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Criminal Behavior and Shaping of Criminal Personality Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 10th, 2021

Introduction

The topic of criminal personality is one of the central issues in criminology. There are different theories of criminal personality. To start with, the theory of heredity and crime has always found its supporters and opponents. Thus, according to Kaye (2006), the proofs of the connection between heredity and criminality are found in the tests and experiments carried out with animals. The author states the connection between the human and animal genetics and concludes that human criminality can be to some reasonable extent conditioned by heredity. At the same time, other scholars oppose this viewpoint saying that to become a criminal it does not take to inherit some genes from ascendants but rather to live in the environment favorable for criminal behavior formation and development¹. The same is about the so called crime gene. Some researchers reject its existence2, while others prove it by examining the brain activities under the influence of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) which makes people with high rates of this substance in their brain reactions be more inclined for violent crime. However, my opinion on this point is the crime gene exists as people growing up in positive environments often become criminals which can be explained only by their personal peculiarities (Kaye, 2006).

Main body

Consequently, the theory of class impact on the formation of criminal behavior is heavily criticized by numerous scholars. For example, the book by Andrews and Bonta (2007), considers all the fallacies of this theory, and comes to the conclusion that social class has little relation to the formation of criminal personality. It is explained by the main ecological fallacy of this theory which lies in studying the whole class in general but exemplifying it with specific persons who may or may not display features characteristic of a certain class. Thus, a representative of the poor class is regarded as a potential criminal while a person from the upper class is treated with respect although his inclination to crime might be higher due to people he communicates with or psychological peculiarities he displays. It is true, however, that low income classes display higher crime rates, but this is usually conditioned not by income level but with the environment these classes develop in, i. e. poverty, violence, stress, depression, etc.

However, the influence of lack of education and differences in IQ level are evident for criminal behavior formation. Thus, scholars argue that people, especially juveniles, with low IQ levels are more inclined to resort to violence and commit crime more often that people with either medium or high IQ3. The correlate of criminal behavior can be found in low IQ levels because people with the lack of knowledge can often misinterpret the situation, choose the wrong way to act in a critical situation or have confused values that contradict the social norms and legislation. So, low IQ can often be the reason for criminal behavior, and to overcome this issue the Government should implement the special educational program that would explain and exemplify the necessity of keeping to the law. This program should be obligatory for all educational establishments beginning from kindergartens as the basics of criminality are formed in an early age (Coles, C. J., Greene, A. F., & Braithwaite, H. O., 2002).

Furthermore, the socio-moral reasoning as studied by Andrews and Bonta (2007), develops the point of importance of knowledge and IQ. The major points presented by Andrews and Bonta are that people form criminal behavior due to lack of knowledge and experience in social life, as well as to the sentiments and romantic attitude towards the life of crime. Moreover, the lack of recognition in society also makes people commit crimes reasoning it by the need of attention. All these aspects are evident reasons for crime commitment and formation of criminal behavior.

So, the social context acquires special importance for explaining the reasons for criminal behavior. It is contrasted to the class theory of criminal behavior by the fact that this viewpoint does not limit itself by a certain class but views the society a s whole. Thus, such aspects of social life as school, work, leisure activities, marital relationships, and the neighborhood environment should be treated attentively to predict criminal behavior. For instance, the modern school is an institution promoting violence by the lack of control over children who pursue the feelings of criminal sentiment and resort to violence against their classmates or friends without being punished for it. At work, people are often stressed with urgent tasks or wage decreases, and this fact mixed with some emotional or psychological disorders can result in crime either at the workplace or outside of it. Leisure activities, as well as day-to-day life in neighborhood environment, can bring stressful situation that often result in criminal behavior. The same is true about marital relationships violence and crime in which are the specific matters for consideration as their participants are closely connected and are more subject to conflicts resulting gin violent behavior.

As a result, the concept of psychopathy comes into play as the expression of people’s aggression to the society. In other words, psychopathy is the feeling of satisfaction from anti-social behavior and violation of the social and legislative norms. In all the above considered cases, the favorable conditions for psychopathy development can be observed. At school, children conflicting with their classmates express their aggression through psychopathy and criminal behavior. At work, anti-social behavior can also be conditioned by conflicts with colleagues or managers. During leisure hours, communication in the neighborhood or conflicting marital relations, quarrels with neighbors or relatives lead people to psychopathy (or sociopathy) and result in criminal behavior expressing their protest against society4.

