Reasons Why People Commit Crime

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There is abundant literature describing the reasons why people offend. Prominent factors attributed often include antisocial personality,1 mental health,2 and psychopathy.3 In this study, we were interested to find out the influence of offender sociodemographic variables such as age, parent’s marital status, education, employment, and prisoners’ marital state on criminal behavior in the context of Brunei. These sociodemographic variables have not yet been studied extensively in Brunei, and empirical information on them might be useful in profiling career criminals of Brunei and in designing in-prison and community-based intervention programs. Due to lack of research, there is, for instance, a general belief in Brunei that criminals were people from broken family backgrounds. Another myth commonly held by many people in Brunei is that stealing or theft offenses were committed mostly by unemployed persons. Part of our goal in this study was to clarify such misconceptions and overgeneralizations. Furthermore, although crime is often committed by and associated with adults in Brunei, there were indications that criminal thinking and activities start much earlier in life when children are still in the family and school environments. Indeed, young people or the youth commit a variety of crimes such as stealing, drug abuse, prostitution, and murder.

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With both groups committing almost an equal number of crimes, we suggest that attention, priority, and energy be directed toward preventing the onset of criminality and known risk factors associated with childhood antisocial behaviors such as the influence of delinquent peers.28 Children who are exposed to multiple behavioral risks for criminality are disproportionately likely to become serious persistent offenders. It is this group of children who need to be targeted. According to previous research,26 the strategies that were successful in the US and UK included: 1) early home visits and preschool education programs; 2) parenting programs; 3) family–school initiatives; 4) anti-bullying strategies in schools; and 5) counseling or psychotherapy (both individual and group). Another previous study25 provides accounts of 30 such programs operating in the UK, such as the “Sure Start” and “On Track” initiatives. Early intervention at the preschool or initial school might be necessary and effective. The best-known preschool intervention is “Operation Headstart”, which was introduced in America in the 1960s and attempted to accelerate cognitive development in children from high-risk families before they entered school.

Recently, researchers6 claimed that criminal behavior was influenced by both genes and the environment and their interaction. Their assertions were based on the results of studies of family criminal records, concordance (similarity) studies in identical and fraternal twins, and adoption studies. Evidence from such studies suggests that criminality may be heritable and that it runs in families. For example, in a family in which one of the parents is a criminal, one or more children, if any, might also become a criminal due to the effect of either genes or the presenting environment (or gene-environment interaction). The probability of being a criminal is much higher for a child whose biological parents are both criminals. In the case of identical twins, concordance studies indicate that if one becomes a criminal, the other may also most likely end up being a criminal (even when they are living far apart in different environments).

There is also empirical evidence indicating that social environment, upbringing factors, poverty, disadvantaged neighborhoods, and sex differences contribute to criminality in different ways. A meta-analysis study7 identified several childhood and adolescent factors that have links with youth antisocial and criminal behaviors. The factors that centered on the child included aggression, attentional problems, motor restlessness, attention-seeking, and emotional concerns such as anxiety, self-deprecation, and social alienation. The family predictors included negative parenting strategies such as coerciveness, authoritarian behaviors, lack of child supervision, family violence or interparental conflict, and poor communication. Among the youth, previous research has found that peer influence and conformity were some of the contributing factors to deviant and antisocial behavior.8 According to previous research,9 the variables that have connections with youth delinquent and criminal behavior were impulsivity and school misconduct. Evidence from other studies6 shows that crime runs in families. For example, one investigation10 found that the majority of criminal children had a criminal father. In a later study,11 its was found that 53% of men with a criminal conviction also had a convicted family member. Moreover, other researchers12 found that parents with criminal and violent behavior caused antisocial behavior in their offspring through the parents’ problematic parenting styles such as inconsistent rule enforcement, marital arguments, angry interactions with children, and disrupted families.

At the family/relationships level, several factors are suspected of leading people to commit crimes. They include family factors such as interpersonal hostility;13 authoritarian or coercive parenting style, child abuse, interparental conflict or domestic violence, and poor family communication;7 large family size; low parental education; and family offending history14 as well as peer group pressure and bullying.15

A small amount of psychological research has been conducted on crimes in Brunei, but much of it does not appear in books or journals. Given this, published crime research on Brunei is still meager and sparse. There are many reasons why psychological research is still scant in Brunei. Brunei people are, by nature, extremely shy and anxious to voluntarily discuss their personal problems with other people such as counselors or psychologists. In addition, the use of western research instruments written in advanced English is still not feasible due to language problems as Bahasa Melayu is the mother tongue and predominant language.16,17 Despite these problems, a few crime-related studies have been conducted on Brunei. For instance, one study18 examined the status of counseling in Brunei prisons. The other recent studies relevant to criminology investigated youth and adult crimes in Brunei19 and mental health issues that often lead teachers to commit criminal offenses in schools.20,21 However, these last two studies were not on prisoners. Most of the psychological research that has been conducted in Brunei has focused largely on noncriminal student and community populations particularly on disabilities, health, and other social issues. These studies were limited in that they were not directly related to crimes in Brunei, the concern of the current research. However, the importance of these psychological studies is that they demonstrate ongoing efforts being made to research a psychological nature on Brunei to develop norms for future reference. In addition, this body of research has served to fill in and narrow some of the knowledge gaps. For example, the findings of some psychological studies conducted on school children might help to predict the behavior of these children in adulthood. 

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