Criminal Behavior

Jail Cell


This course is designed to enhance student knowledge of Criminal Behavior. The primary issue that this course seeks to examine is why and when ordinary people commit crime and why and when we do not. Key themes within this course are social norms, social control, violence, and mental disorders. This course is taught with stages/steps and goals/objectives so that students not only see the order in which they will be studying this topic but will be able to visually see progression through the course material.

Course Text:

PDF Copy -> Street Law 8th Edition


  • Deconstruct different conceptual and ideological definitions of crime, difference and deviance.
  • Synthesize different theoretical explanations of criminal behavior and critically evaluate their usefulness.
  • Assess the value of psychology in understanding serious interpersonal crimes involving violence
  • Encourage students to evaluate aspects of interpersonal forms of violence and oppression with emphasis on patterns of victimization and relationship between violence oppression and social diversity issues (eg: gender, age, ethnicity).
  • Contextualize and exemplify violence in different forms.
  • Be able to describe and identify the overall relationship between mental disorders, behavioral disorders and criminal conduct.
  • Recognize and critically discuss media and social reactions to crime



GOAL: Students will analyze social norms with an example of social construction of young people as a “problem”. Students will identify and explore a wide range of theoretical and empirical explanations for causes of youth crime and also analyze young people as victims of crime.



OBJECTIVE: Introduction discussion of the concept of criminal responsibility in relation to Psychology & Criminal Behavior.

Task #1 – Students will be given a introduction to They will be shown how to use the website, its features, and how to contact me if need be.

Task #2 – Students will be shown video clips from the original Law & Order series. The clips will be from an episode concerned with what may possibly be a hate crime in the inner city of New York. The video clips will be stopped regularly for me to point out various aspects of peoples behavior and the law.

Task #3 – While the video clips are being shown, students will be filling out a form with me. The form will be created on a regular piece of school notebook paper and will look like this:




Case: _______________________________

Key People: (You will fill out the same three pieces of information below for each key person we see in the clips. Don’t skip beyond this section and create the other two till we are seeing the trial clips because you don’t know how much space you will need)

1. Name:(Person’s Name)

2. Role:(Examples: detective, defendant, expert)

3. Notes: (Key information on this person.)

Case Summary: (6-8 sentences breaking down the case)

Your Verdict: (Guilty or not guilty followed by 6-8 sentences defending your position)

Court Verdict:

Task #4 – Students will be peer reviewing each others work. Please note students are not grading each others work. This last task for Step #1 is designed to assist students in developing their skills at breaking down work/primary documents/ other examples over the course of this semester. Additionally, students will know that their work will be peer reviewed and therefore means they need to be able to stand behind their positions with evidence in writing.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine the question “Why not commit crime?”

Task #1 – Students will be introduced to the seven key theories on why people commit crime.

Notes – Why Commit Crime – 7 Key Theories

Task #2 – Student will write one opinion based paragraph on each of these theories stating whether they agree with them or not and explaining why.

Resource – How to Write an Opinion Paragraph – If you are having trouble writing an opinion paragraph here is a PDF file that will help you create one step by step and even walks you through an example.

Quiz – Students will be quizzed per class till the class average for the quiz reaches 85%.

Task #3 – Student will read the scenario below. Then they are to write down on an index card which theory they believe best explains why this person committed a crime and two supporting reasons. After this they will be passing in their answers to me. I will scramble the answer cards up and pass them back out in a random order to each of the  students. After the students receive a random peers card they will be surveyed. Students will be asked how many of them received a card by someone who had written the same theory as them.


          Jeremy was born with a neurological disorder that affects the way he learns. He has tried very hard to do well in school and in the working world after he graduated. He does not come from a good neighborhood and often times has been scene hanging around peers who are known for doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and sometimes stealing to support these habits. 

 One day when Jeremy was in a mini mart the cashier got distracted with another customer. The clerk has just finished making a sale and didn’t push the cash register drawer closed all the way. When the clerk was asked another question by a different customer as to where the cookies were he left the counter to show the person. Jeremy saw the open register tray and decided he deserved that money more than those rich kids who don’t have to earn it. He looked again to make sure the clerk wasn’t looking and pulled all the $20 bills out of the register drawer and left. 



OBJECTIVE: Laws are codified social norms. Students will look at the relationship between social norms and social behavior.

Task #1 – Students will need to study these two terms:

Term 1 – Social norms = a group-held belief about how members should behave in a given situation.

Social norms examples:

1. When you burp you say “excuse me”.

2. You smile when you are being introduced to someone you do not know.

3. When you chew your food you keep your mouth closed.

Term 2 – Social behavior = behavior directed towards society members of the same species.

