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Creating Born Criminals

NCJ Number
N H Rafter
Date Published
299 pages
This volume explores the history of biological theories of crime, with emphasis on developments in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the role of biological explanations as a form of discourse, the impact of these explanations on society, and the implications and possible consequences of current biological theories of crime.
The discussion examines the origins and content of biological theories and discusses their influence on crime control in the United States, particularly in New York, which, in the late 19th century, established the first civil institution for persons deemed criminalistic by heredity. The book is organized around stages in the evolution of eugenic criminology and of the two most closely related institutional systems, asylums for retarded persons and prisons for criminals. Three chapters trace the origins and early development of the mental retardation system, including how retarded persons became conceptualized as criminalistic degenerates. Subsequent chapters focus on the evolution of the idea of born criminals and how the professionalization of penology and the newly adopted goal of rehabilitation turned prison officials down the path that paradoxically led to eugenic criminology. Photographs, figures, chapter notes, index, and approximately 600 references