Introduction to Criminals and the Criminal Mind

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Introduction to Criminals and the Criminal Mind

Psychologists argue that career criminals think differently than other people. The American correctional system calls it "criminal thinking."

There is an expansive body of research suggesting that people who will become criminals are often, but not always, behaviorally and temperamentally different than their peers (and, frequently, their siblings) from very early childhood. They are often characterized as exceptionally active, unable to entertain themselves or to "self-soothe" effectively, prone to rages and temper outbursts, likely to abuse or kill small or domestic animals. For example, the article "Cat dragged" show evidence of such abuse and describes some characteristics of those who hurt or kill animals, and explores parallels between those who abuse animals and those who perpetrate violent crime. These individuals are often characterized by psychologists as extraordinarily stubborn and strong-willed, insistent upon getting their way regardless of the cost (personally or financially), tremendously self-centered and unable to see the viewpoint of anyone else, and appearing to have been born with a strong desire to live "on the edge" craving adventure and seeking out risk-laden situations. Family make-up and social class are also correlated to how these traits are expressed.

As detailed in "Criminals' Self-Image: 'Decent People'," most of those incarcerated felons who admit to criminal behavior assert that they are good people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who were pushed into a life of crime by friends or family who were already involved in "the life." They describe their wishes for a normal life "on the outside" (outside of prison), and sometimes wax poetic about their plans for fame and fortune.

In many crowded prison systems, inmates are given few educational or job training options, rendering their time in the correctional system more punitive than rehabilitative. For those who enter the prison system as juveniles, the opportunities for perfecting criminal behavior under the tutelage of older, more experienced and hardened inmates, are rife.

For those who are sentenced to the highest security facilities, hard time is exactly that. In a best case scenario, they will spend an average of twenty-three hours of each day locked into a solitary cell that averages eight by ten feet in size, with sparse furniture and few personal belongings. The other hour will be spent either showering and shaving, or locked into a recreation cage. When inmates are moved by escort officers, they wear shackles, cuffs, and belly chains. They have little interaction with other human beings. Recent class-action suits concur with the beliefs expressed in "How maximum-security jails make the baddest of men even worse," suggesting that solitary confinement may be most effective at inciting anger and antisocial behavior.

When the average person learns of the most heinous, or shocking, crimes, the first thought is that the perpetrator was mentally impaired or unbalanced. In fact, a plea of insanity is rarely employed, and even more rarely accepted as a legitimate defense. "Nuts to Whom? The Insanity Defense is Crazy" explores the use of the insanity plea.

This chapter offers sources depicting crimes and criminals and offering insights into their minds and character.

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Introduction to Criminals and the Criminal Mind