Criminals And What Makes Criminal Become Offenders Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

This assignment will attempt to consider the strength of the argument that criminals are born not made. This assignment will begin with defining the term criminal and what makes a person become criminal. It will consider all explanations and theories around this subject and will critically analyse these with other explanations. This assignment will consider aspects of human behaviour and look at an historical view of what was regarded as a criminal.

What do we mean when we say criminals? Are they just individuals who have no consideration for others and are only driven by greed, selfishness and evil? This maybe what is thought, in particular when looking at violent criminals, however, this does not give us an explanation as to whether they are born this way or are they made. To have a better understanding of what makes criminals we must look at all possible reasons as to why one may become a criminal.

Psychologists have come up with many explanations and reasons why humans commit crime debating whether this is genetic or if this is environmental.

Collins English Dictionary (2005): Defines criminal/s as: 'A person/s guilty of crime'

There are also many misconceptions we have of human behaviour which can sway us towards one particular direction; one must question the idea of humans being products of their own environments. Harris (1998) cited in Pinker (2002) argues that children's personalities are shaped by their genes as well as their environment; this suggests that we are not only products of our environment, but that the fact that we share our genes with our parents contribute to our similarities. Thornhill & Palmer (2001) cited in Pinker (2002) argues that rape is not just a product of culture but is also part of the nature of men's sexuality. Both these authors have looked deeper into the behaviour of humans, causing outrage and hysteria amongst governing bodies. This again shows how human nature is disregarded when debating human behaviour. By ignoring the nature of human beings any research that is carried out is often heavily based on environmental factors. We are constantly told that to have happy and confident children we must be very loving, disciplined and if we talk more to our children they will develop language skills, these factors will ensure our children will become well balanced adults. This theory is based on the belief that humans are products of their own environment; this does not take into account that our children inherit our genes. The case of Brian Blackwell is a good example of swaying the argument of nurture and nature. This was a case of an intelligent young man, who went on to murder his parents. An only child he was raised in a loving, caring, and privileged environment, and there was nothing in his environment to suggest he would become a violent murderer.

Caseer Lombroso (1897) cited in Davies, Hollin & Bull an Italian psychiatrist, his biological theory suggest that criminals are born with 'atavistic' features, claiming due to these defaults in their physical appearance they were unable to fully develop as humans. Therefore were savage and referring them to having ape-like behaviour. He goes on to describe particular physical abnormalities such as, large jaw, wide forehead, large ears, small eyes, and extra toes, going further into describing particular features to crimes, like a murderer will have thin lips. This theory was tested when Charles Goring (1913) cited in Davies, Hollin & Bull carried out a study of British prisoners and could not find any evidence to suggest this theory was true; however found that many prisoners were of low intelligence which he suggested this was due to their genes. Both these theory are different, but do suggest that criminals are born rather than being products of their environments. Although Lombroso's biological theory is now discredited one must not be hasty at overlooking bio-logical theories, factors such as genetics may also have some significance in determining whether criminals are made or born or a combination of all these factors. Charles Darwin's theory on natural selection heavily influenced the eugenic movement in the nineteen-century it became a popular choice to explain human behaviour. This theory suggest that each person's behaviour was down to their genes , therefore people without the 'well-born ' gene would become a threat to society. Katz and Abel (1984) cited in Newburn (2007) distinguished between, what they called 'positive' and 'negative' eugenics. The study gives an understanding of how this was adopted by people in history and how its influence produced catastrophic results.

The positive eugenics would focus on changing the gene pool and encouraging the 'well-born' to reproduce more. The negative eugenics would look at drastic and in humane ways of controlling the non deserving people, such as sterilisation and control of immigration. This Theory was very much adopted by the Nazis in the 1930s; as they went on to ethnically cleanse Germany of Jews. The in humane treatment of people who were regarded as less morally sound was common up to the twentieth century. Newburn (2007) mentions that in 1927 a US Supreme court ruled that the state of Virginia had the authority to carry out a sterilisation on a person who was deemed 'unfit' or 'feeble minded' if the state deemed this to be in the best interest of the state. These practices stopped in the 1940s, and this theory lost its credibility according to Rafter (1998) cited in Newburn (2007) in the 1920s as advances in intelligence made it difficult to define 'feeble minded'. This theory of being well born or having good blood was influential in the condemnation and cleansing of particular groups of people, and is not practised in today's society.

Further studies on criminality would suggest that environmental factors would also be an explanation into why some people become involved in criminality. Osborn and West (1979) cited in Newburn (2007) found that two fifths of boys whose fathers had criminal records had criminal records themselves, in comparison with just over one-eighth of boys whose fathers had no criminal record.

Suggesting that this is down to the genes inherited, but can be equally argued that this can be the influence of one's environment and what is regarded as the social norm. Osborn and West's (1997) cited in Newburn (2007) also found that 60 per cent of boys whose fathers had criminal records did not have criminal records. To debate this argument of nature or nurture one must look at all possibilities that may cause a person to become or is predisposition to criminality.

