What should be done with the young children of violence-prone criminals if in fact research could show that the tendency to commit crime is inherited?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no doubt that, in recent years, science has advanced considerably in identifying a link between crime and genetic inheritance. That said, it is highly unlikely that research would ever be able to establish, with a sufficient degree of certainty, an inherited tendency to commit crime. Such a thesis sounds perilously close to certain late 19th century theories, long since discredited as pseudoscience. The Italian doctor and criminologist Cesare Lombroso, for example, stated quite explicitly that criminality was indeed inherited and that criminals were born, not made.

Even if such a theory could be firmly established, what then? Society would still have to decide what to do with the insights provided by the available scientific research. Policy makers would need to be extremely careful in how to put such theories into practice. In doing so, there would be a significant number of dangers.

Arguably, the biggest would be the labeling of some children as criminal from birth. This would undoubtedly have the effect of their receiving unfair treatment at each stage of their formative years, further alienating them from a society to which they already didn't feel that they truly belonged. If society has already decided that a child is little more than a potential criminal, then why should he or she act any differently?

The question of human rights is also an important consideration. Evaluating the offspring of violent criminals as potential criminals themselves rather than children with the same rights as others, means that they will tend to be regarded not as significant beings in their own right, but as potential violent felons from which society needs to be protected. Children are children, whatever their background, with the same need to be loved, cared for and nurtured, and it isn't clear how this basic, overriding need can be catered for by a process of scientific labeling. 

An overtly scientific approach to the problem of criminality also neglects other significant areas of criminological research. Many other factors have been shown to exist that have an impact on the development of criminal behavior. Social, economic, and environmental considerations can also be taken into account and provide a much fuller picture of criminal deviance and what can be done about it.

By choosing to ignore these factors, society can avoid making the hard political choices that often need to be made in this area by not facing up to its responsibilities and instead simplifying through questionable science a problem of great complexity, reducing it to a matter of genetic inheritance. Ironically, a genetically reductionist approach to violent crime also allows criminals, as well as society, to evade moral responsibility for their actions. "It wasn't me; it was my genes that made me do it."

The consequences of such a dereliction of duty are potentially grave, not just for the rights of the individual child, but for society as a whole—a society patently ill-equipped to deal with the complex underlying issues.  


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answer to this would depend on at least two factors.

First, it would depend on how completely the genetic factors determine behavior.  In other words, if a child has a parent who is a criminal, are they 10% more likely to commit a crime?  Are they 100% more likely?  Is it absolutely certain that they will themselves turn out to be criminals?  The greater the connection, the more likely it would be that society should take some action.

Second, it would depend on how authoritarian your society is willing to be.  Taking children away from their parents would be one option.  However, this sort of an option would have serious consequences.  Taking children from their parents based on what MIGHT happen in the future, as opposed to what has already happened, is a serious step towards a totalitarian society.  It could be that the “cure” would be worse than the “disease” for our society.