This article was written by a contributing author and is not meant to be taken as legal advice or otherwise. Kindly contact us if you have any suggestions to improve this article here.
Crime is all around us. It happens all hours of the day and night, online, offline, in our homes, and in the streets. From street vendors to billion-dollar corporations, it happens at every level. It invades our government, starting in small towns and into global operations. No one is immune. In 1989, Hans J Eysenck and Gisli H Gudjonsson published Causes and Cures of Criminality, which detailed the connection between the discipline of psychology and how it related to the biological actions associated with it. When you are discussing criminality, you need to understand both the psychological and physical factors that work together to produce a criminal and the type of mindset that drives them forward.
What Is Criminality?
The definition of criminality is criminal behavior that is contrary to or forbidden by criminal law. How do we determine what causes this type of thinking and how do we guide individuals away from this type of behavior? These are questions that have been studied for decades. The answers are available to an extent. The difficulty arises when you determine how many factors may go into producing one criminal. It’s true they may be a product of their environment, but there are psychological and social factors as well. Every person is different and the road map to creating a criminal begins at a different point with each person.
What Causes Crime?
Crime is basically the result of a perfect storm that includes psychological factors, physical considerations, socioeconomic factors, education (or lack of), home/public environment, parental guidance (or lack of), financial parameters, and social influences. Any number of these factors can come together to produce a very cunning and extremely efficient criminal. Each crime is as different as the person who commits it. Being able to decipher the “why” of a crime means collecting all of the evidence that can be found and using it to create a picture that involves both the criminal as well as their motivation.
Explaining How Crime Occurs
When it comes to identifying how and why crime occurs, you need to identify specific factors and see how they can possibly work together to trigger a person into wanting to commit a crime. Individuals who exhibit specific tendencies when they are children may eventually turn to criminal behavior if the circumstances they find themselves in produce both opportunity and motive. In certain instances, it may be difficult to prove how or why a crime has occurred until all of the evidence is collected and processed. Detectives work to create the road map in reverse.
Physical Characteristics and Abnormalities
Cesare Lombroso was a criminologist from Italy in the 1830s. His theory about criminal behavior had to do with physical abnormalities, especially the shape of the head. If the shape of the head was abnormal due to a head injury, then the suspect may have had a reduced capacity to prevent violent actions or outbursts. While this theory is considered to be valid today, many of his other theories are not.
Psychological Conditions and Disorders
Lombroso was also one of the first criminologists who believed that mental illnesses and disorders could also be a factor in the motivation behind certain types of crime. Although his theory that crime was a disease did not pain out, he is one of the primary reasons why expert medical witnesses are now allowed to testify in criminal proceedings.
Studies have proven that there are specific psychological conditions and disorders that can cause antisocial behavior. This may not always lead to the occurrence of a crime, but it may be a strong indicator in populations that are exposed to a variety of other factors.
Another huge influence on the mentality of crime is the socioeconomic state. This means that the society we live in may hold the answer to why many crimes are committed. As cities grew and industry began to take over where agriculture left off, it became apparent that new types of criminals were being developed. Social instability surrounding neighborhoods in poverty-stricken areas could turn citizens of any racial background into a criminal. Individuals in areas with high crime rates learn criminal behavior from both their peers as well as their family members. They are not born with these specific traits.
An Environment in Chaos
The term “broken windows” has been used to identify neighborhoods that are, for all intents and purposes, environments in chaos. Litter is everywhere and you can only walk a short distance without seeing broken windows. Broken windows in vacant commercial buildings, abandoned vehicles, and condemned homes, are scattered throughout the neighborhood, showcasing the chaos and turmoil that has taken over the area. This type of disorder is the perfect breeding ground for criminal activity. Streets are unsafe due to the activities of juvenile offenders who often participate in vandalism and other types of property crime. Violent offenders threaten public safety and terrorize law-abiding citizens. The criminal justice system and local governments often work together to clean up these areas in the hopes of reducing opportunity and the incidence of violent behavior.
Education, Income, and Employment
In today’s world, society places emphasis on receiving an education in the hopes that employment will follow. The problem with this theory is that many students don’t have the financial means to go to college. Some students drop out of high school because their environment makes it difficult for them to continue to go to school. These young people are then pushed into society and forced to work in low-paying jobs or participate in illegal activities just to make ends meet. On the flip side of that, you have individuals who have invested thousands of dollars in a degree they cannot use and are forced to take jobs that they are sorely over qualified for. This also contributes to the socioeconomic imbalance that influences various types of criminal activity.
The White Collar Choice
Most people believe that street crime is the most costly overall. Street crime results in approximately $15 billion in losses each year. That actually pales in comparison to the $200 billion in losses attributed to white collar crime. Unlike street crime, the risk associated with the criminal act may not be as severe as that associated with street crime. In most cases, greed and the desire for an improved lifestyle are the key influencers.
Reducing the Risk
Motivation and opportunity are two key components in most crimes. Punishment is used to deter crime. Its primary goal is to increase the risk of penalty, making the act much less desirable. This may work for some people, but will not work for others. The best way to reduce the risk is to take away the opportunity and minimize your potential risk of loss. There are several ways to do this, including:
- Improved exterior lighting
- Installing security systems in vehicles, homes, and commercial properties
- Surveillance cameras
- Security guards and K9 units
- Two-step authentication for online accounts
- Increased prison terms
Where Are the Parents?
Patterns of family violence may be responsible for antisocial behavior or young people suffering from substance abuse. Children who are constantly being neglected or who have endured various types of abuse may turn to crime as a way of acting out. The cycle that is eventually created will continue to repeat itself through several generations. Children who grow up in homes where the parents are attentive and committed to providing a positive social environment are less likely to grow up and become involved with criminal activity.
Genetics and the Brain
Antisocial personality disorders and negative conduct disorders are forms of mental illness that limit a person’s perception of right and wrong. Research studies on genetics and various types of brain activity have proven that a mental disorder like schizophrenia may influence a person’s ability to control violent behavior. People who suffer from addiction may also be attributed to some form of mental illness. Addictive behaviors that involve drugs and alcohol may have an impact on how a person reacts when dealing with their mental illness.
Hormone imbalances can also result in aggressive behaviors. An increase in testosterone is sometimes attributed to aggressive behavior. Cortisol and testosterone or both hormones are produced by the body and used during the fight or flight response. When too much of either of these hormones floods through the body, it may be more difficult for a person to control their anger and perform violent acts of aggression either on property or against another individual.
For adolescents, teens, and young adults, one of the most common influences is peer pressure. In most cases, social standing and popularity don’t matter. While it’s common to believe that children from poor homes are more commonly influenced by their peers, this is far from the truth. Most children will cave to peer pressure if they believe their friends will desert them if they fail to follow through.
Black Market Guns
One of the biggest threats to public safety has to do with weapons purchased through the black market. Black market guns are much easier to obtain than buying guns legally. These guns are virtually untraceable and mostly found in the hands of criminals. Individuals who look for black market weapons are often career criminals heavily involved in gang activity or various types of organized crime.
Understanding the “Whys” of Crime
Criminality involves many different factors. Understanding the “whys” of crime and what motivates people to exhibit criminal behavior, is essential in solving crimes and making arrests. Determining the cause of a crime may help to find a suitable treatment that could possibly help the person overcome their violent tendencies and other criminal behavior. In some cases, there is no treatment or cure that would sufficiently address the issue. In this situation, incarceration is recommended in lengths of time that fit the severity of the crime.