There is no escaping the conclusion that environment impacts crime rates.
If the effects of lead pollution have resulted in more violent crimes were committed, then there are people who committed violent crimes they would not have committed if unaffected by lead poisoning. People have been sent to prison, or perhaps are still in prison, who would never have been sent to prison if not for lead poisoning.
I find this a most disturbing thought.
But then, is any other explanation less disturbing? The one explanation that would be least disturbing to me would be that violent crime fell because people have simply become better human beings. However, I have never heard this proposed, and it would disturbingly imply people previously went through a phase of becoming more violent. Better policing, tougher policies on crime and many other proposals have been put forward as reasons for falling violent crime rates, but every one of these theories proposes that in the end, whether people commit a crime or do not commit a crime is at least partially determined by environment.
Limitations and Flaws of Justice systems.
If the lead pollution crime link is valid, then consider two identical children who in all cases of the same circumstance make the same decisions. But, as an adult, the child in a lead pollution environment ends up in prison and the other child does not. Swap the children and it would be the opposite child as an adult in prison? Is there real justice here? There is an argument that either both children deserve to be in jail or neither child, but the truth is such a concept of justice is impractical. We can neither punish crimes that hypothetically would be committed, nor fully forgive all possible mitigating circumstances when crimes are committed. This is simply a limitation of justice. It is not practical to allow crimes to go unpunished. It is not practical to punish in the manner of the movie ‘minority report’ when no crime has taken place. But it is not just for a person to end up in prison purely as an outcome of whether they lived close to lead pollution either. There is a limitation to justice.
The limitations to mitigating circumstances.
I am not actually suggesting allowing crime to be excused due to mitigating circumstances. I cited a hypothetical case of two individuals where one is exposed to lead and commits a violent crime yet, statistically, the other not being exposed to lead does not. There is the argument that other children also grew up exposed to lead and did not commit violent crime. Of course, no one has the exact same circumstances. Other factors be the chemical or psychological, will combine to be unique. There is an argument that in fact all crime is a result of such factors, but I would argue that even if this is true, still it is impractical to allow excusing crime on the basis of contributing factors, unless it can be successfully argued that basically all individuals in the same circumstances would have committed the crime as a result of those circumstances.
I am reminded of the case of the 2011 attacks in Norway. My immediate reaction was that the perpetrator must be mentally imbalanced. But then, isn’t it clear that anyone guilty of such a horrific crime must be mentally imbalanced? Surely we cannot have laws where if the crime is so horrific as to indicate mental problems there is leniency?
Genuinely Combating Crime.
So, I argue against excusing perpetrators of crime despite, it being clear that society can have a highly significant role as to whether a crime is committed or not. But I will most strongly argue that society should share the blame. Of course, this does not mean imposing a penalty on society, as any crime is already a penalty on society. What I am proposing is that for each crime, we as members of society as well as our leaders, should examine our role in creating the environment where the crime took place. Rather than shifting all blame to the perpetrator, we need to share the blame and consider the perpetrator as also a victim. A victim who still must be punished for their crime. Their crime, for which we all should consider ourselves as negligent contributors who should ceaselessly be seeking to create the dream environment without crime.
Is “a crackdown on crime” just shifting the blame?
Consider the mayor who states, “my new policy will reduce crime”. If such a policy is possible, does that mean that state in the past has contributed to preventable crime? But when the crime actually takes place, whether lead or policy resulted in crime that may otherwise have not occurred, we normally seek to blame only the perpetrator. Or perhaps we may blame the legislator who did not bring in those crime preventing rules or the fuel companies for lead pollution. But who voted for the legislator and drove the cars? Are we all in a small way contribute to what society is overall?
We should consider also all crime, in some way, our own failure.
We may not take action, but at least it should register, and we consider that we are all also to blame.
- Mother Jones: An Updated Lead-Crime Roundup for 2018 (Source for image used in header).
- Brookings.edu: New evidence that lead exposure increases crime (2017)
- Is There a Link Between Lead and Crime? (The violence link uncovered in 1947!)
- 2023 April 21 st: Reformat for current standards and added header image and links.
- 2015 December 15: First published.