What is the life of a criminal like

Fate unknown - Are you born a criminal?

His life began with a pair of stolen soccer shoes and culminated in threatened custody. The SRF podcast about Edi, a notorious criminal looking for his place in society, raises fundamental questions. What makes a person a criminal? Is this predetermined?

We asked these difficult questions to a neuropsychologist, a criminologist, a forensic psychiatrist, and a lawyer. First of all, they all vehemently decline when they are confronted with the claim that one is already born a criminal.

On the trail of the criminal gene

This idea, which the Nazis were still intensely pursuing, was outdated and yesterday's news. It is true that there have been researchers in the recent past who have been on the trail of the criminal gene or who have looked for commonalities in the brain structure of inmates. But it cannot be said that certain biological characteristics certainly lead to someone breaking the law.

Neuropsychologist Thomas Elbert emphasizes that under certain circumstances anyone can become a criminal.

It is true that there is genetic makeup that makes it more likely that someone will become asocial, cross borders and thus commit crimes, but it is always about very low probabilities.

The influence of the environment is much greater than the influence of genetics.
Author: Thomas ElbertNeuropsychologist

When it comes to the measurability of biological factors, the question arises of what one would like to do with any information that someone has a high risk of committing a criminal offense again. In his opinion, society should lead the ethical discussion: "What do we want to know about people?"

Statistically not born a criminal

In the opinion of the experts questioned, only very few exceptional cases are born to be criminals - people who are born with a brain defect, for example. Statistically speaking, you are not born a criminal, emphasizes the criminologist Henriette Haas.

A look at the statistics also shows that most offenders are young and male. Most of the convicts are between the ages of 20-22. After that, the criminal behavior decreases, the criminals calm down. Haas explains this with the fact that, on the one hand, testosterone is falling. On the other hand, the perpetrators usually noticed after the first legal consequences that their lifestyle was not worthwhile.

Haas explains that science divides criminals into three broad categories.

  • Non-perpetratorthat never conflict with the law
  • Casual offenderwho commit a crime once or a few times out of curiosity, group dynamics or distress
  • Intense offenderwho repeatedly commit criminal offenses and usually also commit different types of criminal offenses.
Intensive offenders want quick profits, want to take shortcuts in life.
Author: Henriette Haas forensic psychologist and criminologist

Intensive offenders are often already suspicious in childhood and they often have a distorted picture of reality, believing that one can get rich within six months.

According to the criminologist and professor of forensic psychology, whether someone becomes a criminal depends on a complex combination of various factors. This combination is only recognizable in retrospect, it warns against prejudice.

Indeed, unpredictable

Josef Sachs also emphasizes that prognoses are not possible. The forensic psychiatrist prepares expert reports for courts and treats criminals. Looking back, one always thinks that one could have foreseen an act, but that this is not possible.

For Sachs, certain abilities that someone brings with them from birth are important risk factors, for example impulsiveness, willingness to take risks or a lack of empathy. However, these properties could also be used for positive things.

An impulsive, irritable person can become a top athlete or manager instead of a criminal.
Author: Josef SachsForensic psychiatrist

In addition to genetic predispositions, early childhood experiences also play a major role, according to Sachs. Relationships play a major role, or traumas such as neglect. There are also other environmental influences.

But what are the alarm signals for a child? What are the first signs that point to a later career as a criminal? The best prognosticators are kindergarten teachers, says Sachs. Children who behave conspicuously early on, who steal, run away or smoke repeatedly, who, in short, show behavior that is otherwise only seen in puberty, are more at risk, according to Sachs.

The state also has responsibility

Joachim Stucki has years of experience with juvenile offenders. The 79-year-old youth lawyer was in Winterthur for 33 years. He shares Sachs' assessment that the early relationship environment is crucial.

The state also has a great responsibility for young repeat offenders. Depending on the measure, this could confirm an undesirable development or lead to a young person finding himself again and no longer breaking the law. The youth criminal authorities in Switzerland could exert a lot of influence, but of course there are also hopeless cases.

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