Are Serial Criminals Born or Made

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Most criminals commit a single crime and end their life of crime after their first arrest. A small percentage of criminals continue to commit crime after crime, even after being arrested and serving prison sentences. What causes some individuals to become serial criminals? What causes criminal behavior in the first place? Are certain individuals born with no values and lack of morals? Are some serial criminals a product of their environment and circumstances? There are no magical glasses we can use to tell us if someone is a serial criminal or not. Criminals come in all shapes, sizes, races, genders, and economic status. Anyone has the capability to commit a crime, what make the average person different than your serial criminal? There is no simple answer to these questions, this paper will try to shed some light as to whether serial criminals are born or made.

Criminal Behavior

In 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed that all human motivation can be described in terms of a "hierarchy of needs", which fit into five categories. Physical, security, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization, criminals have the same need except theirs are distorted. (Mactire, 1995) There are three basic traits that identify "criminal personality". The first is weakness - emotional and physical, lacking discipline. Second is Immaturity - childish egocentrism. The Final trait is self-deception - a distorted sense of personality, several narcissistic. (Mactire, 1995) The definition of a chronic or serial criminal is - one who has been convicted of one or more crimes in the past and, as a result, is subject to a more severe sentence under the habitual offender statute of a state for any subsequent crime that they commit. ("legal, definitions," 2010)

Made into a Criminal

Experts have identified a hand full of social risk factors that can contribute to crime and criminal behavior. There are no doubt that poverty plays a role in criminal behavior, a lack of basic recourses or in ability to maintain a adequate standard of living for your family pushes some individuals to commit non-violent crimes to support their family. Researchers have made connections between poverty and nonviolent crime; there is evidence that indicates poverty is one of the most robust predictors of adolescent violence for both males and females (Bartol, & Bartol, 2010). For those living in poverty there are inequities besides the lack of resources. The youth living under poverty conditions are more likely to attend inadequate schools, to drop out of school, to be unemployed, to carry firearms and to victimized and witness violent crimes. (Bartol, & Bartol, 2010) Adults and children living in substandard living environments are more likely to be victims; some eventually turn to crime themselves. Research has proven the children "model" what they see growing up, in a poverty stricken areas generation of children have grown up with; inconsistent or no discipline, a lack of patient or sensitivity from parents, harsh or aggressive discipline tactics, drug use and sexual assault. The lack of basic resources, inadequate schools, and education, environmental influences all add up to a receipt for criminal behavior. The television sitcom families like the "Huxtable on the Cosby show" & "Keaton's in family Ties" are all a fairy tale to children and adults living in poverty.

Another risk factor in criminal behavior is child neglect. Not being provided the basic parental nurturing and guidance can have major consequences in a child's life and lead to criminal behavior. Studies have discovered that childhood abuse is a factor in subsequent criminality is discussed. An National Institute of Justice sponsored study showed that a child experiencing abuse or neglect was 53% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 38% more as an adult, and 38% for a violent crime. Being abused and neglect is associated with an increase in risk of arrest for a violent crime as a juvenile. (English, Spatz, & Bradford, 2002)

The final risk factor contributing to both adults and children becoming serial/chronic criminals is drugs use. The actual act of using certain drugs deemed illegal is a crime in itself. There is an ongoing debate as to whether substance/drug use cause crime or crime causes substance/drug use. What is not in debate is that people seriously addicted to drugs have to feed their habit, and most commit crimes to do this whether it is petty larceny or armed robbery. Alcohol which is a legal drug is also addictive, people who are normally aggressive become more aggressive and less inhabited while under the influence of alcohol. ("Crime and Drugs," 2006) In 1996, 35% of the state prisons inmates reported being under the influence of drugs at the time of their offense and 64% reported using drugs regularly. In addition 24% of the property offenders reported that committed their crimes in order to get money for drugs. ("Crime and Drugs," 2006) Studies have shown that drug addicts not only use money obtained from crime to buy more drugs, but they also use this money to pay for their living expenses. ("Crime and Drugs," 2006) Studies on heroin users have found that the more heroin an addict uses the more crime he or she commits. ("Crime and Drugs," 2006) It is widely believed that people incarcerated for minor offences like burglary and drug use become more harden criminals. While in prison inmates obtain more criminal skills and network with a more seasoned of criminals. A large majority of inmates are forced to join gangs while incarcerated for protection. Once in these gangs there is no getting out, the gangs force their beliefs and objectives on their members. The gang members are forced to commit further crimes while incarcerated. After their released most ex-convicts find it very difficult to find work. Often this leads to frustration and a return to a life of crime or the violent gangs. Again, there is no simple answer; there are many risk factors and situations that could lead to some individuals becoming serial/chronic criminals. It could be one single risk factor or a combination of several listed in this paper. Growing up in poverty could be the foundation to a life in crime you add drugs and alcohol use and abuse to the mix which will likely lead to some time behind bars. Once incarcerated one of two things will happen, either that individual will learn from his/her mistake and never want to return or they will embrace the penitentiary lifestyle and have no problem doing more time than their original sentence or returning to prison.

