An Outlaw Society: Live by the Gun, Die by the Gun

Most people choose to live in mainstream society, while others choose not to live by societal rule giving rise to a new fringe society called the outlaw. Even though they don’t follow the rules and regulations set out by traditional means, outlaws follow their own code passed down from their founding member to each new generation of recruits or soldiers. Most outlaw societies follow the same code once your in your in for life and breaking the cardinal rules of your organization carry with it a price either punish or worse death. When you think about it, outlaws may not follow mainstream society but operate using a similar system of governing which is follow the rules and nothing will happen but break the rules and their are grave consequence. Hey if it ain’t broke don’t fix. Outlaws haven’t re-invented the wheel they just made it fit better. By no means am I condoning criminal activity, for the purpose of this article I am simply examining the causes and purposes of outlaws society relative to mainstream society.

By historical legal standards, an outlaw is someone who is declared outside the protection of the law therefore takes the burden of active prosecution of a criminal from the authorities. Since all legal protection is withdrawn from a criminal, anyone has the legal power to persecute or kill them. This by far was the harshest punishment in the legal system. Outlawry as it was called in early German law was an extreme punishment  amounting to a death sentence in practice and in Roman law was called homo  sacer persisting throughout the Middle Ages and was considered a pre-Magna Carta phenomenon. In common law England, a “Writ of Outlawry” pronounced Caput gerat lupium (“Let his be a wolf’s head,” literally “May he bear a wolfish head”)with respect to the subject referring to the person as a wolf in the eyes of the law. The criminal had no legal rights in the eyes of the law, so others could kill  him on sight like a wolf or wild animal. Women were referred to as “waived” rather than outlawed but the punishment was the same. The concept of the outlaw was to suffer a form of civil or social death as they were banished from civil society. No one could give them food, shelter, or support because the result would be aiding and abetting putting that person in danger of being banned. The penalty for killing an outlaw did not exist as it was thought to be meritorious to kill a thief and not murder. A man who killed a thief must declare the fact without delay or else the dead man’s kindred might clear his name by their oath and require the slayer to pay weregild as for a  true man. Because the man was stripped of any legal protection, the society was not obligated to the outlaw and the outlaw could not sue or take action against them.

Not until the Magna Carta, did the idea of due process and habeas corpus established in 1214 and there enshrinement in the judicial procedure require a person suspected of a crime be judged in a court of law before punishment could be handed down. However, some forms of outlawry did still exist. Though the judgement of outlawry were made obsolete, the pro forma Outlawries Bill is still introduced in the British House of Common during the State Opening of Parliament. In the United States in particular, the idea of outlawry has been romanticized in several fictional settings as well as made a popular subject of newspaper coverage and stories in the 19th and 20th century fictions  and Western movies. Therefore, the “outlaw” still refers to those who violate the law or those who live the lifestyle whether actual criminal or  those who oppose law and order or conformity and authority such as the outlaw country music movement of the 1970s. The Owlhoot Trail or the Outlaw Trail are idioms used in the American Old West referring to a frontier outlaw’s way of life even referring to the outlaws themselves as “owl-hoots.”

Also lending a hand to criminal law, outlawry faded not just because of legal changes but by the greater population density of the country making it harder for wanted fugitives to evade capture and by adoption of international extradition pacts. In the context of civil law, outlawry became obsolete in civil procedures by reforms no longer requiring the defendant to appear and plead. Yet, the possibility of being declared an outlaw persisted for neglecting civil duty in English law until 1879 and in Scots law until late 1940s. The Third Reich made extensive use of this concept and prior to the Nuremberg Trials the British jurist Lord Chancellor Lord Simon wanted to resurrect the concept of outlawry in order to provide for summary execution of Nazi war criminals. Although Simon’s idea was supported by Winston Churchill, American and Soviet attorneys wanted trials so he was overruled.

In the same way we root for the underdog, society has come to embrace the outlaw concept as they embody rebelliousness and righteousness. However the line between hated criminal and beloved outlaw is a rather grey area as time passes and perception changes. According to Eric Hobsbawn, the appeal of the social bandit is they are peasant outlaws who the state regard as criminals but who remain in their society a hero, champion, avenger, fighters for justice, and leaders of liberation. The men are looked upon as someone to be admired, helped and supported. The association of ordinary peasant and the rebel, outlaw and robber is what makes social banditry interesting and significant which is one of the most universal social phenomena known in history. If we expand the discussion to why people like outlaws, people look at the outlaw as a transformation of our ideal of rebellion against tyranny  into rebellion against authority. Take for example Robin Hood who fought against the usurper and tax collectors in the name of the oppressed, while submitting to the proper king when he appeared. Maybe the fascination with fame or infamy lends a hand to the likeability of an outlaw and on the opposite hand inspires other outlaws to do the same.

