We’ve all heard the arguments of nature versus nurture. How much of what we do in our everyday lives is controlled by genetics or the way we were brought up? How does this affect our criminal justice system? If we decide that a person’s actions are primarily based on their nature, or genetics, then can we actually hold them responsible for what they do? If we decide that a person’s actions are primarily based on nurture, can we blame their upbringing? Either way it seems as though people commit crimes based upon factors which are outside their personal control. Can we then hold them accountable for their actions; even if those actions appear to be, or are in fact, premeditated in nature?
What if we were to find out that all crimes were committed by people who were genetically predisposed to do so under certain circumstances? Or what if we found out that certain people raised in specific environments were more likely to commit crimes than others raised outside those environments. Would this change the sentencing structures used by our criminal courts today?
In the Middle East it is believed that the more involvement the US has in Middle Eastern affairs, the better the recruitment efforts are for the Taliban and other extremist groups. If we bomb a Taliban stronghold and there is collateral damage of civilians, then other civilians may get angry enough to join the Taliban and thus create more terrorists for the US to contend with in the future. This is a situation of nurture causing crimes to occur (one’s own environment causing them to act out).
It is the same with our inner cities. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics there is more crime per capita in American inner cities and low income areas than anywhere else. Part of the reason are the influences impressed upon the younger individuals living in these environments. A 10-year-old boy sees the local drug dealer making money hand over fist and sees no other options for him to make that kind of money. So, he is more likely to follow in that drug dealer’s footsteps than in someone who visits his school and tells him to stay away from drugs and to follow the correct path.
If genetics and/or upbringing has more to do with why crimes are committed, then how can we possibly blame the individual committing the crime for doing so? We call it “accepting responsibility.” How can someone who is genetically or by upbringing predisposed to committing a crime be considered a responsible individual when they have little or no control over their actions. It is very easy for others to insist that they have control when not in the same situation.
Unfortunately, our society has not evolved to the point where we can prove definitively that genetics or upbringing individually or collectively cause criminal behavior. Until we have evolved to this point we will continue to hold people accountable who may have little or no control over their actions.