There are various reasons that push people into committing criminal offenses despite them being aware of the possible legal consequences. In most cases, the potential criminals find themselves in a situation that they do not have control over leaving them with the act as the only option. Scholars in sociology have come up with different theories to explain the reasons behind people committing offenses. These theories are known as criminological theory and look into different aspects of the society that pushes people into crime. Some of the criminological theories include Social disorganization theory, Conflict Theory, Anomie Theory and Social learning Theory among others (Akers, 2013). This paper uses Social Learning theory and Conflict theory to explain the criminal life of Alphonse Gabriel Capone (Al Capone).
Al Capone was born on January 17, 1899, to Italian immigrants Gabriel Capone and Teresa Capone. He was fourth among the family’s nine children and dropped out of school at only 14 years when he was expelled for hitting a female teacher on the face. After dropping out of school he joined the street gangs where his criminal life began and by 21 years he was already a hardcore criminal involving in violent robberies and by 1920s he was already running a multimillion-dollar empire of gambling, alcohol, and prostitution (Britannica, 2018). The criminal journey of Al Capone would later come to an end when he was arrested and charged with 22 accounts of tax evasion between the years 1925 and 1929 (Britannica, 2018).
Social learning theory argues that people often learn their new behaviors through observation or imitation. The learning process takes place through the interaction with the community forming the immediate environment (Akers, 2013). Social learning theory fundamentally holds that acquiring new behavior is a cognitive process that relies on particular social context and can take place perfectly through observation and imitation without any form of motor reproduction. Additionally, the learning process is enhanced by the possible rewards or punishments that come with the new behavior (vicarious reinforcement) (Akers, 2013). A behavior that receives rewards often develops while that gets punishment diminishes.
Al Capone was brought up in a fairly large family of nine children making it hard for his parents to adequately provide for them. The financial in one way or another contributed to the criminal lifestyle of Al Capone since they could not enroll him in another institution after getting expelled for striking his female teacher. Al Capone was forced to do menial jobs to sustain himself hence exposing him to criminal gangs in the streets of Brooklyn.
The association with the kid’s gang on the streets made Al Capone to learn the gangster life considered they lived a fairly good by selling the property they stole from the victims. Al Capon was in a situation that he wanted any means to satisfy his needs like food considering the family did not give him much support. Consequently, the rewards from the criminal activities of the gangs seem appealing as they often got whatever they wanted. In essence, he was pushed to join the criminal activities for two reasons; to meet his needs like food and shelter and by the lure of the rewards associated with the acts. At only 14 it is arguable that Al Capone was still very gullible and the exposure to the dangerous environment contributed to his deteriorating morals. In fact, his parents should take a larger share of blame for failing to nurture their son into a responsible citizen.
Even though Al Capone was a fairly tough-headed boy during his school days, he only acquired the gangster behavior after the expulsion. It is also evident that Brooklyn had a lot of street “kid gangs” at the time. The free time after leaving the school created an opportunity for him to observe and imitate the behaviors of these kids. Moreover, the rewards from the petty crimes pushed him to adopt the behavior considering he was dire need of any avenue that will help him to satisfy his needs. On the other hand, the punishment for the crimes did not happen often since most of them were kid gangs that escaped the law enforcing agencies since they are minor.
The rewards for the criminal activities further pushed him into committing bigger crimes after migrating to Chicago. During the early stages when he joined the criminal gang, kid gangster, he was simply looking for ways of satisfying his needs. However, migrating to Chicago increased his ambition for even greater rewards which would run into multimillion-dollars.
Al Capone’s entry into criminal activities and his driving force are well captured by the Social Learning Theory. He learned the criminal activities by observing the “kid gangs” and imitating the after joining them at just 14 years. It is certain that if he had not dropped out of school there is a high likelihood that he would not end up as a criminal since he would not have gotten the time to observe their activities. Similarly, if they lived in a different part of town with little or no street gangs then his life would have taken a different course.
Al Capone’s criminal life can also be explained using the Conflict theory. The theory was proposed by Karl Max and argues that the society is constantly in conflict with each other (Akers, 2013). Conflicts often arise from the competition of resources and the social order must be maintained by having very few powerful people at the top rather than the general consensus of the majority. Karl Max uses the theory to argue that the few powerful often want to maintain their status by limiting the number moving into their social class (Akers, 2013). They maintain this order by suppressing the people in the lower class and limiting their chances of growing. On the other hand, people in middle or lower are struggling to move into the upper classes.
Conflict theory is often used in explaining revolution, criminal activities, capitalism, poverty, wars, violence, and even domestic violence. In cases of revolutions, the masses often rise up against their leaders whom they believe is holding them down by looting public resources. Consequently, the leaders become richer whereas the masses grow poorer. The revolutions are attempts by the masses to capture the power and improve their social status.
The criminal story of Al Capone portrays a lot of conflict in the society he lives which has a lot of violence and gangs controlling the streets. After dropping out of school he is forced to do menial jobs for a living. However, it is evident that he has desires to rise to upper social class despite the unfavorable environment. In most cases, the social classes are defined by power and wealth that a person controls.
At just 16 years, Al Capone joined the Five Points gang that was controlled by Jonny Torrio who later became his mentor (Britannica, 2018). He used to carry out all the dirty works for the gang including assassinating Joe Howard and Dion O’Bannion. Al Capone would later take over the running of the multimillion-dollar illegal business that included gambling, bootlegging rackets, and prostitution.
It is apparent that Al Capone was driven by the desire to become wealthy and powerful regardless of the means. He finally arrived at the top of the criminal gang in Chicago through the elimination of rival gang leaders like Dion O’Bannion. The gang leaders wanted to hold the power whereas Al Capone was on a mission to rise to the top.
Conflict theory provides sufficient explanation on the circumstances that pushed Al Capone into criminal activities. Firstly, he was from a poor family background and could sustain himself after dropping out of school. Secondly, the society was designed in such a way that keeps the poor in the same status while the rich remains richer. By him getting expelled from school for just striking a teacher his chances of escaping poverty was reduced to near zero. Consequently, he opts for other channels to escape poverty which turns out to be joining gangs. Additionally, the charges placed on him by the authorities after arrest clearly shows the powerful primarily feared his rise to the helm as they had nothing to do with his criminal activities but rather tax evasion.
In conclusion, even though Al Capone was one of the dreaded criminal gangsters in the history of the United States, he cannot be purely blamed for his actions. The environment he lived and the desire to succeed is what pushed him to join the gangs. Both the Conflict and Social Learning Theories explain his situation and factors that pushed him into the criminal life.
Akers, R. (2013). Criminological theories: Introduction and evaluation. Routledge.
Britannica, T. E. (2018, April 20). Al Capone. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from Encyclopaedia Britannica : https://www.britannica.com/biography/Al-Capone