Social behavior examples:

1. Aggression

2. Shyness

Task #2 – Students will be placed in groups of 4 and asked to discuss as a group how they would behave in the following situations:

Situation 1 = You are standing in line at the cafeteria for food. Another student pushes their way in front of you, points to another person standing in front of you and says “They were saving my place”. How do you react?

Social norm:

Your behavior:

Situation 2 = You are at a funeral service for a loved relative. How do you behave?

Social norm:

Your behavior:

Situation 3  = Someone in a store is giving away free samples of a new product. How many samples do you take?

Social norm:

Your behavior:

Situation 4 = You are driving down the road. The posted speed limit is 55 miles per hour. What do you think the average speed of the vehicles on the road is?

Social norm:

Your behavior:



OBJECTIVE: Students will analyze the difference between descriptive norms and prescriptive norms then determine which has a greater effect on our behavior.

Task #1 – Students will need to study the following terms before class discussion.

Term 1 – Prescriptive norms = what most people in a group approve of. (What people ought to do)

Term 2 – Descriptive norms = what most people in a group think, feel, or do. (What people actually do)

Helpful Note – The distinction here is between what is true of group members and what ought to be true of group members. They often times overlap. For example, wearing a business suit is both a prescriptive and descriptive norm.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine what Learning Theory suggests about the origin of criminal thought.

Task #1 – Student will need to study the following three theories as to the origin of criminal thought.

1. Early Indicators ; because antisocial behavior is stable across time, some signal are given very early. Conduct Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and oppositional defiant disorder are 3 early indicators.

2. Developmental Processes : How early delinquency is dealt with can help determine whether an individual reforms or continues criminal conduct.

3. Maintenance Variables : If short term payoff seem more profitable than possibility of punishment, criminal behavior will continue.

Task #2 – Students will once again analyze these three theories, choose one, and write their opinion on the theory they believe best explains the origins of criminal thought.



OBJECTIVE: Students will analyze the link between aggression and crime. Most human beings manage their aggression without resorting to violence and other crime.

Task #1 – Analyze the figure below and discuss their thoughts with a partner.

U.S. Assault Rates(This chart is from the Future of Children Collaboration website)

Task #2 –  Develop your own theory as to the link between aggression and crime. This will be a written assignment.



OBJECTIVE: Students will investigate the differences between U.S. schools and those from other nations. What criminal problems are there in these other nations? Are they the same as in U.S. schools?

Task #1 – This will be the first official writing assignment in the Criminal Behavior course. Students will be comparing and contrasting criminal problems in U.S. schools with those from a minimum of two other nations.

Technical Information: Assignment is to be typed, double spaced, 12 font, 1″ margins, MLA format, minimum of three pages, and sources need to referenced. If you do not have access to a computer you can hand write this paper, but I must have a parent note attached confirming you do not have access to a computer.

Helpful Hint: I strongly recommend you begin your research at “The News” page on my site. I have given you links on that page to the major newspapers from around the world there. You can click HERE to be taken directly to the page.

Resources for this assignment:

PDF File – CCHS Writing Process – Paragraph Writing Model

Website – Purdue Online Writing Lab – Research: Where Do I Begin?

Website – Georgetown University – The 5 Commandments of Writing a Research Paper

Website – – This is probably the most popular auto reference builder on the internet.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine the relationship between youth crime and gang culture. Why join? Why Leave?

Task #1 – Students will discuss and analyze the primary six reasons people join gangs.

Reason 1 – Lack of jobs for youth

Reason 2- Poverty compounded by social isolation

Reason 3- Domestic violence

Reason 4- Negative peer networks

Reason 5- Lack of parental supervision

Reason 6- Early academic failure and lack of school attachment

(Six Reason Source:

Task #2 – Students will now vote digitally on what they believe is the primary reason people join gangs of the six analyzed in Task #1.

Task #3 –  Understand what a gang is legally defined as. Read the following PDF file or click on the website link to review the various definitions for the terms “gang,” “gang crime,” and “Gang member”.

PDF: Brief Review of Federal and State Definitions of the Term Gang

Website: – Brief Review of Federal and State Definitions of the Terms “Gang,” “Gang Crime,” and “Gang Member”

Task #4- Understand the amount of risk of violence affiliated with gang membership.

Best way to understand the risk is to watch the video The Big Lie: Unmasking the Truth Behind Gangs that was created by the District Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia.

Resource: Youth and Gangs: Exit Strategies – Youtube video that definitely shows the risk of joining. Three ex-gang members talk about their lives when they were in and how they got out. Warning though, this is a recommended film due to explicit language on several minor occasions.

Task #5 – The videos you examined during Task #4 are good, but I think we can take it a step further. By yourself or with a partner I want you to come up with five realistic methods someone could use to avoid becoming a gang member. I will be taking all the ideas from each person and pair and we will be putting it into a publishable format so that we have created a resource for those who may be at risk for joining.

