The Continuing Slide Towards Thoughtcrime

A suggestion from the UK of putting primary-school children in a DNA database if they "exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life."

Pugh's call for the government to consider options such as placing primary school children who have not been arrested on the database is supported by elements of criminological theory. A well-established pattern of offending involves relatively trivial offences escalating to more serious crimes. Senior Scotland Yard criminologists are understood to be confident that techniques are able to identify future offenders.

A recent report from the think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for children to be targeted between the ages of five and 12 with cognitive behavioural therapy, parenting programmes and intensive support. Prevention should start young, it said, because prolific offenders typically began offending between the ages of 10 and 13. Julia Margo, author of the report, entitled 'Make me a Criminal', said: 'You can carry out a risk factor analysis where you look at the characteristics of an individual child aged five to seven and identify risk factors that make it more likely that they would become an offender.' However, she said that placing young children on a database risked stigmatising them by identifying them in a 'negative' way.

Thankfully, the article contains some reasonable reactions:

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, denounced any plan to target youngsters. 'Whichever bright spark at Acpo thought this one up should go back to the business of policing or the pastime of science fiction novels,' she said. 'The British public is highly respectful of the police and open even to eccentric debate, but playing politics with our innocent kids is a step too far.'

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said most teachers and parents would find the suggestion an 'anathema' and potentially very dangerous. 'It could be seen as a step towards a police state,' he said. 'It is condemning them at a very young age to something they have not yet done. They may have the potential to do something, but we all have the potential to do things. To label children at that stage and put them on a register is going too far.'

Posted on March 18, 2008 at 2:12 PM • 77 Comments

Comments

Ingenious FoolMarch 18, 2008 3:01 PM

@AC - Even people you don't like might get something right once in a while.

Messenger != message

derfMarch 18, 2008 3:11 PM

"Prevention should start young"...nice idea, but a DNA database (like surveillance cameras) doesn't prevent crime, it helps solve them.

Imagine this list getting to the internet. Now your child gets treated like a sex offender without having ever committed a crime.

SeanMarch 18, 2008 3:12 PM

"A recent report from the think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) called for children to be targeted between the ages of five and 12 with cognitive behavioural therapy, parenting programmes and intensive support."

Yep, sure. The way things work, there will be no allocated funds for the supposedly needed therapy, programs and support, most will live in poverty areas where the professionals needed to run these programs refuse to serve. In the end children identified with supposed future criminality will be blacklisted by the database and therefore will be relegated to untrusted street sweeper status.

Petréa MitchellMarch 18, 2008 3:14 PM

As an sf fan, I'm a little irritated by the "science fiction novel" tag being applied to the idea. If someone tells you they have a magic ability to sense who is going to grow up to be a criminal, the standard sf-based reaction is to start mucking about with the timeline to try and change the outcome.

geekyoneMarch 18, 2008 3:22 PM

Just one word, horrifying, that we even have people in this world that would suggest and support this plan worries me.

BrianMarch 18, 2008 3:22 PM

Thing is, if you start getting these kids counselling, or treating them differently, and telling them "You might be a criminal one day, so we have to do this." It's going to have a serious negative effect on them. Their peers will give them a hard time. You all know how grade school and middle school are.

They will grow up and become criminals simply because since the time they were 5 they have been told "You will become a criminal one day. We're going to try to fix that". The kids will be conditioned to believe that is what they are supposed to become, so they will become it.

This whole thing is ludicrous.

JimFiveMarch 18, 2008 3:22 PM

> A well-established pattern of offending involves relatively trivial offences
> escalating to more serious crimes.

And A well-established pattern of growing up involves relatively trivial offences tapering off into adulthood.

The problem with law enforcement making these types of pronouncements is they are looking only at a selected sample instead of a random sample of the population.
--
JimFive

John FMarch 18, 2008 3:36 PM

"Imagine this list getting to the internet. Now your child gets treated like a sex offender without having ever committed a crime."

First off, It's not "if" it gets to the internet, it's "when".

And why stop with children? Since some criminal tendencies may be at least partially influenced by genetics, it would be irresponsible not to include all of the child's immediate relatives in the database, as well - after all, it's for the common good.

