Knowledge can be a dangerous thing. New research into the roots of criminal behaviour, based on modern psychiatry and genetics, is challenging the traditional sociological model of crime and raising awkward questions about individual liberty and the public good. In this month’s cover story, David Rose argues that we should at least take seriously the new research on “life course persistent anti-social behaviour.” We already know that a huge proportion of serious crime is committed by a tiny proportion of the male population. We also know that many people from abusive and deprived backgrounds grow up to lead normal, non-criminal lives. It seems that it is the interaction between certain neuropsychological and yes, genetic, conditions on one hand and the wrong sort of family environment on the other that produces serious criminals. We cannot say with any certainty whether a given person will turn out to be a bad apple, but it seems we can tell who the high-risk candidates are likely to be.
Given the costs of serious crime to both the criminals and to society, it would seem reasonable for public policy to aim to divert high-risk people early in their lives from such a path—a sort of Sure Start for potential criminals. But would someone who was known to be in the “danger” category be treated differently by the courts as an adult? We know the answer to that question because it is already happening. Under the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, “indefinite public protection” sentences can be handed down for convicts judged at high risk of reoffending. As our knowledge becomes more sound, we face a looming conflict between preventative action of various kinds on crime and the traditional “blindness” of the criminal justice system.
As I waved a St George’s flag at the Gelsenkirchen “fan-fest” in early July, enjoying the very English experience of watching my team lose a penalty shoot-out, it felt like a benign enough celebration even in defeat. Sport has become such a big focus for Englishness partly because it has few other institutional expressions. That may change if the Tories pursue “English votes for English laws” all the way to an English parliament. But, as Arthur Aughey argues inside, surely England is big enough to deal with some mild grievances against Scotland without pulling down the union on its head.