Drawing from all the above said, the following classification of offenders can be presented and supported by scholarly data from numerous research works. There are three major principles of offender classification – risk, need and responsivity principles5. Thus, according to the risk principle, offenders can be divided into those with high risk of repeated crime and with the low risk. Respectively, the former group demands high level of supervision and control, while the latter can be treated more liberally. This classification helps predict the possible recidivism and pay more attention top supervision of potential re-offenders. Furthermore, the need principle of classification correlates the needs of offenders in respect of supervision time and services provided with the work of probation officers and social workers allowing the latter to allocate their time and effort more effectively. Finally, the responsivity principle is interrelated with the former two and correlates the supervision and rehabilitation services presented to the offender with the abilities and risk level of every particular offender (Van Dam, C., De Bruyn, E. E., & Janssens, J. M., 2007).

Assessment of risks of recidivism, criminal behavior and formation of criminal personality can thus be carried out in four ways6. The first none is the professional judgment which is conducted by psychoanalysts, practitioners, criminologists and other specialists with the help of such tools as Psychopathy Checklist (Revised) (PCL-R), The Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG), etc. It is based on the research data and scientific information that aims at explaining the causes for this or that expression of criminal personality and risks of re-offending by this personality. Actuarial/static risk scales are other means of risk assessment, but they are used in combination with stable rules and generalized techniques that do not allow any specifications of risk rates in particular cases. Risk/need scales of risk prediction and assessment are based on the correlation of the re-offending risk of a criminal and needs in respect of his supervision. Finally, the integration of case management with risk/need assessment is the most objective way of crime prediction as it incorporates general rules with the possibility to apply them for any particular case (Logan, 1998).

Thus, there are two different approaches to the perspectives of rehabilitation and correction of offenders. The first one is called “idealistic approach” and the second is titled according to its main idea “nothing works”. The first approach is titled this way because its main idea is that correctional facilities and the present legislation are both directed at rehabilitation of offenders. Moreover, it is believed by the supporters of this approach that imprisonment, deterrence and other correctional services are helpful and effective for the purposes of rehabilitation7.

However, in the recent decades there has been severe debate over the effectiveness of the modern correctional treatment which resulted in the appearance of the “nothing works” theory by Robert Martinson and in the further suicide of this sociologist from New York in 1980: “…the represent array of correctional treatments has no appreciable effect – positive or negative – on rates of recidivism of convicted offenders.” (Logan, 1261) In these lines, the major reason for the disappointment of the author and of many other supporters of this point of view can be observed. This disappointment could be mainly connected with the results of correctional treatment that did not seem to reduce the crime rates and emergence of criminal personalities in the society. Even vice versa, crime rates were on the dramatic increase, and the Governmental and Court actions in respect of fighting crime were rather dangerous. It was declared by the US Supreme Court in 1989 in the case Mistretta v. United States that crime should be punished according to its seriousness, and the rehabilitation of offenders is not the matter of legislation.

Drawing from this, it is necessary to look at the theories that explain criminal behavior and shaping of criminal personality. The first theory to be considered is the psychodynamic theory of psychiatry. Its essence was formulated Sigmund Freud and lied in the interaction of the concepts of “Id”, “Ego” and “Superego” which motivates human actions. Their wrong interaction results in possibility for a person to become a criminal personality and adjust criminal behavior. As compared to psychodynamics, the theory of subcultural and differential associations claims the criminal behavior is learn by people from those with whom they communicate and who show the possibility to violate law without punishment. Moreover, social learning and behavioral theories claim that criminal behavior has nothing to do with biology or genetics, and is purely adjusted by weak personalities unable to resist the negative social influences (Andrews, D. & Bonta, J., 2007).

As a result, such a group of criminals as sex offenders is also formed. The main traits of them, according to Andrews and Bonta (2007), are sexual interests deviating from standards, impulsivity, nervousness, serious sexual or social conflicts within a family or a neighborhood, deficits of intimacy and access to their victims. The major means to fight this issue in the society are various correctional treatments for sex offenders that include social services, supervision, educational programs for high-risk potential offenders and potential victims, as well as such severe steps as incarceration, incapacitation, deterrence and some others. However, the stricter these measures are, the less result they bring, so to increase the efficiency of sex offenders correctional treatment it is necessary to pay more attention to children sexual education, substance abuse treatment programs, psychological treatment programs and social supervision facilities for sex offenders.

From these traits, such criminal personalities as stalkers, both domestic and sexual ones, and serial killers further develop. The main characteristics of stalkers are suspicious behavior, psychopathy, often in a hidden form, constant following the victims in his or her places of living, working and rest, threatening calls to the victims, watching them and leaving gifts, etc. Domestic stalking is the most common form of stalking which usually develops on the basis of past conflicts, beating and followed separation or the “restraining order”. Stalking, domestic and outside one, often results in aggressive acts of stalkers, i. e. beating, cutting of kidnapping, but also can be fatal. This aspect of stalking results in the formation of the psychology of serial killers. They display major traits of stalkers in their most violent form.

