Treating the ‘home-made’ criminal

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Treating the ‘home-made’ criminal

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Serious crimes in Korea are on the rise. In 2010, an average of 75.3 serious crimes including murder, theft and sexual assault were committed daily, a sharp increase from the average of 57.6 in 2006.

To get behind the numbers and look for causes, the JoongAng Ilbo Special Reporting Team examined the backgrounds of 159 criminals convicted between 2009 and 2011 and read court reports procured with the cooperation of the Suwon District Court in Gyeonggi.

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A team of criminal psychologists led by Professor Lee Soo-jung of Kyonggi University analyzed the 159 cases - 37 murders, 47 robberies and 75 serious sexual assaults - to find patterns in the criminals and their backgrounds. Here are some of the findings:

* 66.7 percent of the convicted criminals had parents who were divorced, abusive, alcoholic, engaged in extramarital affairs or had psychological disorders.

* 67.2 percent experienced bullying, maladjustment or isolation in their school days.

* 34.7 percent said they experienced physical or verbal abuse from their parents.

* 15.7 percent had alcoholic parents.

* 44.3 percent committed their crimes “accidentally” because they couldn’t control their anger or other emotions.

* All of the convicts came from relatively poor families.

“Although not everyone who grows up in an unstable household necessarily commits crimes, it definitely contributes to more crimes,” said Lee said. “There needs to be measures to decrease the number of ‘home-made criminals.’”

One of the cases was of a 44-year-old man surnamed Choi who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for murder. At the age of seven, Choi’s parents divorced. His mother had an affair with a soldier and left him. His father remarried and his stepmother ignored him.

Throughout elementary school, Choi had little interest in studying. He often got involved in fights and when teachers scolded him, he responded by throwing things at them. In middle school, he stole items from home and sold them for pocket money. Eventually he dropped out of school. He was involved in numerous violent altercations.

In 2009, he grew suspicious that his live-in girlfriend was cheating on him, and he fatally beat her with a hammer.

“If you are human, you can conceive of murderous designs in hostile relationships,” Lee said, “On the other hand, if such anger is suppressed, it can become dangerous. People who didn’t undergo an adequate social development process in their childhood can succumb to violence.”

A 23-year-old convict surnamed Kim had an abusive father. When he was in middle school, Kim skipped a class at his cram school to play with his friends. When he came home, he found a kitchen knife jammed in the center of his desk.

After high school, the violence of Kim’s father grew worse. He would angrily threaten him with a knife even over trivial matters. When Kim came home for summer break in 2009 with a subpar college report, his father began intimidating him with a knife again.

But this time was different, because Kim picked up a baseball bat and bludgeoned his father to death.

Of the parricidal cases in the study, 80 percent of the criminals said they had suffered physical or verbal abuse by their families. All the parricidal convicts testified they had endured hostile relationships with their families.

The study also revealed that of the 159 convicts, 32.5 percent were raised by parents without steady incomes, while 43.1 percent said their parents’ income was just enough to make ends meet. The rest came from average income households. None came from upper- to high- income households.

Lee emphasized the importance of counseling for children who come from unstable homes. “If children with domestic problems have someone who understands and listens to them, they can learn to contain and control accumulated anger and grow to become sound members of society.”

Seo Gi-seok, chief judge of the Suwon District Court said, “Reform programs including parental education and counseling for children in divorce cases, expert psychiatric counseling for juvenile delinquencies and training for legal guardians need to be actively propelled” by the courts. Almost 10,000 convicted juvenile delinquents are released every year.

By Special Reporting Team [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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