Criminal and delinquent behaviors are undesirable acts that deviate from the generally agreed acts in society. They adversely affect human safety and therefore it is important to study and evaluate the major causes and how to diagnose an individual who is in his/her early stages of committing a crime or juvenile delinquency. The study in this area aims to enhance understanding of criminology and juvenile delinquency to prevent such occurrence as well as help those individuals who are already in the problem to correct their behaviors through designed programs. The research will also include findings from other researches which have been conducted in past and then a comparison will be drawn.
Both criminal and delinquent behavior are forms of deviance that refer to actions that violate societal expectations. This is regardless of whether those expectations are cultural norms or laws that are formally laid down. Research on crime and delinquent behavior is aimed at studying how norms are made and how they can undergo change over time as well as how they are implemented. Several theories have been used in the study to describe patterns of social deviance. This is to understand human behavior to minimize the number of vices committed by the offenders as the virtues are increased. When criminology and delinquent behavior is properly understood, then it becomes easy to prevent crime and design correctional program for the offenders to prevent a crime committed in past recurring in future. (Eisenach, 1982 pp 34-37).
Criminal and delinquent behavior and why it is a matter of concern
Criminal and delinquent behavior is a non-negotiable issue because it directly touches on human safety and has to be addressed whenever it is observed both in the youth as well as in the adults. It is partly regarded as a form of abnormality and partly as genetically inherited but research has shown that all criminal activities are encouraged through a learning process just in the same way good values are learned. The only difference between learning crime and good values is that crime is learned when a person mistook a bad character for a good one. It can be when one is influenced by the surrounding circumstances to develop a lifestyle that is not acceptable by the rest of the members of society where he/she is living. Such a lifestyle results in a misunderstanding between the two parties and the individual may be confronted. Another explanation that contributes to a very low percentage of crime but which is valid is if a person is suffering from mental challenges such as abnormalities as well as mental infirmities which lead him/her to commit a crime. If criminal behavior is caused by biological factors, then the methods employed to treat him or her are far limited because it is very difficult to change one’s anatomy of the brain. However, he/she can be controlled by the use of medicines if the problem is neurological. Research indicates that between 80-90% of disorders that are associated with being hyperactive can successfully be controlled. Whether a criminal is normal or abnormal, his conduct is attributed to both biological as well as psychological factors. However, psychological factors account more because they include both biological factors as well as environmental influences, personal character as well as individuals’ cognitive processes. According to structural functionalists, an individual does the acts of crime because of the existence of the norms and other values that different institutions are trying to enforce most of which are man-made. Criminals do not engage in crime by nature but because a particular institution has laid a specific prescription that makes the crime has the definition of abnormal action. (Eisenach, 1982 pp 38-41).
Influences on criminal behavior
Research has shown that the prediction of criminal behavior arises when the genetic makeup of an individual interacts with environmental influences. Therefore if an individual has a genetic predisposition that is potential for criminal behavior, that one alone cannot determine his actions until the predisposition is exposed to a friendly environment. If the environment is friendly, then the chances of the individual committing a crime are greatly increased. This explains why criminals do not engage in acts of crime all the time but keeps on drifting between the two extremes of the right and the bad. The interaction between the genetic makeup and the environment to cause crime means that it can also be used to modify a criminal in the process of rehabilitating him. (Eisenach, 1982 pp41-44).
