Made for the job


As regular readers will know, I harbour a little fantasy about life as an academic – I imagine quiet afternoons of deep thought, preferably in an ancient room overlooking a college garden…  It’s very unlikely to come to pass, but it does mean that I am always interested to read other people’s criminological research.  At the start of this year the Australian Institute of Criminology published a paper titled “Recruitment into organised criminal groups: A systematic review”.  I believe that this is called metadata – a summary of various studies to understand the bigger picture.  And what a picture it is.

In short, the aim is to learn more about what predisposes someone to get involved with organised crime.  Back in the nineteenth century Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso came up with his theory of anthropological criminology, which basically said that criminality was inherited and that you could tell whether someone was dodgy by looking for certain physical defects (such as a sloping forehead, big ears or long arms – you can see where he got his ideas…).  Thoroughly discredited now of course – but wouldn’t it make life easier if it were true?  That said, it seems that there is a grain of truth in the idea that criminality as a profession is indeed inherited – albeit through social rather than genetic links.

Anyway, some interesting findings from the metadata:

  • The most significant factors contributing to whether someone is recruited into organised crime are their social ties (including “parental, family, kinship, friendship and other ties”), and their criminal background and skills
  • Family ties are particularly important as they “favour the cultural transmission and learning processes required for recruitment into criminal organisations” (which will come as no surprise to fans of the “Godfather” films)
  • Friendship ties (“often reinforced by common ethnic, regional or neighbourhood origins”) confer the level of trust needed in organised crime groups
  • Organised crime groups are always on the lookout for people with an inclination for violence and criminal behaviour – and those who offer “competence in specific illegal business activities”
  • It seems that once you’ve stumbled from the path of righteousness, it just gets worse: “A more active criminal career often involves imprisonment, which can favour the establishment of contacts, social relations and opportunities for recruitment into organised criminal groups”
  • Very importantly, recruits must show “the capacity to avoid police detection” and “the capacity to maintain silence”.

With my AML hat on (when do I ever wear anything else?), I am also interested to read that “the education levels of Italian mafia members have increased over time, allowing them to exploit new opportunities arising from the growing market economy”, and that “individuals with higher socio-economic status may become involved in criminal organisations, either because they are attracted by the profit-making opportunities or because they face difficult personal and economic circumstances”.  What, like a global pandemic with its associated economic recession and high unemployment?  You have been warned.