NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Crime Is A Choice

August 1, 1995

Some social scientists treat the cause of crime as a scientific mystery, a natural outcome determined by factors that we don't yet completely know. They avoid the word "choice" -- speaking instead of "precursors," "influences," and "correlates" of crime. Not surprisingly, they find that troubles and social pathologies are loosely associatied.

But in Crime, a collection of scholarly essays edited by James Q. Wilson and Joan Ptersilia, the late Richard Hernstein (co-author of The Bell Curve) says:

  • The real cause of crime is "people for whom the positive side of the ledger sufficiently outweighs the negative side and who have the opportunity for breaking the law."
  • And that "Most individuals with the early precursors of criminal behavior do not become serious offenders..."

This suggests crime is a moral choice, not a contagious disease or involuntary compulsion, and that criminals are rational -- but immoral.

That is the approach taken by the writers in Criminal Justice?: The Legal System Versus Individual Responsibility, edited by James Bidinotto.

Bidinotto says ordinary citizens are right to believe individuals are responsible for what they do, while the experts -- whom he calls the Excuse-Making Industry -- have twisted the purpose of the criminal justice system from punishment of wrongdoers to their treatment and rehabilitation.

  • The experts' fundamental error is determinism, the "billiard ball" theory of human action.
  • To them, free will or volition sounds "causeless" and therefore unscientific.
  • But since humans have the additional capacity to think and are goal-directed, we are causes, not just effects of biological, psychological or social forces.

Thus "Punishment is an affirmation of the autonomy, responsibility, and dignity of the individual," write essayists John DiIulio and Charles Logan.

Source: Morgan O. Reynolds (director, Criminal Justice Center - National Center for Policy Analysis and professor of economics at Texas A&M University), "Crime-Stoppers' Textbooks," Reason, August/September 1995, Reason Foundation, 3415 Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90034, (310) 391-2245.


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