Defining and measuring criminal behavior
Understanding how genetic and environmental influence controls human behavior requires one to have the proper definition of crime. The laws that govern human beings are defined by legal institutions and so do not include biological definitions. Since this definition entails a variety of activities researchers mainly focus on a broader context of social deviation. According to Morley (2003), there are three ways to define deviance. One is equated with criminality as well as delinquency both of which involve criminal acts. When an individual engages in a crime, chances of him being arrested and convicted are high and for adults, it can lead to incarceration. According to Rhee (2002), delinquency involves juveniles who engage in antisocial acts where the information gathered by courts as well as criminal records is used to analyze the probable influences that surrounded the acts at the time when the crime was committed before the right measures aimed at rehabilitation are undertaken. Criminal behavior is also defined through the method used to identify individual’s personality disorders. This means that if an individual has a personality disorder that is likely to increase the risk of engaging into a crime, that too is a crime. The last way to define criminal activity is by looking at the personality traits such like being aggressive and also being impulsive which could be encouraging that particular individual to engaging into criminal acts. (Schmitz, 2003 pp 835-839)
Outcome involving twins and adoption as well as family
Different researchers have expressed different results of their findings regarding whether criminal behaviors are inherited. According to Lowenstein (2003) some claim that there is a great correlation between genetics and crime while others conclude that there is little evidence from these studies to show genetic influence on criminal behavior. Twin studies involve comparison of criminal behavior of monozygotic twins brought up in different environments with that of fraternal twins. Such studies have been used to analyze the impacts of genetic as well as of environmental influences on criminal behavior. Where there is a high concordance for identical twins than for fraternal twins in their criminal behavior then the conclusion has been that there is high dependence of criminal behavior on genetic inheritance. One such study involved thirty identical twins brought up in different environment through adoption a few days after birth. According to Joseph (2002) the two identical twins showed a lot of similarity in their antisocial behavior both when they were young as well as when they grew up indicating influence of genetic on behavior. Another research was done involving thirty-six MZ and a hundred and fifty DZ pairs and recorded high levels about 60% of concordance in MZ. A similar research was again done by a different group at around the same time but in contrast, the report was that there was no sign of hereditary factors influencing criminal activities. This disagreeing conclusion meant that more research on twins in determining the influence of environment on criminal behavior needed to be carried out.
Research on the adopted children to find out if they inherited traits of criminal activities from their parents who had been incarcerated was found to be a bit critical because it involved separation of both nature and nurture. Such a study was carried out in Iowa to study the genetics of antisocial behavior. The finding of the study was presence of higher criminal behavior that matched that of their parents who had undergone incarceration. This offered another support for the claim that criminal behavior is inherited.
The last type of research on the influence of genetics and environment on crime was done on families. This kind of research received least acceptance from psychologist because it was found to be very hard to create a boundary between nature and nurture so as to study the effect of each separately in family set up. The argument was that when a child is being brought up in a family he/she is influenced by the genes of the parent and at the same time influenced by the environmental factors. It therefore becomes difficult to tell which one of the two factors influenced a certain criminal behavior. Although this flaw had also been noted in twin studies, it had more effect in a family set-up. A study conducted by Brunner (1993) had its findings recognized in spite of the drawbacks associated with the study. Brunner and his team studied on the monoamine oxidize A, which is a chemical found in the brain responsible for aggressiveness that causes criminal behavior. The study was done on family brothers and the results indicated that they had selective deficiency of the chemical which greatly reduced 5-hydroxyndole-3-acetic acid. Low concentration of this chemical is associated with increased impulsive aggression. This was another support on the claim of genetic factors influencing criminal behavior. (Schmitz, 2003 pp 844-849).
Study in delinquent behavior involves analysis of behavioral problems and disorders in youths. There are several characteristics that are used to diagnose a teen that has a delinquent behavior and most of them indicate the problems are more than just normal rebellion during teenage hood. A delinquent is the one who will repeatedly violates the rules on him and persistently abuse the rights of others. From statics on mental health disorders, a delinquent behavior is a recurrent pattern of disobedience as well as hostility that persist for a long time. This includes acute loss of temper and prolonged active defiance of request. The youths fail to comply with rules and make a deliberate effort to annoy others and sometimes apportioning of blame to others over a mistake he/she has committed. This is usually noted between the delinquent and the teachers as well as other adults. This also manifests in the family conduct where the delinquent indulges in consumption of alcohols and general drug abuse as well as physical violence with other youths. (Sloan, 2000 pp29-31).
Causes of delinquency
Drug abuse has been identified as the major cause of delinquency which tends to elevate risks of potential delinquent behavior. Other contributing factors include birth trauma and child abuse, lack of proper parental discipline, family conflict, hyperactivity in the youths and repeated dismal performance in school as a result of learning disabilities, bad influence from peers, unemployment and congestion in the residential areas especially if the neighborhood harbors high crime. Research in juvenile delinquency behavior has shown that there is no specific cause that can be accounted for every delinquent behavior and there is no single process that leads to a juvenile committing a crime. As a result, it is advocated that studies on delinquent behavior be done on a longitudinal basis where the researcher establishes regular contact with the juvenile to come up with patterns of his/her development. The advantage of this method is that the researcher can identify factors that immediately contribute to offence and also allows easy prediction of criminal activities independent of other environmental factors. The derived information allows easy designing of the programs meant for rehabilitating the juveniles.
