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Gangster destiny - Study shows most criminals had parents involved in crime

Published:Friday | June 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 Gary Spaulding, Gleaner Writer

A study carried out by local social scientists has confirmed what many Jamaicans suspected all along - that the parents of a significant number of gunslingers wreaking havoc on society, were mostly dons and gang leaders, many of whom have died or have been sent to prison.

The study conducted by the Department of Community Health and Psychiatry at the University of the West Indies, involved interviews with students from a range of institutions across the island. Titled Jamaican Adolescents' Perspective on Violence and its Effects, the document examined the impact of early and sustained exposure to violence on the attitude and behaviour of Jamaican adolescents.

The conclusions of the study, as well as reactions from social scientists not involved in producing the document, indicate that the imprisonment or violent deaths of parents and older relatives, who are the primary influences of gun-toting gangsters, have not prevented some of their offspring from assuming dangerous criminal lifestyles.

"Socialisation has two channels," said noted psychologist Leahcim Semaj. "Either you become productive or destructive, based on the influences around you."

Most powerful influence

Semaj told The Gleaner parents and the immediate community were usually the most powerful influence in these scenarios, followed by teachers and the media.

Professor Anthony Clayton of the University of the West Indies' Institute for Sustainable Development agrees.

"There is a known tendency for criminal behaviour to run in families, although there are unresolved arguments as to the extent to which there are genetic/social/cultural/learned components involved in this pattern."

With the offspring of dons and gang leaders from traditionally volatile communities moving to establish their own power base, social scientists agree that this trend is to be expected.

Police investigators, for example, believe west Kingston's New Generation Gang is comprised mainly of relatives of former Tivoli Gardens dons who are opposed to peace efforts in that community.

Likely to follow parents' footsteps

Semaj suggested that between 20 and 30 per cent of offspring of gang leaders and dons were likely to follow their parents' footsteps by assuming leadership roles.

He said another 30 per cent tended to fall in line in criminality while not necessarily assuming leadership roles. The remainder are likely to eschew the criminal path taken by their forebears.

Clayton cited what he describes as some genetic markers that are linked to higher levels of aggression.

"In a family that is keen on athletics, this trait is likely to be channelled in constructive ways, such as prowess on the football field," he said.

Added Clayton: "In a family that is involved in crime and feuding, however, this trait is likely to be expressed in harmful ways, such as the use of violence against rivals."

Clayton noted that another example is that people with a mild degree of sociopathy (a lack of empathy) can be very effective as soldiers, or in some business roles.

"If brought up in a high-crime, violent neighbourhood, however, they are more likely to become murderers," he said.