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- Sociology and Modern Social Problems - 40/45 -

A question may here be raised whether it is possible to reduce all the causes of crime to causes in the social environment--that is, all subjective causes to objective. Many writers have contended that this is possible, but we shall see that there are causes in heredity and causes in psychological conditions, to say nothing of some possible free will in individuals, which cannot be derived from social conditions and which would produce crime quite independent of objective social conditions, unless these subjective factors were also controlled. There is no reason to believe that a perfectly just social organization which did not attempt to control heredity and the moral character of individuals would succeed in eliminating crime. On the contrary, biological variation alone arising from influences independent of the environment would produce a certain amount of crime. Crime, in other words, is, to a certain extent, like pauperism, an expression of the elimination of the inferior variants in society, and will continue to exist as long as we allow the process of evolution by natural selection to go on.

Nevertheless, it is true in a certain sense, as Lacassagne says, that "every society has the criminals it deserves;" that is, every society could, by taking proper means, practically eliminate crime and the criminal class. This would have to be done, however, by something more radical than a mere reorganization of human society in an industrial way. Three things are necessary for society practically to eliminate crime: first, the correction of defects in social conditions, particularly of economic evils in society; second, the proper control of physical heredity by a rational system of eugenics; third, the proper education and training of every child for social life from infancy up.

_The Subjective Causes of Crime._ In order to see all that is involved in the above program let us study somewhat the subjective causes of crime. These may be divided into biological and psychological. Among the biological causes of crime, and one which certainly cannot be reduced to the environment, is sex. As we have already seen, crime is a social phenomenon which is chiefly confined to the male sex. In 1904, for example, 94.5 per cent of the prison population in the United States were males, and in the statistics of convictions it is estimated that ninety-one men are convicted for every nine women. The statistics for all civilized countries show practically the same conditions, although in most European countries the proportion of female prisoners is somewhat higher, owing, undoubtedly, to certain influences in the social environment.

Another subjective factor in crime, which again cannot be reduced to environment, is age. Practically all crime falls in the active period of life, and the bulk of it between the ages of twenty-one and forty years. The average of men in our state penitentiaries is frequently not above twenty-seven or twenty-eight years.

Other subjective biological conditions that cause crime may be summed up under the word "degeneracy." These abnormal conditions, however, we shall examine later.

Among the psychological conditions of the individual that give rise to crime the most common are habits, aims, and ideals. Of peculiar interest among personal habits that have an influence upon crime is intemperance, and this is such an important cause of crime that we must stop to examine it in some detail. It is often said that 95 per cent of the crime of our country results from this cause alone. The Committee of Fifty, however, investigated the cases of 13,402 convicts with reference to this matter, and found that intemperance was a cause of crime in the cases of 49.95 per cent. It was a chief cause of crime, however, only in the cases of 31.18 per cent. In the remaining cases the intemperance was that of ancestors or associates. Other investigators have found that intemperance figures as a cause of crime in from 60 to 80 per cent of the cases, but these investigations were not so full as that of the Committee of Fifty, and it is safer to conclude, for the present at least, that intemperance figures as a cause in about fifty per cent in the cases of serious crime. The wonder is that any one cause could figure in so many cases when there are so many varied influences in society depressing men. Of course intemperance can, as has already been said, in large part be ascribed to the influence of external stimuli in the environment, but it has also causes in the biological and psychological make-up of certain individuals that cannot be easily reduced to environmental factors.

_Influence of Physical Degeneracy upon Crime_. By degeneracy we mean, to use Morel's definition, "a morbid deviation from the normal type." That is, degeneracy is such an alteration of organic structures and functions that the organism becomes incapable of adapting itself to more or less complex conditions. Ordinary forms of degeneracy that are well recognized are feeble-mindedness, chronic insanity, chronic epilepsy, congenital deaf-mutism, habitual pauperism, and the like. Now there can be no doubt that criminality in some of its forms is related to these functional forms of degeneracy. Even ordinary people have noticed its similarity to insanity, while Lombroso has traced an elaborate parallel between criminality and epilepsy. Without accepting extreme views, it may be claimed that criminality is, in some cases, a form of biological degeneracy for the following reasons:

(1) The investigations of criminal anthropologists have established the fact that criminals as a class present a much larger number of structural and functional abnormalities than does the average man. The prisoners in our state prisons, for example, with few exceptions, could not measure up to the requirements laid down by the United States Army authorities for the enlistment of soldiers.

(2) Investigations, like that of the Jukes family by Dr. Dugdale, have established the fact that criminals, paupers, imbeciles, drunkards, prostitutes, and other degenerates frequently spring from the same family stock. A very large percentage of the prisoners in our prisons have come from more or less degenerate family stocks.

