NIJ Panel Discusses Crime and Genetics, Once a Taboo Subject


The subject of crime and genetics, once shunned as racist, is being explored Monday at the annual National Institute of Justice conference in Arlington, Va. The New York Times says the tainted history of using biology to explain criminal behavior has pushed criminologists to reject or ignore genetics and concentrate on social causes like poverty, addictions and guns. Now that the human genome has been sequenced, a small cadre of experts is exploring how genes might heighten the risk of committing a crime and whether such a trait can be inherited.

A conference panel today concerns creating databases for information about DNA and “new genetic markers” that forensic scientists are discovering. Researchers estimate that at least 100 studies have shown that genes play a role in crimes. “Very good methodological advances have meant that a wide range of genetic work is being done,” said John H. Laub, the director of the justice institute. The subject still raises thorny ethical and policy questions. Should a genetic predisposition influence sentencing? Could genetic tests be used to tailor rehabilitation programs to individual criminals? Should adults or children with a biological marker for violence be identified?

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