Crime can run in the family, study shows

January 31, 1992|By New York Times

BOSTON -- More than half of all juvenile delinquents imprisoned in state institutions and more than a third of adult criminals in local jails and state prisons have immediate family members who have also been incarcerated, according to figures compiled by the Justice Department.

Leading criminologists say these statistics are the first to be assembled that show how prevalent it is for criminals to have close family members who are convicted criminals.

Some of the criminologists say that the figures provide striking new evidence for the theory that criminality tends to run in families, particularly those of more violent criminals.

But the studies do not answer the long debate over whether it is the environment or genetic predisposition that makes a person a criminal.

The data were put together in three separate studies by Dr. Allen Beck, a demographer with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the Justice Department that gathers statistics on crime and prisoners.

"These are stunning statistics," said Richard J. Herrnstein, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and an expert on the causes of crime.

He said they were fresh proof "that the more chronic the criminal, the more likely it is to find criminality in his or her relatives."

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