Criminal parents

Robins showed that criminal, antisocial, and alcoholic parents tend to have delinquent sons. She followed up over 200 males in St Louis and found that arrested parents tended to have arrested children, and that the juvenile records of the parents and children had similar rates and types of offences. McCord also reported that convicted fathers tended to have convicted sons. She found that 29 per cent of fathers convicted for violence had sons convicted for violence, in comparison with 12 per cent of other fathers, but this may reflect the general tendency for convicted fathers to have convicted sons rather than any specific tendency for violent fathers to have violent sons. Wilson in Birmingham also showed that convictions of parents predicted convictions and cautions of sons; more than twice as many sons of convicted parents were themselves convicted.

In the Cambridge Study, the concentration of offending in a small number of families was remarkable. Less than 6 per cent of the families were responsible for half of the criminal convictions of all members (fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters) of all 400 families. Having a convicted mother, father, brother, or sister significantly predicted a boy's own convictions. As many as 59 per cent of boys with a convicted parent were themselves convicted up to the age of 32 years. Furthermore, convicted parents and delinquent siblings were related to self-reported as well as to official offending. Therefore, there is intergenerational continuity in offending.

It is not entirely clear why criminal parents tend to have delinquent children. In the Cambridge Study, there was no evidence that criminal parents directly encouraged their children to commit crimes or taught them criminal techniques. On the contrary, criminal parents were highly critical of their children's offending; for example, 89 per cent of convicted men at the age of 32 years disagreed with the statement that 'I would not mind if my son/daughter committed a criminal offence'. Also, it was extremely rare for a parent and a child to be convicted for an offence committed together. The main link in the chain between criminal parents and delinquent sons seemed to be poor parental supervision. However, there may also be some degree of genetic transmission of antisocial behaviour.

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