Criminological psychology is the application of psychological principles to criminal activity, especially criminal behavior and its effect on crime prevention, risk assessment and the criminal justice system. Whilst outside the scope of this brief overview of the subject, the scope of criminal activity within this country (UK) itself is open for debate. The recorded crime figures collated by the various police authorities across the country remain consistency lower than those assembled by the British Crime Surveys that have been in recent years. The survey, carried out every two years, consists of interviews of victims of crime. For example, in 1996 the official crime figures indicated that there had been 5.1 million crimes whilst the BCS estimated that 19.1 million crimes had occurred in the same time period. ( Home Office (1996) Criminal Statistics, London Home Office). Criminal psychology has, in recent years, certainly been hyped as an all seeing discipline which can solve the vagaries of crime, especially those related to murder with special emphasis on the serial killer. With films such as Silence of the Lambs and the newly released Hannibal, based on books by Thomas Harris, show that perpetrator profiling can be used to indicate how the criminal thinks, their motivation and modus operandi. However, as with most things, it is not quite that simple. Profiling can indeed be a useful tool. But it must be considered in conjunction with the traditional investigative procedures and evidence gathered at the scenes of crimes by other forensic professionals. In the absence of hard physical evidence, profiling can open up new leads of investigation, but it is a tool that can be used in apprehending the offender. How are criminals made? The investigations, dating back to the early part of the twentieth century with Dugdale (1910- The Jukes, New York. Putnam) through the examinations of the belief that criminals just were criminals because of their family traits, chromosomes and DNA, environmental factors, economics through to the current belief that criminals occur because of biochemical imbalance and neurological defects in the brain. It has been noted through the use of MRI, that serious criminals have different reactions to stimulus that non-criminals. (The Science of crime, Psychopath', John Purdie, Channel 4 Television Corporation). Whilst the causative factors that lead to criminality will possibly indicate that many, if not all these factors do indeed have a cumulative effect on a person's vulnerability to become a criminal, it is a fact that criminals exist and that many continue to escape justice. As indicated by Harrower we all have a genetic inheritance or genetic potential, but in order for that potential to be released there have to be some environmental triggers. It also seems clear that the roots of antisocial behavior lie in early childhood and that certain events in childhood can increase an individual's psychological vulnerability. These would include: insecure attachment; a weak sense of self; a dysfunctional family; coercive or indifferent parenting; physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect; the death of a parent; low family income; an acrimonious separation or divorce and low academic achievement.' (Applying Psychology to Crime, p37, Julie Harrower (1998) Hodder and Stoughton). Serial killers
The area of criminal psychology that appears to capture the general public's imagination is the studying of serial killers. It is important to separate the two main type's large-number killers serial and mass. Mass murderers kill a large number of people in one incident. Examples would include Thomas Hamilton in Dunblane (1996, 18 dead including 16 children, a teacher and Hamilton) and Michael Ryan in Hungerford (1987, 16 dead, including Ryan). It is typical of this type of killer that they make no attempt to hide themselves and will often die by the end of the incident, either by their...
References: Blackburn, R (1993), The psychology of Criminal Conduct: theory, research and practice. Chichester: John Wiley
Bull, R & Carson, D (1995) Handbook of Psychology in Legal Contexts. Chichester: John Wiley
Stevenson, G (1992) the psychology of Criminal Justice, Oxford: Blackwell.
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