A classic view: Why do people commit crimes?

People commit crimes because that’s what they want to do. Criminal behavior is a matter of choice. Today, there are many excuses disguised as reasons for criminal behavior. The mistaken nature of these claims has a serious impact on crime control strategies. The classic approach to crime control strategies deals with direct intervention tactics. Law enforcement, under this rubric, takes an aggressive stance toward criminal acts. The belated tactic of a reactionary position is relegated to the illusion of rehabilitation. In the classical view, deviance and crime are addressed proactively. This strives to be consistent with the legal and social aspects of the restriction. Deviant behavior in the form of criminal activity should require a punitive approach to behavior. Such an approach must come with speed, precision, and certainty. For control sanctions to work, justice systems must work decisively. The relevant criminal justice systems must be able to deploy the necessary resources. From a historical perspective, the classical school of criminology is often overlooked as a viable crime prevention strategy.

All available scientific, forensic and technical resources should push a more classical approach to criminology in full force. This effort must be applied in the context of modern times. Following a doctrine of “psychological hedonism”, the classical approach holds that people freely choose between behavioral alternatives. In this sense, the perpetrator plans his criminal behavior before carrying out his actions. The individual creates the basis for his withdrawal from socially, morally, or legally sanctioned aspects of behavior. A person calculates the “pain versus pleasure of an act,” or the gain minus the risk of doing a certain thing. Like the rest of us, the perpetrator carries out his behavior as a result of personal calculations. Such deviant acts stem from the fact that the pleasure is greater than the risk. In other words, they want to take something that someone else has. Criminals want the shortest distance between two points. The implication of the doctrine is that the social reaction to crime should be the administration of a measured amount of pain. The general proposition of the classical school is that it is necessary to make undesirable acts painful. Attaching punishment is crucial to having an impact on behavior. Likewise, punishment requires re-education, so that offenders learn through painful and costly consequences that such behavior is self-defeating.

Accountability and responsibility are bound together, so the perceived loss will exceed the gain. Since the punishment must be one that can be calculated, it must be the same for all individuals. No one is exempt regardless of age, mentality, social or economic status, political influence, or other complacent conditions. People have full responsibility for the actions they choose. Deterrence and moral retribution replace rehabilitation. Preventing criminal behavior before it happens is part of the overall strategy of crime control objectives. This perspective assumes that people will take advantage of opportunities. Since people freely decide their course of conduct, a prompt social interdiction is necessary. A criminology concept of “free will” is necessary to ensure that society does not fall apart due to an obsession with behavioral excuses. Behavior is influenced by a decision-making process that is related to consequences. As such, so is criminal behavior.

Motivation to commit acts of criminal behavior is related to basic internal desires for control, domination, anger, revenge, and demonstration of personally perceived inadequacy. A self-motivated thought quadrangle is produced. Desire, opportunity, ability, and gain are merged to formulate the motivation strategy. A multidimensional realm within the mind is transformed into an outward expression of exploitation. As such, our crime control strategies and tactics must consider the inherent motivation of the criminal. The inherent motivation is the subjugation of another person for personal gain. Approaches based on hasty generalizations and politically correct agendas are counterproductive to the health, safety, and well-being of the community. We must consider what the individual criminal is like. He or she is not much different from the rest of us. Except the criminal prefers “the shortcut” over the legitimate way of doing things. Forget pseudoscientific approaches that come with impressive labels and complex diagnoses. And forget short-term fads or fetishes for quick fixes to long-term problems. Sophisticated theoretical constructions do not solve crime. Instead, hard working, determined and dedicated police officers do. They are the ones who solve the problems of criminal behavior that affect society. They do this through the collective interaction of public support and participation. Not because of politics, media hype, fashion, or fiction.

People commit crimes out of a selfish desire to get something for nothing. His “private logic” centers on his supposed “suffering” at the hands of a callous and cruel world. They selfishly want to seize opportunities, exploit their lewd interests, and assert their abilities. All of this is done based on your individual abilities to get what you believe is rightfully yours. The criminal is not a victim of society. Nor is he or she forced into a position of disadvantage by others. Criminals refuse to accept responsibility and accountability for their behavior. When caught, they are quick to make excuses that the social sciences, media and politicians have preconceived for them. Criminals develop their thought processes on the basis that they are “owed” something. Their behavior is connected to what they believe to be “entitled.”

Personal choices dominate the motives for individual actions. We think, fantasize, and act in accordance with our underlying belief system. Through a rational conscious thought process, we select the temptations of preference. Regardless of what comes to us from external sources, we choose what we want. We use our history of learning to do things that we conjure up in our own minds. Such is the rational process by which we pick and choose the course of action we take. In a kind of “economic view” of the world, people balance the risks, or costs, of doing something. Upon validation that the “benefit” outweighs the cost, we decided to act. On the other hand, we might decide not to act. Crime, in a sense, has a seductive quality and captures our attention. We are mesmerized by the darkness in the balance between good and evil. Good and evil is just thinking in pictures about the scope of human nature. For some, crime pays, until they get caught. At the very least, we calculate a “pain versus pleasure” reality.


1. Jeffery, CR, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1971), page 24;

2. Samenow, ES, Inside the Criminal Mind, (New York: Crown Business, 1984), pp. 20-22;

3. Schmalleger, F., Criminology Today – An Integrative Introduction – Fourth Edition, (Upper Saddle River: Pearson-Prentice Hall, 2006), pp. 118-119;