Criminological theories aim at helping one to understand criminal justice and crime. These Theories cover crime, breaking of the law, deviant behaviors, and criminal activity patterns (Mazerolle, 2017). Criminological theories have attempted to explain what is cruel, right and evil. They explain why some individuals commit crime as well as identify the risk factors that are linked to committing a crime. These theories have also focused on why and how certain laws are established and enforced. This paper will focus on crime theories that relate to the scenario of thirty correctional officer trainees that were terminated after a photograph that captured them doing the Nazi Salute.
After an investigation into the matter, it was found that the trainees were used to making the gesture many times in their classroom and that the trainer had communicated to them to make the sign in the photograph. The hand sign that the students made was used in Nazi Germany to salute Hitler as a representation of racism and anti-Semitism (Jacey, 2019). Some of the classmates understood the repercussions of the sign and felt pressure to join in. However, the classmates that were comfortable with the gesture had no racial motivation which is why the gesture was acceptable to them. This scenario is linked to the anomie theory and rational choice theory.
The rational choice theory states that criminals are rational while making decisions and despite the outcomes, the benefits of committing the crime tend to outweigh the punishment (Collins & Loughran, 2017). Ideally, the rational choice theory focuses on when people tend to act in their self-interest and agree to commit crimes after weighing the rewards and potential risks. Ideally, the cadets took the picture and made the hand gesture knowing the consequences that might occur due to that historical symbolism.
The instructor orders the students to make the sign in the photograph and indicate her last name on the photograph. Additionally, the report stated that multiple students knew that the gesture was inappropriate. For the students, they used this sign as a symbol of respect for Ms. Byrd. Nevertheless, the students identified the past implications of the sign and declined to take part with the rest of the members.
The anomie theory argues that social conditions have influenced crime and deviant behavior (Cohen, 2018). The social structure of society has a significant effect on crime. With regards to the anomie theory, crimes have risen due to the unequal distribution of power and resources in society. The rules of society have been broken such that people have failed to know what they are expected to do thus leading to deviant actions. For instance, the lack of shared values between the training officer and the cadet led to disagreement on whether they had to pose in the photograph. Some of the students lacked awareness about the implications of the Nazi-like salute and completely took it as an alright pose since they believed the salute showed some respect to someone. Therefore, the condition of instability in the photograph is a result of the breakdown of values and standards as well as purpose.
The case of the trainees that made the Nazi-like gesture has shown how criminological theories can be applied and related to criminal situations. When making decisions to make the gesture, the instructor had weighed the benefits and implications while the students had a different understanding of the gesture as a sign of respect to someone. The anomie theory and rational choice theory have shown what influences certain criminal actions.
Cohen, A. K. (2018). The Sociology of the Deviant Act: Anomie Theory. Deviance and Liberty. UK: Routledge.
Collins, M. E., & Loughran, T. A. (2017). Rational choice theory, heuristics, and biases. The Oxford Handbook of Offender Decision Making, 6, 10.
Jacey, F. (2019). West Virginia Will Fire Corrections Cadets for Doing Nazi Salute. New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/31/us/west-virginia-nazi-salute.html
Mazerolle, P. (2017). Developmental and life-course criminological theories. Routledge.
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