A study that was conducted in 1988 by Denver comprised of 1,527 young boys and girls, 806 of which were boys and the rest were girls all of whom were aged between 7 and 15 years. They all represented a population from 20,000 households adjacent to areas of high risks. Among the significant findings were that, delinquent behavior such as drug abuse begins very early in life than people thought. Majority of youth manifested their juvenile behavior even before teenage. The juveniles were involved in drug abuse and sex promiscuity as well as high rates of dismal performance in school. They were also involved in juvenile gangs and some of them even owned firearms and many other such similar behaviors. Boys exhibited delinquent behaviors which were well organized and took a form of a progressive fashion that began with less alarming behaviors which later lead to more serious crime. The major pathways that were followed before attaining the status of delinquent behaviors were: conflict with authority where the youth defied and ran away, engaging into covert actions for example a youth lying and other acts such as shop lifting as well as overt behaviors which lead to aggression and being violent. A juvenile can follow either a single pathway among the three or all of them while engaging into deviant behaviors. Children who were maltreated by parents and their seniors had an increased risk which accounted to 27% of delinquent behaviors. If a child is mistreated at a very young age he/she has a very high chance of developing multiple delinquent behaviors at adolescence. (Sloan, 2000 pp35-36).
Measures to eradicate crime and juvenile behaviors
There should be continuous counseling in the families for all the individuals so as to diagnose all the underlying issues and design the right strategies for crime and juvenile behavior’s correction. There should also be groups to carry out the role of parenting to reinforce the role of the biological parents. They should carry out their duties in well organized classes to bring out consistence and a rigid structure which can impact positive home environment and reduce stress caused by poverty in socioeconomic disadvantaged backgrounds. There should be a well coordinated relationship between teachers and the parents to enhance a continuous monitoring of the youths in and out of school. The opinions of the youth should also be given proper attention and evaluated to improve communication. Most research indicate that few youth are listened at home since their parents are always busy especially nowadays when both parents are involved in income generating activities due to increased poverty and unemployment. Parents also need to pass information to their children regarding morals as well as ethical behavior to enable the youth differentiate on what is right and wrong at their early stages of life.
Researcher’s advice to parent is not to concentrate so much on issues that are less important at the expense of important things to do with human safety. For example instead of so much thunder on small issues like untidy hair which is reversible, that opportunity should be preserved for non-negotiable security issues. Safety rules must be clearly stated as well as consistently enforced. Even when the youth does not appreciate the advice given by the parent, it is important for the parent to hold his/her ground with consistence and avoid too much of pleasing them. If a youth is upset, this is the wrong time to argue with him/her because by so doing it only increases hostility and the youth becomes more futile. The disagreement should be sorted out when the tempers have gone down. (Tehran, 2000pp27-28).
Even though criminal and delinquent behaviors have been associated with both genetic and environmental factors, studies have shown that it is possible to make the genetically inherited traits in an individual remain dormant. This can be achieved by controlling the environmental factors which are likely to trigger these behaviors. While it is impossible to change the genetic make up of an individual responsible for the crime and juvenile behavior, it is very easy to change the individual through alteration of environmental factors through conditioning that involves both negative and positive reinforcement. Undesirable behavior is learnt in the same way as the desirable behaviors and therefore modification through human effort plays an important role in determining the rate of crime and juvenile behavior.
Eisenach H. (1982): Personality, genetics, and behavior: New York pp34-44.
Schmitz M. (2003): Influences of race and family environment on child hyperactivity and antisocial behavior: Journal of Marriage & the Family pp 835-849.
Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency. Web.
Sloan P. (2000). Controlling our destiny: University of Notre Dame Press pp 29-36.
Tehran J. (2000): Genetic factors and criminal behavior: Federal Probation pp 24-28.
The root causes of crime. Web.