Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory

Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory

The problem of drug trafficking in America today is indeed an enormous one, with severe repercussions and ramifications for the future of the entire country. When the retired General Barry McCaffrey, the Director of the White House’s Office of drug Control Policy was on an official visit to Peru, Peru was in the midst of a long string of scandals that were having an adverse impact on the Peruvian administration. Facts and figures revealed that there had been discovered a shipment of about one hundred and seventy kilograms of the drug cocaine, on board the air force plane that Fujimori, the President of Peru normally used on his travels to and from his country. Soon afterwards, about forty-five kilograms of cocaine were again found on board a ship that belonged to the Peruvian navy, in Vancouver, in Canada. When accusations were flung at each other, it was eventually decided that it was the Peruvian Montesinos who had been protecting an entire drug clan, named ‘Lopez Paredes’ which was engaged in drug trafficking on a large scale. This organization was supposedly dismantled in the year 1995, but amazingly, in the middle of August, the accused individual, called Demetrio Chavez, also known to some as ‘El Vaticano’, revealed in a Court that he had in fact been paying the Peruvian Montesinos the sum of $ U.S. 50,000 every month so that he would be protected from inquiry of all his various drug trafficking operations. (Youngers; Rosin, 2005)

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All these allegations against Montesinos were published in La Reforma, and the U.S. Embassy in Peru, based in Lima, sent a letter to the Peruvian Government stating that no U.S. Drug forces did have any relevant information that any ‘high’ Peruvians were in fact involved in drug trafficking. At the same time, another letter was sent to Washington, saying that all this information was in fact not true, and was just spurious and false information, and that all the accusations that Chavez had been leveling against Montesinos were indeed false. The cable also stated that there might be large scale drug trafficking interests behind all these accusations and allegations, and that most probably all these endeavors were being made to tarnish the image and the reputation of the intelligence service. (Youngers; Rosin, 2005) This is the type of drug problem that the officers and the Intelligence of the United States of America has to contend with on a daily basis, where no one is sure whether the accusations are true or false, and where there is large scale bribery and corruption at all levels, a fact which makes it a nearly impossible task for the authorities of the United States to take appropriate action whenever and wherever necessary.

The so-called ‘gangs’ which exist in America today are also a large part of the problem of drug trafficking today. Why does a youth join a gang, and what exactly does he hope to achieve by joining one? The fact is that there are no real answers to these questions, and youths generally join gangs in the United States because of the fact that their friends have joined as well. However, as soon as a youth joins a gang, he becomes involved in drugs and in either drug usage, or in drug sales, and also in violent offending. However, while some people opine that these young people are attracted by the prospect of joining a gang just because of the fact that they are already delinquent, while some others state that it may so happen that when they join a gang, the youth become delinquent and also anti-social. The National Evaluation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training program was initiated in order to study whether or not gang involvement precedes or follows the young person’s involvement in drug use and abuse, drug sales, and in general, in drug trafficking, or whether these activities are already part and parcel of the nature of a gang. (Huff; Huff, 2001)

On the basis of this study, and also on several other studies and interviews and research, it was finally concluded that gang involvement showed infinitely higher levels of delinquency and drug use among all its members, and it must be remembered that more often than not, drug trafficking has been attributed to gangs. There is a significant amount of data that reveals that gang boys are more than likely to become involve in activities such as drug trafficking than will non-gang boys. However, one important question has remained unanswered, and this is the extent to which gang youths are able to control drug sales. There are certain researchers who state that the basic organizational structure of a gang is not actually conducive to carrying out drug sales, while there are others who argue that it is not so.

