Types of Social Control Theories on Delinquency

Written by vanessa newman
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Types of Social Control Theories on Delinquency
Social control theory examines who engages in acceptable behaviour and why. (gyrophare image by Pascal Perinelle from Fotolia.com)

Whether or not a person will steal £13 sitting on a counter in plain sight is a scenario that social control theorists ponder. Even more importantly, their theories explain why people follow the rules of acceptable behaviour.

Early Social Control Theory

Delinquency must have perceivable punishment to deter it. According to leading criminologist Albert J. Reiss, personal and social controls keep behaviour in check. Personal control is the ability to view potential behaviour against norms and choose nondelinquent options. Small groups, organisations and institutions establish social control.

Influential Social Control Theorists

Albert J. Reiss and Travis Hirschi were the fathers of social control theory. In the early '50s, Reiss started the conversation, and in 1969 Hirschi wrote an influential book, "Causes of Delinquency." From this point on, others such as Jackson Toby, F. Ivan Nye, Walter Reckless and David Matza contributed to social theory.

Constraint Theory

Constraint social theory, made popular by Travis Hirschi, proposes when an individual has a weak connection to social groups, delinquency is more likely. He postulates four constraint types, or social bonds: attachment, commitment, involvement and belief. A person who desires a particular status may constrain certain urges to act out based on this commitment constraint.

Containment Theory

This theory was developed in the 1950s by Walter Reckless and other colleagues. They proposed that positive self-concepts such as being a good son could protect individuals from committing crimes. These concepts were instilled by one's immediate family and from neighbours or influential role models.

Commitments to Conformity

This aspect of social theory proposes that various motivations exist for delinquent behaviour, but what stops them are how many conformity commitments a person has. These commitments are likened to fears, such as the fear of losing status, material possessions, relationships and more.


David Matza and a colleague Gresham Sykes believed anyone could exhibit delinquent behaviour and that neutralisation is the process by which you deny or justify behaviour. For example, a wife who murders her husband feels justified because of his incorrigible behaviour.

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