Memorandum on Cycles of Crime
This case is about a man, let us call him Jim, who was arrested for felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute some years ago. Jim had been selling pot since he was a middle schooler, he came from a poor, abusive, single-parent home, never met his father, had been committing other crimes in various degrees of severity (the majority uncaught) for most of his life, and did not graduate from high school, let alone get any higher education. Once Jim and his girlfriend conceived their first child, Jim tried to attain a steady and legal source of income but, of course, was unable to because he was a felon. He was able to work as a bouncer on the weekends and to do some menial labor jobs for under-the-table pay, but these jobs can not provide for a family quite like selling a great deal of pot can. Also, because of this line of work and the fact that they are unmarried, their family is able to have free healthcare, childcare and food for their children while being able to afford expensive electronics, jewelry, and a remodel. This may be a risky way to live, (though less so now due to the recent ‘legalization’ of marijuana possession) and in the eyes of some: morally askew, but the reasons why they live this way must be apparent.
This specific cycle of deviance and law-breaking can be assessed from several perspectives, the first that I would like to explore is Laub and Sampson’s Age-Graded Theory: this case is applicable to this perspective in that it is clear Jim’s adolescent delinquency was due at least in a large part to his inability to bond with those in his immediate social group and ultimately with his society at large. His persistence in the world of crime has to do with his inability to procure stability via a job or career. I initially assumed that his desistance from more violent and severe forms of crime had to do with his stability found in his female partner, however, upon further research into Laub and Sampson’s work I found that apparently there is no link between an attachment to a woman and desistance of violence or being capable of self-control. From the Attachment Theory: Jim’s insecure attachment to his primary caretaker (his mother) as a child was a product of his mother’s inability to care for him physically or emotionally, and instead was distant except when she was harming him. This pattern of behavior combined with the absence of the other parent from his life make this case very applicable to the Attachment Theory of crime. From The Life Course Perspective I would like to focus on the fourth principle, human agency: “Agency is based on the assumption that humans are not passive recipients of a predetermined life course but make decisions that determine the shape of their lives.” (2) That Jim does not harm his children or his partner, or engage in violent and more severe crime anymore is, in my view, testament to this principle. The element of choice, and the ability to make choices, is extremely important in identifying people who are criminals purely by choice, and those who are criminals by happenstance.
Whether an individual is destined for crime due to social circumstance, or whether someone chooses to deviate from social norms and laws for reasons other than necessity I think is an important moral or philosophical issue but also helps us in the field of understanding and preventing crime in that: if we are able to understand what sorts of people are capable of choosing the ‘hard path’ as apposed to the path of least resistance maybe we can find ways to offer the right opportunities to those people once they are in the legal system (helping them before, at this point in our society is even more impossible than helping them once they are already in legal trouble).
The fact that our society is currently set up so that, in most cases, most felons cannot gain dependable, legal, and well-paying jobs (4) means that these (predominantly male) offenders are forced to depend largely upon crime to support themselves and/or their families. This seems like either an incredible oversight or a horrific example of social negligence. If a young man is convicted of a felony, and wants to give up on crime because the next time he gets caught it means a huge chunk of jail time, but he cannot break the cycle because he is unemployable because of his record, does that not mean that our system is contributing to these cycles of crime? I believe the answer to that is yes. I think that the next logical, and important question is: if this is clearly happening, what is the next step for solving this obvious social problem?
My initial thoughts on working on the problem of cycles of crime, which appear to be the fault of our legal system: 1) the inability to (and the clear moral problems with) control(ling) who has children, and how those children are raised, is going to have to be a topic of debate someday in this world due to our massive populations and the issues we have with crime. 2) The fact that people who have murdered, raped, abused, beat-up, threatened, robbed, mugged or otherwise harmed another are seen as equal to an individual who has sold (or intended to sell) a green plant that is also prescribed to cancer patients, should be seen as a huge fallacy. 3) Education and opportunity are vital in allowing and helping children, and the people they become to chose the ‘hard path’ instead of taking the easier and more exciting one, and we need to find ways to help more programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone (5) thrive and spread. 4) The illegality of certain activities or things that makes no sense from a legal or common sense perspective must be re-evaluated and allowed to be changed; the illegality of prostitution anddrugs is more dangerous and costly than if they were legalized, taxed, and controlled.
It may be possible that someday it is not the norm for young black men, who grow up in the ghetto to be faced with a life of abuse and crime, or a young woman whose social situation leads her to get pregnant and drop out of high school, etc. etc. and if there are people that actually have a desire to make that change a reality, to stop these cycles of crime, these discussions must become more important and more popular.
(1) Katz, Rebecca S. 1999. “Building the Foundation for a Side-by-Side Explanatory Model: A General Theory of Crime, the Age-Graded Life-Course Theory, and Attachment Theory.” Western Criminology Review 1(2). [Online]. Available: http://wcr.sonoma.edu/v1n2/katz.html.