When kids choose a profession, they tend to follow in their parents’ footsteps: Doctors’ children often become doctors, lawyers produce lawyers, and plumbers beget plumbers. So, after 15 years of covering crime and criminal justice for The New York Times, I was fascinated by studies — conducted in cities across the United States and in London, England, with near-identical results — showing that crime, too, can run in families. In the most famous study, researchers followed 411 boys from South London from 1961 to 2001 and found that half of the convicted kids were accounted for by 6 percent of all families; two-thirds of them came from 10 percent of the families.
This intergenerational transmission of violence was first documented in the 1940s when a husband-and-wife team at Harvard Law School found that two-thirds of boys in the Boston area sent by a court to a reformatory had a father who had been arrested; 45 percent also had a mother who had been arrested. And, in 2007, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that half of the roughly 800,000 parents behind bars have a close relative who has previously been incarcerated.
Yet, despite the abundance of evidence showing the role of family in crime, criminologists and policymakers have largely neglected this factor — as the University of Maryland criminologist John Laub told me, it’s because any suggestion of a possible biological or genetic basis for crime could be misconstrued as racism. Instead, researchers have looked at other well-known risk causes like poverty, deviant peers at school, drugs, and gangs. Of course, these are real issues. But, a child’s life begins at home with the family even before the neighbourhood, friends, or classmates can lead them astray.
The Bogles had a story to tell about what happens in a criminal family. “What you are raised with, you grow to become,” says Tracey Bogle, who served a 16-year prison sentence for kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, car theft, and sexual assault. “There is no escape from our criminal contagion.”
While Tracey’s father, Rooster, was the most malevolent member of the bunch, the family’s history of criminality stretches back to 1920, when Rooster’s mother and father made and sold moonshine during Prohibition. Since then, members of the family have committed crimes including burglaries, armed robberies, kidnapping, and murder.
When you come to realize the importance of family in crime, the $182-billion-a-year U.S. criminal-justice system seems fundamentally misguided. Mass incarceration has created a giant churn: The more people we lock up now, the more people we will have to lock up in the future. As Judge Albin Norblad, who presided over many of the Bogles criminal trials in Oregon, said, “When the courts try to deal with families like the Bogles, we always lose.” Norblad, a law-and-order Republican not averse to dishing out lengthy sentences, had almost given up sentencing any of the Bogles to long prison terms as a waste of taxpayer money. “We need another solution,” he told me, “something to separate Bogle family members so they will not keep reinfecting themselves.”
Norblad, who died in 2014, did not know how to do that. But in recent years, criminologists are starting to figure it out—paving the way for possible solutions that are more humane and cost-effective than prison.
The stunning transmission of criminality from parents to kids doesn’t mean that some families are cursed to an eternity of crime: There’s no immutable “crime gene” that’s passed down from generation to generation. Indeed, one Bogle happily stopped the cycle, earning all A’s in high school, graduating from college in 2016, and landing a job as a medical-records technician. Ashley, a granddaughter of Rooster, had it set in her mind that the Bogle criminal contagion would not apply to her. Still, Ashley can’t completely escape from her family: Her daily commute to work takes her directly past the Oregon State Correctional Institution, where her grandfather and so many other Bogles served, and continue to serve, their prison sentences.
This is a very interesting topic. Are who we are, genetic or environmental?
Since the author recognizes that there is not a criminal gene, then we need to look at the environment. Imagine a child, a boy in this case, living in a village in the mountains of Mexico. He is not required to go to school, so he hangs with family and friends. His family has no choice but to grow crops or mix chemicals. This is their school. There is nothing else. The family gets high, due to their station, blowing smoke into the infant and their dogs.
This is intermixed with cock fighting, rodeos and mui machismo. The parents have grown the next generation of drug producers. Environment gets my vote, not who you are, but what you know and think to be true.