A Note on the Role of Basic Theory in Thinking About Crime Prevention

  • Michael R. GottfredsonEmail author


Junger-Tas (Journal of Quantitative Criminology 8(1):9–28, 1992) studied the empirical validity of control theory and argued for a connection between basic theory and delinquency prevention policies (European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research 5(2):101–114, 1997). High quality experiments, including those with random assignment to different treatments and designs that include multiple indicators of outcome have produced a strong body of knowledge that may, and should, be used to assess the validity of basic theories of causation. One essential test of basic theories can thus be how well they can make sense of widely acknowledged facts produced by high quality policy research. To be sure, theories vary in scope, domain of application and level of abstraction, and policy implications can be difficult to infer, so care should be exercised in such an analysis. These notions are applied to control theories of delinquency which arguably provide clear expectations about the likely effectiveness of some public policies about crime. Recent research appears consistent with control theory expectations and with Junger-Tas’ long-standing view for a role for basic science for juvenile policy.


Crime prevention Juvenile policy Social control theory 


  1. Baumeister, R., & Heatherton, T. (1996). Self-regulation failure: an overview. Psychological Inquiry, 7, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blumstein, A., & Wallman, J. (Eds.). (2000). The crime drop in America. New York: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  3. Duckworth, A. (2011). The significance of self-control. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 2639–2640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Durlauf, S., & Nagin, D. (2011). Imprisonment and crime: can bum be reduced? 10,(1), 13–54.Google Scholar
  5. Eck, J., & Maguire, E. (2000). Have changes in policing reduced violent crime? Chapter 7. In A. Blumstein & J. Wallman (Eds.), The crime drop in America. New York: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  6. Farrington, D. (2003). Developmental and life-course criminology: key theoretical and empirical issues. Criminology, 41(2), 221–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gottfredson, M. (2005). The empirical status of control theories in criminology. In F. Cullen (Ed.), Taking stock: The empirical status of theories in criminology. New Brunswick: Transaction.Google Scholar
  8. Gottfredson, M. (2011). Sanctions, situations and action in control theories of crime. European Journal of Criminology, 8, 129–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1991). The juvenile justice system implications of a general theory of crime. In J. Junger-Tas et al. (Eds.), The future of the juvenile justice system. Leuvend: Acco.Google Scholar
  11. Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1995). National crime control policies. Society, 32(2), 30–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Greenwood, P. (2006). Changing lives: Delinquency prevention as crime-control policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  14. Junger-Tas, J. (1992). An empirical test of social control theory. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 8(1), 9–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Junger-Tas, J. (1993). Policy evaluation research in criminal justice. Studies in Crime and Crime Prevention, 2, 7–20.Google Scholar
  16. Junger-Tas, J. (1997). The future of a preventive policy towards juveniles. European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research, 5(2), 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Moffitt, T., et al. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 2693–2698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nagin, D. (1998). Criminal deterrence research at the outset of the twenty-first century. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, 23, 1–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Piquero, A., Gomez-Smith, Z., & Langton, L. (2004). Discerning unfairness where others may not: low self-control and unfair sanction perceptions. Criminology, 42(3), 699–734.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Piquero, A., Farrington, D., Welsh, B., Tremblay, R., & Jennings, W. (2009). Effects of early family/parent training programs on antisocial behavior and delinquency. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 5, 83–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pratt, T. (2009). Addicted to incarceration. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Pratt, T. & Cullen, F. (2000). The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s General theory of crime: a meta-analysis. Criminoloy, 38, 931–964.Google Scholar
  23. Reiner, R. (2000). Policing and the police. In M. Maguire et al. (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of criminology. New York: Oxford.Google Scholar
  24. Tangney, J., Baumeister, R., & Boone, A. (2004). High self-control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of Personality, 72(2), 271–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Walker, S. (2005). Sense and nonsense about crime and drugs. Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  26. Webster, C., Doob, A., & Zimring, F. (2006). Proposition 8 and crime rates in California: the case of the disappearing deterrent. Criminology and Public Policy, 5(3), 417–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wilson, J. (1983). Thinking about crime. New York:Basic books.Google Scholar
  28. Wilson, J. (2011). Hard times, fewer crimes. Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2011.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OregonEugeneUSA

Personalised recommendations