Turning to Crime

These are the Key Studies from the Turning to Crime unit including Upbringing (Disrupted families, Learning from others, Poverty and Disadvantage neighbourhoods), Cognition (Criminal thinking patterns, Moral development and crime, Social Cognition) and Biology (Brain dysfunction, Genes and serotonin, Gender).

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Disrupted Families - Farrington et al. (1996)

Aim: To investigate the idea that problem families produce problem children.

Design: A longitudinal study using data from interviews (age 48) and criminal records.

Participants: Based on 411 boys aged 8 + 9 born in 1953/4 from 6 state schools in East London, predominantly white working class, from 397 different families with 14 pairs of brothers and 5 pairs of twins.

Selected results:

  • At age 48 161 individuals (out of 404) had convictions.
  • Offences peaked at 17 with 11 offenders and 17 offences per 100 males.
  • Offenders who started aged 10-13 nearly all re-offended at least once.
  • 93% admitted to committing one type of offense at some point in their lives.
  • 7% were defined as chronic offenders.
  • Most of these chronic offenders shared common childhood characteristics.
  • % Men leading successful lives increased from 78% at age 32 to 88% at age 48.

Conclusion: Risk factors include offenders in the family, poverty, impulsiveness, poor child rearing and poor school performance.

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Learning from others - Sutherland Theory of Differ

Differential associations = Contact with criminals and criminal activity

  • Criminal behaviour is learned.
  • Criminal behaviour is learnt through communicating with other criminals.
  • Criminal behaviour arises through personal relationships with other criminals.
  • Criminals learn techniques, attitudes, motives and rationalisations from other criminals.
  • The direction of criminal behaviour is learned through defining laws as breakable or unbreakable e.g. many teens ignore underage drinking laws.
  • Individuals become criminals when they spend too much time around other criminals or criminal activity.
  • Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority and intensity.
  • Criminal behaviour is learned just like every other behaviour.
  • Criminal behaviour cannot be explained through needs and values because even though its expressed through them.

Sutherland's theory is based on two main points: Criminal behaviour occurs when an individual finds themselves in a situation which they see as an appropriate opportunity for breaking the law and definitions of these situation are acquired through past experiences.

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Poverty and Disadvantaged Families - Wikstrom and

The Peterborough Youth Study - A cross sectional study of 2000 14-15 year old students using interviews and data collection.

Selected key findings:

  • 44.8% of males and 30.6% of females have committed at least one crime.
  • 9.8% of males and 3.8% of females have commited a serious crime of theft.
  • Youth who offend more tend to commit a wide range of crimes.
  • 1 in 8 offenders were caught by the police for their last crime.
  • Violent offenders are more likely to be victims of violence.
  • Offenders use drugs and drink alcohol more often than other youths.

Explanatory factors include things like family social position, individuals characteristics, social situation, lifestyles and community contexts.

The findings suggested there were 3 types of youth offenders them being Propensity-induced (offend because its their nature), Lifestyle-dependent (offend frequently if a high-risk lifestyle calls for it) and Situationally-limited (offend occasionally if they find themselves in a high risk situation).

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Criminal Thinking Patterns - Yochelson and Samenow

Aims: To basically understand the thought processes of a criminal and finds ways to alter them encouraging legal responsibility and preventing more criminal behaviour.

Participants: 255 male offenders from various backgrounds, ethnicities and occupations.

Method: Inteviews which continued over several years. Only 30 completed the programme and out of that only 9 really changed.

Selected findings: Yochelson and Samenow found that criminals:

  • are restless, dissatisfied, irritable and angry
  • considered authority requests as impositions
  • lack empathy
  • set themselves apart from others and feel under no obligation to others
  • are poor at decision making and want a life of excitement.

Conclusion: 52 thinking errors were found in the criminals but cannot be secluded to only criminals as there was no control group.

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Moral Development and Crime - Kohlberg (1963)

Aim: To find evidence that supports a progression through stages of moral development.

Participants: 58 boys aged 7, 10, 13 and 16 from Chicago and working and middle class.

Method: A longitudinal study as some of the boys were followed up at 3 yearly intervals up to age 30-36. Each boy was given a 2 hour interview with 10 dilemmas to solves.

