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What Causes Crime?

To solve the problem of crime, we first have to address the root cause: human sin.

Though many sociologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries attributed crime to environmental factors like poverty, an inadequate criminal justice system, and racism, landmark studies in the last 30 years have shown that crime is really about wrong moral decisions. For example, in their 17-year-long study The Criminal Personality, psychologists Stanton Samenow and Samuel Yochelson found that crime, in every case, was "the product of deliberation," and gave the antidote of "conversion to a whole new lifestyle." And in their definitive study Crime and Human Nature, Harvard social scientists James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein found that crime is caused by a lack of moral teaching during the morally formative years.

This was illustrated in a 2008 USA Today feature about three brothers—James, Frank, and Sonny Caston—each of whom is serving a life sentence in Louisiana's Angola prison. Their father idolized the outlaw Jesse James so much that he named two sons after the James brothers. While names are not destiny, in this case family breakdown (their mother left when Frank was 8) and a childhood characterized by physical abuse and neglect took their toll. By the time they were in their early 20s, all three brothers were serving life sentences for murder.

While the Castons are an extreme case, their story of crime running in families is not unusual. According to one study, 37 percent of juveniles when first arrested for a serious crime reported a parent or sibling in prison. And young men without father figures are twice as likely to be incarcerated as those who have father figures—not only because they lack a male role model, but also because single moms have to work, and have little time to parent their sons.

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