However, the general opinion is that almost all youth gangs are in general loosely organized, with no real leader or important person. They also tend to lack the necessary resources that are required for drug sales, and this is not at all conducive to drug trafficking. On the other hand, there are in existence certain gangs that concentrate on the selling of drugs, according to Fagan, 1989, and Taylor, 1989, and in research conducted by Van Winkle and Fleisher in 1996 and 1998 respectively in Kansas City and in St. Louis, it was concluded that all profits that arose from drug sales were generally claimed by one single individual, and not kept collectively by the gang, and this meant that the gang could not claim the profits as its own; rather, it belonged to one person. (Huff; Huff, 2001)

Another grave problem in the United States of America that pertains to the scourge of drug trafficking is that of the free availability of guns and other forms of firearms, without too many restrictions or boundaries. Apparently, all drug dealers prefer to use the so called ‘medium bore handguns’, and ‘shotguns’, and never machine guns for all their various drug trafficking related activities. Most law enforcement personnel apparently believe that in most cases where innocent bystanders just ‘happened’ to be killed when there was a shoot out of some kind, are in truth nothing but drug trafficking related crimes. However, studies have proved that this may not be true, and that a mere 1% of the homicides that occur in the United States happened to innocent bystanders. In general, on the other hand, the people who are killed in drug related accidents or incidents, are drug traffickers themselves, and they are more often than not, killed intentionally, and not at all accidentally and inadvertently, while they were standing by and watching. (Kleck, 2005)

However, in none of these cases, machine guns have been used, and this means that the ban that was imposed on machine guns in the year 1934 is indeed a very successful one, and no one has been able to surmount the various problems and legal tangles that are associated with the misuse of a machine gun. (Kleck, 2005) There have been allegations by some people of the media that the United States of America has in fact been condoning drug trafficking by contra leaders and by contra organizations, but this may not be true at all. Elliott Abrams in fact circulated a memorandum refuting the allegations, and stating that the figures and statistics mentioned within the document were completely false. (Leogrande, 2000)

There has been plenty of research conducted on the issue of U.S. And Latin American drug policies, and in sum total, it has generally been concluded that these policies have all been a failure. As a matter of fact, the more number of such policies were passed, the more number of drug traffickers started to harbor a ‘murderous’ response towards American government officials, who had been responsible for the passage of such policies. These undercurrents proved to be much too much to handle by several states, and for example, Columbia’s policy makers who at first refused completely to extradite, then happened to yield to the various pressure being exerted by the United States, and then procrastinated again in the face of violent opposition and intimidation being carried out by the Mafia, and then finally gave in to pressures in August of the year 1989, as a consequence of the violence that arose in the wake of the assassination of the leading presidential candidate, Senator Luis Carlos Galan. However, it must be stated here that the various U.S. policies on drugs and on drug trafficking are in general characterized by a clear hierarchy or a so called prioritization of various issues, among which the issue of drug trafficking is right at the top of the list, perhaps because of its very nature of associations of danger. (Hartlyn; Varas; Schoultz, 1993)

There is a phenomenon in existence in Sub-Saharan Africa, in South East Asia, and also in Latin America, and this is generally known as Drug War Lordism. This is a huge problem for the United States of America in relation to drug trafficking, and the reason is that the issue of war lordism has a tremendous impact and repercussions on the security of the United States. Warlords have apparently been in the process of financing their various struggles against the Western States in two different contexts. One is that which occurs in the several drug producing countries of the world, that is, those that come under the so called ‘Golden Triangle’, and the struggles that occur in the various different drug trafficking routes, like for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, where there has been a complete erosion and fall of the central and the state authorities in military and in economic and in political areas. All these drug warlords in fact preside over anarchy, while at the same time attempting to manage the chaos in which they are forced to live. (Segell, 1997)

Therefore, the drug warlord becomes an individual who is a parochial militarist, and one who thrives on the lack of central authority on the one hand, while on the other, makes several attempts to corrupt the existing structures so that he may be able to further his own personal ambitions, in any manner that he chooses to do so. An important fact to remember is that these drug warlords impose no age restrictions of nay sort on the members of their gang, and the members’ ages can range from as low as six years old, wherein these tender young children are pressed into the service of their warlords for the purpose of drug trafficking. The second context that has severe repercussions for the security of the United States as far as drug trafficking is concerned, is that of the destination state of the drug traffickers, which is in general, the United States of America, or Western Europe, where it must be said that the drug distribution network is supposedly organized in much the same way as would a gang of drug warlords and his subjects. In many cases, these gangs would have started their existence as individuals involved in nefarious activities such as prostitution, money laundering, or any other form of illegal activities.

