Can Genetics Cause Crime? Introduction to Criminal Justice System Dr. Mike Carlie Are genetic factors more likely to make one person perform violent acts? Many doctors and researchers in the field of genetics have searched for a answer to this question. During 1989-93 one such researcher named Dr. Sullivan found some interesting points about genetics and crime.
Sullivan while working for the Bush administrations secretary of health and human services during 1989-1993 was appalled by the epidemic of violent crimes he saw taking place in American cities. According to Dr. Sullivan, “more than 26,000 Americans were murdered, and six million violent crimes were committed with young men and minorities falling victim most frequently”. Sullivan also reported that about one in every 27 black men, compared to one in every 205 white men, died violently also 1 in 117 black women met a untimely end as compared to white women which only 1 in 496 were killed due to violent crimes. This is not surprising that young males commit most of the serious crimes.
According to an article in Scientific American, only 12.5 percent of violent crime in the U.S. in 1992 was committed by females. What is also surprising according to W.W. Gibbs the author of “Seeking the Criminal Element,” in Scientific American,(1995 March) pp 100-107, is that a very small number of criminals are responsible for the majority of the violent crime.
Sullivan who is now the president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta wanted to try and address the violence as a public health issue. In an interview after he left office in 1993, Dr. Sullivan explains that his rational for this was that the higher increases in violent crimes and specifically homicide in the young male population in large cities. Which was higher than any other social group in America at this time.
Dr. Sullivan then began to organize his departments research resources under the banner of the so called “Violence Initiative” as he put it. With the predominant thought of looking at unemployment, poverty, the use of drugs and any other factors that might help to contribute to the likelihood of causing violence. Primarily Sullivans research was directed towards the psychological and sociological point of view. Sullivan primarily working with the before mentioned points and only worked lightly with the biological aspects, such as race, gender, brain chemistry and genetic make up.
Dr. Sullivans research, did find some links between aggressive behavior, and disturbances in the level of a chemical called Serotoin. Which is directly related to certain genes. Although there was no conclusive proof that this abnormal gene was completely responsible for a increases in violence, Another study in 1993 also found a link between genes and violence. The X chromosome mutation which was discovered in a certain Dutch family was found to be associated with mild retardation and aggressive, sometimes violent criminal behavior. The mutation causes complete deficiency of the enzyme monoamine oxidase also called (maoa), which metabolizes the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline.
According to David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse points out, “men who possess this abnormal gene may typically engage in impulsive aggression, but the time, place, type, and seriousness of their crimes ( which include exhibitionism, attempted rape, and arson) have been diverse and unpredictable.” Although these are examples of gene related violence, genetic information so far has been fairly unpredictable. Finding a defect such as the maoa mutation is an exceedingly rare event. Also according to Margret McCarthy of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, what matters in not whether someone possesses a gene, but whether that gene is expressed. Although seems that genetics is unlikely to tell us much of practical value about crime, other aspects of human biology may be more useful.
Adrian Rain of the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, showed cat scans comparing brain activity in 42 murderers with that of an equal number of normal controls. The murderers tended to have less prefrontal activity, was consistent with Raines Hypothesis that a damaged prefrontal cortex can lead to impulsive aggressive behavior. But murderers, like the rest of us, are a heterogeneous group of people, Rain cautioned strongly against regarding such scans as diagnostic. And that you cant do brain scanning on everyone and tell if they will commit murder.
In short applying this kind of research to crime control often raises ethical and political issues and the same can be expected of genetic scanning and other aspects of biological research when its related to controlling crime. It is possible that genetic research may eventually contribute something to our knowledge of crime, and perhaps even to its control. But the contribution will most likely be indirect. And any aspects of genetic disorders or other biological factors, most likely will be contributed to other things such as alcoholism and addictions rather than genes being blamed for the violent behavior. Diana Fishbein, of the US Department of Justice states that, criminologists need to call for more research into behavioral disorders and attention disorders and certain other temperamental traits like impulstivity that might be more likely to turn up better results in the fight against crime. Sources Cited Gidds W.W.
(1995,March) “Seeking the Criminal Element,” Scientic American, pp 100-108. Hallinan J. (1995, March 19th) “Prisons Becoming Major Industry,” the Huntsville Times, pp A19-20. Internet Address Text: emailprotected, Genetics and Crime, By Wilson R.J. (1994), Science