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Correlates of criminal behavior

Correlates of criminal behavior

Factors that correlate with crime are those, such as economic deprivation, that demonstrate a relationship with the incidence of criminal behavior. It is crucial to remember that correlations only tell us that there is a relationship between one variable and another they do not tell us what is causing what. For example, there is an association between failing at school and juvenile delinquency but we cannot say that low school achievement necessarily cause delinquency (Dwyer, 2001). It is possible that once an individual becomes involved in delinquent behavior, their school work suffers and grades begin to deteriorate.

Alternatively, there may be a third factor, perhaps the attitude of the family towards school work and offending that causes both of the other factors (Dwyer, 2001). It is important, though, to recognize that a relationship does have a cause and this is what researchers are trying to uncover, but at no time should we jump to superficial conclusions about the exact direction of the cause.

Case Study A: DV a 36-year-old, Single Black Male

DV, a 36-year-old, single Black male was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. During formal interviews, DV was initially uncooperative with the evaluators. He pretended not to understand what was asked of him. He was strongly encouraged to cooperate with the evaluation. After a period of observation and initial psychological testing, it was explained to him that his report of experiencing auditory hallucinations was unlikely to be true (Heilbrun, Marczky & DeMatteo, 2002).

DV was administered psychological testing on three separate occasions. Initial test results clearly demonstrated DV intended to represent himself as mentally ill and confused. After further counseling, he was re-administered two tests, which he appeared to complete in a cooperative fashion. DV’s responses on a structured interview of symptoms of mental illness were consistent with those of someone intending to put on psychotic mental illness (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

DV began smoking marijuana as a teenager and has continued to use it throughout adulthood. Selling illicit drugs eventually became his primary source of income through the years. Prior to his arrest, he used marijuana on a daily basis and drank alcohol much less frequently, primarily on the weekends or when it was available (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

DV has been arrested at least 20 times throughout adolescence and adulthood. He has been incarcerated in state prisons twice, both for felony convictions. The only previous mental health treatment he has received was during his incarceration in a state prison. He had been experiencing nervousness, tremors, and what he referred to as “depression.” This “condition” was reportedly treated with antipsychotic medication for a period of six months. His reports of past mental health symptoms were vague, and he indicated that he has never sought mental health treatment when out of prison (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

Criminal Behavior: Mental Disorder

According to Bartol and Bartol (2011) mental illness is a disorder of disease of the mind that is judged by experts to interfere substantially with a person’s ability to cope with life on a daily basis. It presumably deprives the person of freedom of choice, but it is important to note that there are degrees to this deprivation. The term mental disorder, however, need not imply that a person is sick, to be pitied, or even necessarily less responsible for his or her actions.

Psychological Theory

Psychology is the science of behavior and mental process. Psychological criminology, then, is the science of the behavior and mental process of the person who commits crime. In the psychology of crime, both social and personality influences on criminal behavior are considered, along with the mental processes that mediate that behavior.

It is hard to specify typically the psychological theories of crime. Psychological theories centers on the influence of individual and family factors on offending. Psychological theories usually develop and attempt to explain offending on an ongoing project that’s starts from childhood to adulthood (Bartol & Bartol, 2011).

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Correlates and Developmental Risk factors

The parental and family risk factors led DV to become deviant at a very young age. During a conducted interview, DV stated that he lived at home with his mother, father, and two brothers until the age of eight, when his mother was killed in a car accident. After his mother’s death, he began living with an aunt, who raised him until he left home at the age of 14. He attended school through the eighth grade and was expelled from school after the eighth grade, partly because of his poor attendance and partly because of his involvement in two fights (Heilbrun et al., 2002). He described school as being difficult for him because he never had any family support. After his mother died, nobody really cared whether he went to school. It was the loss of his mother that triggered his criminal behavior.

Is this Person a Criminal?

In summary, DV manifest a personality style and behavior pattern that is characterized by dislike towards authority and violation of social norms and laws. He was diagnosed with malingering (resolved) cannibus abuse and antisocial personality disorder. DV can be held accountable for his actions. He knew that the current adjudication constitutes his third felony conviction, and he knew the sentencing mandates associated with a third felony conviction. Specifically, DV was aware that he could have received a very lengthy sentence for his third conviction and knew his plea carried the probability of a relatively short sentence. He knew that his plea agreement called for his full cooperation in the resolution of his case (Heilbrun et al., 2002). DV was deemed competent to stand trial based on his ability to comprehend what he did and he knew this.