Results: Younger boys performed at stages 1 and 2 and older boys performed at stages 3 and 4. These patterns were consistent across different cultures and no support for stage 6 was found.

Conclusions: These results support the idea of a development through the different moral stages. This method was applied to criminals by Thornton and Reid in 1982 and it was found that criminals who offended for money had more immature moral reasoning than violent criminals.

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A summary of Kohlberg's stages (1963; 1978)

Level 1: Pre-Morality

  • Stage 1 Punishment and Obedience orientation (fear of punishment)
  • Stage 2 Hedonistic orientation (want of reward)

Level 2: Conventional morality

  • Stage 3 Interpersonal concordance orientation (conforming to the majority)
  • Stage 4 Law and order orientation (duty and aids society)

Level 3: Post-conventional morality

  • Stage 5 Social contract or legalistic orientation (going against the law)
  • Stage 6 Universal ethical principles orientation (listening to out inner conscience)
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Social Cognition - Gudjohnsson and Bownes (1992)

Aim: To examine the relationship to the type of crime and where offenders attirbute the blame.

Method: Using the Blame Attribution Inventory to measure attribution of blame on the three dimensions: internal/external, mental element and guilt.

Participants: 80 criminals serving time in Northern Ireland. Group 1 20 criminals who had committed a violent crime (mean age 29), group 2 40 criminals who had committed a sexual crime (mean age 41), group 3 20 criminals who had committed a property offense (mean age 29).

Results: Criminals who committed sexual offenses showed the most remorse and criminals who committed violent crimes showed the most external attribution. There was little difference in the Mental Element.

Conclusion: There was a strong consistency with earlier findings across offender groups which suggest a strong consistency in the way offenders attribute blame for their crimes.

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Brain Dysfunction - Raine (2002)

Aim: To take a multi-factorial approach to understanding antisocial and aggressive behaviour in children with a biological focus.

Method: A review article.

Procedure: To collect, compare and review articles that cover neuropsychological, neurological and brain imaging studies and see if and how the findings relate to antisocial behaviour in child development.

Results: Raine suggests many biological factors to antisocial behaviour in children including a low resting heart rate because these individuals will seek excitement, lower activity in the pre-frontal lobes tends to be found in impulsive people and peaks in teens, birth complications, poor parenting, physical abuse, malnutrition all add risk.

Conclusion: Raine believes that early intervention may be able to prevent/reverse biological deficits that predispose to antisocial and aggressive behaviour.

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Genes and Serotonin - Brunner (1993)

Aim: To explain the behaviour of the males, in a family from the Netherlands, who are affected by borderline mental retardation and abnormal violent behavior using a biological method.

Method: Analysis of urine samples from the men collected over a 24 hour period.

Results: The tests showed there was something wrong with their monoamine metabolism which is caused by a deficiency in an enzyme called MAOA. In all the men there was a mutation in the X chromosome of the gene which produces MAOA.

Conclusion: MAOA is involved with serotonin metabolism and it is likely that a deficiency in the serotonin caused the mental retardation in the participants and the mental retardation may account for the violence. However not all the males in the family were both mentally retarded and violent, also this condition is extremely rare therefore even if it was a cause of criminal behaviour it cannot be generalised far.

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Gender - Daly and Wilson (2001)

Aim: To find out if homicide rates in certain areas of Chicago correlate with the life expectancy of males.

Method: A correlational study using data from police records, school records and local demographic records collected by population census.

Procedure: The study examined local communities in Chicago in which men had a lower than average life expectancy (54.3 to 77.4 years) and compared that information to the other data collected.

Results: Life expectancy proved to be the best predictor of neighbourhood-specific homicide rates which ranged from 1.3 to 156 per 100,000 persons per annum. This supports the idea that young men commit violent crimes due to the supposed shortness of their life. This is also supported by the same negative correlation between life expectancy and school attendance suggesting that men with shorter life expectancies are less likely to to put effort into school. The same could be said for poorer men who may well believe they have nothing to lose. All these factors tend to induce reckless and violent behaviour in young men.

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