I was trained in criminology by a generation of professors who thought that criminals were the product of rotten neighborhoods, lousy family life, victimization, discrimination, prejudice, and alienation. By time I graduated with a PhD the professors were moving the cause of crime back to the individual. They began teaching that criminals had unique physical, mental, moral and interpersonal characteristics that made crime more likely. Yet the new biological theories of crime cannot explain corporate crime, government crimes, or the crimes of the economic and moral elite, as in the cases of people like Bernie Madoff and numbers of Roman Catholic priests.
So, one of the central questions in American crime policy is whether criminals are born or made. Some argue that criminals share a collection of pathologies that differentiate them from non-criminals. Others say crime is the product of social relations, specifically poverty, alienation, family problems, educational problems and biases of all kinds.
Me? I can see merits in both views. Studies of brain chemistry suggest some crime is the result of excessive levels of chemicals that stimulate risk taking. Yet, most street crime is the result of poverty and alienation, commonly the result of drug abuse and incarceration.
What do you think about the nature – nurture debate of the causes of crime?