A short essay on what "makes a criminal."
| Everyone loves a good cop show where the bad guy always gets their dues and the good guys always get their bad guy? We know it's fiction and yet for many of us that "good guy/bad guy" mentality carries over to real life. Criminals are created through environment, rather than their genes. It's easy to say, yet who really believes it? Because "I" could never be a criminal, that would mean “I” was a bad person. In this essay I'm going to debunk that belief by taking a look at three things that influence "making" a criminal: environmental factors, genetics and "when" a person becomes a criminal.
As easily predictable, criminals start in their parents; not biologically but rather relationally. Parents fulfilling their proper role is the biggest factor in whether or not people engage in criminal activities- period. As Cassie Landers from the Consultative Group on Early Childhood Care and Development says in her report Early Childhood Development from Two to Six Years of Age, "The process of acquiring the standards, values, and knowledge of communities and society is known as socialization." She goes on to say, "Socialization which begins as soon as a child is born is especially important during early childhood as the first understanding of the child's community is constructed.”
The most important factor is having a loving and close relationship with at least one of your parents, statistically the mother. However, having a strong authority figure in your life to help develop a healthy respect for authority is nearly as important as having a caring figure to develop empathy. What I've just described to you is a "healthy home" that is- one that has both love and rules. Perhaps an even better way to phrase that: a home that has "loving rules". There is no better community for a child to develop in.
That being said, neighborhoods also play a role in the development of children and thus in whether or not one does or does not become a criminal. To get the obvious statement out of the way- yes, low crime neighborhoods are obviously are less likely to produce criminals. "Most of us do not commit crimes but it is not because we fear being arrested. What keeps us in line is the fact that we do not want to upset our family, friends or other informal relations.” Naturally then, neighborhoods with involved churches and in which the community involved in the church have significantly less crime. Here morality trumps materiality, as between the lower, middle and upper classes there are only four percent gaps in the number of arrested criminals (Regis Univeristy College of Contemporary Liberal Studies).
Another factor which is simply not as influential on a person is that of school. The reason for this is a matter of age more than anything else. By the time a child has entered into school, they have already developed their fundamental understanding of how they interact with others and authority from their years at home. If there were to be any school years that are truly impactful it would be those of preschool where a child is still laying the foundation for these beliefs. Beyond that, school is too impersonal and big to leave a lasting impact on a majority of the population, beyond some early profiling of "problem children".
But with profiling comes the talk of genes and their role in "making a criminal" so, before going any farther, let's address that. Genes do not a criminal make, but there is a strong correlation between certain biological components and criminal activity. For example, people with mental illnesses that are in prisons outnumber those without mental illnesses in prisons by two-four (Regis Univeristy College of Contemporary Liberal Studies). Also, people with disorders such as ADHD, CD and ODD all display low impulse control and antisocial behavior- criminal trademarks. However, when these conditions are treated, even those who are already criminals see "44% decrease in harmful behaviors (Regis Univeristy College of Contemporary Liberal Studies).”
That being said, there have been studies as to whether or not specific genes, not just mental or physical conditions, can be linked to crime. In a study done in Finland published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, “Caspiet al.,7observed among about 50 violent offenders that the low-activity genotype was associated with offending, but only when concomitant childhood maltreatment was present.” In the end they did see that 5%-10% of violent crime were at least related to two specific genes, but again this proves not cause but correlation. As with other studies done on the same or similar genes, such as the "Warrior Gene", there is an increased risk for violence yes, but only under circumstances where the subject is prone to violent impulses.
And this brings us to our next question: when do people commit crime? According to the FBI 2015 report violent crime: 63.8% were aggravated assault, 27.3% were robbery, 7.5% were rape, and 1.3% were murder. As the FBI defines crime, there are two major categories: property and violent. Both have multiple reasons for happening of course, but usually when a person commits a property crime they do it because they want to either take the property for themselves or take it from someone else. Violent crimes, conversely, are a little more complicated. Aggravated assault is just as it sounds: attacking someone with the intent to harm, an anger crime. Robbery is taking something from someone else through force, generally either because of power or greed. Rape is a particularly blurry one in today's society but it usually boils down to power and/or lust. Murder is a matter so complicated that I'd need an entire paper just to look at the reasons behind it so we'll leave that one to itself.
As for the other ones, my point is simply this: an overwhelming percentage of violent crimes are motivated by anger. Now, what causes this anger is up to debate but what's not up for debate is why the environment, specifically early childhood environment, plays a key role in how we react to this anger. Think about it and I think you'll see that you get angry, whether internally or outwardly, quite a lot. So what separates your anger from the sort of anger that causes aggravated assault?
The answer is self-control. When we are young we don't have any impulse control/self-control/self-regulation and simply act out on any emotion that comes to us. What changes? "Young children need clear and consistent rules from parents and teachers to learn self-regulation (Gliebe).” And so we come full circle back to how important environment is in making or breaking criminal behavior. In this particular example I used anger, but in reality I could've argued any of the motivations behind crime. The point is not the particular emotion or impulse behind a crime, but rather our ability or inability to control said thing.
In conclusion, as shown by the contents of this essay it is environment not genetics that make a criminal. Early childhood development and home life specifically are the most important factor in whether or not someone will be prone to criminal activities as they age. While genetics do play a role, it is a relatively small one, as those who have conditions that predispose them to crime can be treated with great success often. Free will is the ultimate reason someone becomes a criminal, but why someone makes a decision can sometimes be as important as the decision itself.
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