Theory of Behavior

Read the following case study description:

Billy grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Boston. Although his first contact with the police was at age 15, he began having problems in school as early as age 6. He did not like school work and had to be “prodded” constantly. His teachers reported consistently that he had problems both with academic work and with controlling his behavior in class. There were indications that his parents did not supervise him very closely or impose limits and rules. By age 12 he was regularly skipping school, spending this time drinking, smoking, and stealing from convenience stores or pickpocketing. During this time he also became involved with a group of friends that were known for stealing cars in their neighborhood. By 16 he had been arrested, convicted, and admitted to a juvenile delinquency facility and served almost a year. Between ages 17 and 25 Billy was arrested eight times for a variety of offenses, including armed robbery, auto theft, larceny, and burglary; as a result of these arrests Billy spent about 7 years of this time in prison.

At age 25, upon release he was unable to get a job because of his record and decided that armed robbery was the best way to gain an income. He was incarcerated off and on between 25 and 32. Billy initially maintained close family ties during his confinement and his family visited him in prison. These visits gradually slowed down and Billy later said that his parents “hated” him for the things he had done and the rest of his family “disowned him”. After age 32 Billy was arrested eight more times for a variety of crimes and spent a substantial amount of time in prison. Billy never held a job longer than eight months during this entire period, most of his work experience consisted of short-term odd jobs. He was married once in his early 20s, but his wife divorced him as soon as he was sentenced to his next prison term.

Discussion Prompt

What theory do you think explains Billy’s behavior most accurately? Why? Be sure to include specific examples of what the theory says about the factors leading to criminal offending and how you see them displayed in the case study. Feel free to embellish the story if you feel like you need more information. Respond to at least two of your classmates, either agreeing or disagreeing with their choices, but be sure to support your responses.

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