Recent research provides considerable support for th idea, long despised, that criminals are born rather than made; genes appear to count far more than upbringing.
Traits such as intelligence, aggressiveness, impulse control, optimism, and many other things, even political orientation, appear to be strongly affectd by a person’s genetic makeup.
By the same token, inadequate child-rearing does not appear to block th expression of valuable traits and abilities in children.
Whe important factors: such as the genetic similarities between parent and child, are controlled, single parenthood does not appear to be a major source of delinquency.
There are traits, such as activity level, distractibility, intensity of reaction, and quality of mood, that are relatively stable from infancy. Some combinations of traits produced infants who could be characterized as `easy’, and other combinations that are `difficult’.
Children with chronic histories of delinquency exhibit characteristic trait patterns, of which the most important appear to be low intelligence, especially in verbal abilities, deficient impulse control, and irritable or aggressive temperament.
Adolescent-onset delinquency is quite common. It is a normal response to the social restrictions on their emerging maturity. Childhood-onset delinquency is far less common, and the prognosis for these adolescents appears less sanguine. The latter, also suffering from lack of intellectual resources, are three times more likely to be convicted of a violent crime, and they commit such crimes at a much younger age than the adolescent-onset offenders.
Psychopathic traits are often present in people who have sustained frontal lobe damage. Such damage tends to interfere with foresight, impulse control, and emotional responsiveness. Many psychopaths are suffering from undetected neural deficits.
Psychopaths are egregious in their lack of empathy and conscience. The main difference between non-criminal psychopath and the socio-pathic career criminal may reside in their intelligence. High IQ people rarely become career criminals, even if their life experiences and temperamental characteristics put them at risk. On the other hand, many of the most notorious tyrants in history were intellectually brilliant, but psychopathically devoid of empathy. Perhaps a sizeable number of career criminals are unintelligent people with psychopathic dispositions. A good many of the world’s scoundrels are people with similar dispositions but more intelligence.
Gang membership contributes to criminal conduct. But traits associated with criminality also incline youngsters to join gangs.
Illegitimate kids, and women commencing sexual activity at a younger age, contribute to production of low IQ delinquent children.
Girls who become sexually active at young age are prone to exploitation by unscrupulous older males.
Imprisonment has eugenic effects in preventing reproduction by those deemed socially undesirable, at least during their period of incarceration. Criminals left in neighborhoods are free to court young girls, and it would hardly be surprising to discover that these men are among those who exhibit few qualms about exploiting them.
Aggressive men have few opportunities to reproduce if females are closely monitored by family and neighbors, and are often at a severe reproductive disadvantage if they fail to develop the capacity to support wives and children.
None of the above should be interpreted to mean that a person is destined by his genes to a life of crime. A person with genetic factors linked to criminality is no more destined to become a criminal than is a person with genes linked to high IQ destined to become a scientist. Genes do not program individual behavior in a vacuum; ecological factors play a role in what sort of genetic predispositions are expressed in phenotypic behavior. Some environments are more conducive than others for the expression of criminal traits. For that reason crime control almost always involves a considerable degree of environmental manipulation.
The social ecology of small towns serves to inhibit a wide variety of crimes that depend for their success on anonymity. In a small town where everyone knows everyone else, robbery is a high risk enterprise. Violent crime is higher in urban areas than in rural areas.
Crime rates can only remain at high levels if they are allowed to do so.
What Can be Done?
Strategize to limit the extent to which traits predispose children to criminality and when allowed to find destructive criminal expression.
Policies strengthening marriage and encouraging the postponement of child-bearing until marriage would help. Mature women in the market for husbands to support them are more likely to be prudent in their choices than girls following youthful infatuations.
Restore the old kind of police and court practices that worked in earlier times.
Enforce truancy laws and special schools for disruptive students. Truants are prime candidates for delinquency. Curfews for minors can be effective in reducing crime. Truancy laws and curfews take children off the streets where some succumb to the temptations of criminal behavior.
Immediate punishment for crime could deter it. Rioters and looters could be quickly brought under control by a massive police presence prepared to detain or immobilize law breakers. All totalitarian police states have been notable for their low crime rates, as have countries under military occupation. Crime cannot survive extensive surveillance and swift punishment.
Increase the police numbers and their deployment to crime prone neighborhoods.
None of the above meant to deny that seriously deficient mothering caused by drug addiction, alcoholism, or prostitution can have deleterious effects on children.
Children of inadequate mothers are more prone to crime because they inherit their mother’s or father’s inadequacies than that they are driven into crime by those inadequacies.
Caring, consistent, and loving parents are clearly important for children’s happiness and well-being. The absence of a father appears to be painful to children in all walks of life. Many children grow up in seriously dysfunctional homes and suffer great unhappiness as a result. But few of these family conditions or child-rearring practices have a substantial impact on adult criminality.
Very few children are destined to be criminals because of inherited traits, but many with traits that put them at risk will gravitate toward criminality if not properly corrected. A small minority of youngsters will go seriously astray, and these are best dealt with by adequate law enforcement, not by the establishment of a corps of parenting police.
Byron M. Roth `Crime and Child-Rearing’, Society, Vol. 34, No 1, Nov – Dec 1996, pp. 39-45.