Studies carried out on twins is a way in which one can have a better understanding of why some people become involved in crime and others don't. We know that there are two types of twins one which is genetically identical and one which is non-identical, this is established by determining whether the children have shared an egg or if two eggs have been fertilised at the same time. The reason for why twins are examined in this way is because it is believed that this further evidences the genetic theory of criminality, so identical twins will demonstrate similar behaviour than those who are non -identical. Christiansen (1977) cited in Newburn (2007) studied twins born between 1881-1910 identifying 6,000 pairs , his study found that a high per cent of criminal similarities amongst identical twins was evident in comparison to non identical. However he later said it was difficult to separate the genetic factors to the environmental influences. More research done on adoption studies can further the debate of nature V nature, Crowe (1974) cited in Newburn (2007) carried out a study of adopted children found that, adoptive children whose mothers had a criminal records would have a higher chance of offending than those whose mothers didn't, again bringing the genetic argument of whether criminals are born or made.

Mednick et el (1984) cited in Newburn (2007) p136, conclude his study by saying:' because we can only inherit biological predispositions, the genetic evidence conclusively admits biological factors among the important agents influencing some forms of criminal behaviour'. Studies that examine genetics can only look at identifying factors of genes, therefore considerations such as the environment of the adoptive child or the very fact that not all children are removed at birth and may have spent their formative years in environments which make them socially constructive rather than biologically predisposed.

Other factors of why criminal behaviour exists can be down to hormones, Ehrennkrantz; Bliss & Sherad (1974) cited in Davies, Hollin & Bull (2008) found that prisoners with aggressive behaviour presented high levels of testosterone in comparison to prisoners who were not aggressive. This was argued by Raine (1993) cited in Davies, Hollin & Bullin (2008) that the high levels of testosterone was produced due to aggressive behaviour rather than testosterone levels being high. Other behavioural studies have shown that there is a link between aggressive and violent behaviour and high levels of testosterone.

When giving consideration to biological explanations to why people become criminals it is important to look at the function of the brain. The brain is the central nerve system and has neurotransmitters that enable electrical movements in the brain to transfer information. There is some research to suggest that particular neurotransmitters may have some links with aggressive or violent behaviour, Raine (1993) cited in Newburn (2007) suggested that studies have found that low levels of serotonin was found (assumed to reduce aggressiveness) in people who have been described as being 'anti-social'. This can be argued as; other factors such as diet and large consumption of alcohol can effects on the levels of neurotransmitters, as well the influence of alcohol on a person's behaviour. Reductionism theory suggest that by determining one's bio-chemical, one can then managed and understand a person's behaviour by merely adding or altering the chemicals, which shall then result in changes in behaviour. Other factors that can be out forward as an explanation to criminal behaviour are brain injuries, Raine (2002b) cited in Davies, Hollin & Bull (2008) suggests that brain injuries are both a biological and environmentally influenced as the brain's dysfunction is caused by the head injury, which is environmental. Both these explanations can be a consideration for why people may develop or have patterns of criminal behaviour, but our environments can become a focal point of debate on the issue of criminal behaviour.

There are many studies that have shown links between parents with criminal behaviour and then their offspring's being involved in criminal activity. Murray, Gunnar-Jason and Farrington cited in Davies, Hollin & Bull (2008) carried out extensive studies in Sweden and England, where they found that absence of parents due to their imprisonment may influence criminal behaviour. This was due to not having appropriate role models and not being able to identify what was socially acceptable behaviours. Murray et al (2007) cited in Davies, Hollin & Bullin suggested that poor parenting and the lack of attachments could result in criminal behaviour. However, it is not only parents, who can influence criminal behaviour, Robins, West & Herjanic (1975) cited in Davies, Hollin & Bull (2008) suggests that sibling influence was more influential than perhaps the size of the family, that there are a number of factors to consider when looking at the family factors.

We have other theories such Bowlby's argument of 'maternal deprivation' in which he suggests that disturbance in a child's relationship with his mother in formative years can lead to children unable to maintain relationships. This theory was criticised by Barbra Wooten, she claimed that the study did not prove that any damaged caused through the separation of child from mother, was permanent. Furthermore, she pointed out that deprivation was more effective that separation, therefore quality rather than quantity was of importance.

There are many more studies and theories that will argue this debate, and others that will bring alternatives to consider, so it is a continuous debate amongst psychologist, scientist, and others who will provide explanations for why one becomes a criminal. Until further research on human nature it is clear there is somewhat a un-balance with in the debate. The history of how people have conducted after particular experts have raised the idea of humans being a particular way due to the nature has inhibited research in this area. It is not morally or socially not sound to suggest a person is a particular way due to his/her nature, as in the past we have seen persecution of humans regarded to be bad by nature. Therefore the debate is heavily influence by explanations such chemical in-balances, socially constructed and environmental. Although it would be a fair analysis to suggest that both nature and nurture run parallel, however there is more evidence available to tip the balance towards nurture. This assignment has attempted to analyse and critically assess all arguments to reach a reasonable and realistic conclusion.