These activities cause the sovereign states huge amounts of money, because of the various police and court actions that need to be taken against them, and also for the treatment of those people who have become irrevocably addicted to the drugs that they have been selling. As a matter of fact, it has often been stated that international cooperation and understanding will be required to deal with the escalating issues and problems of the gangs, warlords, and drug trafficking. Therefore, one must initially, at the outset, identify the problem, and where it lies, and then moves on to finding out where the weakest links in the chain lie, so that international cooperation can be sought to bridge and to fill up the weak spots and the existing gaps. Fighting drug trafficking would mean that the fight against drug warlordism would also be fought. (Segell, 1997)

Drug trafficking as such in the United States of America has been termed a very serious crime indeed, and all sorts of attempts and efforts are being made to combat this crime. One aspect of this research aims at racial profiling, wherein the use of official crime data, like for example, arrests, prosecution, and punishment, reveal a real bias against blacks, and less against whites, according to the research that was conducted by Bachman et al., 1991, National Institute on Drug abuse, 1991, Rebach, 1992, and Lockwood et al., 1995. This is a huge problem in the United States of America because of the racial bias and prejudice that is revealed. (Mitchell, 2001) As far as policies regarding drug trafficking are concerned, it is a fact that the United States has made several attempts at extradition as a means and a suitable method of enforcing its anti-narcotics policies. In Latin America, this particular scheme has remained extremely unpopular and unaccepted; because Latin Americans feel that it is being viewed by them as a mere extension of the ‘Yankee Imperialism’. Bulmer-Thomas, 2003)

Drug abuse has been steadily increasing over the years, and according to reports submitted by Mexican authorities, cocaine abuse has been growing alarmingly over the past few years, and in addition, life time dependence on cocaine has also increased significantly, especially over the last decade, when it has gone up from 0.14% in 1988, to 0.4% in the year 1998. In the same way, almost all the countries of South America, including Central America as well as the Caribbean, reported that cocaine use and abuse was on the rise over the pats few years. The largest drug consumer is of course without doubt, Brazil, and it is estimated that about 900,000 people may consume cocaine in Brazil. A lifetime dependence on cocaine was also revealed to be in existence at alarming percentages in Brazil, and the tragic part is that most of these users were children aged about fifteen and above. (United Nations Publications, 2003)

In the year 1939, the popular criminologist of the time Edwin Sutherland developed a theory named ‘Differential Association’, which he outlined in his textbook ‘Principles of Criminology’. This theory states that ‘criminal behavior is learned behavior’ and that it is generally learned through ‘social interaction with others’. This Differential Association Theory is popular even today with most criminologists all over the world, because of its simple nature, as well as its bank of supportive evidence to prove the theory. Edwin Sutherland drew upon the there major theories of his time to develop his theory, and these were the ecological and cultural transmission theory, the symbolic interactionism theory, and the culture conflict theory. In general, at that point of time, it was believed that criminology did not provide sound scientific evidence and had no coherent theories upon which to base their findings, and this was perhaps why Edwin Sutherland set out to create such a theory. (Sutherland’s Differential Association)

