Tag Archives: felons

Practical Eugenics

Gideon, writing at a public defender, criticizes castration of violent felons because those violent felons may be rehabilitated:

Prof. Berman asks whether chemical castration (if proven to work) should be employed (actually, why shouldn’t it be). As readers might guess, I am uneasy with this proposition. There are several assumptions here: That we know that “high-risk” offenders will re-offend; that all “high-risk” offenders will re-offend. This does dip into some “Minority Report” territory. I’m quite uneasy by the idea that we will assume that all high-risk offenders are going to re-offend and we need to stop that by subduing the sexual urge by reducing levels of testosterone.

Those are some mighty assumptions and I’m uncomfortable with that. There are (have to be) better alternatives to this. What if we have an offender that, despite being “high-risk” is rehabilitated and wishes to live a normal life?

However, to a large extent, speaking about rehabilitation of violent felons misses the point.

Consider: violent crime is heritable:

Estimates of heritability for antisocial behaviour from recent research in quantitative genetics cluster around 0.50. The most reliable estimates come from contemporary studies in the Netherlands, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Australia and the US, because these studies examine large, representative samples using sophisticated quantitative modelling techniques. A complementary meta-analysis of 51 twin and adoption studies yielded an estimate of heritability of 0.41 for the genetic influence on antisocial behaviour. Estimates of heritability below 0.20 tend to emerge from studies with unusual design features; for example, observational measures, small sample sizes, very wide age ranges, small groups of girls, or adults being asked to report childhood symptoms retrospectively. Similarly, some, but not all, studies yielding estimates above 0.70 have non-optimal designs, such as small sample sizes or adults being asked to report their childhood symptoms retrospectively….

The largest estimates of heritability tend to emerge from studies using measures able to array individuals along a continuum from non-antisocial to severely and persistently antisocial. These are studies using other-reported delinquent or aggressive behaviours (such as the Child Behaviour Check List (CBCL) externalizing scale), and self-reported personality traits (such as the MPQ aggression scale). These studies tend to include a very large number of items inquiring about a variety of antisocial attitudes and behaviours. Some of these items, such as robbery, are exhibited rarely by people, but others, such as enjoying violent films, are exhibited commonly. As a result, the instruments are sensitive to population variation in the severity of antisocial behavior. Overall, the distribution of more than 100 estimates of heritability from recent papers approximates a bell-shaped normal curve. This distribution is to be expected from a sample of more than 100 imperfect estimates of a true effect that equals 50% in nature.

Further, we are currently undergoing dysgenics as the most violent mate with each other:

As well as the possibility that genes influence antisocial behaviour, it is also possible that antisocial experience can influence how genes are distributed in the population. This is an implication of the finding that men and women mate on the basis of similarity between the partners’ antisocial behaviour (this is called assortative mating), and that couples in which both people exhibit antisocial behaviour tend to have more children than the norm. Assortative mating on a genetically-influenced phenotype, such as antisocial behaviour has consequences for genetic variation in the population. Because people form unions with other people like themselves, the result is that families differ more from each other on average than they would if people mated randomly. If successive generations mate assortatively, genes relevant to the phenotype will become concentrated within families. Consider height as an example. Whole families clearly differ from other families in terms of height, yet families are made up of persons who are similar in height. Part of the explanation for this phenomenon is likely to lie in the positive assortative mating that occurs for this trait.

Castration of violent criminals, besides reducing the likelihood of a particular criminal breaking the law again (and quite possibly inflicting a punishment seen as worse than a 20 year sentence), does even more good to future generations. Violent criminal parents tend to have violent criminal children, so unless we want future generations to experience violent crime, we need to fight the causes of violent crime.

And part of the solution is eugenics.

On the web: Genetics and Human Behavior: The Ethical Context: Current findings: Quantitative Genetics.