Criminal psychology, also referred to as criminological behavior, is the study of the wills, thoughts, intentions, and reactions of criminals and all that partakes in the criminal behavior. It is related to the field of criminal anthropology. The study goes deeply into what makes someone commit a crime, but also the reactions after the crime, on the run or in court. Criminal psychologists are often called up as witnesses in court cases to help the jury understand the mind of the criminal. Some types of Psychiatry also deal with aspects of criminal behavior.
1. Psychology’s Role in the Legal System
Psychiatrists and psychologists are licensed professionals that can assess both mental and physical states. Profilers look for patterns in behavior to typify the individual behind a crime. A group effort attempts to answer the most common psychological questions: If there is a risk of a sexual predator re-offending if put back in society; if an offender is competent to stand trial; whether or not an offender was sane/insane at the time of the offense. The question of competency to stand trial is a question of an offender’s current state of mind. This assesses the offender’s ability to understand the charges against them, the possible outcomes of being convicted/acquitted of these charges and their ability to assist their attorney with their defense. The question of sanity/insanity or criminal responsibility is an assessment of the offender’s state of mind at the time of the crime. This refers to their ability to understand right from wrong and what is against the law. The insanity defense is rarely used, as it is very difficult to prove. If declared insane, an offender is committed to a secure hospital facility for much longer than they would have served in prison-theoretically, that is.
2. The Four Roles of Criminal Psychologists
In 1981, one of the fathers of UK’s criminal psychology Professor Lionel Haward described four ways that psychologist may perform upon being professionally involved in criminal proceedings. These are the following:
In this situation the psychologist is involved in assessment of individual in order to provide a clinical judgment. The psychologist can use assessment tools, interview or psychometric tool in order to aid in his/her assessment. These assessments can help police or other competitive organs determine how to process the individual in question. For example, help finding out whether he/she is capable to stand trial or whether the individual has mental illness which means, that he/she is unable to understand the proceedings.
In this case the task of psychologist is to perform a research in order to inform a case. This can involve executing experimental tests for the purposes of illustrating a point or providing further information to courts. This may involve false memory, eyewitness credibility experiments and such. For example, this way questions similar to “how likely would a witness see an object in 100 meters?” will be answered.
This role involves usage of statistics in order to inform a case. For example, a psychologist may be asked to provide probability of an event occurring. Therefore, the courts may ask how likely a person will reoffend if a sentence is declined.
Here a psychologist may advice police about how to proceed with the investigation. For example, which is the best way to interview the individual, how best cross-examine a vulnerable or another expert witness, how an offender will act after committing the offence.
A major part of criminal psychology, known as criminal profiling, began in the 1940s when the United StatesOffice of Strategic Services asked William L. Langer’s brother Walter C. Langer, a well renowned psychiatrist, to draw up a profile of Adolf Hitler. After the Second World WarBritish psychologist Lionel Haward, while working for the Royal Air Force police, drew up a list of characteristics which high-ranking war criminals might display, to be able to spot them amongst ordinary captured soldiers and airmen. A renowned Italian Psychologist Cesare Lumbroso (1835-1909) was thought to be one of the first criminologist to attempt to formally classify criminals based on age, sex, gender, physical characteristics, education, and geographic region. When comparing these similar characteristics he better understood the origin of motivation of criminal behavior. Published his book called The Criminal Man. Lumbroso studied 383 Italian inmates. Based on his studies, he suggested that there were three types of criminals. Born Criminals which meant these people are degenerates and the insane criminals are ones that suffer a mental illness. Also he studied and found specific physical characteristics. A few examples include asymmetry of the face, eye defects and peculiarities, and ears of unusual size, etc.
Check also: Basic Concept In Criminology
In the 1950s, US psychiatrist James A. Brussel drew up what turned to be an uncannily accurate profile of a bomber who had been terrorizing New York. It was first introduced to the FBI in the 1960s when several classes were taught to the American Society of crime lab directors. Most of the public at that time knew little if not anything about how profilers would profile people until TV came into play. Later films based on the fictional works of author Thomas Harris that caught the public eye as a profession in particular Manhunter (1986) and Silence of the Lambs (1991). The fastest development occurred when the FBI opened its training academy, the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), in Quantico, Virginia. It led to the establishment of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and the violent criminal apprehension program. The idea was to have a system which could pick up links between unsolved major crimes. Criminal profiling is a process now known in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as criminal investigative analysis. Profilers, or criminal investigative analysts, are trained and experienced law enforcement officers who study every behavioral aspect and detail of an unsolved violent crime scene in which a certain amount of psychopathology has been left at the scene. The characteristics of a good profiler are discussed. Five behavioral characteristics that can be gleaned from the crime scene are described: 1) amount of planning that went into the crime, 2) degree of control used by the offender, 3) escalation of emotion at the scene, 4) risk level of both the offender and victim, and 5) appearance of the crime scene (disorganized versus organized). The process of interpreting the behavior observed at a crime scene is briefly discussed.
4. Applied Criminal Psychology
The effect of psychological and social factors on the functioning of our brain is the central question forensic or criminal psychologists deal with, due to the fact it is the seed of all our actions. For Forensic Psychiatry, the main question is ‘Which patient becomes an offender?’, or ‘Which offender becomes a patient?’. Another main question asked by these psychiatrists is, ‘What came first, the crime or the mental disorder?’.
Criminal and forensic psychologists may also consider the following questions:
(i) Is a mental disorder present now? Was it present during the time of the crime?
(ii) What is the level of responsibility of the offender for the crime?
(iii) What is the risk of reoffending and which risk factors are involved?
(iv) Is treatment possible to reduce the risk of reoffending?
Accordingly, individual psychiatric evaluations are resorted to measuring personality traits by psychological testing that have good validity for the purpose of the court.
5. Key Studies
A number of key studies of psychology especially relevant to understanding criminology have been undertaken, these include:
(i) Bobo doll experiment, Bandura, Ross & Ross
(ii) The Stanford prison experiment,
(iii) Loftus and Palmer eyewitness study