This is how he arrived at the Differential Association theory, and this theory has nine important postulates, which are the following: criminal behavior is in general, learned, and it is learned while communication and interacting with other people, especially in intimate groups. One learns criminal behavior by first learning the various complicated and simple techniques of committing that crime. The specific direction that his motives or the crime takes is learned from the legal issues involve in the crime, and whether they are favorable or unfavorable, and on an average, an individual becomes a criminal based on the number of definitions that he learns as being unfavorable to the law. All differential associations will generally differ in intensity and in frequency, and the very process of learning criminal behavior by means of association with either criminal or non-criminal behavior can be said to be the same as learning anything else. Criminal behavior need not be the expression of all the general needs and values of a human being, because of the fact that even for non-criminal behavior, the values and the needs will still be the same. (Sutherland’s Differential Association)

When a number of prisoners were released from prison after the completion of their respective terms, a study was conducted on them to find out the recidivism rates among these criminals. It was seen that within a period of a mere three years after their release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1987, about 40.8% of these people were back where they had started from, which was prison. Among ‘offense’ types, it was found that those persons who had served prison sentences for either fraud or for drug trafficking had the lowest recidivism rates, at about 20.8 and 34.2% respectively. Those who had been in prison for homicides or for other criminal activities had the highest recidivism rates, of about 64 and 65%. It was also discovered that those people who had been employed full time, or who had been attending school at the time of their arrest or with six months to two years before their arrest had lower recidivism rates as compared to those who did not have a job or schooling. In a similar manner, those people who had a history of drug abuse were higher recidivists. (Harer, 1994)

The sociologist and criminologist Edwin Sutherland has stated that any type of deviant behavior, like for example, drug abuse, is, as stated earlier, learned through others. Deviance is therefore learned behavior, which is learned by an individual from other deviants. Howard Becker, another criminologist, has explained how exactly this happens, in his study entitled “Becoming a Marijuana User” wherein he explains how a novice becomes a drug user when he is influenced by more experienced users. He also states that no one can become a user without properly learning the exact technique of how to smoke the drug, and in the same way, no one can actually use the drug without knowing that he is actually abusing it, and no one can actually become a user unless he learns to enjoy the various sensations that he would achieve when he uses the drug. This is how an individual becomes a user, and how society labels him as an abuser. (Drug Abuse)

Thus criminal behavior is learned. When Edwin Sutherland conceived of his Differential Association theory, it was indeed a great landmark, and it continues to be one of the most widely acclaimed and well appreciated theories of all time, recognized by researchers and criminologists all over the world. (Gaylord, 1988) According to the great criminologist, criminology can be defined as the body of knowledge that regards crime and delinquency as social phenomena, and it includes the various processes of making laws, breaking laws, and of peoples’ reactions towards the breaking of laws. Therefore, when criminal behavior is about breaking laws, and when there are individuals who do break laws, then one would easily be able to learn criminal behavior from another person.

The very principle of differential association includes a person becoming deviant just because of an excess of definitions that may be favorable to the violation of law as such. The theory, however, did in fact meet with a lot of criticism, because of a large variety of reasons, some of them being that, for one, it does not consider an individual’s own free will, it does not give any importance to the role that a victim has played, it is based on a psychology that believes in rational deliberation and not unconscious thinking processes. It never does explain the true origin of the crime being committed, and it does not consider the very important ‘biological’ factors into account. (Edwin Sutherland, Differential Association Theory)

Edwin Sutherland also emphasized on the fact that many urban neighborhoods may not be organized, but actually ‘dis-organized’ around the various crimes and other forms of criminal activities in the neighborhood. As a matter of fact, it was the rapid changes that take place on a daily basis in urban neighborhoods that give rise to criminality and to criminal and anti-social behaviors. Then perhaps there would inevitably be a breakdown of social values and traditions, and this in turn would lead to the creation and the development of delinquency and deviant behavior, especially among the youth. (Chapter 8: Social Disorganization, anomie, and strain theories)

