On the heritability of criminal justice processing

Brian B. Boutwell, Eric J. Connolly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


An impressive number of researchers have devoted a great amount of effort toward examining various predictors of criminal justice (CJ) processing outcomes. Indeed, a vast amount of research has examined various individual- and aggregate-level predictors of arrests, incarceration, and sentencing decisions. To this point, less attention has been devoted toward uncovering the relative contribution of genetic and environmental effects on variation in risk for CJ processing. As a result, the current study employs a behavioral genetic design to help fill this void in the existing literature. Using twin data from a national sample of youth, the current study produced evidence suggesting that genetic factors accounted for at least a portion of variance in risk for incarceration among female twins and probation among male twins. Shared and nonshared environmental influences accounted for the variance in risk for arrest among both female and male twins, probation among female twins, and incarceration among male twins. Ultimately, it appears that risk for contact with the CJ system and CJ processing is structured by a combination of factors beyond shared cultural and neighborhood environments, and appears to also include genetic factors. Moving forward, continuing to not use genetically sensitive research designs capable of estimating the role of genetic and nonshared environmental influences on CJ outcomes may result in misleading results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSAGE Open
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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