Theories, which are mostly referred to as development theories, have in common that crime and its cause processual, and not to be seen as individual events. The theories presented here therefore include, roughly speaking, the variable “time” in their considerations.
Accordingly, criminal developments are dependent on the life-course and the age of the respective person, but also on the constantly changing environment and their influencing factors. In addition, it is assumed that many crimes are the result of so-called criminal careers, which also develop over longer periods of time and are always dependent on the delinquent person, as well as on other people and the environment around them.
Development theories are therefore usually approaches that identify many different factors as common causes of crime. However, this does not happen purely additively (as is the case with classical multi-factor approaches), but along a time axis on which certain factors can lead to others or only occur at certain points in time.
It is also typical that events can lead to several different results, whereby it is then the task of development theories to find out when and why which result occurred.
Developmental criminology has its roots among other things in the longitudinal studies conducted by the couple Glück & Glück. For the first time, attention was drawn to changes in both deviating and norm-compliant individuals at different times in their lives. At that time, however, the aim of the studies was to find additive individual factors for the development of criminal behaviour.
The cause of crime lies in a developmental process that begins before birth and extends over the entire life span. Individual and social factors are responsible for the beginning, end and duration of a criminal career.
In the period that followed, there were several independent studies and theories which, contrary to this static understanding of the causes of crime, were interested in the development of individual and environmental factors. David Matza, for example, understood deviation and conformity as the results of a time-dependent drift into and out of crime (Delinquency and Drift).
Greenberg first drew attention to the significant role of age in the development of deviance in his age theory: the anomic pressure according to Merton varied according to the stage of life and was particularly high in adolescence. Thornberry’s interaction theory, on the other hand, explains the high criminality burden in adolescence with weak social ties as adopted from Hirschi’s attachment theory (low attachment to parents, low commitment to school, no belief in conventional values). Criminal behaviour influences this lack of social ties and thus leads to an interaction between crime and integration into society, which, however, solidifies at an advanced age and thus has an inhibiting effect on crime. The best known development theory is the Age-Graded Theory of Sampson & Laub, which can be seen as a continuation of Thornberry’s interaction approach and ties in with the results of Glück & Glück. Sampson & Laub criticized Hirschi’s theory of attachment, which states that young people’s freedom must be taken early and a quick integration into institutions must take place so that there is no opportunity for delinquency, as well as Terri Moffit’s Two-Path Theory, which is also related to developmental criminology and which is of the opinion that crime occurs either continuously or in phases, but neither is possible.
In the course of the labeling theories and above all by their representatives Becker and Lemert, new and different forms of development approaches were developed from the 70s onwards, which are dedicated to the so-called “criminal careers” of dissenters. In the German-speaking world, Stephan Quensel and Henner Hess’ career models are particularly worthy of mention here, the latter later being processed into a general social constructivist theory in which the life course of the individual in question represents only a small part of the factors to be explained in connection with the topic of criminality. Dieter Hermann, however, links the variable age with different value orientations, which are decisive for criminal actions. His voluntaristic model can therefore also be classified in the life course theories.