Rich WilsonMarch 18, 2008 3:45 PM

I think that since politicians are public workers, and since we pay their salaries, we should have a database of politicians' DNA...

Dom De VittoMarch 18, 2008 4:03 PM

I don't know how anyone can object it, as it will obviously:

* prevent terrorism
* reduce illegal immigration
* make savings for the NHS
* reduce benefit fraud
* reverse climate change
* prevent Iran from making a A-bomb
* reduce attacks from Polar Bears.
* ...and whatever else crops up.

That's how it works, right?
1) Someone suggests huge privacy rape.
2) Ministers get convinced by "the experts" it's a good idea.
3) Policy spin-doctors bring out the list above.
4) Anyone disagreeing is labeled an uninformed tree-hugging hippy who puts in the milk before the tea, and wants to bring down the rule of government.

Were the ACPO membership 'course notes' writen by General Pinochet ?

JackMarch 18, 2008 4:04 PM

There are also plans here in the Netherlands to 'track' children. The main argument why, as presented by the politicians, is to be able to 'spot' problematic families where children might be or become victims... yeah right...

alanMarch 18, 2008 4:04 PM

"Preschoolcrime" more like.

I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch... "We stamp them when they're small."

slartyMarch 18, 2008 4:40 PM

Love it - with a bit of social engineering we induce the kids of people we don't like to misbehave. Personally I'll target rich kids at Catholic schools (just to reflect my parents prejudice).

They get a tag on their record that says "troublemaker"

Result?
1. The greatest future creative minds of the next generation get counseled to mediocrity
2. The kids are continually diverted. Every minor transgression is put on their record. They end up being dysfunctional because of the tag...

And thereby we destroy a nation and the people I don't like all in one go...

xd0sMarch 18, 2008 4:42 PM

Clearly the people who can concieve and support such a plan are representatives of a "failed education" in their youth. This is demonstrated by them clearly not having read much of the body of work that shows how incredibly bad and stupid these things are.

As such, it is in our best interest to DNA map and track them as failures of previous systems, ensuring that they don't continue in a pattern of escalating of failures.

Alternately they could submit themselves now to re-education camp where they would be forced to actually read books.

xd0sMarch 18, 2008 4:45 PM

@myself

I guess the parser eats HTML tag-like entries, so my last post should end in a:

(lessthansign)/sarcasm(greaterthansign)

:)

NostromoMarch 18, 2008 5:08 PM

The consensus is that the proposal is Bad.

But, folks, don't you remember being 10 or 11 years old? Don't you remember that while most kids could be unruly (even violent) at times, there was usually about 1 kid in 50 or so who was a serial bully? Who seemed to lack a normal amount of empathy with other people? Who seemed to enjoy hurting people?

I don't know what happened to the (very few) kids like this that I encountered at junior school, but I would not be in the least surprised if they turned out to be criminals. If there's serious research showing that to be a pattern, we should not just dismiss it out of hand.

Peter E RetepMarch 18, 2008 5:21 PM

It is well known that those who
a] obsess about children's behavior
b] attempt to rationalize 'adult' import to that behavior
and
c] attempt to identify children in trouble, especially emotionally, psychologically, or relationally
are most likely to victimize children.
Therefore, Mr Pugh should be placed on a potential child abuser watch list,
and his pathological impulses should not be empowered by any democracy.

AnonymousMarch 18, 2008 5:30 PM

@Nostromo trolls

"there was usually about 1 kid in 50 or so who was a serial bully?"

Most of these people became cops.

"If there's serious research showing that to be a pattern, we should not just dismiss it out of hand."

The idea is flat-out criminal-constructing, a job that the government excels at. (Google "The Optimum Number of Criminals").

Honestly, if there was any hint about this, it would have been noticed a long, long, time ago and acted upon then. (Google up "evolution"). Dredging up whatever remains of the risk and labeling people who fit the model will simply encourage all those labeled to just act as they are expected to act. So after the DNA is extracted from them (by force), why not just hand them an assault rifle and direct them into the nearest school? (Google up "self fulfilling prophecy").