Case Study B: 24-Year-Old John D.

John is a 24-year-old Caucasian male who was convicted of Sexual Battery, which occurred on February 10, 1998, and is awaiting sentencing. John D. was an only child born to unwed parents on February 9, 1975. He grew up in an unstable environment and his father was a drug addict who neglected to care for him. He recalls no memories of his father prior to the age of eight (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

At eight years old, John D. recalled playing with and smelling someone’s feet. He can’t remember exactly what happened at the moment but recall it was really scary. He remembers his father’s hands pulling his knees apart. That was all he can remember about the incident (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

Criminal Behavior: Sex Offender (Sexual Battery)

Sex offenders often commit a variety of crime beyond sexual offenses, although this is more likely to be the case with rapists than the child molesters. There is no single profile that encompasses a majority of sex offenders. The features of their crimes also differ distinctly among offenders, including time and place, the gender and age of the victim, the degree of planning the offense, and the amount of violence used or intended (APA, 2000; Bartol & Bartol, 2011).

Sociological Theory

The sociological approach examines underlying social conditions that may influence criminal behavior by focusing on how social structure and processes contribute to crime. Life course criminology focuses on life tragedies or paths that may lead to lifelong or repeated criminal behavior. The Sociological theory of criminal behavior is the way people look at their environment. Sociologically, a person will be overwhelmed by closeness, the imitation and behavior of those they look up to, as well as their understanding of what is right and what is wrong (Bartol & Bartol, 2011).

People are not born with a predisposition to violence or lack of power; rather they become that way as a result of social experiences. Furthermore, criminal behavior, again like all behavior, is an individual’s way of adapting to his or her environment.

Correlates and Developmental Risk factors

Examples of social risk factors are parental and family risk factors including faulty or inadequate parenting, sibling influences, and child maltreatment or abuse. A wide variety of circumstances can lead to a single-parent home. John D.’s father died when he was nine years old. He is unable to recall any memories of his father prior to age eight. His parents never married but after his father’s death, his mother married a man that told John D. someday he would burn in hell (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

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His mother’s parental styles were inappropriate. John D. loved her because she could be fun to be with, and she was proud of him. At the same time he hated her because of the way she treated him. He described her as very moody, at times she would be nice and at other times she lashed out and smacked him in the face. John D. also stated that he often felt like a “surrogate husband to his mother,” because whenever it was time to kiss her goodnight, she would stick her tongue out (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

John D. spent most of his time living with his maternal grandparents. His grandmother would walk in on him when he was changing his underwear and would always find an excuse to come into the bathroom and wipe him after he was done. He didn’t realize his grandmother’s behavior was inappropriate until later (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

Models are those significant persons in the social environment that provide cues for how to do something (Bartol & Bartol, 2011; Jackson, 2008). For example, a child may learn how to shoot a gun by imitating television or video characters. The child then will rehearse and fine-tunes this behavioral pattern by practicing with toy guns. John D.’s behavioral patterns are the outcome of the models he had in his life.

Is this Person a Criminal?

John D. is responsible for his actions and should be held criminally liable for what he did. He shows no remorse for his victims. He kills his victims and plays with their feet. He has a tendency to act upon his fantasies. He has a high potential for dangerous behavior inflicted against self and others.

Case Study C: 21-Year-Old Jimmy M.

The defendant in this case, Jimmy M., was charged with aggravated murder in the shooting death of a police officer in November of 1997. Jimmy M. has an extensive criminal record and a history consistent with an antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder is not usually considered to be a mitigating factor. In addition to the antisocial personality disorder, Jimmy M. had suffered from a serious head injury, resulting in the request for a neuropsychological evaluation (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

Jimmy M. was born to Darlene M (who was 15 years old when she got pregnant) and Bob Hoover on September 21, 1976. Jimmy M. only saw his father twice, once in fifth or sixth grade and the second time was last year while he was incarcerated. He primarily raised by his foster grandmother, Martha Washington; Ms. Washington was Jimmy M.’s mother’s foster parent. Jimmy M.’s mother was a drug addict and alcoholic who was arrested and spent time in jail and prison before dying of a drug overdose in 1989 (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

On one occasion, when Jimmy M. was eight years old, his mother used him to hide stolen money. Jimmy M. developed significant behavioral problems following his mother’s death. He subsequently had numerous contacts with juvenile authorities and was placed with the Department of Youth Services on several occasions. He encountered numerous conflicts with his grandmother. Although things have not always been stable with his grandmother, Jimmy M. stated that they remain close today (Heilbrun et al., 2002).

