Society shies away from biological explanations for criminality and disordered behavior because people tend to believe that "biological" equals "hopeless." Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
In this issue of Crime Times alone, we present research showing that:
This is true even when dysfunctional behavior stems from genetic defects, because we are learning how to correct the problems caused by once-untreatable gene flaws. For example, researchers have identified some children whose aberrant and dangerous behavior appears to stem from an excess of heavy metals caused by a genetic glitch that impairs the body's ability to detoxify itself. By lowering these children's toxic levels of lead or other heavy metals, and correcting associated nutrient deficiencies, clinicians can often bring about dramatic improvement. This is being done successfully every day at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Illinois, where William Walsh and his colleagues have an astonishing success rate in treating troubled, delinquent, and even psychopathic children.
Biologically-oriented professionals are also making huge strides in preventing brain dysfunction. One of these experts is Crime Times Professional Advisory Board member Ann Streissguth, whose pioneering research played a huge role in revealing the link between pregnant women's drinking and the costs to their children in the form of brain damage, learning disabilities, disruptive behavior, criminality, and ruined lives.
Translating this knowledge into action, Streissguth and colleague Ruth Little formed the Seattle Pregnancy and Health Program, a project combining public education and active intervention for at-risk pregnant women. As a result of their intervention, the program's organizers report, "Three-fourths of women who were drinking moderately to heavily were able to either stop or significantly reduce their alcohol intake after a brief intervention [and] 86 percent were judged by independent raters to have improved." Dr. Streissguth and her colleagues are now involved in another project, the Parent-Child Assistance Program, which helps drug- or alcohol-abusing mothers break their addictions, protecting their future children from the ravages of prenatal alcohol or drug exposure. The direct result of these efforts: fewer infants born with irreparable brain damage, and more babies who have the potential for a bright future.
Dr. Walsh, Dr. Streissguth, and others like them are helping to usher in a new era in which we identify and treat—or, even better, prevent—the brain dysfunctions that cause millions of people to become delinquents, criminals, or tragic failures. Walsh's center is currently salvaging the lives of hundreds of children who otherwise would have been written off as irredeemably "evil." Streissguth's interventions are directly responsible for hundreds of babies being born whole and healthy, rather than brain-damaged. And both are proving that greater knowledge about the biological causes of aberrant or criminal behavior will bring hope to millions of people we now consider "hopeless."