Deviant Social Behavior Analysis


Deviant social behavior refers to an action that violates both cultural norms and the rules that are enacted formally. According to the structural-functionalism perspective, deviations emerge from the formation of values and norms which institutions enforce. Deviations result when institutions institute proscriptions or prescriptions. Therefore a deviation is whatever is defined not to be normal by-laws, values, and norms.

Emile Durkheim a French sociologist studied suicide and the role played by institutions in suicide. In his study about how suicide is connected to people’s lives, he came to know that social regulation and social integration rates are inversely correlated with rates of suicide. People who commit suicide are not connected to stable goals and norms. However, the people who are integrated well into society and the ones with good social norms have a low rate of suicide.

The two dimensions of social bonds are social regulation and social integration and both are independent. Social integration means the attachment to institutions and groups while social regulation is adhering to values and norms in the society. The people who are well integrated are categorized as altruism while those who are not integrated are referred to as egoism. The ones who are well regulated are classified as fatalism while those who are unregulated are the anomie.

Durkheim says that if social norms are confounded, it results in anomie while according to Merton anomie is where there is no correspondence between social goals and legitimate means of achieving them. Response of individual to expectations of society and the means of pursuing goals is very important in understanding deviance. Collective action is motivated by frustration, stress, or strain in an individual’s body that results from a disconnection between the goals of society and the means of achieving those goals. Behavior such as rebellion and rioting are economic causes and explanations by use of strain.

Anomie makes people alienate themselves from society because of having norms and interests which are conflicting. An individual is working under conformity if he accepts goals and the means of accomplishing those goals but if he accepts the goals but uses means which are illegitimate in achieving the goals, he commits a crime in trying to emulate the values of the people who conform. (Blackwell, 1974 pp23-26)

Why People Keep Getting Sent Back to Prison

Symbolic interactionism

Deviance comes about as a result of individual learning deviant behavior and may grow together with other deviants or give reasons for deviance. This focuses more on the mind and consciousness of the individual rather than institutions where norms came from. Criminals who are sent back to prison learn deviant behaviors and that deviance is not part of the nature of a particular individual. Learning of criminal behavior is done the same way other behaviors are learned which means that it is not unique to acquire criminal knowledge compared to how other behaviors are learned.

Sutherland in his theory has the idea that learning comes as a result of an interaction that exists between groups and individuals by the use of ideas and symbols for communication. When there are deviation ideas and symbols about deviance that are more favorable, individuals take deviance in a favorable view, and this resort to these behaviors becoming more. Criminal behavior is learned by communicating with personal groups that are intimate and consisting of people who are already aware of deviant behavior. (Rand, 1997pp33-34)

Neutralization theory

The theory explains the way deviants justify their behavior through adjusting how they define their actions and explaining to others and themselves the way they are not guilty of their own actions in a particular situation. Denial of responsibility is where deviant is propelled helplessly into deviance and given the same circumstances; any other person would do similar actions. The injury may be denied if no one was hurt by the deviant and it is assumed that the deviant is not wrong morally due to the belief that no harm was caused to the society or other individuals. Denial of the victim is where the possible individual in receiving end is not injured but only experience force because of the victim lacking morals or virtues.

A situation where condemners may be condemned occurs when authority figures are accused of being deviant also and being hypocrites about it. All these make people keep getting sent back to prison because they tend to rationalize their actions or the offense they commit by neutralizing the way crime is defined. This results in people continuing to commit crimes thinking that they have a good reason as to why they should not face the law and at the end of it all they are taken to prison.

When a person commits an offense and is taken to prison, he is negatively labeled and many people even after they are released, tend to act according to the label. Labeling theory is internalizing the given label and acting according to it. With time, deviant gets the traits for defining what is supposed to be done by deviant and does according to the role of the label through committing deviations in order to conform to the label. Societal and individual preoccupations with deviant labels make deviant individuals have self-fulfilling prophecies in order to conform to the ascribed label.

When people commit crimes even if they are mild, there are social penalties attached to the crime. Punishment does not always stop the crime thus the person might commit the same crime again which brings about reactions that are even harsher from the institutions. The person is stigmatized by the whole community and even sends him back to prison every now and then because he has already accepted himself as a criminal. According to conflict theorists, deviance occurs as a result of the conflict that exists between individuals and groups.

