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An Evaluation of Biological Criminology

Updated on May 17, 2013

A Closer Look

The biological perspective in criminology is a much more specific theory than anything sociological or psychological. It claims that individuals who are criminal differ from 'normal' people in some anatomical or physiological way. Many supporters of this theoretical viewpoint have considered it plausible to find the abnormality and treat or alter it in order to eliminate criminality entirely. This is clearly a stark contrast to the variations in other aspects of criminology, including the influence of peers or social circles, families, or authority figures. Rather than individualized treatment, perhaps this could be solved by medicating or altering a specific gene. This way of thinking began quite some time ago, one early form of the theory relating to the size of the forehead or the alignment of the face showing criminal intent. However, just as all other sciences have it has evolved overtime and many still believe that there may be a genetic or perhaps neurological reasoning behind criminal behavior.

One of the most important aspects of biological criminology is the positivist rejection of free will. They believed that if the issue was physiological, and so out of individual control, the decision to act criminally could not be considered voluntary. This puts the question of premeditation up against this theory almost directly. Psychological or sociological theories would argue that this is not normal thinking, influenced by a myriad of emotional trauma and other aspects. Biological theories may consider this thought process influenced by a physiological or anatomical abnormality, not environmental

The case of Alyssa Bustamante may be one of the more compelling cases in regards to biological criminology. Alyssa strangled, stabbed, and slit the throat of her 9 year-old neighbor, then buried her in a shallow grave. She described the killing as amazing and pretty enjoyable, writing about her experience in her journal afterwards. She was eventually sentenced as an adult to life in prison because of the heinous nature of the crime and her apparent lack of remorse. Information regarding a troubled household or childhood is hard to come by, as some reports claim that she did not fall victim to any damaging psychological events. She wrote in her journal about feeling suicidal and the desire to harm herself, according to some sources. With little else to go on, it may be sensible or at least spark curiosity to consider a Lombroso type theoretical approach in regards to the evolutionary atavism aspect and the 'born criminal' .Theoretically speaking, when there is no blatant environmental factor available, seeking an alternative explanation may be necessary to truly understand the 'why' behind such a vague and different case.

The James Bulger case is another where biological theories have been considered. It's often when children are involved in violent or otherwise more adult crimes, so to speak, that we stretch for more of an explanation than just a broken home. Perhaps it's difficult to admit that a young boy or girl could be capable of such terrible atrocities. On February 12, 1993 at 3:39 p.m., a surveillance video captured two individuals casually grabbing two year old James Bulger by the hand and walking away with him. His mother was preoccupied in a butcher's shop, having been delayed because of an employee mishearing her first order. By the time she turned around, her son was gone. The two boys who kidnapped the toddler were doing so out of boredom, and wanted to see if they would be capable of getting away with it. They were both 10 years old. Before they took James, they had attempted to do the same to a four year old, who resisted them enough to scare them away. They began walking away with James and headed towards the railroad tracks at Walton, over two miles away.

On their way, they encountered around 38 people who did nothing to stop the scene they saw unfolding in front of them. Somewhere along the line, James had been dropped on his head and now had a very obvious injury. He seemed distressed and in pain, but no one reacted but to ask the boys who stole him what they were doing and if they needed any help. One woman even refused to walk the boy to the police station, which she initially offered to do, because no one would watch her dog while she went. Soon after, James' body was found on the train tracks, exhibiting signs of a severe beating and possible sexual assault.

The Eugenics Movement believed that if the best of society, or those who were pure from disease, malformation, or crime within the family line were the only ones to reproduce, criminality would no longer exist. This perspective of the 'ideal' individual was taken to the extreme in Nazi Germany. Galton was convinced that intelligence and other positive aspects of an individual were inherited without external environmental influence. Because of that, these superior genes should be spread enough to outnumber or entirely eliminate the inferior genes in society, thus improving the overall population. However, this is simply not realistic. Adhering to a specific 'perfect' or improved image in order to fit in or meet societal requirements is a cause of psychological stress on its own. With this said, it almost seems to be a similar effect to bullying or overbearing parents. If the entirety of society was truly bent on a certain image it wanted everyone to work towards, however, it could be even heavier of a burden to bear.

Biological Criminology - Your Opinion

Do you believe biological criminology is applicable in modern times?

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