LyleMarch 18, 2008 6:24 PM

> there was usually about 1 kid in 50 or so who was a serial bully?

Lucky you. In my school it was 1 in 10.

VickiMarch 18, 2008 6:36 PM

Nostromo,

What you're overlooking is that the set of school bullies is, significantly, the set of kids who have tacit permission to beat other people up. If a nerd beats up a "popular" kid or the mayor's daughter, he's in big trouble; if a "popular" kid beats up a nerd, they tell the victim to suck it up. Some of them may grow up to be criminals in the sense we're talking about; some grow up to be cops or jail guards; some outgrow it; and some grow up to sell cars, manage stores, or drive trucks and reminisce about playing football. And it's not the mayor's kids who will wind up in that database, it's the ordinary classmate who fights back.

Recruiting SergentMarch 18, 2008 6:42 PM

@ Anonymous

"why not just hand them an assault rifle and direct them into the nearest school?"

Better idea... why not just hand them an assault rifle and direct them into the nearest Iraqi? Cheap cannon fodder ;-)

fazMarch 18, 2008 7:20 PM

Police state or sci-fi or ADN apart, there is something called "pygmalion effect" that is very real and strong for kids :
they want to please adults, they want to ressemble the stereotypes parents and educators project on them -- mostly without even realizing it. If you have kids, you can see that at work very strongly in the early years.

This effect is not the only one in education, but it's a big part of society. It makes girls girly and boys boyish. It makes bad kids behave more and more like bad kids. It saves some bad kids when they meet someone who project another image on them.

AnonymousMarch 18, 2008 8:32 PM

Citizen assume the position.

No one is innocent.

Patience.

We are determining your level of guilt.

Justice will be swift.

SimonMarch 19, 2008 1:13 AM

I am a little confused at the extrememly negative reactions here.

I've seen plenty of studies that show that children with a high risk of criminal behavour can be spotted early in life and that it has a high chance of being fixed ( over 80% in some studies) by counciling etc.

I am not sure if the DNA database idea is good but doing something positive for this children rather than waiting till they are older and much harder to save seems a good idea.

jtMarch 19, 2008 1:28 AM

Simon - does a DNA database do _anything_ positive for the children you are talking about? Does it have any relationship to the counseling you mention?

Roland HeszMarch 19, 2008 1:59 AM

Looking back on my childhood, I would be on the records. Yet, I have not became a criminal. Also today I would be labeled a hyperactive/attention-deficit disorder child.

It is a really, really stupid - or brilliant, depending what is your goal - idea.

PasiKMarch 19, 2008 2:20 AM

I have another suggestion: Many of the ethical problems with kids go away if we modify the suggestion so that only the *very* old people will be registered to the DNA database. e.g. over 75 years old, or those who don't remember their own name.

If they commit a crime they can be put to jail whereas kids can't.

Even better, it's a well known fact that some elderly people get cranky with age. We'd target a potentially aggressive group of people by selecting an age limit and then simply just observe them make a mistake!

...

Did you know that less than 100 years ago people did not even need passports to cross country borders?

And yes, they did have wars like we do. What has changed?

utnapistimMarch 19, 2008 3:49 AM

It sounds a lot like the collecting of personal items that STASI police did, behind the Berlin wall: they kept personal items stolen from the population, in air-tight jars, so tracking dogs would be able to sniff it and track people down.

But I'm sure the comparation is exaggerated, and besides, this is clearly for the good of the children ... right?

OlafMarch 19, 2008 4:43 AM

Email to UK Gov:

Ok the prevention of crime theme isn't working. Surely we can figure out a 'green', 'climate change' angle to this?

See you at our next meeting in the Ritz?

Yours

Alan B'stard

SteveJMarch 19, 2008 5:44 AM

@PasiK: "Did you know that less than 100 years ago people did not even need passports to cross country borders? ... What has changed?"

I suspect that what has changed is the number of people who want and are able to travel long distances. As, say, the government of France, you're going to have a slightly different border policy according to whether you have a few thousand British tourists a year, or a few million. Tourism exploded in the 20th century.

