Criminal Justice Theory and the Los Angeles County Probation Department
Criminal and antisocial behaviors have been studied in the field of criminology for many years. Criminologists are very interested to learn what types of things cause specific criminal and antisocial behaviors. While criminal behavior and antisocial behavior are not always related, they often have close ties. Criminologists and other researchers are looking to find commonalities between certain genetic makeups and deviant behavior. They believe that many people are genetically predisposed to be violent, and if these people can be located they can be treated.
That does not mean that criminologists are in favor of testing everyone's genetic makeup on the planet to see if any of them show violent tendencies. What they are interested in doing, however, is studying criminals who already have a history of violent and deviant behavior to see what other traits they have, and what their genetic makeup looks like. If it can be shown that many people with a specific character trait become criminals, then this character trait can be looked for in other individuals throughout society. If it is found, this individual can be subjected to closer scrutiny. This kind of work could be very important to the Los Angeles County Probation Department, because it would help to find those that are more likely to violate their probation and continue to commit crimes.
There are several underlying traits in the genetic influence hypothesis. These include extroversion, impulsivity, and sensation-seeking. Hostility, aggression, and psychoticism are also traits that are believed to be related to genetic influence. Not everyone agrees on all of these traits, however, and scientists and researchers alike dispute whether people having these traits are actually more likely to commit crimes or engage in behavior that is considered antisocial by the larger part of society. Studies have also showed that many people who commit crimes in their adult lives have committed crimes as juveniles. They have also often had trouble in school, have been antisocial or aggressive, and possibly have had parents or other relatives who have had the same problems with the law (Brand, 2003).
By studying genetics, criminologists and others are making it easier for courts to accept karyotype studies and genetic influence hypotheses as evidence of problems in a particular individual. Those whose study DNA, and the researchers who have worked to map the human genome, all agree that some behaviors are genetically linked. Many behaviors, as well as diseases and illnesses run in families. There is no logical explanation how something could have such an impact on a particular family without a genetic cause (Rothstein, 1999).
Karyotype studies are designed to look at specific chromosomes, in order to determine how they are made up. Females should have two large X chromosomes. Males should have one large X chromosome and one small Y chromosome. While these are the things that determine whether or not people are male or female, chromosomes can do much more than that. There are, in addition to the one pair of chromosomes that determine sex, an additional 22 chromosomes that determine the rest of a person's genetic makeup. For example, these chromosomes, when studied properly, can be used to determine whether or not someone has a genetic illness such as Down's syndrome or phenylketonuria (Casey, 1997).
Not uncommonly, karyotype analysis is also used to determine whether a person may have specific genetic traits that cause them to have a propensity for violence or aggressive, antisocial behaviors. These studies have had a good influence on antisocial and criminal behavior, because they are one of the ways that criminologist are looking to prove that some people are just genetically predisposed to act deviant or antisocial. This emphatically does not mean that these people should be excused of their crimes, or that they should be allowed to get away with saying "I couldn't help it."
Scientists are finding the evidence that genetics do strongly affect a person's actions in life, and karyotype studies are helping researchers and criminologist to show to courts, police departments, and even the individual public that genetics do indeed played a role in the actions of violent and antisocial individuals (van der Dennen, n.d.). In turn, this will help not only be court system but the potential offenders as well. Those who realize that they need help before they do something violent will be more likely to get help in places that believe in karyotype studies, because these people will have a more open and understanding approach to the types of difficulties that cause violent behavior, including genetic abnormalities. However, this idea is just one of the theories that involve criminal justice. There are others that should also be discussed here.
Synthesized theories have been around in the field of criminology for quite some time. This is largely because they work well in helping criminologists discover some of the hidden reasons and causes behind crime. In order have a full understanding of synthesized theories, it is important to explain two things: the concept behind synthesized theories, and their importance to the study of criminology.
Criminology, also sometimes called criminality, has used the concept of synthesized theories since 5000 B.C. This may sound unbelievable to some, but it is true. People in that day believed that demonic influence was what caused people to commit crimes. While this theory seems primitive by today's standards it was the first use of a synthesized or generalized theory to explain one or more causes of criminality (O'Connor, 2001; Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2002).
Simply put, synthesized theories relate to the biological causes of criminal behavior. Sociology and psychology have also affected criminology a great deal, and a combination of psychological, sociological, and biological components are often used to make up synthesized theories (O'Connor, 2001). While demonic possession is obviously no longer used as a theory for explaining crime, many theories that have been around for a good many years are still applied in criminal cases today.
These theories include the control theory, the strain theory, the critical pathways theory, and many others that belong in the fields of medicine and education. There are even theories available that state that poor diet and nutrition caused someone to commit a crime (O'Connor, 2001). For example, if a young single mother is out of a job and has three starving children at home, she may steal food from the local grocery store in order to feed her children. Obviously, it is always wrong to steal, no matter how noble of a motive someone may have, but this understanding of the fact that she is committing a crime may do a little to stop her, because she may feel that her intentions to take care of her children are honorable enough to excuse her crime.
Under the circumstances, she may feel that her actions were justified because stealing something is better than allowing young children to starve to death. This would be her rationale. Whatever her motives and reasons behind the crime, one of the theories that will likely be employed to acknowledge why she committed this crime would be the poor diet and nutrition theory. There are, of course, other theories that may be used, based on other information about the mother and her lifestyle.
Often, more than one theory fits a person or a crime, and it is difficult to determine which one of the synthesized theories appropriate to the case is actually the most relevant. Synthesized theories are not designed to put every criminal inside a specific box. Rather they are designed in such a way that criminologists and others interested in the field study can use them to learn about specific crimes and the people who commit them (Brunet, 2002).
Some of this creates generalizations. For example, many people assume that people who are poor will commit more crimes then people who are rich. Whether or not this is actually true is hard to determine. While it is true that poor people or people of average income are seen on the nightly news a great deal more than rich people, that does not necessarily mean that rich people commit no crimes. When they do, they are usually white-collar crimes, although this is not always the case. White-collar crimes often take a longer period of time to be noticed, because they are such things as embezzlement and other monetary schemes.
While synthesized theories can be based on biological, social, psychological, and many other factors, the main reason that synthesized theories are so popular is because they work (Cullen & Agnew, 2003). They have been developed over the course of many years, and they are designed not only to show why someone may have committed the crime, but to indicate to law-enforcement others in society that may potentially commit crimes in the future. In this way synthesized theories work and not only to help understand criminals better, but to help keep potential criminals from causing harm to innocent people.