.
Burglar #79 Die Leo, on the other hand, did show some compassion for a victim in his statement, “I’d never personally rob a human being, like walk up to them and say, “Give me your wallet and give me your purse! ” No Way! ” Hirishi believed that all people are equally motivated to commit crimes but that motivation in itself was not strong enough to overpower their social bonds and push them into a life of crime. The lack of these social bonds gave them the freedom to commit their crimes, and the motivation was already present as it is in all people. The social bond theory generally sums up crime as it relates to their social bonds.
As these bonds weaken and begin to deteriorate, the restraints that once bound you and kept you abiding by the law are loosened. This differs from anomie theory in that, anomie explains crime as being a result of strain placed on an individual from income inequality, socioeconomic status, etc. These theories are both plausible explanations as to why these offenders committed their crimes. High strain and lack of solid bonds may both play a vital role in criminal roles. Now let’s take a look at how socialization and self-control relate to crime. Socialization and Self Control
Socialization into crime refers to an individual who conforms to the norms and roles in their given communities. I believe that these offenders criminality can be attributed to their socialization into an environment that values low self-control. The offenders in this study exhibited spontaneity in their decisions to commit burglaries, amplifying their lack of self-control. These offenders learned a great deal about their communities, the people who live in it and their vulnerabilities and so were able to commit their crimes putting forth little effort or planning.
In my opinion there is a connection between criminality, low self-control, and the culture of immediate gratification. These offenders seem to have gone through a process starting off with socialization into street culture which leads them to a lack of self-control, and then the culture of immediate gratification. To simplify Gottfredson and Hirishi’s self-control theory, I would say that low self-control is related to crime and that need for immediate gratification and low self-control are connecting factors that contribute to criminal behavior.
These offenders are accustomed to spending a lot of time on street corners with other offenders, learning the ways of the street, so to speak. This is their socialization period. Once they are socialized into crime they lose their sense of self control. These offenders apparently don’t have much guidance from their parents or others because they are allotted so much free time to commit their crimes. This tells me that their parents likely don’t have strong social control either. Once their social control is lost, they yearn for immediate gratification.
They want things right now; they are not willing to wait until they can find a job and get it conventionally. All the research done by Wright and Decker has shed light on the lifestyle of an active burglar. As mentioned in the introduction, this research is scarce but could be much more reliable than research conducted with offenders who are no longer active burglars. This type of field research should be continued and expanded with all types of crimes, which may give us a better understanding of what drives people to commit them and in the long run may help us understand how to stop them.