Deviant behaviors are actions that do not follow a worldview that is socially prescribed and prevent the minority from accessing scarce resources. The ability of institutions to change wealth, norms, and status conflicts with the individual self because deviance is taken to be a conflict that results from scarce resources. (Rand, 1997pp35-36)

Torture is no longer used in modern society due to the dispersion of power and no more need for wrath on the deviant individual. The modern state praises itself because of its fairness and controlling the mass instead of each individual.

People who are in prison are controlled through using discipline perfectly. When inmates are not tortured while in prison, they tend to take that life as normal and may not fear being sent back to prison once they complete their term and therefore commit another offense later. This calls for the prison authority to be careful on the way they discipline prisoners and make sure they learn a lesson from the crime they committed and make sure that they do not repeat the same later.

According to the States social contract theory, the state has the role of having a large number of people and ensuring there are minimum actions that cause harm to the society. People who keep getting sent back to prison commit crimes that harm society because of the utility given by the state to a private individual. If the state could only match pain as a result of punishment with the utility of deviant individuals, there would be no incentive by deviant individuals to engage in deviant behavior without considering that there would be social harm if a certain point is reached.

Biological factors contribute to deviance and crime because the theory of biological deviance states that, some of the people who commit crime are genetically predisposed to criminal behavior. Criminals may be products of genetic forms because they were criminals at the time of birth and human being who are less evolved are more biologically related and very little can be done to change people who are born criminals because that character is biologically inherited. (Kai, 1966 pp25-28)

An individual who has deviant social behavior through his acts can impose both physical and psychological damage on other members of society or their properties. Such a person can easily be detected by a number of antisocial behaviors like lying, assaulting others, being argumentative, stealing, or sexual promiscuity. When a person commits any of these acts it can be as a result of disturbances of his thought or emotions and this can proceed to an extent that it violates legal codes leading to one or multiple imprisonments. This kind of deviance is longstanding and can manifest throughout one’s life from adolescence to adulthood when a mature human being can be irresponsible in parenting his children, characterized by repeated aggressiveness and reckless endangerment of others.

Research conducted in several parts of the world indicates that factors that can lead to a person having deviant behavior manifested in repeated imprisonment include family environment, peer environment, social context, and personality characteristics. Any amount of penalty carried on the deviant person can generate a great risk to his mental as well as physical health because the stress caused can lead to increased alcoholism, drug abuse, excessive cigarette smoking, and engaging in acts that are violent to other people and also towards self all which makes the deviant behavior more apparent and therefore increased rates such a person being imprisoned.

Drug abuse for example can easily cause impaired judgment which is an indirect cause of road accidents and high-risk sexual behavior including rape. Two are three main theories that explain how individuals acquire deviant social behaviors. (Kitsuse, 1992 pp12-15)

Coercion theory

The theory suggests that a person engages in deviant social behavior as means of forcing other people to accept their aversive demands. Such a person is likely to repeat the same behavior no matter how many times he is punished as long as his demands have not been met. This would in turn result in repeated imprisonment. A simple example is when a student hits a classmate to stop him from teasing or having aggressive anger in reaction to a parent who fails to buy candy.

Social development model

The hypothesis of this theory is that direct predictors of deviant social behavior are; when a person lacks belief in his moral order, identifying perceived reward from antisocial interaction, commitment along antisocial lines of people, and believe in values that are antisocial. A general theory of this model puts a theory that a child is likely to engage in deviant behavior if the mother smokes, abuse harmful substances, or lacks healthy nutrition while she is pregnant. The theory further states that the style of parenting, environmental characteristics such as school and home, and the caretaker who looks after the child immediately after he is born are the strong antecedent of social deviance of that child later in his life. (Gibbs, 1996 pp14-15)

General Root causes of deviant social behavior that lead to repeated imprisonment

In a family setting, there are high-risk factors that can form the basis of social deviation later in life. With a history of deviance in that family, the chance that future generations will have similar problems are very high. Abuse of drugs and parents engaging in a lot of alcoholic drinks can also have a great influence on deviant behaviors. A lot of chaos and unstable home life which lacks good skills in parenting accompanied with corporal punishment instills deviance at a very early stage in the Child’s development.

