Yet, despite the abundance of evidence showing the role of family in crime, criminologists and policymakers have largely neglected this factor—as the University of Maryland criminologist John Laub told me, it’s because any suggestion of a possible biological or genetic basis for crime could be misconstrued as racism. Instead, researchers have looked at other well-known risk causes like poverty, deviant peers at school, drugs, and gangs. Of course, these are real issues. But, a child’s life begins at home with the family even before the neighborhood, friends, or classmates can lead them astray.
I met the Bogles through an official at the Oregon Department of Corrections, who called me to say he knew of a family with what he thought were six members in prison. Little did I know that, after 10 years of reporting, the real number of people in the Bogle clan I found who have been incarcerated or placed on probation or parole would turn out to be 60.
The Bogles had a story to tell about what happens in a criminal family. “What you are raised with, you grow to become,” says Tracey Bogle, who served a 16-year prison sentence for kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, car theft, and sexual assault. “There is no escape from our criminal contagion.”
While Tracey’s father, Rooster, was the most malevolent member of the bunch, the family’s history of criminality stretches back to 1920, when Rooster’s mother and father made and sold moonshine during Prohibition. Since then, members of the family have committed crimes including burglaries, armed robberies, kidnapping, and murder.
“Rooster hated toys and sports, and the only fun thing to him was stealing,” Tracey told me, “so he took us out with him to burglarize our neighbors’ homes, or steal their cows and chickens, or take their Social Security checks out of their mailboxes.” Not surprisingly, the fun thing to do in the Bogle household when Tracey was growing up was stealing. He learned by imitating his father and his older brothers and his uncles, all of whom eventually went to prison. Unwittingly, Tracey was describing what criminologists call “the social learning theory” of what makes some people turn into criminals—emulating the behaviors of those around them.
Rooster would take his sons to peek at the local prison on the edge of Salem, Oregon, where they lived. “Look carefully,” he instructed them. “When you grow up, this is where you are going to live.” The boys took this not as a warning, but as a dare, and Rooster’s prophecy came to pass: All of his children, seven sons and three girls, were incarcerated at one point or another.
When you come to realize the importance of family in crime, the $182-billion-a-year U.S. criminal-justice system seems fundamentally misguided. Mass incarceration has created a giant churn: The more people we lock up now, the more people we will have to lock up in the future. As Judge Albin Norblad, who presided over many of the Bogles criminal trials in Oregon, said, “When the courts try to deal with families like the Bogles, we always lose.” Norblad, a law-and-order Republican not averse to dishing out lengthy sentences, had almost given up sentencing any of the Bogles to long prison terms as a waste of taxpayer money. “We need another solution,” he told me, “something to separate Bogle family members so they will not keep reinfecting themselves.”