The Genetics of Criminal Minds

What if policemen could predict who was going to commit a crime like doctors can predict who is prone to certain diseases through DNA?

For one, crime rates would decrease but even more, lives could be saved.

For UCI Professor of Criminology, Law and Society Simon Cole, not only is this too good to be true, but “It’s never worked in the past,” he said during a lecture at the University of Florida on identity-tracking technology according to the Independent Alligator Journal.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Cole says that several scientists and legal thinkers became increasingly interested in the cause of criminal behavior and began to look for answers in the human body.

This led to the study of phrenology, which in turn led to the study of eugenics in the early 20th century and incorporated the practice of selective breeding in order to improve the human race.

“Although, the idea was a well-intentioned impulse to improve the human race,” Cole said, “it got out of control and forced sterilizations were taking place to mostly prisoners and poor people.”

The practice of eugenics is not new in the United States. In the 1927 U.S Supreme Court Case Buck vs. Bell, Carrie Buck from Virginia was taken by authorities at the age of three from her widowed mother, Emma Buck, because her mother was involved with prostitution.

A foster family, the Dobbs, took in Carrie and at the age of 17. Soon after, Carrie found herself pregnant. She claimed to have been raped by one of the Dobbs’ sons.

The Dobbs family asked their family doctor to admit her into a mental asylum. Following her admission, she was scheduled to undergo surgery for sterilization on the account that she was diagnosed as “feebleminded.”

Carrie Buck’s case essentially challenged the state-law of Virginia concerning state-enforced sterilizations.

It was then presented to the U.S Supreme court and resulted in an 8-1 majority ruling that Virginia’s state law to enforce sterilization was constitutional.

That same year Carrie Buck underwent operation for sterilization.

More recently, in a 2003 article published in the LA Times, UCSD Political Science Professor Peter Irons reflects upon such frequencies in history.

“Between 1909 and 1964, more than 20,000 people in California were robbed of their reproductive abilities through a state program of forced. Sterilization … and the last forced-sterilization law was not repealed until 1979,” Irons said.

The term “crime gene” only came to light in the 1980s for a while to discuss the idea of selective breeding. It still dealt with the idea that bad behavior or “feeblemindedness” was something hereditary.

By the 1980s, DNA had been discovered. Doctors and scientists began to understand genetics in a very different light.

More recently, a 2002 BBC article reported that researchers from King’s College in London found that boys who are mistreated when they are young and “have a particular version of a gene” are at risk of harmful or poor behavior.

Critics of the discovery, including bioethics professor Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio expressed his skepticism.

“Violence in maltreated children is a major issue. Stop the maltreatment, and don’t add to the problem by layering in a new generation of so-called violence preventing drugs,” Post said.

In other words, the crux of the problem revolved around social issues.

Like Post, Cole skeptical about the research.

“I think genetics is a very small part of the explanation and common sense tells you its clearly socio-economic conditions that lead to crime,” Cole said.