What Is Criminology?

Definition & Examples of Criminology

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Criminology is the study of crime from a social perspective, including examining who commits crimes, why they commit them, their impact, and how to prevent them.

Learn more about what it is, how it works, and how it differs from criminal justice.

What Is Criminology?

Criminology is a branch of sociology, which traditionally examines human behavior, interaction, and organization. However, it also ties in research and concepts from other areas of study, such as philosophy, anthropology, biology, and psychology.

Criminologists examine a broad range of topics related to crime. They are dedicated to studying not only the causes of crime but the social roots and impact as well.

The end goal of criminology is to determine the root causes of criminal behavior and to develop effective and humane means for preventing it. These goals have produced several schools of thought within the discipline, each of which looks at different factors involved in deviant behavior and comes to different conclusions about how best to approach the issues.

Criminological theories generally fall into the classical, biological, psychological, or sociological categories. Classical theories explain criminal behavior as a conscious choice by individuals. Biological theories claim that it's partly determined by certain inherited biological traits. Psychological theories explain criminal behavior as the consequence of factors such as upbringing and childhood experiences. Sociological theories say crime is mostly influenced by a variety of factors in a community, such as systemic oppression and informal social controls.

The field of criminology can lead to improvements across the criminal justice system, including the response to crime and treatment of both victims and criminals. It has also brought some advancements in police tactics and practices, such as community-oriented policing.

People who study criminology can earn a earn a criminology degree. There are also specialized areas of study within the field of criminology, including environmental criminology, feminist criminology, and penology (the study of prisons and prison systems).

How Criminology Works

In essence, criminologists examine every conceivable aspect of deviant behavior. That includes the impacts of crime on individual victims and their families, society at large, and even criminals themselves.

Some of the specific areas that criminology covers include:

  • Frequency of crimes
  • Location of crimes
  • Causes of crimes
  • Types of crimes
  • Social and individual consequences of crimes
  • Social reactions to crime
  • Individual reactions to crime
  • Governmental reactions to crime

Criminologists conduct research and analyze data to help understand, deter, and prevent crime. They also develop theories based on the research they conduct to help translate data into action. Some criminologists also evaluate, develop, and implement criminal justice policies and procedures.

Careers in criminology are plentiful and varied. Earning a degree in the field can open doors to academic pursuits or advanced studies in areas such as forensic psychology or provide a solid foundation for a criminal justice career.

Criminology vs. Criminal Justice

Criminology Criminal Justice

Focuses on the study of crime

Focuses on the systems that address crime

Involves a significant amount of research and analysis Involves a smaller amount of research and analysis
Develops theories Puts theories into practice

Criminal justice and criminology are certainly related fields, but they are not identical. Criminal justice focuses on the application of systems that address crime. That includes law enforcement, the judicial system, and the corrections and prison systems. Criminology involves more research, while criminal justice requires more real-world application.

When it comes to education, criminology students generally spend a significant amount of time on research, data collection, and analytical skills. Criminal justice students generally spend more time learning about the justice system and the application of it, although the exact curriculum differs between schools.

Key Takeaways

  • Criminology is the study of crime and is a branch of sociology.
  • It involves research into and analysis of who commits crimes, why they commit them, their impact, and how to prevent them.
  • The goal of criminology is to determine the root causes of criminal behavior and to develop effective and humane means for addressing and preventing it.
  • Criminology is related to but not identical to the field of criminal justice.