Task #6- Understand the legal consequences of joining a gang.

Criminal Consequences of Gang Membership – Extra Sentencing (Website)

Task #7 – Analyze the following statistics

Gang Statistics – Department of Justice (Website)

Rise in Gang Violence – USC News (Website)

Task #8 – Understand the permanence of joining a gang.

The Non-Criminal Consequences of Gang Membership (Website)



Gang Prevention – A Resource Guide for Youths (PDF) (Website)


Frequently Asked Questions About Gangs ( – Statistics 

National Crime Prevention Council – Facts About Gangs

Criminal BehaviorCRIMINAL BEHAVIOR – STAGE TWO – Theoretical Explanations of Criminal Behavior


GOAL: Students will understand several biopsychosocial theoretical explanations to criminal behavior from several perspectives.



OBJECTIVE: Students will analyze the positivist argument that criminal behavior is predetermined; the product of internal biological forces over which we have very little control.



OBJECTIVE: Students will analyze the key developmental risk factors.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine the assumption that where an individual lives determines their propensity for committing crime.



OBJECTIVE: Students will research what subculture theories have to say about crime and the impact that these theories have on crime?



OBJECTIVE: Students will analyze the positivist approach that there exists such a thing as a criminal personality. Students will examine how we define personality and traits and how might the origins of these be subject to change?


Mental Disorders ViolenceCRIMINAL BEHAVIOR – STAGE THREE – Mental Disorders & Violence


GOAL: Students will examine the relationship between violence and mental disorders. Additionally, students will analyze why individuals experiencing mental distress are invariably cast as society ‘folk devils’ and why the relationship between violence and constructs such as schizophrenia is unclear and frequently contested. Issues of diagnosis and social construction will be explored in relation to proposed links to violent behavior. The nature of psychiatric treatment will also be discussed and analyzed by students.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine several common mental disorders most often associated with criminal behavior.

Task #1 – Review the notes on each of these disorders in the following presentation: Psychiatric Disorders Associated With Criminal Behavior V2

Task #2 – Students will witness real life examples of these disorders by video clips shown in class. I will connect example video links  to this site soon.

Task #3 – Students will examine case studies and practice diagnosing mood disorders.

Task #4 – Students will be watching video clips from the film K-PAX and attempt to diagnose the main character “Prot” whis is suffering from an undiagnosed disorder.


Website – – Case Studies

Website – BBC Article – Mental Health Linked to Crime

Website – – John Errol Ferguson Schizophrenic Murderer

Website – – Psychiatric Disorders Associated With Criminal Behavior.

Website – Treatment Advocacy Center – Violent Behavior: One of the consequences of failing to treat individuals with severe mental illnesses



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine how much mental disorders account for in relation to crime and the stereotype that the mentally disordered are violent criminals.



OBJECTIVE: Students will assess the relationship between Schizophrenia and crime.



OBJECTIVE: Students will be introduced to antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy.


Women Violence OppressionCRIMINAL BEHAVIOR – STAGE FOUR – Women, Violence, & Oppression


GOAL: Students will explore how theories of masculinity, power, and patriarchy can be directly applied to the areas of domestic violence and assault. Strategies to reduce women’s victimization within these spheres will also be examined. 


Step #1

OBJECTIVE: Examine the relationship between gender, violence, and oppression.


Step #2

OBJECTIVE: Understanding what constitutes domestic violence.


Step #3

OBJECTIVE: Examining the psychological effects on the victim of domestic violence and determining if there is a link between gender and domestic violence.


PrisonCRIMINAL BEHAVIOR – STAGE FIVE – Prisons & Imprisonment


GOAL: Students will understand the complexities of prison life and its effects on those imprisoned and their families. Students will examine diverse prison populations: foreign, immigrant, ethnic minority inmates, vulnerable prisoners, mentally ill, and life-sentence prisoners. Students will also analyze the psychological effects of imprisonment; social life & sub cultures; physical and mental health, substance misuse, abuse and offending, self-harm and suicide.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine guilt, grief, and shame. These emotions are important aspects of prison life, even if the prison environment is not conducive to these emotions.



OBJECTIVE: Students will analyze the common societal reaction to crime of imprisoning the offenders. Students will be paying particular attention to the effects of incarceration and its effect on the incarcerated’s family.


StalkingCRIMINAL BEHAVIOR – STAGE SIX – Current Issues


GOAL: Students will examine contemporary issues in criminal behavior from a local, national, and international perspective.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine the social construction of stalking.



OBJECTIVE: Students will examine the psycho-social impact of victimization.



OBJECTIVE: Students will analyze the role that the internet has played in increasing the crime rate.

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