For many years, psychologists have debated on just how big a factor mental health is in the criminal mind. After all, some of the world’s master criminals aren’t clinically insane and have little in terms of mental disorders. Certainly, there is an abundance of mental health problems in criminals whose crimes are subjected to sensationalism by the media, but there are others.
There are criminals out there that are not insane and can easily pass even the most scrutinizing examinations without even the slightest indication of any known or documented mental health disorder. Also, insanity does not automatically make one a criminal and sanity does not automatically make one an innocent bystander. So, with that in mind, what exactly is the relationship between psychology and crime?
The first concern in unraveling this link is whether or not there is such a thing as a “born criminal.” Is there a combination of genetics and hereditary mental health problems that automatically labels a person as a criminal for life? The number of people who believe in this is starting to decrease rapidly, particularly in the light of recent arguments. Even in families with a long history of mental illness, criminal behavior is not a common trait of the offspring. Hereditary mental health disorders may manifest, but they do not automatically become triggers for criminal behavior. In the cases where they do, it is found that the environment they grew up in also played a large role in the transition. However, like any other aspect or facet of the complex human psyche, it would be a mistake to assume environment alone plays a major role.
There is no arguing that the nature of one’s environment and influences growing up play a role in this argument. However, there is still debate over whether it is a larger factor than psychology. There is an old study into a New York family known as the Jukes (a false name) that chronicles observations into what drove such a large extended family to criminal behavior. The study systematically removed family members that were not exposed to the primary branch of the family. Certain other factors were also used to remove even more members. Finally, when the core of the family had been determined, the study was conducted and returned interesting results. Of the remaining 709 members, a startling 180 of them had grown up as criminals in some way, shape, or form. Further study into the details show that the 180 were in constant contact with family members who were known criminals, though not necessarily close blood relations.
There is little arguing against the adage that criminals are made, not born. However, the debate still rages as to how exactly criminals are made. Studies have been conducted to prove a relationship between genetics and crime, but there is no substantial proof that a “criminal gene” exists. A connection between mental illness and criminal behavior has also been suggested, but the fact that not everyone who’s crazy is a criminal makes the hypothesis suspect. For the time being, the debate will continue, with no clear answer in sight. Ultimately, all of the aforementioned factors could play an integral role in turning a person into a criminal.