By Dr. Franz Browne

What is criminal behaviour?

People who engage in criminal behaviour not only break the law of the land, but also act in a way which is considered unacceptable to society in general.

Criminal behaviour has been described in various terms in an attempt to classify, and so explain it. These include: Moral insanity, psychopathic personality, sociopathy, and antisocial personality disorder.

However, most experts find these terms unsatisfactory as they all imply that criminal behaviour is a form of psychiatric disorder.

In fact, most criminals do not have a mental condition which causes them to break the law nor is criminal behaviour in itself regarded as a disease, although some people with psychiatric problems may be led into behaviour which society deems criminal.

For example, theft is usually considered a criminal act, but, in cases of kleptomania (a disorder in which suffers can not resist an impulse to steal) the courts do not take this view and are more likely to impose a non-prison sentence (such as probation) which also includes psychiatric help.

What causes criminal behaviour?

The causes of criminal behaviour are not fully known, but a major factor is believed to be the nature of early childhood conditions (the formation of behaviour patterns as a result of learning, parental example and general environmental factors).

As a rule, children who have always received love and respect, who have been made to feel secure in their affection of their parents, and who have been trained in patterns of conduct, acceptance to society (such as honesty, respect for the rights and property of others, discipline, patience and tolerenced are less likely to become habitual criminals.

However, those who have been neglected physically and emotionally, who have been abused, or who have never been guided in acceptable conduct, may be forced to fend for themselves alone, and to seek satisfaction in the only ways that seem open to them. Such children often show early criminal behaviour and are at risk of starting a life of crime.

There is little proof that criminal behaviour has genetic basis. This theory was based on the fact that certain families seemed to produce generations of criminals. Some studies involving separated twins even seemed to support this idea, although the evidence was unconvincing. However, it is recognised that environmental influences (such as poverty) can also operate on one generation after another.

How can criminal behaviour be altered?

A pattern of criminal behaviour may be established early in life and is usually easy to recognize. For example, if young children begin shoplifting, or vandalizing property, they will eventually be detected by parents, teachers, neighbours or police.

It is important to determine whether the child is engaging in criminal behaviour for its own sake, or whether this is an attempt to get attention because the child is unhappy, either at school or at home. If the latter is the case, criminal behaviour will cease when the child has been able to resolve the underlying problem.

If not, and when reprimands and pinishment have no effect, it is likely the child will eventually appear at a juvenile court and be subject to rehabilitation schemes.

Fortunately, for many, the peak of criminality is reached in late adolescence, after which other influences (such as personal relationships or employment) may encourage more acceptable codes of behaviour.

Those who continue to break the law, either for personal gain or for excitement (such as cricket and football hooligans) may seek like-minded colleagues. They will often encourage each other to increasingly more frequent (or more serious) acts of criminality. Discouraging such liaisons, if possible, can help reverse the down ward spiral towards habitual criminal behaviour.

Some offenders will be put off crime by the custodial sentences they receive. Others will continue to see crime as a way of life, for which the risk of getting caught is, in effect, an occupational hazard.

A prison sentence on its own is seldom effective in altering criminal behaviour. Worse association with habitual criminals may even reinforce antisocial tendencies that had not been firmly entrenched. More successful has been the formation of self-help groups, consisting of small numbers of people prepared to acknowledge that they have a problem and who are willing to talk about their difficulties.

In general, treatment designed to correct antisocial behaviour is aimed at providing adults with the kind of positive conditioning over personal relationships that they failed to get as children.

Special communities have been established to try to correct such deficiencies. In these young adults exhibiting criminal behaviour can often be rehabilitated by a process of analysis followed by social therapy in a stable, supportive and disciplined environment.

Those participating have to share decisions and, at group meetings, discuss antisocial behaviour and its consequences. Some of the results of these programmes have been very encouraging.

Advice on criminal behaviour in children: Many children go through a phase of petty pilfering such as stealing loose change from a handbag or coat pocket.

This does not indicate an inherently criminal nature, nor that the parents have failed, but it is important to sit down with the child and explain, in a calm relaxed manner, why such actions are wrong.

If possible, both parents should be present, to stress the importance of the message, but it should not be done in front of others, such as brothers or sisters, or the child may feel isolated or victimized.

With more serious crimes such as shop lifting, parents may need to look for an underlying cause, for example, by asking teachers if a problem at school, such as bullying, may be to blame. Some GPs are trained in family therapy techniques and may be able to provide counseling themselves. Or they may offer referral to a local child and family psychiatry department.

I conclude with a verse; Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

How do you know the way? Our world offers many philosophies on which to base decisions, but Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. John 14:6. Thank you Jesus, for being our saviour and redeemer. Amen.

For further information, treatment and training in massage therapy, do not hesitate to contact Nevis Holistic Massage Centre, at Farms estate, Charlestown, Nevis. Telephone 469-5464.