‘Some people are simply born to become criminals’ - Discuss this statement with reference to
biological theories to crime.
This essay will discuss the statement that ‘Some people are simply born to become criminals’ with
reference to biological theories to crime. In order to do so this essay will focus on theories starting
from Lombrosso and how the theories were developed through people such as Sheldon. This essay
will also focus on areas such as genes, body type and how this is linked to crime and also alternative
theories and the problems with biological theories.
Biological explanations are based in the notion that some individuals are inclined to criminal
behaviour because of their genetic make-up thus the statement ‘some people are simply born to be
criminals.’ The most famous study of this was the nineteenth-century Italian physician, Cesare
Lombrosso. Lombrosso studied people in prison in Italy and developed the ‘born criminal’ theory,
where criminals could be recognised by specific physical characteristics especially facial - for
example large jaws, high cheek bones and big ears. These characteristics see the delinquent
individual as inherently more prone to criminal behaviour as a non-delinquent. This theory has been
widely criticised however, Lombrosso’s theory has been developed and mirrored by many people
such as William Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck. Sheldon believes that body type is linked to
personality which is then linked to crime, Sheldon found three main body types which were
Endomorphs, Ectomorphs and Mesomorphs. He studied students and came to the conclusion that
there was higher delinquency among the mesomorphic build, a chunky, muscular physique.
Sheldon’s theory was then backed up by Eleanor Glueck (1956) who found that in a sample of
delinquents , 60% were mesomorphs while in a non-delinquent sample there was only 31% who
were of a mesomorphs physique. On the other hand, these studies took place in a jail or some form
of custody. The fact that the study was restricted to institutionalised delinquents it limits the validity
of the link between physical characteristics and crime. It is more likely that tougher-looking
delinquents are to be put away compared to fragile looking ones. Furthermore, it is evident now that
the link between delinquency and physical characteristics is a much weaker argument when social
and background factors are taken into account. This can be supported as Lester (1986) did a cross
cultural test and the data did not support Sheldon’s theory at a cross national level of analysis as
they had a different lifestyle. It is evident that the major problem with this theory is the difficulty of
distinguishing between genetic and environmental effects. It is apparent that while some genetic
influence cannot be ruled out, it is difficult to determine just what is inherited, thus showing that the
statement ‘some people are simply born to become criminals’ is correct to a limited extent. Overall,...