When trying to predict whether a person could commit a crime, different factors are taken into account. This essay will look at social factors, such as economic conditions, poverty and family influences, and personal factors like personality, education and mental health. The essay will examine each factor to see how they can predict whether someone becomes an offender and will then identify which factors seem to be the most reliable in predicting whether someone becomes the perpetrator of crime.
Social factors are influences which can be attributed to society and different social groups. The first social factor this essay will examine is family. Farrington and Welsh (2007, p. 57) state that the children of criminal and antisocial parents are normally delinquent and antisocial themselves. Findings from the Cambridge Study support this by showing that family criminality and poor parenting are two of the most important risk factors for 8-10 year olds when predicting later offending (Farrington, et al. , 2006, p. ), and that 63% of boys with convicted fathers go on to gain convictions themselves (Farrington, Barnes, & Lambert, 1996). This link between a criminal family and a child becoming an offender may exist for several reasons such as the child being exposed to the same conditions as the parent, such as poverty or living in a deprived neighbourhood, which are also linked with crime.
Another reason is that medical conditions which can be linked with criminal behaviour, such as antisocial personality disorder, may be passed on from the parents to their children (Farrington, 2007, pp. 13-14). Finally, the child may simply imitate the criminal behaviour of older members of the family. Parental involvement in a child’s life as well as the discipline methods employed have also been suggested as being linked with offending. Children who are disciplined harshly and physically, as well as children who are abused or neglected, are more likely to take part in criminal activity in later life (Farrington, 2007, p. 615). Inconsistent punishment has also been found to predict offending behaviour too.
Parental involvement has been linked as it has been observed that boys who have a father that does not partake in leisure activities with them are twice as likely to be convicted in later life (West ; Farrington, 1973, p. 51). Low parental involvement in general has been found to predict delinquency in children, as has low supervision of a child. Children who are allowed to go out on their own from a young age without their parents knowing where they are have been found to be more likely to commit crime (Farrington, 2007, p. 15). Family size is another factor that can be used to predict criminal behaviour as West and Farrington (1973) found that boys with 4 or more siblings before they are ten years old are twice as likely of gaining a juvenile conviction compared to boys with less than 4 siblings. This can be linked with parental supervision and involvement in a child’s life as a child will generally receive less attention if they have a large number of siblings (Farrington, 2007, p. 615).
Overcrowding within a household has also been suggested as an important factor (West & Farrington, 1973, p. 33). The state of a society’s economy can have a range of effects on the people within it, including unemployment, income inequality and poverty. A report by the Social Exclusion Unit (2002, p. 22) stated that 67% of the UK prison population had been unemployed in the four weeks before they were imprisoned, whereas only 5% of the general population were unemployed at the time.
Other studies which show a link between crime and inequality includes Downes (1995, p. 1), who stated that crime rates in the UK increased by 40% between 1989-92 which coincides with unemployment rising from 7. 5% in 1990 to 14% in 1993 (Witt, Clarke, ; Field, 1999, p. 391). This data seems to strongly suggest that unemployment can be used to predict criminal behaviour. One reason that this link may exist is that the unemployed may turn to crime as they are unable to gain what they want through legitimate means due to a lack of money.
Income inequality is another social factor that may predict criminality, with the report by the Social Exclusion Unit (2002, p. 22) stating that only 13. 7% of the general population received some form of state benefit, but 72% of the UK prison population had been receiving state benefits immediately before they were imprisoned. This therefore suggests that having no income, or a lower than average income, may predict criminality with suggested reasons for this again being an inability to achieve goals through legitimate channels.
A lack of social controls on an individual can be an indicator of later criminal behaviour. Control theory states that most people do not commit crimes because of social controls imposed by groups, such as family and peers, institutions like work and school, and possible punishments for offending (Newburn, 2007, pp. 229-234). Control theory could be used to explain why those who associate with criminals and those who come from criminal families are likely to be involved in crime themselves as they don’t have as many social controls exerted on them.
The theory could also be used to explain any links with the unemployed or those expelled from school and crime as they would not receive any social controls that school or work can provide. The idea that school can provide social controls over individuals may explain why 33% of the female and 49% of the male prison population were expelled from school (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002). A society’s attitude and reaction to crime can also predict whether people become the perpetrators of crime.
