Thursday, May 25, 2006

Character & Criminality: Some Crime Really Runs in Families

Several years ago an interesting article appeared in the NYTimes but, as far as I can tell, the article got little attention in the Evidence community. The article was about Rooster Bogle and his family. It was written by Fox Butterfield and appeared in the New York Times on August 21, 2002. A fellow blogger, Dr. Jim Eckman, has this interesting summary of the story of Rooster Bogle and his family:

The Old Testament talks about the sins of the fathers being visited on the four or five generations that follow. This has always been a difficult concept to understand. At the very least, it gives focus to the truth that fathers have an enormous influence on their children. How a father lives will influence his children, who will then influence their children, etc. The case of Rooster Bogle of Salem, Oregon illustrates this truth.

Dale Vincent Bogle, known as Rooster Bogle, taught his children well. He was in and out of prisons all of his life. He regularly beat his wife and taught his children to steal.

By the time his sons were 10, they were breaking into liquor stores for their dad or stealing tractor-trailer trucks, hundreds of them. His girls turned to petty crimes to support their drug addiction. In time, everybody in the family was in jail. By official count, 28 in the Bogle clan have been arrested and convicted, including several of Rooster’s grandchildren. One of Rooster’s children stated, “Rooster raised us to be outlaws. There is a domino effect in a family like ours. What you’re raised with, you grow to become. You don’t escape.”

Prison officials are now concluding that the Bogle clan is an extreme example of the reality that crime runs in families. Justice department figures demonstrate that 47% of inmates in state prisons have a parent or other close relative who has also been incarcerated. Similarly, the link between the generations is so powerful that half of all juveniles in custody have a father, mother or other close relative who has been in jail or prison. Incredibly, until recently, few states have paid attention to this obvious cycle of crime. The cost to society is enormous. The cost, for example, of incarcerating just 5 of the 28 Bogle clan is $3 million, not counting the cost of their trials.

What social science is now showing us is that the fundamental cause of crime is not primarily poverty, abuse, neglect or drug use, all of which do contribute to criminal behavior. Perhaps the critical reason for criminal behavior is that children learn to imitate their parents. Instead of learning appropriate behavior, they learn to steal, cheat, lie and manipulate. The point is that parents play a tremendous role in shaping the behavior of their children. What they do is often modeled by their children. That is why Moses argued in Deuteronomy 6 that parents are to formally teach the truth about God and to model that same truth through the daily routines of life. There is therefore both a formal and an informal means for communicating truth. If parents like Rooster Bogle formally and informally teach rebellion, dishonesty and violence, the children will grow up doing the same thing. What social science is now telling us is what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years.