Passport controls are mostly about raising the difficulty of entry for refugees and economic migrants, not keeping out spies or whatever in case of a war. A passport identifies you as (say) an American citizen, and hence almost certainly not a refugee.

JohnMarch 19, 2008 6:12 AM

Perhaps they could identify the criminal gene and sterilise them at an early age or perhaps execute them when they breech their ASBO - that will sort them out! I can just see the letters page of some newspapers suggesting this.

I have no problem with giving extra help to children with issues. All children are on a database somewhere - it may be local to the school or not. Some children are on a database (e.g At Risk Register) and some should be but are not.

bobMarch 19, 2008 6:55 AM

Nowadays young people who are irresponsible, have lots of energy and difficulty focusing are called "ADD" and are put on a regimin of mind-altering drugs. 40 years ago they were called "children" and told to behave. Be interesting to see which technique works better in the long run.

What they should do with this database is register ALL children - and also enter how they are raised at home. Then go back 20 years from now and see what kind of parenting techniques had a high correlation to criminal behaviour and stop THAT.

SteveJMarch 19, 2008 6:56 AM

"Perhaps they could identify the criminal gene and sterilise them at an early age"

Quite.

DNA registration is currently considered by the public a measure suitable only for criminals. Adding someone to a DNA database is a punishment for criminal activity. That is how the database was originally presented, but the government has since started adding those charged with crimes they did not commit. This proposal (which to be fair to the government is not from then, it's from an independent think tank) is to add those who aren't even suspected of a crime, but whom we suspect may in future commit a crime.

In British law, someone who is "evaluated as being high-risk for future crimes", but has not been convicted of any crime, is technically termed "innocent".

Shami Chakrabati is quite right - this is science fiction. It's "pre-crime", as predicted by Dick 50 years ago. He needed people with psychic powers to explain the practise of catching future criminals before they even form any intent to commit a crime. Now we just need a psychologist. The other thing Dick predicted was that innocent people would suffer as a result of incorrect predictions. Hmm.

There may be a case that innocent people should be on a DNA database, so that if/when they do commit a crime they can be caught. Perhaps everyone should be on it. This argument revolves around questions like "will it work?", "does it do harm?" and "does it respect fundamental righs?". The current scheme avoids the last two questions by ostensibly restricting the database to criminals - unintended harm to criminals "doesn't matter" in the public mind as much as unintended harm to innocents (such as themselves, for most members of the public).

But those who simply don't care about the second two questions, who are only interested in catching criminals at any cost, are clearly going to be tempted to abuse the definition of criminal to sneak as many people onto the database as possible without having to face the negative consequences. Which is exactly what this proposal does.

freedom isnt freeMarch 19, 2008 7:04 AM

"Squeegee your third eye" said Bill Hicks, and he said it for a reason.

Our perception has been stolen from us by the #1 drug of choice: television. Soon they will place heavy filters on the internet so it will be the same thing.

Holy men like Bill Hicks, MLK, and John Lennon tried to tell us something, but we still refuse to listen.

Read "Food of The Gods" by Terence Mckenna and The Plutonium Files (regarding experiments on Americans) by a Pulitzer Prize winner.

SteveJMarch 19, 2008 8:26 AM

What does television have to do with it? Most of the scare-tactics about "youth gone wrong" go through the newspapers.

SteveJMarch 19, 2008 8:31 AM

"This proposal (which to be fair to the government is not from then, it's from an independent think tank) "

Correction: this proposal is from a senior police officer. The point that it can't (yet) be ascribed to the government still stands, but the thing from the think tank (IPPR) is that future-criminals should get remedial attention, not that they should be DNA-registered.

theophylactMarch 19, 2008 8:46 AM

Philip Kerr's novel "A Philosophical Investigation" deals pretty squarely with this theme.

jdegeMarch 19, 2008 9:38 AM

Wasn't it Jeremy ("The idea of rights is nonsense and the idea of natural rights is nonsense on stilts") Bentham who first advocated imprisoning people of certain ethnic and/or economic groups in advance, since they were certain to become criminals, anyway?

