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Is Criminal Behavior Because Of Nature Or Nurture New Studies May Surprise You

Synopsis: Recent studies appear to show a link between criminal parents and their offspring. In one study, researchers found half of convicted juveniles were accounted for by 6% of all families and 66% came from 10% of the families.

Is Criminal Behavior Because Of Nature Or Nurture? New Studies May Surprise You

When it comes time for children to choose a profession, they often follow in their parents’ footsteps. Firemen’s children often become firemen. Lawyers produce another generation of lawyers. Plumbers join the list of ‘begats’ and produce plumbers.

Fox Butterfield has been covering crime and criminal justice for The New York Times for more than 15-years. He became enthralled by studies which show crime can run in families as well. Butterfield points to the most famous study conducted from 1961 until 2001 which showed half of the convicted kids were accounted for by 6^ of all families. 66% came from 10% of the families.

Despite the evidence indicating the role of family in crime, criminologists and policy makers have mainly neglected this idea.

John Laub, a criminology professor with the University of Maryland, said, “It’s because any suggestion of possible biological or genetic basis for crime may be misunderstood as racism.”

Laub has a point. Researchers have reviewed other causes such as poverty, deviant peers at school, drugs and gang affiliation. They are real issues, but a child’s life does start at home with the family before anyone else can lead them astray.

The Bogles

The Bogles have a story to tell about what can happen in a criminal family.

“What you are raised with, you become,” says Tracey Bogle who spent 16 years behind bars for kidnapping, armed robbery, assault and car theft. “There is no escape from our criminal contagion,” he added.

Tracey’s father, Rooster, we the most criminally oriented of the crew. The family’s history of crime goes back to 1920 when Rooster’s mom and dad made and sold moonshine. Since then members of the family have committed crimes including armed robberies, kidnapping and murder.

“Rooster hated toys and sports,” said Tracey. “The only fun thing to him was stealing.” Without knowing it, Tracey was describing the “social learning theory” of what makes people turn into criminals.

Family Connection

One study into the family connected happened by accident. When Hurricane Katrina nailed New Orleans in 2005, large pieces of the city’s housing was destroyed.

David Kirk, a criminologist with the Oxford University, noticed recently released prisoners in New Orleans couldn’t return to their homes. Many of them wound up relocating to Texas. A few years following release, the former prisoners who left Louisiana for Texas had lower rates of recidivism than did those who remained in New Orleans. Those who went to Texas broke their social networks.

Going on the strength of his findings, Kirk founded a volunteer program for inmates in Baltimore to get housing allowances from Maryland provided they moved to another part of the state following their release. Observers say the early results are encouraging.

Take Therapy to the Client

Scott Henggeler developed a program, known as multisystemic therapy. The program, developed with the Medical University of South Carolina, focused on helping delinquents by treating the entire family. While in grad school, Henggeler was a therapist who worked with children who had been reprimanded by a court but seemed to be trapped in their original behavior.

One day he made a visit to their homes, and realized how “stupid” his brilliant treatment plans were. “It took me less than 20-seconds to see how stupid my plans had been Henggeler realised he needed to see the children with their families in their home. Instead of taking the adolescents to therapy, he found it could be better to take therapy to the children.

“This kind of approach is especially important with a family like the Bogles,” Arkady Bukh, a prominent New York criminal defense attorney, said. “They are like a giant iceberg, with most of the dangers hidden below the surface.”

The Takeaway

“The stunning transmission of criminality from parents to kids doesn’t mean that some families are cursed to an eternity of crime: There’s no immutable “crime gene” that’s passed down from generation to generation,” said Butterfield in an email interview.

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