History of Court Systems

Voluminous research regarding the role of nature and nurture in influencing offender characteristics exist today. Much of this research attempts to shed light on the influence of nature or nurture in determining criminal behavior. Earliest studies on the subject are Jukes family study and Kallikak family study. The study findings indicate a positive correlation between criminal behavior and family background. However still, some proponents point out to the environment/nurture as the key determinant of criminal behavior on both studies. This may be an indication that both nature and nurture plays critical role in shaping behavior of individuals. Nonetheless, some studies assert that nurture has a strong role in influencing an individual’s behavior. This paper examines the nature/nurture controversy with regard to characteristics of offenders.

The Jukes family study is among various studies that provides insights into the nature/nurture controversy. Elisha Harris conducted initial investigations into the Jukes family to establish the nature of offender characteristics. He noted that for six generations, Jukes family had maintained a history of criminal behavior (Lombardo, 2012). A large number of family members turned out to become criminals, vagrants, and paupers. For example, one generation had fourteen children, nine of whom received incarceration for antisocial behavior. Picking from where Harris left, Dugdale conducted further research into Dukes family, noting that majority were poor, incarcerated for various crimes, or living in deplorable conditions (Lombardo, 2012). Dugdale propounded on the idea of heredity and the environment being a key determinant of criminal behavior in Jukes family.

The Kallikak family study is another attempt to determine the role of nature versus nurture in shaping criminal behavior. The study documents the aspect of feeble-mindedness in Kallikak family tree. The study is a documentation of five generations from two families. In the study, Goddard traced history of the family resulting from the marriage between Kallikak and a supposedly “feeble-minded woman” (Elks, 2005). This marriage resulted to feeble-minded children whom Goddard traced to five generations. Kallikak also had children with another woman described as “respectable” and as of noble character. The children from the second union gave rise to children who had good moral values and majority became wealthy. Goddard claimed that this was clearly an indication of inheritance as the most significant determinant of criminal behavior. Nonetheless, Kallikak family study is surrounded by controversies and criticisms from various quarters. A major criticism is the retouching of photographs in order to make those from the bad family lineage look more menacing (Elks, 2005).

Recent studies have shed more light on the nature/nurture controversy with regard to criminal behavior. Junger, Greene, Schipper, Hesper, and Estourgie (2013) assert that there is strong evidence suggesting that crime runs in families. However, the environment plays a critical role in determining whether an individual ends up acquiring antisocial behavior. Children exhibiting antisocial behaviors in early childhood are more likely to drop out of school and developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and substance addiction in later life. In addition, they have lower chances of finding employment and may thus end up in prison due to involvement in errant behavior. Nonetheless Junger et al., (2013) asserts that it is possible to avoid the negative consequences through taking early interventions. This shows that the environment has a critical role to play in shaping behavior. As such, the upbringing has a strong role to play in determining criminal behavior among individuals.

There is higher likelihood that a child born of a family with high number of incarcerated members acquires some form of antisocial behavior, which may lead to imprisonment. The Cambridge Study of Delinquent Development asserts that parents involvement in crime, especially the father, is a strong predictor to the involvement in crime of the son. Other critical factors that lead to a high propensity to commit crime are family violence and partner violence. This points to nurture as a critical factor in determining criminal behavior. On the other hand, the study indicates that nature has a role to play in determining criminal behavior. The study results indicate that 52.5% of all arrests in the study sample were family related, while 47.5% did not show any links to family (Junger et al., 2013).

The genetic component of criminal behavior manifests itself through genes that determine intelligence, aggression, emotions, and other aspects. Various studies attempt to identify specific links between antisocial behavior and the role of genetics. Bernet, Vnencak-Jones, Farahany, and Montgomery (2007) argue that men born with a specific form of allele derived from monoamine oxidase A gene are likely to manifest antisocial behavior as adults. Another form of allele present in serotine transporter gene increases an individual’s likelihood of developing depression and suicidal tendencies in adulthood.

In conclusion, characteristics of offenders such as propensity for violence and dishonest nature are determined by hereditary as well as environmental factors. Thus, it is possible that individuals who come family backgrounds with history of violence and other forms of antisocial behavior are likely to end up in prison. However, drawing on the vast literature available and from above, it is clear that environmental factors such as parenting are more significant compared to hereditary factors in shaping criminal behavior.


Bernet, W., Vnencak-Jones, C. L., Farahany, N., & Montgomery, S. A. (2007). Bad Nature, Bad Nurture, and Testimony Regarding MAOA and SLC6A4 Genotyping at Murder Trials.    Journal of Forensic Sciences, 52(6): 1362-1371.

Elks, M. A. (2005). Visual indictment: A contextual analysis of the kallikak family             photographs. Mental Retardation, 43(4), 268.

Junger, M., Greene, J., Schipper, R., Hesper, F., & Estourgie, V. (2013). Parental Criminality,      Family Violence and Intergenerational Transmission of Crime Within a Birth Cohort.       European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 19(2): 117-113.

Lombardo, P. A. (2012). Return of the Jukes: eugenic mythologies and internet evangelism. The Journal of Legal Medicine, 33(2), 207 – 233.


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