How People become Criminals

Some are actually born to the trade. Mothers take their children on shoplifting excursions; fathers use them as lookouts. In the tag changing gambit that owers the price of purchases, a mother may pinch the baby when she gets to the checkout, to make him wail so the clerk will hurry her through.

In other families, children small enough to get through open windows may open doors for their relatives. It’s older than Dickens. Children like these may never know any life but crime. If they are taken from their families, they resent the new rules and restrictions, or some of them do, and long for the easy neglect of home.

Some adults take up high risk trades like mugging and bank robbery to finance drug habits or pay off gambling debts. Some felons believe it is very dangerous not to pay their bookmaker. Most bank robbers fail on their first outing, and aren’t seen again on the street for years.

Others start with milder crimes. Amphetamine users may join a recycling crew. Pickup trucks drive down dark streets on garbage night, and a crew of runners flings glass, metal, and plastic into it. It’s a pathetic crime, and perhaps it shouldn’t be a crime at all, but speedy crews can net a thousand dollars for a load. Unfortunately, recycling can progress to stealing light posts, plumbing, and wiring if the crew finds a complaisant buyer. As crime goes, recycling is low reward but low penalty.

Another low reward crime is the smash and grab from cars. The “recycler” who moves to this activity must now admit to himself that he is a criminal. These nonviolent low-reward acts are not a priority to the police, so a person in desperate need may turn to them.

Young women are led into crime, and so are some young men. They may be kidnapped, coerced, conned, or deliberately hooked on a drug. Another category of woman passes from living on love to living off love gradually, as she ages and her self-worth declines. Such people may become the most risk-taking of entrepreneurs; doing business alone in alleys and learning to make snap judgments about strangers.

The safest starter crimes are perpetrated against a criminal’s family. Parents, children, and siblings will not in general prosecute a family member. It almost always causes a rift though, and this social isolation may move the perpetrator further towards frank crime.

The most dangerous way to become a criminal is by joining a gang. The police are gangsters’ dedicated enemies, members of other gangs are their deadly rivals, and even his own may turn against the gangster. If he lives, he will almost certainly go to jail. People become gang criminals because they grow up on gang turf. They seek the security and status of belonging to the gang.

The ugliest crimes may be white-collar. These are crimes of pure greed and arrogance, perpetrated by people who have no real need of extra money, but only a raging desire for more. This is another fairly safe crime. The perpetrator is likely to lose little more than his reputation.

Some people make themselves criminals for small change. They may lie to the insurance company about their fender-bender, steal an insured item from themselves when they can’t find a buyer, or even start a fire in a down housing market. Most of these people will not go to jail, but they are criminals all the same.

Some who fall into crime are not of normal intelligence or not entirely sane. They may commit crimes of impulse, or act for reasons that do not make sense to observers. They may become criminals through a chemical defect or the effect of a troubled youth. These may be the most incomprehensible of malefactors.

There are many reasons that people turn to crime. Some are coerced, and some are inducted into the criminal world when they are too young to know any other. Some break the law out of greed and some to feed an addiction, some drift into crime. Non-criminals are afraid of law-breakers, and rightly so, but many of them deserve our sympathy as well.