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Criminal Psychology

Criminal Psychology


What is Criminal Psychology?


Criminal psychology is not a term for a particular specialty in the psychology field.  The closest thing to a criminal psychologist is a specialist in forensic psychology.  Forensic psychology is the application of psychology to any matter related to jurisprudence.  A forensic psychologist could be a consultant to an attorney on the jury selection process.  He might consult with a judge who has a custody issue before his court.  Or a forensic psychologist might provide counseling to crime victims who are being called on to testify.


A forensic psychologist might also consult with law enforcement in attempting to develop a profile of a criminal suspect who is not known to them and about whom they have sketchy evidence that involves behavior patterns.  This is the practice most commonly thought of as criminal psychology; the practice of criminal profiling.


Criminal Psychology - Psychologists working with Criminals


Probation and parole officers sometimes have an educational background in psychology.  Generally, people who pursue this line of work will have studied criminal justice, but some individuals with backgrounds in psychology also gravitate to the correctional system.  State requirements for probation and parole officers vary, but not all of them insist on a criminal justice educational background. 


In many cases at least a bachelor's degree is necessary, but often social services or psychology is considered an acceptable and related educational groundwork.  Psychologists or people who got their post-secondary education in psychology are also involved in preparing offenders for return to the outside world.  Generally referred to as correctional treatment specialists or case managers, these psychologists counsel and create rehabilitation plans for offenders to follow when they are no longer in prison or on parole.


Forensic and clinical psychologists are often asked to predict the behavior of a convicted criminal who is up for parole.  In situations such as this, often the psychologist will have spent significant clinical hours with the potential parolee, attempting to develop an accurate profile of his or her present state of mind.  In the case of violent offenders, optional release from confinement is a delicate issue. 


The Psychological Study of Criminal Behavior


To a significant degree, crime prevention depends upon understanding the root causes of criminal behavior.  To an extent, these causes are assigned to external forces such as poverty, abuse in the home, etc.  But criminal intent is also a personal decision and substantial study has been devoted to the psychological components of criminal behavior.  Research is usually done by psychologists who are in teaching roles and consider research as part of their profession.


Violent behavior in young people bedevils our society, where gang activity can be found in the most tranquil of suburbs.  Here are some telling statistics taken from research regarding young people and their psychological development:


  • A child who is physically or sexually abused by a parent is more likely to become a violent offender.


  • Research indicates that 70% of maltreated youth studied have engaged in violent delinquency, compared to 56% of youth who were not maltreated.


  • Children who witness spousal assault and who have also been the victims of parental assault are six times more likely to assault other children outside their family. 
Children from violent homes are 24 times more likely to commit sexual assault than their counterparts from non-violent homes.
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