However, it must be remembered that the understanding and the comprehension of the relationship that exists between drug use and abuse and criminal activity, is today at the very heart of criminal theory and research, and it must be also noted that the Differential Association Theory of Edwin Sutherland even today holds its own in this regard. There is large-scale worry indulged in by the media, by the society, by the communities, by the parents, and by the general public, about the multifarious problems that are faced by individuals who indulge in drug abuse when they are still young. (Karofi, 2005) When Edwin Sutherland developed his theory of Differential Association, he also stated what would later be recognized as ‘white collar crime’, and these were embezzlements, stock frauds, and other crimes of a different nature. While such individuals would rarely if ever be prosecuted at that time, those persons who would be involved in drug trafficking would more often be prosecuted, and major drug dealers would be incarcerated in prison without a possibility of parole. (The Reader’s Companion to American History, Crime)

It must be remembered that drugs as such have never been absent form the fiber of American society, and in fact, although the types of drugs available today as compared to yesterday, and the levels of usage have changed, drug usage and drug trafficking have not at all changed. There was a free economy for drugs until the turn of the nineteenth century, and it must be mentioned that the anti-drug laws of the states were never commendable or even up to the mark expected of a country as large and as vast as the United States of America. However, it was not until the early 1960’s that drugs became freely available for recreational purposes, and it was also at this same time that the demand for drugs started to grow. (The Reader’s Companion to American History, Drugs)

Trafficking in drugs has been assumed to be a transnational crime, and according to Edwin Sutherland, and also to some others, it is an avoidable and an unnecessary harm that happens in society, which is serious enough to warrant state intervention, and where the criminals often find themselves during the carrying out of their various criminal activities, under the jurisdictions of more than one state at any one particular time. (Reichel, 2004) In the year 1970, the Congress enacted what was hoped would be the final and the ultimate solution to the problem of organized crime, which was also the root cause of drug trafficking in he United States of America, called RICO, or, in other words, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt organizations Act, and the CCE was also passed at the same time, and this was the Continuing Criminal Enterprises Act. (Greek, 1991)

Since Edwin Sutherland offered the opinion that one will learn to be a criminal from other people around us, and there is organized crime of all kinds as well as warlords, drug rings, gangs, and many other forms of nefarious and illegal activities going around everywhere, all around us, it is quite natural that an individual who is subjected to these various influences at a tender age will more likely than not, take to these activities himself. However, Sutherland also stated that in a relationship with other people, there are four important qualities that are generally associated with it, and these are the following: priority, wherein all the relationships that one experiences earlier in one’s life are those that would inevitably have the greatest impact on an individual, and this in turn means that all the various values that have been taught to a person when he is a child will be the values that will have the greatest impact on him throughout his entire life. (The cultural dimensions if crime, Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association theory)

Another important quality is that of frequency, wherein the persons with whom one interacts more will more often be the person with whom one will be able to identify the most. Duration is yet another quality, wherein the duration of the relationship with a person will judge what impact that relationship will have on that person. Finally, intensity plays an important role in a relationship, and if one harbors a great deal of respect in the individual, and then it is more likely that one would be influenced more by that person. (The cultural dimensions if crime, Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association theory)

In conclusion, it must be stated that Edwin Sutherland, with his Differential Association Theory, has stated that a drug abuser learns his behavior through others who are doing the same thing, and this means that one can actually get to the root of the problem, through dealing effectively with those who try to exert unwanted influences on others, and attempt to bring them into the habit of drug use and abuse, and finally, drug trafficking.


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550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
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The price is based on these factors:
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Number of pages
Basic features
  • Free title page and bibliography
  • Unlimited revisions
  • Plagiarism-free guarantee
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 24/7 support
On-demand options
  • Writer’s samples
  • Part-by-part delivery
  • Overnight delivery
  • Copies of used sources
  • Expert Proofreading
Paper format
  • 275 words per page
  • 12 pt Arial/Times New Roman
  • Double line spacing
  • Any citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard)

Our guarantees

Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.

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Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

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Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

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Privacy policy

Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

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Fair-cooperation guarantee

By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.

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Feel free to ask questions, clarifications, or discounts available when placing an order.
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