Identifying Criminals Early

June 13, 2011


There is a school of psychology in which it is believed that  children who will later be likely to grow up as criminals can be identified. But there are ethical questions involved in such research. If you were a parent of a child labeled as likely to become a criminal, would you want to know of such a dim social prognosis? One parent might choose to abort a child, or put a child up for adoption rather than live with later shame.

But is it not possible to identify core characteristics, and to intervene to modify and to channel them? Cam empathy and compassion be taught, can a child learn early on to deal with toxic levels of anger? What is interesting about a group of children lavbeled as likely to become criminal is the question of what happened to the children who turned out OK? What did their parents do to work with a troubled personality? Convicted criminals are a captive study group. But there are millions of adults who went through a stormy childhood, and even became involved in crime, yet reached a point at which they changed course.

It would be interesting to do a study of juvenile delinquents, young people with substance abuse and promiscuity issues and issues with bullying and violence who turned their lives around. What changed them? There are people who were bullies as children who look back as adults with shame and regret upon their troubled childhood. Other children who were classroom terrors find subtler ways to torment other people within the rules of a corporate hierarchy. There are too many variables in the human personality to show up in one standardised test. Studying people who have failed and succumbed to their genes is only half the story. We need to study people who have played a genetic hand well enough to be a success.


Chronicle of Higher Education article

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