Thus, it is necessary to consider the results of punishments as means of possible cutting or vice versa increase in crime rates. Imprisonment is the most common way of punishment for crime. However, the effectiveness of this method of punishment is seriously doubted by scholars8. Also, the effects of imprisonment on community is rather negative as it increases the number of aggressive and stressed people who can not adjust to the social norms and live without violating them. Other most important outcomes of imprisonment may be limited to incapacitation and deterrence. Incapacitation is the method of enforced deprivation of the offenders of the means to commit the crime again. Incapacitation can be carried out in the form of cutting arms of thieves, chemical castration of sexual offenders, etc. Deterrence is a less cruel outcome of imprisonment for the society, as it lies in the persuasion and frightening against committing crime which is expressed in warnings, probations, etc.

Consequently, Andrews and Bonta (2007) have coined the four major principles, or conditions, under which correctional treatment and punishment are effective. First of all, the risk principle which is to define the risk of re-offending and adjust supervision levels to it. The second principle is the need principle, which claims the necessity of defining the criminogenic (ones that make offenders commit crimes) needs of offenders and eliminating them. Responsivity principle aims at considering the fitting supervision techniques and correctional treatments for a personality of an offender and seeing how effective they are at a certain stage of rehabilitation. Finally, professional discretion principle is aimed at ensuring the qualified and high standard work of supervisors and correctional treatment officers in respect of offenders whose cases can not be dealt with by traditional risk assessment instruments, for example sexual offenders whose motivations are not traditional, but hidden deeply in their past experiences.

Conclusion

To conclude, it is necessary to state that criminal psychology studies the reasons for criminal behavior and shaping of criminal personality. Criminal personality is the central concept in criminology, and there are numerous theories that try to explain the reasons for its formation in the context of biology, genetics, social environment, psychology, etc9. Offenders are classified according to risk of re-offending and recidivism, and are supervised according to their needs and responses to correctional treatment. Although, there are ideas that correctional treatment does not work, all these components in case of their proper incorporation bring the decreases in crime rates and levels of recidivism. Thus, criminal personality is formed under the influence of biological, psychological and social factors which should be taken into consideration while rehabilitating such a personality.

Footnotes

  1. Kaye, D. (2006). Behavioral Genetics Research and Criminal DNA Databases. Law and Contemporary Problems, 69(1-2), 259+.
  2. Kaye, D., 259.
  3. Coles, C. J., Greene, A. F., & Braithwaite, H. O. (2002). The Relationship between Personality, Anger Expression and Perceived Family Control among Incarcerated Male Juveniles. Adolescence, 37(146), 395+.
  4. Van Dam, C., De Bruyn, E. E., & Janssens, J. M. (2007). Personality, Delinquency and Criminal Recidivism. Adolescence, 42(168), 763+.
  5. Andrews, D. & Bonta, J. (2007). The Psychology of Criminal Conduct. Anderson Pub.
  6. Logan, W. A. (1998). The Ex Post Facto Clause and the Jurisprudence of Punishment. American Criminal Law Review, 35(4), 1261.
  7. Logan, W. A., 1261.
  8. Van Dam, C., De Bruyn, E. E., & Janssens, J. M., 763+.
  9. Oxnam, P., & Vess, J. (2006). A Personality-Based Typology of Adolescent Sexual Offenders Using the Millon Adolescent Clinical Inventory. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 35(1), 36+.
  10. Andrews, D. & Bonta, J., Chapter 1.

References

  1. Andrews, D. & Bonta, J. (2007). The Psychology of Criminal Conduct. Anderson Pub.
  2. Coles, C. J., Greene, A. F., & Braithwaite, H. O. (2002). The Relationship between Personality, Anger Expression and Perceived Family Control among Incarcerated Male Juveniles. Adolescence, 37(146), 395+.
  3. Kaye, D. (2006). Behavioral Genetics Research and Criminal DNA Databases. Law and Contemporary Problems, 69(1-2), 259+.
  4. Logan, W. A. (1998). The Ex Post Facto Clause and the Jurisprudence of Punishment. American Criminal Law Review, 35(4), 1261.
  5. Oxnam, P., & Vess, J. (2006). A Personality-Based Typology of Adolescent Sexual Offenders Using the Millon Adolescent Clinical Inventory. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 35(1), 36+.
  6. Van Dam, C., De Bruyn, E. E., & Janssens, J. M. (2007). Personality, Delinquency and Criminal Recidivism. Adolescence, 42(168), 763+.
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