It would clearly result in the greatest good for the greatest number...

talonboltMarch 19, 2008 10:07 AM

Just over twenty years ago I was on a contract doing some work for the US BJS(Bureau of Justice Statistics). As part of my investigation I interviewed several senior people selected by the BJS. One of them was a senior chief at the Bureau of Prisons. During the interview when asked if she had anything else to add, she flat out told me [paraphrasing] *that we know how to identify criminals while they are young and before they commit any crimes. We should round them up and lock them up or put them on medications.*

I didn't exactly know what to say, so I dutifully wrote it down on the form, smiled, said thank you and left.

These people are alway looking for a silver bullet and it just doesn't exist.

btwarMarch 19, 2008 10:09 AM

And what happens when these children reach an age where they can demand the information from their file?

What happens when the system is corrupted and people use it to hold a children's future hostage?

Its a 'who watches the watchers' problem. It will be overcome by the weight of litigation and liability exposure minimization.

Read: a waste of money, time, and potentially harmful.

snakeMarch 19, 2008 10:26 AM

Is this where we build a wall around Manhattan to dump all of the pre-suspected unnocents? I guess it's Monica Lewinsky's ex-boyfriend's wife's presidential plane that will crash there?

Sad Days a Comin'March 19, 2008 10:42 AM

Just goes to show you that the world is still not ready for major motion picture productions of Phillip K. Dick books, apparently it's giving all the idiots out there a lot of "great" ideas, because they are far too dense to grasp the higher sociological statements being made.

And everyone loves a raven-haired 4ft tall scientologist... *pukes*

xd0sMarch 19, 2008 10:58 AM

A fairly easy way to determine if *any* crime prevention measure is going to work is to look over history, across all forms of crime prevention and punishment that we have tried already.

None worked. We still have crime.

Death Penalty. Nope.
Cutting off hands. Nope.
Flogging. Nope
Loss of Freedom. Nope
Entering DNA into a Database. Hmmm, let's see.

Crime is not a pure function of DNA but rather a nature + Nurture + a wide variety of other things along the way.

Could DNA identify a person prone to crimes of passion?

Could DNA determine at some point in my life I'd be poor enough to steal so I could eat?

I'll have to agree that there are clues seen in childhood that indicate a "potential pre-disposition" to some types of future behavior, but this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and then further condemning future babies of the same DNA to be thrown out too by virtue of being related to the first baby.

alanMarch 19, 2008 11:26 AM

If we are to imprison those who are the greatest threat to society then we should be imprisoning experts who propose draconian solutions to small or non-existent problems.

But then again I also believe that the editorial staff of the Weekly Standard should be drafted and sent to Iraq...

MarkMarch 19, 2008 12:07 PM

When I was in first grade I was paddled for throwing a pickle in the cafeteria. I was also punished for stealing paper. I did neither and didn't know who did (probably whoever accused me). Potential Crimes: Theft, disturbing the peace, inciting a riot

When I was in second grade I was chewed out and ejected from a math class and put in a "slower" class because I said "a hundred" instead of "one hundred." Potential Crime: ? but I'm sure they'd profile one

When I was in third grade I was punished for drawing naked people (I did). Potential Crimes: Distributing pornograohy, contributing to deliquency of minor, pedophilia

When I was in sixth grade I was called to the office several times and grilled about smoking and fireworks. Why? Because the school bus bully, last to get on the bus, sat by me and was stomping on some caps. I was considered guilty by association for weeks. Potential Crimes: Arson, Weapons, Terrorism

I could go on, because there were several more deeds that this terribly shy, skinny, withdrawn little kid got accused or punished for because he stood out as different from the crowd. I could also add the things I did do in high school that could be bent the same way.

Why does it matter? Because they'd have labelled me very much as a potential criminal yet, 30 years later, I've never even had a speeding ticket, never committed a criminal act, a civil tort, or more than a mild male thought crime.

ThomMarch 19, 2008 12:16 PM

Once you label a child as a potential criminal and you'll watch him as if he were one. Once you start watching a child like a potential criminal you'll start treating him as one. Once you start treating a child as a potential criminal you'll destroy what potential he has and turn him into a criminal.

