, Research Paper
Edwin Sutherland s Differential Association Theory is an approach to crime that states that it is a learned behavior. Differential Association Theory in its most basic form claims that if an individual is in close contact with crime than he/she will eventually learn and participate in criminal activity. It is generally accepted that crime is associated largely with the poor and underclass in our society. This is not to say that crime is solely a poor problem, but a good amount of crime is committed by the underclass. Unfortunately, minorities are represented disproportionately in the underclass more than whites. Therefore, it is only logical that there would be an over-representation of minorities and crime. Within the poor communities a multitude of illegal activities such as drug use and trafficking take place, along with street crimes such as robbery and theft. Sometimes it is the only way the poor can sustain themselves and as a result minorities are committing more crimes. The relationship between inequality and crime is that minorities are over-represented within the underclass, who in turn are forced to resort to crime to survive. Conflict Theory is one that states that the Criminal Justice System is a direct reflection of the unequal distribution of power in our society (p. 76). It basically believes that the dominant group in a society will manipulate the laws it implements to maintain their position. This theory is basically a social class issue, but as Differential Association Theory claims, social class has a direct relationship with race and ethnicity in our society. Conflict Theory argues that laws and areas of concentration for law enforcement are a blatant ploy to keep minorities within the circle of our Criminal Justice System. For example, the difference between cocaine and crack laws is perfect to investigate utilizing Conflict Theory. Crack, a predominantly minority drug of choice, has much harsher penalties than cocaine, a more white drug of choice. Also, street crimes which is more of a poor crime and therefore racial minority crime, are targeted more by law enforcement that any other crimes.
The two theories discussed here are similar in the sense that they both focus on inequality and crime in the sense that many of our laws focus on the crimes committed by the poor. Consequently, the crimes committed by the poor are generally minorities since they are over-represented in that category. They are dissimilar in the sense that Differential Association Theory goes a step further in that it offers crime as a learned behavior where Conflict Theory does not. Conflict Theory focuses more on a blatant attempt by an exclusive social class to oppress the underclass, utilizing criminal law. The underclass has no hope of ever gaining equality because whatever they do, criminal activity will always follow their actions. Differential Association Theory theorizes that crime is simply committed out of necessity by the poor and there are unfortunate circumstances that follow.