Biological and Sociological Theories of Criminal Justice

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The authors (Cox et al.) of Juvenile Justice: A Guide to Theory, Policy, and Practice discussed five theories, four of which are considered to be the main theories. These five theories are scientific theories, biological theories, psychological theories, sociological theories, and integrated theories. The main theories are scientific theories, biological theories, psychological theories, and sociological theories. The remainder of this paper will analyze and discuss the differences between biological theories and sociological theories. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (English Standard Version). As Cox et al. (2018) points out, linking the opening between theory and practice is vital to “controlling delinquency and improving the juvenile justice network” (p. 113).

Biological and Sociological Theories

Cox et al. (2018) explain to us that biological theories of causation raise various important concerns. Based on the biological theory, initially, delinquency was founded on the assumption that delinquency is hereditary. On the other hand, Sociological theories of delinquency causation deal more with the social class and/or even family indifference.

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Biological Theories

Biological theories, according to Akers and Sellers (2013), examine a combination of “effects of biology, behavior, and the environment” in regard to criminal behavior (p. 10). The biological school is based on a view of crime, which is referred to as biological positivism, and claims criminal behavior is an outcome of biological or innate defects or abnormalities (Akers & Sellers, 2013). As with Cox et al. (2018), delinquency, based on biological theories, was initially founded on the assumption it is inherited.

In other words, crime is “in the blood” (Akers & Whittaker, 2015). Akers and Sellers (2013) add that criminal acts committed by individuals are because of a ‘biological’ or “genetic defect” (p. 12). Because of these abnormalities, crime is the result. Cesare Lombroso is the man known for the theory of the “born criminal” (Cox et al., 2018). Lombroso, based on the results of his research, believed that criminals were atavists, hereditary throwbacks.

In relation to biological theories, Crews and Crews (2009) write that “positivist theories contrast with classical theories, which argue that people generally choose their behaviors in rational processes of logical decision making, and with critical theories, which critique lawmaking, social stratification, and the unequal distribution of power and wealth” (para. 1). Biological theories are viewed as a subtype of the positivist theory (Crews & Crews, 2009).

As it currently sits, liberals are inclined to view biological theories of crime as “efforts to shift responsibility away from social factors that cause crime and onto criminal individuals” (Akers & Whittaker, 2015, para. 4). While on the other hand, conservatives are more supportive of biological theories, but become tenser when having discussions of their history “a perspective suggesting that scientific truths are contingent upon social factors” (Akers & Whittaker, 2015, para. 4). Although there is presently ample resistance to biological theories of crime, there are theorists who believe that antagonism is “likely to crumble over the next several decades” (Akers & Whittaker, 2015, para. 4).

Theorists believe that this resentment is frequently genuine when new theories are newly introduced. “But when a new theory resonates with other culturally dominant factors, as current genetic, evolutionary, and neurological explanations do, opponents often come around” (Akers & Whittaker, 2015, para. 4). There are theorists of biological criminological theories who prophesy that “we are on the threshold of a major shift that could lead to various genetic and other biological ‘solutions’ to criminal behavior” (ibid.).

Sociological Theories

During the 1930s, there were a number of theorists focusing on a model to describe crime and delinquency (Cox et al., 2018). Robert Merton, while adapting Emile Durkheim’s anomie theory, proposed an altogether different theory. Although it is indirectly a theory of delinquency or crime, Merton’s theory is important due to the delinquency theories that consequently relied on it (Ill, 2002). Merton suggested that there are highly emphasized cultural values resulting in society-wide goals that individuals should attain. Additionally, the objectives were achieved through standard methods, which Merton called legitimate means (Ill, 2002). Conversely, not all and sundry have the same access to these customary means of attaining society-wide goals. The lower classes overall have less access and consequently discover ways of adjusting to the problem (Ill, 2002).

Sociological theories of delinquency lean in the direction of identifying some type of socialization as the source of delinquent acts. Socialization has predominantly engaged in the method of parenting and school-based education during the last few decades. It can be observed from the modest sources of delinquency projected in the early theories of delinquency that theorists are now suggesting versions that are much more difficult (Ill, 2002). Some of the present theories, such as Charles Tittle’s control balance theory, are so multifaceted that testing them is very challenging (Ill, 2002). With that being said, the more complex theories are most likely much more precise in their reflection of real-life reasons for delinquency (Ill, 2002). Simultaneously, the now multifaceted versions are inclined to remain sociological in their focus; that is, they usually disregard both biogenetic and psychological factors (Ill, 2002).


Cox et al. (2018) stated that Rafter (2004) has concluded that in today’s vernacular, biological explanations have begun to gain credibility and are joining forces with sociological explanations in such a way that they are “partners in explaining crime and delinquency” (p. 85). Additionally, Rafter states and agrees with the research that students of crime and delinquency to become “familiar with the biological tradition that includes physiognomists, phrenologists, Lombroso, Goddard, Hooton, the Gluecks, and Sheldon,” to mention a few (Cox et al., 2018, p. 85). Sociologists look distrustfully at “biological risk factors” as they ignore social influences that may influence criminal behavior, whereas criminologists tend to ignore social factors because they distract “from the important work of scientific research” (Akers & Whittaker, 2015, para. 4).


  1. “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson
  2. “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Y. Davis
  3. “Punishment and Inequality in America” by Bruce Western

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Biological and Sociological Theories of Criminal Justice. (2023, Aug 28). Retrieved from

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