Anyone suggesting or supporting this act should be removed from their office or their jobs and added to a list of potential child abusers and treasonists, because they've already demonstrated a proclivity toward destroying the lives of children and acting to destroy their country.

JasonMarch 19, 2008 2:10 PM

How about the fact that a vast majority of serial killers are men?

This is clear evidence that all males should be tagged at a young age so that when they go on a killing spree, it will be easier to catch them.

Ladies don't do that sort of thing.

AnonymousMarch 19, 2008 2:11 PM

This whole thing is scary from several perspetives.

But forget about the obvious ones of supposedly detecting a criminal in their youth, etc. The really serious issues become that we will now be making everyone conform to an "acceptable" behaviour pattern, making everyone the same -- aka drones.

And keep in mind that thkis proces may not really be detecting violent or criminal intent, but rather a tendency to question, stand up for the underdog, etc.

Like it or not, many of the great reforms fo history wre brought about by so called "criminals". The Magna Carta, the US reviolution, etc., were all the results of acts considered criminal to the power in place.

markmMarch 19, 2008 2:18 PM

Thom and Brian: Yes, but it will make police work so much easier if we'll just identify the criminals in advance and then take steps to ensure they turn out that way.

markmMarch 19, 2008 2:27 PM

I hope everyone realizes the post above is sarcasm...

"But, folks, don't you remember being 10 or 11 years old? Don't you remember that while most kids could be unruly (even violent) at times, there was usually about 1 kid in 50 or so who was a serial bully? Who seemed to lack a normal amount of empathy with other people? Who seemed to enjoy hurting people?

"I don't know what happened to the (very few) kids like this that I encountered at junior school, but I would not be in the least surprised if they turned out to be criminals. If there's serious research showing that to be a pattern, we should not just dismiss it out of hand.

"Posted by: Nostromo"

I do remember a couple of kids like that, but I am quite certain that the school officials wouldn't be capable of picking them out with any accuracy. One was the Mayor's son. He wasn't the one getting into trouble with the authorities. Fortunately for society, as soon as he got a drivers license he filched some whiskey from his father's liquor cabinet and demonstrated why we called it "dead man's curve" one more time. The other one was in college. Although every student knew he was a psychopath, he always had the authorities fooled. The last time I heard of him, he celebrated his release from prison by killing five more people - and the only thing that surprised me was that they let him out. He was still fooling the authorities.

WilliamMarch 19, 2008 4:02 PM

When I was in high school I was the below average, poorly dressed, greasy haired, scuzzy kid that was labelled a bad egg. This was a huge change from my earlier years.

What was different? Almost every one of my high school teachers had a few pet students in every class. They'd spend the first 5-10 minutes of classtime on lingering conversation with the pets. They'd talk to and assist the pets at every opportunity. Who were the pets? The kids with the best grades.

Maybe if teachers would direct their attention and help to the students who need it the most then the others wouldn't be left behind to become miscreants. Mr and Ms all A's are smart enough to maintain their grades themselves, they can work alone to improve them to A+'s, or they can assist the lesser students too.

Teachers play a large part in making us what we become. They're the last ones that should be allowed to label us.

SteveJMarch 19, 2008 4:32 PM

@xd0s: "Crime is not a pure function of DNA"

I think you've misread the article - the DNA isn't used to work out who is a potential criminal. There might be people who claim that there are genes for crime, but this article is not about those people. It's behavioural traits which supposedly could be used to identify future criminals.

The purpose of storing DNA in the database is for identification from crime-scene forensic evidence. The theory is that if all your future criminals are in the database, then when they do eventually start committing crimes, you'll catch them more easily. It's "DNA fingerprinting", not Gattaca.

Nick LancasterMarch 20, 2008 8:05 AM

Next, we'll conclude that only really smart kids have the ability to commit white-collar crime, so we'll compile a DNA database of smart kids, counsel them into lowest common denominator thinking, and have a populace much more amenable to control by an elite bureaucracy ...

jayhMarch 20, 2008 8:40 AM

"The purpose of storing DNA in the database is for identification from crime-scene forensic evidence. The theory is that if all your future criminals are in the database, then when they do eventually start committing crimes, you'll catch them more easily. "

There is a lot wrong with this.

