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If... We Could Stop The Violence

Since Tony Blair's famous boast: "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", politicians continue to court the electorate with crime prevention promises.

While the connection between crime and poverty is well known, links between violence and biological make-up are still being explored.

Could - and should - people's physiological predisposition to violent behaviour ever be managed by the state?

Wednesday, 22 December, 2004
2100 GMT

The IF series of drama-documentaries continues with an exploration of how far scientists can prove a biological cause for violence.

And it questions the extent to which we should intrude on any individual's liberty, even when it is for the supposed good of society.


It is 2015.

If... We Could Stop The Violence
Could biological screening cut crime by rooting out violence?
Gangs of youths on deprived estates no longer pose a threat to passers-by.

Liam, a Leeds schoolboy, is identified as possessing a biological predisposition for violent behaviour.

Once the biological "markers" are recognised, the boy is apprehended for treatment before he commits any crime.

But there are ethical dangers with the pre-emptive strike - and it has an impact on Liam's whole family.

Scientists in the US and UK are building a body of evidence that the nurture-versus-nature debate is far too simple.

Brain damage, the structure of the pre-frontal lobe, and levels of enzymes and neurotransmitters like Serotonin have all been cited as indicators of a predisposition to violent or antisocial behaviour.

Increasingly, arguments are made that the social conditions associated with crime today - abuse, neglect, poverty - can activate a biological predisposition for violence.

Identify that predisposition, and the pre-emptive strike becomes a possibility.

The programme talked to the leading proponents on the cutting edge of this controversial science and explores their theories.

The drama-documentary was followed by a Newsnight studio debate chaired by Jeremy Paxman.

The guests discussing the issues for the debate were:

  • Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty and former Home Office legal adviser
  • Dr Oliver James, child psychologist
  • Professor Adrian Raine, neuroscientist at the University of Southern California
  • Albert Kirby, retired detective superintendent (as of 1998), former head of Merseyside Police Serious Crime Squad, and senior investigating officer of the James Bulger murder

Series editor: Mary Downes
Producer/director: Carl Hindmarch



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