Societies with a higher awareness of crime and more security measures may present fewer opportunities for criminal activity which may prevent many from turning to crime. Harsher sentences or capital punishments may also cause fewer people to commit crime and softer sentencing may cause more people to offend however there is little evidence of this, with some studies showing that homicide rates in US states with the death penalty are higher than those without (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010). A personal factor that can be used to predict whether a person will become a perpetrator of crime is intelligence.
Low intelligence can be linked with crime as studies such as Stattin and Klackenberg-Larsson (1993), conducted in Stockholm, found that frequent offenders had an average IQ of 88 when 3 years old compared with an average IQ of 101 for non-offenders. The Cambridge Study found that boys aged 8-10 who had low non-verbal intelligence were more likely to be convicted in later life (Farrington, 2007, p. 608). Low intelligence is believed to predict offending as people with low intelligence are less likely to perform well in school and gain academic qualifications which can affect employment and income levels in later life.
Another reason is that people with low intelligence are less likely to see the consequences of their actions and empathise with people so could be more likely to offend. Personality is another personal factor that can predict criminality, with impulsiveness and neuroticism being seen as key personality traits related to crime (Newburn, 2007, p. 841; Farrington, 2007, p. 611). Impulsiveness can be used as a predictor because people with the trait are less likely to think about the consequences of their actions and are more likely to act on an opportunity when one arises.
Sensation-seeking, risk taking and hyperactivity are also related to impulsivity and have all been found to help in predicting criminality in later life (Farrington, 2007, p. 611). Neuroticism, which is the tendency to experience negative emotions such as anger and anxiety more often than average, is another trait which can be used as a predictor. People who gained high scores for neuroticism on personality tests were found to be more likely to be convicted of an offence (Newburn, 2007, p. 641) which is probably because of the tendency to express emotions such as anger which can be linked with violent crime.
The mental health of an individual can be linked with their personality, with some disorders such as antisocial personality disorder being heavily linked with criminality. Hart and Hare (1996) stated that between 50 and 80% of the prison population meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder. Traits of the disorder include a lack of empathy and guilt, impulsivity, increased aggression and a failure to learn from experience (Gelder, Harrison, ; Cowen, 2006, p. 136; Gross, 2005, pp. 842-843).
These traits can all be linked to criminality, and a failure to learn from experience means that the consequences of offending have no affect in dissuading the person from re-offending. Other mental disorders that have hallucinatory or delusional symptoms, such as schizophrenia, have also been shown to be associated with offending. It is the symptoms and the sufferer’s reaction to them that are believed to be the main reason why they are linked to criminality (Gelder, Harrison, & Cowen, 2006, p. 735). Gender can be used to help predict whether a person will become a perpetrator of crime.
In 2004, 80% of known offenders in England and Wales were male (Heidensohn & Gelsthorpe, 2007, p. 391) and one study stated that out of the females born in 1958, 9% had been convicted of an offence by the time they were 40 years old compared with 32% of males (Newburn, 2007, p. 806). This data strongly suggests that a male is more likely than a female to be the perpetrator of a crime, and therefore gender can be used as a predictor. Substance abuse, the final factor being examined in this essay, is a personal factor that has been linked with crime. 5% of people arrested have been found to be ‘problem drug users’ whereas the lifetime prevalence of drug addiction is just 4%. 73% of prison inmates have also admitted to taking an illegal drug in the year before they were imprisoned (Newburn, 2007, pp. 484-485).
One reason suggested for this link is that the effects of drugs can cause the user to engage in criminal activities, with the effects of alcohol being the most linked with crime. Another commonly stated reason is that drug users commit crime to fund their habit as they are unable to do so legitimately (Newburn, 2007, p. 85). This essay has examined social and personal factors to determine how they might predict whether people become offenders. The social factors that were considered include family background and influences, economic conditions and social controls, with data showing a strong link between criminal parents and delinquent children. A criminal family seems to be one of the most reliable factors for predicting if a person will become a perpetrator of crime. Low income and unemployment were also linked with criminal behaviour which suggests they can be used as predictors too.
The male gender and drug abuse were 2 personal factors that were suggested could be predictors of crime however the intelligence and personality of an individual were also suggested as being key in predicting offending behaviour, with mental health problems also being used. These factors do not guarantee that offending behaviour will be present in an individual but they can help predict it. Overall, a wide range of social and personal factors seem to be able to be used to predict whether an individual will become an offender or not, with it being difficult to determine which set of factors are more reliable.