First, realize that your DNA is in many many places, including places that may turn out to be crime scenes.

Current use of DNA is corroborative, that is a suspect is further implicated or disimplicated by the DNA test. With such an approach, likelihood of false positives and shotgun arrests are quite remote. Working the other way, however, there will be many innocent people brought under the investigation (either because their DNA was at the site, or was similar to DNA at the site). DNA matching is not absolute. Finding a credible match between an existing suspect and a crime scene is strong evidence, finding multiple potential DNA matches out of millions of citizens is a disaster to those implicated.

the other AlanMarch 20, 2008 10:37 AM

@jayh, to further your thoughts, which are very good: corroborative vs. implicated.

You will turn the current (U.S. at least) system on its head. Instead of prosecutors proving guilt, innocent people will have to prove their innocence, e.g. "Yes, I know you found my DNA at the crime scene, but it's a bookstore, there's lots of DNA from other people" prosecutorial response: "yes, we've identified 11 sets of DNA and 9 of the people have PROVEN THEIR INNOCENCE by having alibis. All that's left is for you to PROVE YOUR INNOCENCE by having an alibi, then we can procecute the 11th person. So, what's your alibi? Where were you? Don't have an alibi? You were alone at the park at that time? You're under arrest, you have the right to remain silent, anything you say may be used against you. You have a right to an attorney. . . "

You get the picture.

xd0sMarch 20, 2008 10:41 AM

@SteveJ

You're right I misread that, thanks for the clarification. Multi-tasking and reading / responding might not match well. :)

I still don't like it, but that is a different purpose than I first thought.

PhilMarch 20, 2008 11:31 AM

Hmmm, sounds like something out of the movie "Minority Report". Same premise, profiling the crime before it happens and arresting the "precriminal" before they are allowed to commit the crime. In this case, profiling the behavior and then putting the child in "special intervention programs" to modify potential future behavior problems.

John KelseyMarch 20, 2008 3:33 PM

The reactions above seem to mix together two different ideas:

a. Can you predict which kids will likely be in trouble with the law as adults?

b. Which peoples' DNA should be put into a database, to make it easier to catch them if they commit some crime? (Similar questions apply to fingerprints, I suppose.)

It seems to me that (a) is an empirical question, not subject to being answered by any amount of moral outrage. My impression is that there are often kids that you can identify pretty young as "troubled," but I don't have much of an intuition of how much more likely those kids are to actually become criminals than other kids. In the extreme cases, you have pretty young kids who end up in juvenile detention for serious crimes, and I guess it's not a huge stretch to expect a lot of those kids to end up as adult criminals, too. (But this is pretty different from getting into a locker room fight, mouthing off to your teacher, or getting caught smoking a joint in high school!)

Now, (b) looks like a question of policy that has a lot to do with both morality, but that also is based on empirical questions about how the data collected is to be used. Collecting DNA samples/fingerprints from school troublemakers seems like pretty horrible policy, but spending more resources trying to keep kids who are headed for trouble straight might be worthwhile, assuming we can manage to do any good.

MarkMarch 20, 2008 3:48 PM

@Jason

How about the fact that a vast majority of serial killers are men?

This is clear evidence that all males should be tagged at a young age so that when they go on a killing spree, it will be easier to catch them.

Ladies don't do that sort of thing.

The actual starting point is that the majority of serial killers *who get caught* might well be men. You can't simply assume that criminals who get caught are a representative sample of criminals.
Things get even more "interesting" when you start looking at women serial killers who have been caught. Especially serial poisoners some of whom managed to kill several people without murder being suspected. (Or had the "bad luck" for a medical practictioner to recognise that some "strange illness" was was not a disease.)

MarkMarch 20, 2008 3:55 PM

@jayh
First, realize that your DNA is in many many places, including places that may turn out to be crime scenes.