Another probable cause if no proper measures are taken is parental disruption as a result of divorce, one or both parents dying, or any other form of separation. Psychiatric disorders like maternal depression and other distress caused by poverty and problems of unemployment are also known to cause repeated deviant social behavior. (Gibbs, 1996 pp16-17)

Prevention of deviant social behaviors

The nature and methods of prevention of deviant behaviors depend on the theoretical approach underlying it and also on the age bracket of the targeted person but most efforts towards prevention of deviant behavior are directed towards adolescents. If the target is on the prenatal or early childhood environment, then the focus is on the nutrition of the expectant mother, reduction in smoking, and skills for solving problems in the family.

On the other hand, if the intervention is directed towards the family environment, it requires development in non-coercive discipline, setting up of strategies to improve social development, strategies to enhance involvement of parents at school, and co-curricular activities. In the school, environment focus is directed towards success in academics and modification of the environment in the school so as to suppress aggressive behavior, instilling positive relations among peers, and at the same time increase organization in academics. (Dentler, 1995 pp11-14)

Treatment of deviant social behavior

The treatment of socially deviant behavior is based on behavioral training which is cognitive and tries to make modifications on moral training and increase the ability to take the perspective of another person and increase tolerance to frustration and getting solutions to interpersonal dilemmas. These treatments help to modify interactions in the family and lead to improvement in parental management and a positive family atmosphere.

Many people who are sent to prison develop deviant behaviors when they are young and continue with it until they become adults. Parent-teacher communication should be enhanced at school and avail school counselors and psychologists who have knowledge in family intervention within the school setting in order to intervene successfully and treat antisocial behavior when the children are still young. This is very important because, when children grow up and get used to deviant behavior, it might be very difficult to control it or help the child stop it because at that time he or she will have gotten used to it as a habit.

Programs that are school-based from early childhood teach conflict resolution, skills for managing anger, and emotional literacy has been interrupting antisocial behavior development in students who are at low risk. Students at higher risk due to difficult environmental and family circumstances find it more beneficial to use individualized prevention efforts such as academic support, training in social skills, and counseling.

The academic setting should have the capacity to give good parental support and give motivating feedback to help a parent in developing parenting skills that help to prevent antisocial behavior in children. Parents should have access to video and written information about effective parenting skills and groups for parent-support as intervention strategies to change family dynamics in order to shape antisocial behavior.

A grown-up who already has antisocial behavior persistent patterns are helped with intensive individualized services involving mental health agencies in the community and outside intervention. Community-based programs are like recreation programs that use trained therapists and youth centers that provide additional support. Those people who have already developed deviant behaviors are taught good virtues and how to do the right thing all the time in order to avoid problems that are associated with deviant behavior for example being imprisoned after committing an offense that is against the law.

Healthy parental care and nutrition help to treat deviant behavior where people should be provided with a secure family and a safe social environment. Early bonding with parents who are emotionally mature helps children have role models and develop good behavior because the methods of parenting used are non-coercive. Children should be taught not to engage in a peer relationships with people who have deviant behavior in order to avoid falling into temptations of being immoral. (Gottfredson, 1990 pp20-23)


Parents fail to get help for children who have patterns of antisocial behavior because of fear that the child might be negatively misdiagnosed or labeled. Children at various development stages engage in one form of antisocial behavior or another.

Parents who are skilled comfort their children in a loving manner and assist them to recognize that some behaviors are not accepted. Early intervention in order to prevent deviant social behavior is important for the sake of children and the whole family. Once the child is brought up with good virtues, even if he or she grows up, there will be no problem of being sentenced to prison due to deviant behavior and if this happens, it will not repeat itself for the second time because it will act as a lesson to him and therefore avoid getting sent back to prison. (Cohen, 1996 pp17-8)


Cohen K. (1996): social deviance and control: Englewood Cliffs, pp. 17-19.

Blackwell B. (1974): changes in social definition of deviance: Oxford University Penal Research Unit, pp. 23-26.

Rand D. (1997): contingencies in development of Adolescent antisocial behavior: New Brunswick, pp. 33-36.

Dentler R. (1995): The functions of deviance in groups: Macmillan, pp. 11-14.

Kai T. (1966): a study in sociology of deviance: Wiley, pp. 25-28.

Gibbs J. (1996): old and new conceptions of deviant behavior: Pacific Sociological Review, pp. 14-17.

Gottfredson M. (1990): a general theory of crime: Stanford University, pp. 20-23.

Kitsuse J. (1992): societal reactions to deviant behavior: McGraw-Hill, pp. 12-15.