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Advisory Committee Chair

John Heith Copes

Advisory Committee Members

Kent R Kerley

Andy Hochstetler

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2011

Degree Name by School

Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Many theories have been created in hope of explaining why people deviate from societal norms to commit crimes. However, Elijah Anderson's Code of the Streets has recently grown in popularity as an explanation for street crime that construes criminal behavior more adequately than previous theories. Recent empirical evidence of researchers such as Anderson suggests the existence of an insidious street culture whose members identify themselves not with conventional norms, but instead with the standards of the street culture. To violate this street code would be to jeopardize self esteem and risk ostracism, further victimization, and often physical safety. However, people also judge themselves and others by the code and its rules and values. Identity, self respect, and honor is tied up with how one performs on the streets according to the norms established by the code. Topalli recently conducted research of neutralization theory that supports and expands this aspect of Anderson's theory. Topalli's research on active street offenders suggests that offenders must neutralize or justify actions that are inconsistent with the code. In other words, followers of street codes must neutralize good behavior to assert and maintain their belief and dedication to the street code. Although Topalli intended his study to explore neutralization theory, Scott and Lyman's theory of accounts, which occur after the behavior as an explanation to outsiders for deviant behavior and a means of maintaining one's identity, may better bring these theories together to explain behavior and how individuals explain their actions. I propose that Anderson's code of the streets and Scott and Lyman's accounts theory can be applied to the prison context. In the present study I intend to investigate norms and behavior at the prison setting to determine if these theories can be used to explain behavior of prisoners as well as active offenders on the street, keeping in mind the suggestions of Topalli's findings, that offenders do not always explain their behavior in the manner expected or predicted by the majority of prior research.

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