It's even possible for your DNA to end up in places you have never been. It's not as if people wear gloves when they handle money or gloves, facemask and hairnet when they read library books.

paulMarch 20, 2008 8:02 PM

The DNA angle is just a way to get money. Does anyone think schools don't already keep track of the kids they think are troublemakers and target them (if they have the programs or the funds) for intervention?

EngineerMarch 22, 2008 8:48 PM

@ John Kelsey

Putting DNA into a database won't help catch people, not even if the people are criminals. It helps identify those people if they have their DNA sampled again, but until DNA has to be authenticated as an admission requirement to many things necessary for life, it will not help catch anyone.

See the movie Gattaca.

foonMarch 23, 2008 4:42 PM

While it's an accurate synopsis of teh research it doesn't help. Yes, we have a fairly accurate estimate of future criminal actions - but so what? We also have a good estimate of who will dodge on income tax and benefits, but current legislation, correctly (?) stops us acting.

swooiiitMarch 24, 2008 4:00 AM

Not a parent myself, but it seems to me that children firstly demand attention,and secondly try to meet their parents expectations.
All attention being equal, if they ever discover they're on a list of likely offenders there's a high chance they will try to meet that expectation too.
So you have to give them years of CBT without them ever finding out why - even though the existence of such a program will be public knowledge!
It's naive to think this will ever work.
This trouble-maker register will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

THE Anonymous Guy (the REAL one!)March 24, 2008 8:10 AM

OK, you folks make a real good case for the fact that it simply is NOT fair to impose this on INNOCENT children.

Clearly, the ONLY viable alternative is to impose it on ALL! All children, All adults, ALL, period!

What, you say? The REAL Anonymous Guy is being SARCASTIC?

Perish the thought!

I'm merely pointing out the agenda, and how neatly y'all are fitting into it!

By objecting to the obviously objectionable object (the DNA-logging of SOME innocent children), you are unwittingly paving the way for the DNA-logging of ALL innocent people -- just to be FAIR, mind you -- just to ACKNOWLEDGE the objections you've raised!

The bastards are if nothing else crafty, n'est ce pas?

That's some choice they give you -- say nothing, and SOME innocent children get DNA'd. Say SOMETHING, and ALL innocent people of ALL ages get DNA'd!

What's a non statist-thug to do?

Step one is to recognize the gambit -- and focus on the GOAL rather than the BAIT. And make no mistake -- this whole "We MUST log the DNA of SOME innocent children!" IS bait. That's ALL it is -- BAIT!

As I said, crafty so-and-so's they are.

Step two is to INSIST that if there's to be ANY logging of DNA, it's to be restricted to ONE class of individual -- the convicted criminal (and I would personally urge that it be restricted to a SUBCATEGORY of "convicted criminal": the convicted FELON, who has exhausted ALL appeals.)

That's some nose on that camel, and in case you hadn't noticed, it's well into the tent by now.

I'm a damnyankee, but as I see it, your country is in many ways a beta site for MY country. (And in any case, I grieve whenever -- and wherever -- the last vestiges of freedom are crushed beneath Orwell's boot heel.)

THE Anonymous Guy (the REAL one!)March 30, 2008 2:10 AM

At the risk of flogging a dead thread...

@SteveJ" It's "DNA fingerprinting", not Gattaca.

You forgot to add "...yet." to the end of that sentence.

@Mark: I hear ya. When I was a young dork, I was sitting on a schoolbus, minding my business, when some genuine punk slipped into the seat behind me, and with no warning, smacked me upside the head.

I spun around and yelled "Hey!" -- and was promptly treated to the gradeschool version of "UCNJ Justice" by teachers who did NOT even WANT to hear "my version of the story" -- while the schmuck who smacked me sat there yukking it up with his buds -- in full view of the teachers.

It does tend to make a guy cynical of the concept of "due process" at an early age -- although frankly I consider that good training for real life.

Ntr0PApril 24, 2008 5:06 PM

This is fascinating to me. The idea that future behavior can be predicted is unendingly interesting, but the idea should be less about can we do it and more about should we do it.

What happened to "innocent until proven guilty"?

The application of technologies and knowledge towards the convergence of "one ring to rule them all" is quite scary. I dare say things are moving in this direction faster than I would have guessed.

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