In my reading, I stumbled upon an interesting article written by Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D called The Real Root Cause of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of the Family. As the title suggests, Dr. Fagan places blame for crime in America squarely on the shoulders of absentee parents, generally fathers. He suggests that the rate of crime in America can be reduced through the rejuvenation of the family unit and strong, caring communities. In doing so, he attempts to dispel competing theories, namely that poverty causes crime and social programming reduces it.

"Since 1965, welfare spending has increased 800 percent in real terms, while the number of major felonies per capita today is roughly three times the rate prior to 1960...History defies the assumption that deteriorating economic circumstances breed crime and that improving conditions reduce it. America's crime rate actually rose during the long period of real economic growth in the early 20th century. As the Great Depression set in and incomes dropped, the crime rate also dropped. It rose again between 1965 and 1974 when incomes rose. Most recently, during the recession of 1982, there was a slight dip in crime, not an increase."

Dr. Fagan then acknowledges that race is another factor commonly linked to crime, but dismisses it citing research which suggests that "illegitimacy" better explains crime in all races. From this, Dr. Fagan concludes, "It is the absence of marriage and the failure to form and maintain intact families that explains the incidence of crime among whites as well as blacks." He offers evidence for this theory in the form of a 5-stage developmental pattern commonly experienced by violent criminals that begins, and is characterized throughout, by abandonment of the father, child neglect and violence. Note that stage theory seems only to be applicable for boys as Dr. Fagan uses the pronoun ‘he' throughout.

  • Stage one is characterized by child abandonment, lack of a father or father figure, abuse, neglect and frequent changes in childcare. There is an insecure attachment with the primary caretaker and the child begins to show aggressive behavior.
  • Stage two is distinguished by continued absence of his father and further aggression, including acting out towards his mother and in school. There is poor supervision at home. Educational achievement is poor with marked failure at tasks involving verbal skills, abstract thinking, social and moral concepts. He is rejected by popular peers and develops a deviant peer group with low educational and life expectations.
  • Stage three is marked by the emergence of criminal and delinquent gang activity, which, in the absence of a good male role model, forms his personal identity. Aggression increases and by age 15 he has committed his first criminal act. He will commit many crimes, use drugs and drop out of school.
  • Stage four is set apart by the committal of his first violent crime and membership in a criminal gang. He lives in a violent community populated mostly by single parent families. He purchases a gun and uses violence to exploit others. His male friends are other gang members and female friends are involved in prostitution.
  • Stage five is notable for he has created a new generation of violence. Still a teenager, he has gotten his young girlfriend pregnant and eventually abandons her and the child. He becomes and expert criminal, committing the majority of his crimes in his own neighborhood. He is rarely caught.

In theory then, the child born to this criminal will relive the same life pattern, grow up essentially fatherless, become a criminal and perpetuate the cycle. This is not to say that single parents, mothers in particular, raise criminals, but that criminals tend, among other factors, to have been raised by single mothers and abandoned by their fathers. Click here to see Dr. Fagan's article and learn more about each stage.

About the Author

Marisa Mauro

Marisa Mauro, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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