Born a criminal

Most experts will tell you no one is "Born a Criminal", but add any of the more than eighteen categories of mental illness listed in the American Psychological Association's Diagnostics IV into the mix and many could evolve into serial criminals. (Mactire, 1995) It would be easy for the common lay person to assume that a large majority of serial criminals are motivated by poverty or need for money. Generally serial offenders/criminals are middle class and college educated. (Mactire, 1995) There are many reasons why a person chooses to follow a life of crime. This antisocial behavior can have its roots in poverty, child abuse, a broken home environment or drug and alcohol abuse. (Mactire, 1995) The pathology of criminal behavior shows that victimizers are usually people suffering major behavioral or personality disorders. This group of criminals accounts for the majority of incidents of intentional trauma. (Mactire, 1995) Could it be that the criminal personality traits discussed earlier combined with some type of mental disorder creates theses serial criminals.

One of five Americans suffer from some type of mental disorder every year, a majority of these are minor. However the more serious mental health disorders among criminal offenders is much higher than that of the general population. ("Mental Illness," 2006) Many mental disorders left untreated could cause what could be considered a dysfunctional life. Many of these disorders could manifest itself into criminal behavior, and un-diagnosed this individual could be labeled a serial/chronic criminal. Affective disorder - also known as mood disorders are characterized by disturbance in mood. They include manic depression and bipolar disorder these disorders often affect suffers attitude and behavior. Sufferers often display distorted judgment or seriously impaired judgment. ("Mental Illness," 2006) Anxiety disorder - is characterized by intense anxiety or inappropriate behavior designed to relieve anxiety. This disorder may include phobias or obsessive compulsion which could lead to crime. Psychotic disorder - involve a loss of contact with reality. This disorder includes schizophrenia and paranoid states, it is the most disabling of all the mental disorders. ("Mental Illness," 2006)

Estimates are that 70,000 inmates in US prisons are psychotic. As many as 200,000 to 300, 000 males and females inmates suffer from mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. American prisons houses three times as any people suffering from mental illness as psychiatric hospitals. ("Mental Illness," 2006) The prison environment is especially dangerous and debilitating for prisoners who have mental illness. Prisoners suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victimized by other inmates. ("Mental Illness," 2006)

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ADP) is another serious mental disorder linked to chronic/serial crime. This condition generally begins in early childhood or adolescence affecting men more than women. The characteristic of ADP is someone who repeatedly brings themselves into conflict with those around them and with society as a whole; they show extreme lack of respect for other people. People suffering from ADP tend to be deceitful and calculating and often aggressive. The act very impulsive and need constant stimulation and become board very quickly. ("Mental Illness," 2006)


Not all crimes and criminals are violent, however it all have a rippling effect on the victims and our communities. Crimes cause victims to change the way they live, victims become more fearful and suspicious; this could have a lifetime affect on a person. When serial/chronic criminal continue to commit crime a taxpayers must spend more for law enforcement and court and incarceration related expensive. Hundreds of thousands are imprisoned every year, some are mentally ill and receive no treatment others simple receive no rehabilitation. It cost taxpayers more to incarcerate these individuals than it does to treat or rehabilitate them or even provide an adequate education to those in prison without out an education or job skills. Our school systems and society needs to do a better job of identifying at risk youth where environmental risk factors can lead to criminal behaviors, also this same group should be able to pin-point youth with characteristics of certain mental disorders that evolve into ADP. There is not enough evidence to conclude whether criminal behavior and serial criminals are born or made. Researchers believe environmental factors such as poverty, child neglect, inadequate education, and drug and alcohol abuse all play a part in chronic/serial criminal behavior. Facts and experts also indicate that mental disorders among chronic/serial criminals and incarcerated is significantly high. A large majority of today's society lives with mental disorders and survives challenging environment factors, but never commit a crime. Most criminals don't commit crime for life sustaining necessities, they offend for selfish desires. Serial/chronic criminal all simply display a lack of discipline and emotional weakness. The topic of whether serial/chronic criminals are born or made will be a long debated topic. When you look at all the unknowns in the complex human brain plus throw in the environment and genetic factor this question may never be answered.