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Ok, I am sure that you are already well versed in the potential ethics dilemmas of identifying children as "potential" criminals, but I'll be honest. My immediant response is, that's scary.

While as a therapist, I know you would want to see that research mean that the person gets help, thus preventing them from becoming a criminal; however is that really what would happen?

And what about the reality that if we start identifying kids as having "criminal genes" are we going to start CAUSING more parents suspect kids that would never have been criminal and actually influence them TOWARD criminal behavior?

If you were accused of having "criminal genes" or a "criminal environment" and put into therapy to stop your inner badness.... do you think that would improve your mental health, well being, and integration into society? Or could it be the opposite and we cause a huge damage to people who would have behaved with integrity despite whatever their genes say or whatever their environment was like?


We want to find genes/environmental causes of human behaviors because it allows to have more compassion; i.e. oh that criminal didn't CHOOSE that behavior, their environment/genes was doing the choosing.

But to operate with this principle gets very frightening. Free will may indeed be an illusion, but in the ways we use it to function in the world, it's also "real" in that it cannot (thankfully) as of yet be computed by mathematical calculations and forecasted.

The concept of assuming people have "free will" to make decisions beyond what genes or environment would dictate is something that I think we must hold on to, in order to preserve the integrity of the human being.

We are more than the sum of our parts.

I can't help but go further with the fears this brings up in me. People with traumatic backgrounds are already in for some huge prejudices. They are "damaged goods", they are to be avoided in relationship with "healthy people", they are to be viewed with caution when considered as a potential mate... if we identify people with traumatic backgrounds as "potential criminals" and start coming up with tests we subject human beings to do determing how "criminal" their genes and background are, how will they get jobs?

You as a therapist may still view with unconditional positive regard, but employers are delighted to find ways of weeding out bad seeds and psych evals are starting to be more common in job interviews (Whole Foods for example)

Will people with traumatic backgrounds not be allowed to work with kids? Will they be flagged in criminal investigators databases? Will they be denied housing opportunities? Will they be required by law to go to counseling to restrain their bad criminal potential?

I believe one hundred percent in having compassion for inner working of what causes criminal behavior, and I deeply believe in forgiveness. However I think we have to keep in mind personal choice within all this and not jump too quickly into profiling innocent people who have done nothing wrong in their lives with people who committed attrocious acts.

PS in all that I forgot to add... Totally agree with you about the death penalty for all the reasons you mentioned and more.

As a humane nation we can not stoop to the level of murder to justify murder.

Although I completely understand why a family member who lost a loved one would be ready to see the death penalty happen. I just don't think our justice system should be based out of gratification of desire for revenge, which perfectly justified, but should not be the basis of our criminal justice system.

Hi Rox,

And thank you for the ALL the feedback, lol. I may break it into 3 posts to make sure I address everything.

1st post

I can certainly appreciate fears this might inspire people to negate personal responsibility, especially if people think of it as "criminal genes" (as our current model teaches the public to do). As a therapist, I hadn't thought of it that way so you're response is helpful. I obviously need to be more clear about what I mean.

I have seen people use this as a defense for behavior (i.e. "I'm Bipolar so I can't help what I do") and I am 100% against that. Even if you are "Bipolar" you have choices you can make and you need to be held responsible for those choices. What about people who don't have the mental capacity, for some genetic reason, to make responsible choices? Even when people who are mentally retarded or completely psychotic commit murder, I do not think they should be allowed to get off scot free. Because of an impairment which they did not inflict upon themselves we may not want them to experience the full extent of the law (i.e. the death penalty). But they also cannot be released back into the general population to do it again. If they didn't have the mental wherewithall to stop themselves this time, why would they next time?

Secondly, I'm not convinced this is a genetic disorder. I'm not sure what it is, but I have actually seen it treated - in childhood. There was a little girl who displayed all the behaviors of a sociopath. She showed no remorse, no awareness of the rights of others, no awareness that others experienced pain or distress, no empathy, etc. She was an absolute terror. But with a lot of years of therapy she developed empathy and compassion and a conscience. As a result you have never seen her face on the 6 o'clock news. And this is what I would hope we would do with the profiling of children.

By the same token, I have seen children who I am sure will grow up to be criminals. I saw a young boy at one time who was already torturing animals, setting fires, had already raped another child, stealing, bedwetting, destroying public property, etc. Yet because we have no mechanisms for flagging such a child or perservering with therapy I could not intervene.

I am watching three young boys right now who I predict will become serious criminals by the time they are adults. They are already engaging in serious juvenile delinquency.

Both of these instances were results of the environment in which they lived. Yet there was no "abuse" per se so it could not be reported or acted upon.

How can I predict that a child who is lighting fires, torturing animals and raping another child will become an adult criminal? Because of the research that has been done with serial killers. From our research with serial killers we know there is often a triad of behaviors in children which they seem to share: 1) setting fires, 2) torturing animals and, strangely enough, 3) bedwetting. The presence of those three behaviors is a red flag to clinicians that this child is seriously disturbed. We learned that from research done with serial killers.

I hope that clarified Post 1, lol. Let me try the next one.

I would not want to identify people with traumatic backgrounds, except to provide treatment. But to predict criminality, this would not be helpful. The vast majority of people with traumatic backgrounds never commit a crime. I would want to identify behaviors, such as those listed above (fire setting, torturing animals, etc.), which might indicate future criminal behavior.

As to your point about how employers would use this information... I don't think they should ever have access to it. Just as they have no access to any diagnosis I make of a client now. Just as they will never have any knowledge of my assessment of the children mentioned above - about whom I have a great deal of concern. Mental health information is confidential and should remain that way.

What I would hope to gain from psychological research of criminals is more of the same information we have already gleaned. Information which would help us identify behaviors present in childhood which might indicate future antisocial* behavior. This illucidation would be for clinicians alone, not the general public.

*I'm using the term "antisocial" in a clinical sense here. When people in the general population say "antisocial" they often mean "introvert", someone who is quiet and withdrawn. When a clinician uses the term we refer to someone who has no regard for the rights of others, someone who uses and manipulates others for their own end with no evidence of remorse or empathy - what used to be called a "sociopath".

Hey Kellen,

I'm a high school student from Florida. In my economics class we were asked to do debates. Mine happens to be the death penalty. Of course, my group is against it. Though personally at the time, I was for it. After doing my research, I became against it myself. In your blog, you made some great points that would really help my debate. But in order for your information to be valid I need your last name! It's quite alright if you disagree or disapprove of giving your last name online to a complete stranger. It would just really help me make my argument. Contact me through my e-mail or if this site has commenting on others pages. Thanks!

Hi Laura,

I emailed you with the information you needed. Good luck with your debate!

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