Health Focused Criminology

Lead, Crime, and the Use of Quantitative Genetics to Examine Causality

Authored by: Brian B. Boutwell , Stephen J. Watts

Routledge International Handbook of Delinquency and Health

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9780367256920
eBook ISBN: 9780429289194
Adobe ISBN:


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An emergent subfield in criminology has begun focusing on health related outcomes and their intersection with the risk for criminogenic behaviors. While seemingly poised to make large contributions to the study of crime, there remains several concerns that need to be further discussed if a health focused approach to criminology is to maximize its contribution to the larger field. With this in mind, the current paper adopts a health-focused discussion of environmental risk factors, causality, and crime, utilizing a specific focus on lead exposure to illustrate several primary points. We begin by discussing some lingering concerns about causal inference in health criminology, followed by a review the literature on the relationships between lead exposure and neuropsychological deficits and lead exposure and criminal behavior. Next, we further discuss a possible chain between lead exposure, neuropsychological deficits, ADHD, and crime. Finally, we return to our discussion of methodological issues related to causality in order to illustrate how research designs utilizing siblings and family members can help to either further make the case for lead exposure as a causal factor, or more effectively rule it out.

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