Why do people decide to live outside the law? Several factors may cause someone to be an outlaw such as child abuse, growing up economically disadvantaged, sociopathic tendencies, or falling in with bad company. It is all these and other factors therapist, criminologist, social workers and law enforcement take into account when trying to figure out why prisons are crowded . Social scientists have tried to pin point why people become criminals and have developed so called “theories of deviance” to explain gang behavior (differential association), why minorities or disadvantaged groups tend to commit crimes (anomie), repeat offenders those labeled as criminal (labeling theory) and finally people who do not operate under the same restraints as the rest of us (control theory). There is no universal explanation for the cause or crime or whether society or the criminal should be blames as the only temporary solution society has found is to send these outlaws to prison in order to stunt their activities behind the walls however in many cases it does not. Research indicates that genetics might play a role in about 50 percent of the criminal behavior of a person and the environment counts for the rest. Many experts argue that inheriting a particular gene will not predispose someone to a life of crime yet add in an abusive or violent childhood or another negative environmental factor and the risk goes up.

While many criminals share a common set of personality and behavioral traits, impulsivity and instant gratification, the wide range of offenders and offenses make generalization difficult. To better understand the influence of environment and genetics on antisocial behavior, numerous twin and adoption studies looked at traits and personalities of identical and fraternal twins (only share 50% of their genes) raised in the same and separate environments as well as if the adoptees shared similar traits to their adopted parents. Results varied and some research found evidence of genetic determination of antisocial behavior while others concluded environmental factors played  a stronger role. Inspired by his cousin Charles Darwin, British psychologist Francis Galton initiated the first twin studies in the late 19th century which lead to the nature vs. nurture debate. Using the Origin of the Species and his belief that intelligence as well as other human mental abilities and personality traits were passed down through heredity, Galton’s ideas sparked the beginning of the eugenics movement to remove undesirable people from the gene pool and gained popularity in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, the eugenics movement created more questions than answers leading to many men and women being sterilized in the name of research. However, since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 there has been renewed interesting in the link between biology and criminal behavior. As the research gains credibility and insight into the link between the two and about 100 studies have proven the link, many researchers reject the theory of biological determinism ans say environment plays a bigger role in whether and how a gene is expressed.

The brain has become the latest frontier in the quest to understand the criminal mind especially psychopaths and violent offenders. In neurocriminology, the application of neuroscience to criminology, researchers have documented the difference between the criminal brain and the normal brain. Dr. Adrain Raine, a psychologist at University of Pennsylvania, has researched the connection between criminal behavior adn the amygdala referred to as the “ the guardian angel of behavior.” The amygdala is located in the prefrontal cortex and associated with emotion and fear. The idea is someone who expresses less fear will be less likely to have a conscience guide his behavior even finding that an 18 percent reduction in volume in the amygdala occurs in psychopaths compared to non-psychopaths. One study revealed that many children who had no anticipatory fear at three years old during his test had become convicted criminals 20 years later. Dr. Raine still believes that one’s environment can still impact whether someone becomes a criminal or not. At least one psychologist rejects the notion that biology or environment will lead to criminal behavior. Inside the Criminal Mind by Dr. Stanton E. Samenow argues that regardless of their background, criminals think differently than non-criminals making the choice to commit a crime and should be held responsible.

As Cognitive Behavior Therapy (teaches offenders to identify distortions in thinking and understand that thinking differently will lead to positive changes) along with equipping the offender with coping and problem solving skills becomes the therapy of choice, so has an evolution in risk assessment resulting in more accurate and complete evaluation and treatment. After the 1970s, psychologists began to recognize that risk assessment needs evidence behind in order to render a professional judgement. They began to look at the history of criminality, substance abuse, past employment, violent behavior, social networks, and age, which improved accuracy and credibility. The assessment further evolved to consider factors such as offender’s current situation resulting in more targeted interventions. In the last few years, a supervision component has been added to ensure offenders are compliant with treatment reducing the risk of criminal behavior in the future.  As the process improved, psychologist D.A. Andrews and James Bonta developed the risk-need-responsivitiy (RNR) model which was found to be the most effective way to assess and treat criminals. The guiding principles for RNR are as follows: the offender’s level of risk, the services that address criminogenic needs, and the types of treatment programs to provide. Although evidence based treatments have had a positive impact on reducing criminal behavior, such advance alone cannot prevent an individual from becoming a repeat offender or turn them into a law abiding citizen. A major hurdle for these types of programs is funding or for that matter a lack of funding to initiate these programs.

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