Criminal Behavior: Murder (Aggravated Murder)

The term murder is reserved for the “unlawful killing of one human being by another with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied”. “Malice aforethought” refers to premeditation, or the mental state of a person who thinks ahead, plans, and voluntarily causes the death of another, without legal excuse or justification. However, “premeditation” can occur in a very short period of time (even a minute); it does not require weeks of planning (Bartol & Bartol, 2011).

Biological Theory

Historically, neurological impairment, whether by heredity, injury, or disease, has been thought to coincide with criminal behavior. For example, head injury and violent behavior are found to coexist in criminals at a higher than average rate. Though a direct link cannot be determined between the two, researchers observe that neurological problems, in combination with environmental and social risk factors, interact to influence criminal behavior (APA, 2000; Bartol & Bartol, 2011; Raine, 2002).

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Biological theories have a misunderstanding stereotype that if a person is a criminal then that person was born a criminal. Biological theories are only one interpretation of criminality (Rafter, 2008). Biology has an effect on our social and emotional lives that would be categorized as biological influences on our behavior. Some examples would be menstruation affects some women more than others, but many have more mood swings during, and just before, menstruation. Pregnancy also affects hormones and therefore emotions. In many cases, a women seems calmer than usual when pregnant, not reacting as she normally would to the stresses of work and life. Hormones in pregnancy have a lot of functions, including effects on mood and puberty is another example with which everyone is familiar. During the transition from childhood into a sexual world, teenagers go through some profound emotional and behavioral changes usually suffered along with them by their parents, other relatives, and teachers (Raine, 2002). Eventually they mature and become adults; but in the years of puberty, the change in outlook and disturbance of behavior can be profound. But again, the environmental influences are crucial in how puberty, a biological change, is realized.

Correlates and Developmental Risk factors

Jimmy M.’s mother was 15 when she was pregnant and 16 when he was born. Given her own drug, alcohol, and legal problems she was clearly unable to provide adequate parenting. His foster grandmother was, at best, inconsistent in her ability to provide for Jimmy M. and the other children within her care, who included Jimmy M.’s mother. Following his mother’s death, Jimmy M.’s behavior showed clear signs of deterioration, and he joined the local gang (Heilbrun et al., 2002). As a result of Jimmy M.’s early childhood experiences, he has bonded to no one, has little capacity for empathy, and has shut off his emotions from the rest of the world.

Is this Person a Criminal?

Therefore, Jimmy M. is responsible for his actions and should be held criminally liable for what he did. However, based on his past, Jimmy M. should undergo treatment to eliminate harm to him and to others. Jimmy M. demonstrated a capacity of attachment. Once his mother passed he began to seek support by associating with the local gang. There is a possibility that through treatment and rehabilitation Jimmy M. can do better for himself.


According to Bartol and Bartol (2011) Crime, like all behavior, is complex and varied, and there are no simple answers regarding its causes. This is hardly surprising considering the great variety of crimes and offenders. Different theories put the emphasis on different causal factors: biology, personality, unconscious conflict, social learning, to name but a few. It is still by no means clear whether or not biological factors are implicated in antisocial behavior but, even if they are, most researchers acknowledge that the environment in which children are reared can either stimulate or inhibit any inborn tendency is criminality.

The type of environment most conducive to delinquency is one of poverty, deprivation, a stressful family life and lack of educational opportunities. These factors are inextricably inter-related and the more of these that a child endures, the greater the likelihood of them committing criminal acts. Nevertheless, many individuals exposed to all of these risk factors do not embrace a life of crime. Perhaps we need to take a more careful look at protective factors such as personal disposition, loving relationships, social support systems and, indeed, gender, in order to more successfully address the problem of crime.


  • American Psychological Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of MentalDisorders (DSM-IV-TR) (4th ed., vol. Text Revision). Arlington, VA: Author.
  • Bartol, C .R. & Bartol, A. M. (2011). Criminal behavior: A psychosocial approach (9th ed.).
  • Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • Dwyer, D. (2001). Angles on criminal psychology. United Kingdom: Nelson Thornes, Ltd.
  • Heilbrun, K., Marczyk, G. R., & DeMatteo, D. (2002). Forensic mental health assessment: Acasebook. New York: Oxford Press.
  • Jackson, R. (Ed.). (2008). Learning forensic assessment. New York: Routledge.

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