Questions: ethical issues, death penalty, incarceration and trait theory

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1. Describe three ethical issues that arise in the study of criminology. Give an example of a situation that would apply to each of the three types of issues.

Moral philosophy, or ethics, allow us to choices in situations that may come up that involve moral issues. Criminologist can face vast social consequences and based on positions they take in their studies and beliefs. Criminologist needs to be extra careful to understand the morality issues and the ethics behind their profession. Criminologists need to understand what to study, whom to study, and how to study and the ethical issues that may come up in each case. When deciding what to study, the capacity to understand the ethics behind your choice; such as who may be funding the study and who has a vested interest in the outcome of the study, may help the criminologist understand what ethical choices and decisions may need to be made either prior to the study or during the study. An example of this could be a study requested on drug rehabilitation programs and their in/effectiveness. The study being requested the by state who is looking to allocated less budgetary dollars to this particular social service may be looking for a particular outcome.

In choosing whom to study, criminologists tend to look towards minorities and the lower class, focusing on criminal issues around this portion of society. By being so focused on one segment of society, criminologists may be hyper focused on criminal acts done by minorities leaving questions on the table. An example would be to focus on welfare abuse. Assumptions could be made that there is criminal abuse of the welfare system, instigated by the fact that mainly poor and minorities are on welfare and would not look further.

How criminologists conduct their studies could lead to questionable ethics in research. Informed consent is required in an ethical research, those being questioned need to understand the scope of what they are being asked and why. Criminologist need to balance informed consent with confidentiality as well as the moral questions involved. An example of this could be the famous Stanford Prison study conducted in 1971. Though participants signed an informed consent form, many did not really understand the depth of realism they would be experiencing during the study.

2. The book discusses the death penalty. There is additional material in the articles section on Blackboard. Copy and paste the links provided on the death penalty into your browser. (They may not work if you just click on them). Review the material and make a case for or against capital punishment using these links. For a good score on this question your answer must be more than opinion. Back up your view with reference to the readings not your personal feelings.

Based on the additional readings and what I have read in the book, there can easily be a case made for the abolishment of the death penalty. Looking at the list of names sitting current on death row[1] many of these criminals have been waiting to die for over twenty years with all but one being male inmates. Research has indicated that many of the inmates that have been waiting on death row, were wrongly convicted and have been since exonerated. 61 percent of those currently sitting on death row are minorities and racial bias could contribute to the original death penalty decision. Racial bias is a real concern, we are currently seeing it play out across the country in Missouri, New York, and now Charleston. In the article titled Physicians and Execution, more concerns are being played out in regards to the humanity of these lethal injection executions deemed more humane than electrocution or hanging. Physicians such as anesthesiologist’s are being asked to help perform in these executions going against their professional oaths of upholding human life.[2] Without trained professionals to help administer the injections, many of the executions have been botched causing more harm and a more excruciating death. Many advocate that capital punishment is a crime deterrent but studies can’t show the correlation between an upswing in executions with a downturn in crime.

3. The number of people in prison has more than doubled in the last 12 years. At the same time the crime rate has gone down. Using material on rational choice theory and incapacitation discuss whether imprisonment caused the decline in the crime rate. Check the articles section on Blackboard also.

Rational Choice Theory suggests that a criminal, about to embark on a criminal act, showcases planning and expertise in what they are about to do. Most criminals that fall under the rational choice theory, have stalked their victims and understand their patterns and habits like, for example, a home burglar that has stalked a potential home to victimize. They have assessed what they need to do, how they need to do it and what they may need to say in order to facilitate the crime. Most criminals that fall under choice theory are placing their wants and needs above everything else including their victims.

Many believe that by placing criminals into prison and confining them there will bring crime rates down. This is known as the incapacitation effect but is there enough evidence supporting the decline of crime with the uptick in those in prison? By imprisoning so many, it opens up many other social issues such as prison overcrowding, exposure to other criminals, and rising costs. All without dramatic proof that crime rates are down trending nor proof that once released, many of these criminals would resort to crime again.

Mandatory sentences can be used to point the finger at growing prison population and rising costs associated with such a large prison population. Policy change has contributed to the explosive growth but the decline in crime, especially in drug related crimes. Mandatory minimum sentences have been especially hard on drug related offenses and criminologist research has indicated that with the growth of prisoners incarcerated on drug related crimes, the impact on the drug market was significant as prices rose and usage dropped.

4. Present a case for or against the trait theories of crime. Are they useful in helping to explain crime?

Trait theory is comprised of many physical and mental traits that a criminal may carry and the study of them to determine if they could be considered abnormal. Criminologists study biological and psychological traits as they relate to crime and criminal activities. Both biological and psychological trait theories can be useful to help explain crime but to apply the findings uniform across each criminal could be too broad.

Some criminologists believe that criminal tendencies are inherited, that the likely hood of children raised by parents with aggressive and violent tendencies can be influential to the detriment to these children. These children are raised in an environment that showcases aggression and could cause them to act out their aggression as bullies to other children. Studies show that antisocial behavior is roughly 50 percent inherited while deviant behaviors based on gene influence is as high as 85 percent. If inheritability is a factor in anti-social behavior in children raised by similar parents, then environment is a factor that can be controlled as well.

Psychological trait views are important to research as well. Personality can determine demeanor and criminologists are researching to see there are personality traits that lend themselves to criminal and antisocial behaviors. Research has shown that those with anti-social personalities; personalities prone to sexual promiscuity, psychopathology, and violence, tend to be prone to criminal activity. Studying trait theory, both biological and psychological, can help criminologists isolate patterns. Caution needs to be taken when conducting research into trait theory to acknowledge ethic challenges such as race bias and social class bias.


[1] <http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/federal-death-row-prisoners>

[2]<https://framingham.blackboard.com/courses/1/S15.CRIM.121C0A/content/_1521542_1/Physicians and Execution.pdf>

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