(3) Criminals more often show other forms of degeneracy than criminality than does the average population; that is, criminals often belong to one of the well-recognized degenerate classes, such as imbeciles, epileptics, and insane.

These three arguments may be considered to be conclusive proof that criminality is in some cases a manifestation of physiological degeneracy; but they do not show that the bulk of criminals come from physiologically degenerate stocks. On the contrary it is highly probable that the marks of physiological degeneracy are not to be seen in from more than 25 to 30 per cent of our criminal class. These marks of degeneracy are of course especially common among the instinctive or born criminals, and to some extent they are found among the habitual criminals also.

_The Influence of Heredity on Crime_. A word must be said about the influence of heredity on crime. The student will remember that, according to the modern theory of heredity, acquired characters, or characteristics, are not transmissible. Accordingly, when we find crime running in a family for generations, as in the Jukes or Zero families, we must assume either that the criminal tendency is transmitted by the social environment or that it is due to some congenital variation in some ancestor. In other words, if a person is a criminal by hereditary defect, if the criminal tendency is born in him, as it is in the instinctive criminal, he will transmit the tendency toward crime to his offspring; but if a normal person becomes a criminal by acquired habit he will transmit no tendency toward crime to his children, although his children may of course acquire the tendency from their social environment.

This is not saying, however, that in such cases as habitual drunkenness and habitual vice an impaired constitution may not be transmitted to offspring. But this, strictly speaking, is not the transmission of any specific acquired characteristic, but only a general transmission of impaired vitality which may show itself in crime and in various forms of degeneracy. The germ cells are of course a part of the body, and anything that profoundly impairs the nutrition of the body generally, such as alcoholism and constitutional diseases, would also impair the nutrition of the germ cells, and result in a weakened constitution in offspring.

_Lombroso's Theory of Crime_. Lombroso, and the Italian school of criminologists generally, attribute crime chiefly to atavism, that is, reversion to primitive types. They claim that the criminal in modern society is merely a biological reversion to the savage type of man; that the criminal constitutes therefore a distinct "anthropological variety"; and that there is a marked "criminal type" which can be made out even before a person has committed a crime. They say further that the criminal type is marked physically by having five or more of the stigmata of degeneration, and that it is marked mentally by having the characteristics of the savage or nature man. We cannot stop to criticize in full this completely biological theory of crime which is offered by Lombroso and his followers. Undoubtedly crime has biological roots, and these we have attempted to point out in discussing the influence of degeneracy upon crime. But to claim that the criminal constitutes a well-marked "anthropological variety" of the human species, as Lombroso argues, is to set up a claim for which there is no foundation. What Lombroso thinks are the marks of the criminal are simply the marks belonging to the degenerate classes in general. That is, they are found among the insane and feeble-minded, for example, as well as in some classes of criminals. There is then no criminal type which clearly separates the criminal from other classes of degenerates, and which will mark a man out as belonging to the criminal class even before he has committed a crime. Lombroso and some of his school have altogether overemphasized the physical and anatomical side of the study of the criminal, and slighted the sociological side of such study. Moreover, Lombroso's statements, which he makes in very general terms, apply, if they apply at all, not to criminals as a class, but only to instinctive criminals, as indeed he himself has acknowledged.

Remedies for Crime.--The remedies for crime are dealt with by the subsidiary science of penology, which may be regarded as a branch of scientific philanthropy. We can only direct the student's attention here to the vast literature on the subject and remark that the cure for crime consists not in some social panacea or in social revolution, but in dealing with the causes of crime so as to prevent the existence of the criminal class. In a general way, we have already indicated in discussing the remedies for poverty and pauperism what the steps must be to eradicate crime. In order practically to wipe out crime in society, as we have already said, three things are necessary. First, every individual must have a good birth; that is, heredity must be controlled so that only those who are physically and mentally sound are allowed to marry and reproduce. The difficulties of doing this we have already noted. Second, every individual must have a good training, both at home and at school, so as to adjust him properly to the social life. His education must fit him to take his place among other men, make him able to take care of himself, and to help others; and make him, in every possible way, acquainted with the social inheritance of the race. Last but not least, just social conditions must be provided. Everything in the social environment must be carefully looked after in order to insure the best development of the individual and to prevent his environment from being in any way a drawback to him.

These things, if it were possible to bring them about, would wipe out crime, or, at least, minimize it to the lowest terms. Of course, this cannot be done in a generation, perhaps not in many generations, but it is evident that the problem of crime is in no way an insoluble problem

Sociology and Modern Social Problems - 40/45

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