Crime and Deterrence

Throughout history, crime has been a universal phenomenon. Whether it is caused by an overactive id and an underactive ego and superego - as the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud might suggest - or perhaps certain biological or genetic factors, crime is inescapable in human society (Schmalleger, 2016). Indeed, self-report surveys that are designed to record an individual’s criminal activities report that “virtually every adult has engaged in some type of criminal activity” (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2017, p. 104). This figure may seem discouraging, as it implies that there is no valid way to defeat crime. However, this does not mean that our society should not work to diminish crime and mitigate its causative factors wherever possible. These causative factors have been widely debated, but many criminologists agree that poverty, culture, genetics, and environment play an enormous role in the instillment of criminal ideals. A further factor that has not received as much attention as those listed previously is the effect that traumatic brain injury (TBI) has on criminal activity and deviance in general. According to a study conducted in the New York City jail system, half of the inmates ages 16-18 suffered from a TBI that resulted in an “altered mental state” (as cited in Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2017, p. 118). In this case, presented with a correlation that, at face value, seems to suggest causation. While it is true that those who commit crime are also at greater risk of engaging in risky behaviors that could lead to TBI (seeming to suggest a correlation and not causation), the neurocognitive consequences of TBI leads me to believe that there is, in fact, a causation here. According to Barlow & Durand (2015), the consequences of neurocognitive disorder due to TBI include “executive dysfunction...and problems with learning and memory. Those that are at greatest risk for TBI are teens and young adults, especially accompanied by alcohol abuse or lower socio-economic class” (p. 553). Bearing these symptoms in mind, let us look at some further factors that could lead TBI to promote criminality.

One of the first consequences that could accompany neurocognitive disorder as a result of TBI is the breakdown of the social bond that ties individuals to society. Using elements of attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2017), the social bond allows an individual to feel connected to society and to value the laws and mores that are in place. However, once this bond is broken - a possible outcome of the executive dysfunction that occurs as a result of TBI - the individual no longer feels tied to society. Furthermore, the consequences and punitive sanctions that are imposed upon an individual as a result of their deviance and unlawful behavior can cause them to become labeled. Once this label is accepted by the individual “the labeled person...adopts a deviant self-concept, and acts accordingly” (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, p. 107). The adoptance of a deviant label causes the individual to associate with others who have accepted such a label. This action further promotes criminality through a process known as differential association, wherein “criminality is learned...with others who communicate criminal values and who advocate the commission of crimes” (Schmalleger, 2016, p. 124). When this process is complete, the individual suffering from a TBI will have changed from a law-abiding citizen to an individual who has accepted the criminal lifestyle and the many indiscretions that come with it.

Understanding the negative impact that can result from TBI inevitably leads us to question what our society can do to prevent it. Returning to the study conducted in the New York City jail system, we find that over half of the cases of TBI were caused by assaults (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2017). This finding seems to suggest a cycle of violence wherein an individual is victimized and then, in turn, victimizes others as a result. There are many strategies that can be implemented to quell this cycle, some of which are general and some of which are specific in application. Generally, much can be done to reduce poverty, economic and racial inequality, and our violent culture. While it would be fallacious to assume that resolving one of these issues would “cure” crime, assuming that such complex issues could be solved in the first place, it is likely that devoting attention and focus to these social problems will help to curb crime.

More specifically, we can use deterrents to keep individuals from engaging in the criminal lifestyle and keep those who already live this lifestyle away from potential targets. According to the Routine Activities Theory (RAT), the three elements required for the commission of crime are motivated offenders, suitable targets, and a lack of a capable guardian (Siegel & Welsh, 2017). While general methods, such as combating the factors described earlier, can help to harden targets and diminish the presence of motivated offenders, specific tactics can implement capable guardians where necessary. One of the most practical strategies of creating capable guardians comes in the form of enhanced security provided by closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras. While large American cities do employ such cameras, with 4,000 in Manhattan and 10,000 in Chicago (Siegel & Welsh, 2017), there is a widespread paranoia in American culture that limits the use of these devices. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) often claim that these cameras violate the American “right to privacy,” however this right is fairly ambiguous and may not be a national right at all. Indeed, this right to privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the U.S. Constitution and while the Constitutions of some states do specify this right to privacy, it is certainly not a national right that is present throughout the United States. However, there is somewhat of a precedent for the right to privacy in certain cases, such as marital relations. This precedent was established in the U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). In conclusion, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Warren decided that:

Though the Constitution does not explicitly protect a general right to privacy, the various guarantees within the Bill of Rights create penumbras, or zones, that establish a right to privacy. Together, the First, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments, create a new constitutional right, the right to privacy in marital relations. (Oyez, “Conclusion,” n.d.)

We see from this ruling that, although some aspects of our lives are given a right to privacy, our general movements on public streets are certainly not. Therefore, I feel that, massive overreaches and Orwellian surveillance tactics aside, our society should not block progress and safety measures that do not violate specific Constitutional Amendments (such as the Second Amendment) on the basis of our paranoia.


Barlow, D. H. & Durand, V. M. (2015). Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach (7th ed.). 
Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Griswold v. Connecticut. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from

Mooney, L.A., Knox, D. & Schacht, C. (2017). Understanding Social Problems (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage.

Schmalleger, F. (2016). Criminology (3rd ed.). Pearson Education.

Siegel, L. J., & Welsh, B. C. (2017). Juvenile Delinquency (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.