Springing the Prisoners: Crime and Human Behavior


Whether you have been a victim or perpetrator of crime—or perhaps both—you may have a strong opinion as to the most effective methods preventing it. Nevertheless, it is a global social problem that is not easily solved: opinions about crime prevention are sharply divided. 

An entire system of infrastructure spans the globe in an effort to prevent and deal with crime, comprising social, economic and educational programs, police departments, and prison facilities. Yet, for all this, prison population growth has expanded by nearly 20 percent since the year 2000. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS), for every 694 citizens of the world, one is in prison.

The costs to society in financial as well as human terms are staggering, and continued growth in prison populations is clearly unsustainable. But what can be done to reverse this trend? What is the most effective way to deal with criminal behaviour? The methods currently employed cover a spectrum that begins with parents and communities, in whose care young lives are formed and habits are established, and extends to crime prevention and the capture, incarceration or even execution of the perpetrator. 

Regardless of which end of the crime prevention and punishment spectrum we consider to be the most crucial focus in the fight against crime, money is a key factor. The U.S., for example, incarcerates over 2.2 million people and spends billions of dollars doing so. Imprisoning people for long sentences obviously incurs a considerable cost, one that is regularly debated on balance with the cost of crime, which—when fully accounted for—is considerable. 

While economists continue to debate the ratios between cost of imprisonment and cost of criminal activity, countries such as France and Italy have experimented with early-release programs and mass pardons to help cope with burgeoning prison populations. But the threat of re-offense versus the cost of internment traps governments in a balancing act that they continue to struggle to get right

Whichever way we look at society’s efforts to mitigate the problem, no point on the spectrum (nor even the spectrum as a whole) has managed to put an end to criminal behaviour. Rather, statistics support the plain fact that the fountain producing it gushes as strong and as abundant as ever, no matter how earnestly we attempt to stem the flow (or to deal with the deluge of problems that it creates).

That fountain, collectively and individually, is nothing more than our human nature. The drive to promote our desires and ourselves is so ingrained in our nature that any one of us, unless we commit to a way of life that can change that nature, is a potential criminal in waiting. Merely suppressing that nature—preventing and incarcerating it, or mopping up the problems it creates—does not change that nature.

The problem is that we have accepted our human nature on its own terms, even perceiving it to be an evolutionary fact that we have to deal with. On the basis of that error we have become prisoners to it—obeying it, yielding to its corruptive influence and perpetually cleaning up after it, but never ever in the history of human governance, resolving it.

To resolve the issue of criminal behaviour—to stop crime—that nature must be changed. That isn't something that you or I can do on our own. It is possible for us to change, but it requires us to reject our natural human nature (and confidence in our ability to govern it without help), and to accept a new nature that gives access to a different fountain—water from a different well, if you will.

This well, which the Bible refers to as the fountain of life, offers us a different way of living. It’s a way that focuses on giving rather than getting, and on others rather than self. The good news is that we are promised a time to come when everyone will have the opportunity to take on this new nature, but even now we can benefit from following the example set by Jesus Christ. It’s an example that few follow, but when understood properly promotes right behaviour, adherence to law, and abundant life.



Imprisoned in the System

The modern penal system in many nations has been a failed experiment in rehabilitation. Are reformation and reconciliation possible for prisoners?



Tags: human behavior, human nature, criminal justice, prison system

The Multigenerational Effects of Human Behavior

EpigeneticsDo daily lifestyle decisions result in lasting and multigenerational effects on our genetic code? Said differently, can our environment and behavior change our genes in ways that will affect future generations? Research in epigenetics—the science of heritable changes in gene expression—not only tells us this is possible but that it is continuously happening to all of us.

One way to explain epigenetic changes in the human body is to think of a software program running in a computer system. Our physical characteristics are determined by the genes in our DNA that we inherited from our parents. Just as a computer program tells the computer what to display, so there are mechanisms outside our DNA that control whether certain traits are expressed. In primarily two ways, “DNA methylation” and “histone modification,” genes are switched on or off without altering the DNA sequence itself. An example of this process is seen in the development of blood, muscle, bone, nerve, and other cells in a human embryo. The DNA contained in every embryonic cell is the same, but epigenetic mechanisms determine whether individual cells receive instructions to become blood, muscle or nerve.

Some of the major breakthroughs in this field are still relatively new, so we’re just beginning to understand the profound impact of day-to-day activities on our genes and how this carries on to future generations. In the BMC Medicine paper “Multigenerational Epigenetic Effects of Nicotine on Lung Function,” Frances M. Leslie, professor of pharmacology at the University of California–Irvine School of Medicine, writes that “not only maternal smoking but also grandmaternal smoking is associated with elevated pediatric asthma risk. Other compelling studies in epigenetics demonstrate that our diet, exposure to certain toxins, and even obesity can change how our genes express certain traits that increase risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. It is then possible to pass this elevated risk to future generations through lasting changes in gene expression.

Another recent study by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, published in the journal Epigenetics, showed that regular moderate exercise not only produced positive physical changes in the human body but also made changes in the DNA methylation that resulted in greater muscle health and regeneration. Helpful changes in gene expression like these can also be heritable. Ultimately, both negative and positive lifestyle behaviors—including those that may be considered interpersonal, such as abusive or supportive behaviors—affect DNA expression in a way that has implications for our mental and physical health, and the health of future generations that inherit our genes.

Isn’t it interesting that, thousands of years before anyone understood the concept of epigenetics, the Bible explained the principle of behavior having a multigenerational effect? In the book of Exodus, God describes himself to Moses as “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7).

The most encouraging thing about epigenetics as a field of research is that, with positive changes in behavior, not only do we benefit, but so do the generations after us. Like the epigenetic principle itself, the standards for such behavioral changes are found in the pages of the Bible. 






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Tags: human behavior