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Understanding Developmental Risk Factors in Criminal Behavior


Various developmental, psychological, and environmental factors affect criminal behaviour. In a detailed analysis of three case studies to highlight the intricacies behind the crime, this paper assesses the effect of risk factors, specifies the type of crimes- whether being expressive or instrumental evaluates the criminality of the offenders, and applies particular theoretical frameworks to explain their behaviours.

Case 1: Hot Burglary

Key Aspects

Ray was brought up in an adverse environment full of familial repudiation and domestic violence that moulded his psychological nature. His committing hot burglaries and violence, caused by the will to feel robust, powerful, and in control, reveals the profound influence of traumatic upbringing on his criminal activity.

Developmental Risk Factors

Ray’s psychological development was significantly impacted by domestic violence, parental rejection, and emotional neglect exhibited by his mother. With these adverse events, he lost his self-confidence and developed antisocial behaviours (Farrington, 2020). Maladaptive coping mechanisms engendered by his tumultuous childhood can be attributed to Ray’s criminal conduct.


The instrumental nature of Ray’s burglaries is evident in the desire to gain material things and criminal dominance (Geller, 2017). On the other hand, the further development of hot burglaries, where Ray finds pleasure in treading upon sleeping victims, hints at expressive components of his psychological turmoil and requirement for affirmation.

Evaluation of Criminality

While developmental risk factors partially cause Ray’s criminal behaviour, he is not absolved of responsibility. Although his life was quite traumatic, the fact that Ray volitionally chose to act as a criminal attests to his conscious awareness of the social order and the limits of criminal law. As such, he can be seen as a criminal who is a product of his lousy environment.

Theoretical Approach

The social learning theory demonstrates that Ray had learned criminal behaviour. The internalization of maladaptive behavioural patterns could be attributed to exposure to violence and rejection within the family unit (Jahnke et al., 2023). The theory argues that individuals acquire criminal behaviour through observation, reinforcement, and modelling, thereby possibly implying that Ray’s behaviour is a response to his neglectful upbringing.

Case 2: Family Homicide

Key Aspects

The horrible case of family homicide consists of a mother’s psychotic condition aggravated by an untreated mental state and societal forces. These actions are wrongly directed perception of reality and an effort to shield her children from threats she thought they were facing.

Developmental Risk Factors

The mother’s undiagnosed mental condition, family pressure, and denial further compounded her psychological condition (Jahnke et al., 2020). The quite inevitable result of the unpleasant murder of her children was also her inability to find adequate treatment and to overcome the so-called social “norms”.


The homicide can be classified as essentially expressive, characterized by the mother’s distorted beliefs and psychological grievances (McCarthy et al., 2022). Her behaviour is driven by fear and paranoia, which are unconscious rather than conscious end states that she deliberately seeks to attain to achieve instrumental goals.

Evaluation of Criminality

Despite this, the mother’s behaviour was led by developmental risk factors and severe mental illness; her intentional infliction of harm on her children is within the criminal sphere (Nketia et al., 2021). Given that she was unable to understand the implications of what she had done, the loss of life is attributable to her.

Theoretical Approach

The case fits well with the suppositions of strain theory, which posits that people act criminally, in part as a reaction to perceived societal stressors or insufficient coping skills (Testa & Semenza, 2020). The mother’s inability to reconcile society’s needs with her deteriorating mental state compounded her strain to the point of death.

Case 6: The Yosemite Park Signature Killer Cary Stayner

Key Aspects

The case of Cary Stayner is a case that was driven by deep-seated resentment, trauma, and warped fantasies, which left a path of murder (Wikström, 2019). The misfortune of family relations and moral values suffocation, their childhood was traumatized, and led him to violence and sadism.

Developmental Risk Factor

Stayner’s childhood trauma, made worse by unresolved resentment and twisted perceptions, paved the way for his criminal offences (Wojciechowski, 2017). The traumatic experiences of his life and the disharmony in his family environment cultivated his twisted vision and predisposed him to violence.


In their instance, expressive and instrumental crimes co-emerge in the murders of Stayner, reflecting psychological pathology and homicidal tendencies (Wojciechowski, 2017). The behavioural pattern is a mix of psychological gratification and instrumental motives, which are control and domination over victims.

Evaluation of Criminality

The intentional decision of Stayner to commit premeditated acts of violence and sadism renders him a criminal (Wojciechowski, 2017). To the extent he was a victim of psychological strain and traumatic rearing, such does not relieve him of the accountability for the deliberate destruction he has caused to his victims.

Theoretical Approach

Stayner’s behavioural crime can be placed in the theoretical perspective of psychodynamic theory, wherein the role of unconscious drives and unresolved conflicts in the formation of human behaviour is highlighted. Such behaviour may reflect a symptom of suppressed trauma and unsolved psychic conflicts, emphasizing the significance of early intervention and therapeutic care.


These three case studies emphasise the intricate interrelation between developmental risk factors, psychological distress, and environmental influences that form criminal behaviour. Utilizing theoretical frameworks and realising the intricate layers underneath each case will help society to bring forth interventions and support systems geared towards preventing further occurrences of criminal activities while promoting character rehabilitation and societal safety. The only way we can work towards eliminating crime and creating a conducive environment where both communities and individuals thrive is through understanding the origin of crime.


Davies, S. T., Lloyd, C. D., & Polaschek, D. L. (2023). Do some dynamic risk factors signal imminent recidivism? Testing the conceptual distinction between stable and acute dynamic risk factors. Criminal Justice and Behavior50(8), 1120-1139.

Farrington, D. P. (2020). Childhood risk factors for criminal career duration: Comparisons with prevalence, onset, frequency and recidivism. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health30(4), 159–171.

Geller, D. S. (2017). Nuclear weapons and international conflict: Theories and empirical evidence. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.

Jahnke, S., Abad Borger, K., Burgsmüller, L., Hoppe, C., & Beelmann, A. (2023). A meta-analysis on the link between young people’s social environment, socioeconomic status, and political violence outcomes. International Journal of Developmental Science17(1-3), 19-29.

Jahnke, S., Schröder, C. P., Goede, L., Lehmann, L., Hauff, L., & Beelmann, A. (2020). Observer sensitivity and early radicalization to violence among young people in Germany. Social Justice Research33(3), 308-330.

McCarthy, M., Ogilvie, J. M., & Allard, T. (2022). Exploring trajectories of offender harm: An alternative approach to understanding offending pathways over the life-course. Journal of Criminal Justicep. 82, 101957.

Nketia, J., Amso, D., & Brito, N. H. (2021). Towards a more inclusive and equitable developmental cognitive neuroscience. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, p. 52, 101014.

Testa, A., & Semenza, D. (2020). Criminal offending and health over the life-course: A dual-trajectory approach. Journal of Criminal Justice68, 101691.

Wikström, P. H. (2019). Explaining crime and criminal careers: The DEA model of situational action theory. Journal of Developmental and Life-Course Criminology6(2), 188-203.

Wojciechowski, T. W. (2017). PTSD as a risk factor for the development of violence among juvenile offenders: A group-based trajectory modelling approach. Journal of Interpersonal Violence35(13-14), 2511-2535.


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