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Biological Theories of Crime

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Free «Biological Theories of Crime» Essay Sample

Biological theories are used in criminology to explain that the influence of anthropological factors or the hereditary burden of individuals can be the causes of crime. The extreme expression of these theories is the concept of a born criminal, which reduces the reasons for crime to a particular set of constitutional features that, in the opinion of the proponents of these theories, distinguish the criminal individual from the ordinary person. Other varieties of biological theories include concepts that reduce the causes of crime to chromosomal abnormalities and psychopathic characteristics of people. Cesare Lombroso, who interpreted the personality of a criminal in the categories of biology and anthropology, can be rightfully considered the founder of biological theories of crime. He declared that crime is determined by biological factors, and the criminal is an atavistic creature who reproduces the instincts of primitive people and animals (Cullen, Agnew, & Wilcox, 2013). This paper focuses on the biological approach to the study of the criminal behavior of individuals. Biological theories are important for criminology as they can have a serious impact on the practice of combating crime.

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Lombroso and His Book Criminal Man

As mentioned above, the founder of biological theory in criminology was the Italian forensic criminologist, physician, and psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso. He wrote the book Criminal Man and developed the theory of a born criminal, stating that the crime is a natural phenomenon (Cullen et al., 2013). He argued that criminals are born, and, therefore, they have quite definite anatomical and psychophysiological traits. The scientist conducted physical examinations of criminals and concluded that most of them had physical anomalies such as physical and mental stigmas. These findings indicate that such people are criminals by nature, and this is a criminal type of individuals. Lombroso attributed low forehead, long hands, a certain position of eyes, and other traits to physical anomalies. He suggested examining all people and treating those who have these physical characteristics.

After the publication of his book Criminal Man, Lombroso was subject to criticism, under the influence of which he changed his initial views a little bit. He somewhat softened his theory of a born criminal, stressing that crime is a product of not only the inherent properties of a man but also a combination of biological and social causes. The scientist put forward the idea that crime is determined by some groups of factors such as meteorological, climatic, social, racial, and so on. Criminals were divided into four groups: born criminals, insane criminals, criminals for passion, for example, political ones, and occasional criminals (Cullen et al., 2013). Still, although Lombroso more broadly considered the influence of a combination of biological and social factors on crime, his basic thesis about the biological nature of the crime was fully preserved.

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As previously said, the main Lombroso’s idea is that a criminal is a special natural type who is born such a person. He considered a criminal as a special anthropological type who is motivated by crime because of multiple properties and characteristics, and, therefore, the crime in human society is as natural as in the entire organic world (Cullen et al., 2013). He examined the skull, brain, skeleton, internal organs, body, and face of criminals. Considering biology and psychology of a born criminal, Lombroso also characterized their passions, moral feelings, intelligence, gestures, and tattoos. He created a typology, according to which particular features correspond to each type of a criminal.

Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency

Among the later development of biological theories of criminal behavior, the works of American scientists Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck are also important. They continued their research in the direction, and, as a result, their study covered two groups of minors, of which 500 were delinquents and 500 were non-delinquents (Cullen et al., 2013). They were selected for ethnic, social, environmental and other reasons. Based on the results of their research, the scientists stressed the impact of juvenile psychological and sociological reasons on crime. In their opinion, it is impossible to avoid any of these factors if one aims to have a complete picture of the causes of social inappropriateness and manifestations of juvenile delinquency. The researchers concluded that most people begin to show the signs of abnormal behavior in childhood. Therefore, in order to prevent juvenile delinquency, they proposed to predict the behavior of juveniles, which consists of a thorough examination of young children and the detection of their criminogenic features.

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The scientists have established that the constitution of the majority of juvenile delinquents refers to the mesomorphic type of body, that is, muscular, energetic people. Their share among offenders is 60 per cent, while among the law-abiding they make up only 30 per cent (Cullen et al., 2013). In the opinion of the authors, this type requires special attention since it is the most sensitive to the adverse influence of family and environment. The scientists developed the concept of criminal potential, the magnitude of which is related to the peculiarities of the body structure. The implementation of this criminal potential largely depends on the parameters of the socio-cultural environment. However, by influencing the environment of a teenager, one can control the propensity for crime.

Gene-Based Theory in Criminology

The development of genetics has opened wide prospects for the promotion of the hypotheses about the transfer of a predisposition to crime by genetic means. In the era of the rapid development of genetics, it was tempting to discover that natural selection can operate on traits only if they are genetically influenced (Cullen et al., 2013). In the 1960s, the study of genetic factors of crime entered a new phase, which can conventionally be called chromosomal. Patricia Jacobs conducted one of the first studies of chromosomal predisposition to crimes and found that among the criminals, the proportion of people with chromosomal pattern XYY is many times greater than among law-obedient citizens (Cullen et al., 2013). It was suggested that among the criminals committing serious crimes, the proportion of people with an additional Y chromosome is disproportionately high.

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Biology and Crime

Both genetic factors and biological harms, for example, birth complications and head injury, can increase the possibility of committing a crime. As a result, brain structure and its functions, as well as the nervous system, cause low verbal intelligence and impulsivity, which, in its turn, leads to criminal behavior. Biological qualities, including both congenital and acquired, certainly predetermine behavior to some extent.

Genetic studies show that heritability has an impact on criminal behavior. Molecular genetics focuses on identifying skin conductance activity, and these risks predict criminality (Cullen et al., 2013). Endocrinology connects particular levels of such hormones as cortisol and testosterone to the criminal behavior. There is also some relationship between reduced serotonin activity and violent behavior (Cullen et al., 2013). Such health risk factors as prenatal nicotine and alcohol abuse, as well as minor physical abnormalities, increase the risk of criminal behavior, especially when combined with social factors.

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Personality and Crime

Having studied the qualities of a personality, it is possible to classify the criminal as a certain type and accordingly predict the likelihood of committing crimes in the future, choosing response measures of a psychological nature aimed at preventing and suppressing crimes. The knowledge of personal qualities that lead to the crime allows more correctly organizing the process of educating the offender in correctional institutions and making an informed decision on conditional early release.

In the studies of personality, different assessment instruments are used to measure a comprehensive variety of personality traits, such as the measurement of personality and delinquency (Cullen et al., 2013). The psychological characterization of the criminal’s personality is taken into account when making criminal-legal and criminal-procedural decisions, for example, in the qualification of unlawful acts, when choosing a measure of restraint for the accused, when determining the penalty for the defendant, taking into account the nature of the crime committed and the characteristics of personality.

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No criminological scientific direction can avoid problems connected with the personality of a criminal. The first attempts to explain crimes were mostly of a biological nature as the scientists were looking for naturally conditioned reasons to commit crimes, such as genetics, congenital or acquired factors. However, they did not deny the influence of society on the development of criminal behavior but believed that most criminals have biological abnormalities. Although the ideas about the biological inclination to crime were criticized, the attempts were made to connect criminal disposition with certain personality traits. It is still important to know biological factors such as anthropological characteristics and the possibility of transfer of predisposition to crime by genetic means to understand the causes of the criminal behavior.

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