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Biosocial Factors and Crime

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posted on May, 26 2013 @ 03:58 PM
In Adriane Raines new book "The Anatomy of Violence", he argues that recidivistic crime is a clinical disorder, that should be treated instead of punished.

First of all, besides his attempt to argue a way the reality of human free will, this is a very good book and I highly recommend it. I wouldn't go so far as he does to say that free will doesn't exist, but I would agree with him that free will exists along a continuum. Some people have more of it while others have less. Here's some examples to prove this point.

Herbert Weinstein, a 65-year-old ad executive, who had no prior history of criminal offense,strangled to death his newly wed wife Barbara; in an effort to make the murder look like a suicide, he threw her body out the window of their 12th-floor apartment on East 72nd Street in Manhattan, landing on the sidewalk below. Something about this crime, Mr. Weinstein and his behavior didn't seem right. Eventually, Mr. Weinstein had an MRI scan done, which showed a large cyst growing n his arachnoid membrane, pushing up against his parietal-temporal junction - an area of the brain where moral decision making is made. Based on this evidence, the prosecution reduced the charge from 1st degree murder to manslaughter, serving 7 instead of 25 years for the murder of his wife.

Michael Oft was an average guy. At age 33 he got married to a woman who had a 5 year old daughter. At around 40 years old, Mr. Oft started acting funny. In an argument with his wife Anne, he pulled some hair out of her head. On his free time, he started collecting child pornography, and with his step daughter - whom up till then he had a close and affectionate relationship with - he began touching her in inappropriate places. Eventually, the step daughter told her therapist, who told her mother, who notified the authorities. Mr. Oft was given the option of jail or a treatment program, and of course, choose the treatment program. But while undergoing treatment, Mr. Oft began harassing the nurses and making inappropriate overtures. It got so out of control that Mr. Oft was placed in an institution. On one occasion, while harassing a nurse, he pissed himself. The head neurologist who was there thought it strange that after Mr. Oft peed himself, he seemed to show no sign of embarrassment. It was as if there was no connection between his thoughts and his emotions. He thought this strange, so he scheduled a PET scan to see what was going on with his brain. It turns out that Mr. Oft has a tumor growing in his frontal lobe. Once, the tumor was removed, the strange behavior, compulsions and lusts, were gone. Mr. Oft returned to normal. Michael was aghast at what he had done to his step daughter. He made up with his wife Anne and moved back in. But 2 years later, Michael began collecting child porn again. Anne found it, notified his doctor, and they had another PET scan done. The tumor had grown back.

These two cases are unique in that a tumor or cyst biased the mind towards aberrant behavior. Mr. Oft admitted that he knew that what he was doing was wrong. At a cognitive level, he understood. But at an affective level, he didn't feel like it really mattered what he did.

Adrian Raine documents many risk factors, both biological and environment, which bias the individual towards engaging in criminal or violent activity. For example, psychopaths apparently have 11% less cortical volume than normal people. Their resting heart rates are 10 beats less than on average - indicating low sympathetic nervous system activity. Deformations in the brain have have been found in the amygdala (too small) striatum - the reward center (too large), corpus collasum (longer and thinner than on average). Reduced Pre-frontal activity, especially in the orbitofrontal, ventralmedial and dorsolateral cortices. These are just some of the possible biological determinants that Raine presents. Head injuries at young ages could sufficiently damage pre-frontal functioning, which could bias the brain towards violence. Basically, all of these states could be reduced to "under-stimulation". An under-stimulated sympathetic nervous system requires greater than normal stimulation. For psychopaths, this means engaging in taboo activities, crime, violence, rape, torture, etc.

One more case to cement this point.Donto Page was born in 1977 in a Washington DC slum to a 16 year old prostitute mother and an absent mentally ill father. When she gave birth to him, she was dealing with gonorrhea. Before Donto reached the age of 2 years old, he had suffered three serious head injuries: his mother threw him out the car window (most likely to kill him) when he was 6 months old; he got punches to the face when he was one for crying. When he was brought to the emergency room, doctors didn't flag him for domestic abuse. They just dealt with his injuries and sent him going. At age 10, Donta was raped by a next door neighbor. He was brought to the hospital, treated for rectal and internal bleeding, and discharged. Again, amazingly, no questions asked, no inquiries made. Donta was never loved, he was neglected by his mother, malnourished, and due to chronic hunger, often ate paint chips - which back then were crammed with neurotoxic lead. While at school, donta constantly got into trouble. Again, the teachers did nothing in particular to flag him, to get him help.

Now, this deadly combination of factors made Donta into a bonafide candidate for violent criminal activity. Donta didn't have to rape and kill Peyton Tuthill. But he did. The question is, how should we judge his behavior? PET and MRI scans showed seriously impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex. As a baby, Dontas mother constantly shook him to get him to stop crying. Donta said, after the crime, that he had wanted help, that for 8 years he was seeking help, but nobody listened. Nobody listened until he hurt someone.

Donta Page had free will, but his free was severely constrained by many biological and environmental factors. How should someone like Page be tried? How should Herbert Weinstein or Michael Oft? Weinstein has a cyst inhibiting proper functioning in a part of the brain associated with moral decision making. Michael Oft has a tumor that biased his mind to act on thoughts which he otherwise would have felt disgust towards.

As someone who believes in free will, I look at these particular cases as unique. I disagree with Adrian Raines over-simplification that free will doesn't exist, and that these criminal should be treated solely in clinical terms. Undoubtedly, it's hard to deny the presence of biological factors that compromise normal thinking. If this can be proven in a case, it should be factored in to the final verdict. They were ill, and unbeknownst to them, they were engaging in activity which society deems abhorrent.

As said in the beginning of this thread, free will lies on a continuum. In a future where neurocriminology will become relevant to court cases, it will be imperative that we hold this continuum in the front of our minds. Not all people are Donta Pages or Herbert Weinsteins. Not all subtle brain abnormalities or differences warrant the same level of consideration as a tumor or cyst. The brain is ineluctably plastic. A simple choice to think this thought will leave its imprint on our brains. Yes, it's hard to ultimately disentangle cause from effect, but we shouldn't jump to the other side, to the extreme, and assume that free will doesn't exist. We all recognize it. Yes, it can be beclouded and biased by feeling this way or that way. But the final choice - the imprimatur - is US. It is important that we take it easy on people who had more of a bias, whether from brain abnormality or a tumor growth. But we shouldn't forget the importance of personal responsibility. Many people on the verge of making a bad decision, have stopped themselves, and via that one decision, have carved out a chain of events that might not have been had he chosen differently.
edit on 26-5-2013 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)


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