The Criminology of Homicidal Ideation: Associations with Criminal Careers and Psychopathology among Federal Correctional Clients

Abstract

Homicidal ideation is a clinical construct that is almost entirely absent from the criminological literature. The current study examines the criminology of homicidal ideation using archival data from a population of federal supervised release felons from the Midwestern United States. ANOVA, Poisson regression, negative binomial regression, and epidemiological tables indicated that 12 % of offenders experienced evidence of homicidal ideation and these offenders perpetrated more murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, armed robberies, and aggravated assaults, had more severe and extensive psychopathology, and were more likely to be chronic offenders. Homicidal ideation is an important construct that should be studied more not only for its association with murder, but as an omnibus risk factor for severe criminality.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The authors acknowledge that sexual homicide offenders are an exception to this statement. We excluded sexual homicide offenders from this discussion because their lethal violence is inextricably linked to sexual deviancy or paraphilias, including sexual sadism (see, Malmquist, 2006; Stefanska et al., 2015; Woodworth et al., 2013). Our coverage of homicidal ideation is meant in a general criminological sense and where homicidal ideation is not secondary to another severe comorbid condition.

  2. 2.

    To illustrate, Horton and Johnson (1977) described their treatment of an adult male who had intense homicidal ideation toward his estranged wife. The homicidal ideation and rumination about killing his wife were so pervasive and crippling that the patient lost 30 pounds in five months, developed insomnia, and was unable to work more than 3 h in a day. The application of thought-stopping and covert assertion significantly reduced the patient’s homicidal ideation.

  3. 3.

    Biographies of many infamous homicide offenders including Charles Cullen, Joseph Vacher, Jesse Pomeroy, Howard Unruh, Richard Ramirez, Richard Kuklinksi, Albert DeSalvo and many others document the pervasiveness and at times specificity of homicidal ideation (see, Ramsland, 2005; Graever, 2013; Schechter, 2000, 2003; Starr, 2010).

  4. 4.

    In the homicide literature (Chan et al., 2010; Liem, 2010; Liem & Roberts, 2009; McPhedran et al., 2015; Panczak, Geissbühler, Zwahlen, Killias, Tal, & Egger, 2013; Sturup & Caman, 2015), offenders who perpetrate mass murders and those who perpetrate murder-suicide commonly experience both homicidal and suicidal ideation which helps to explain why many of these offenders commit suicide after their homicidal acts. In this regard, homicidal ideation co-occurs with suicidal ideation. In the current data, homicidal ideation and suicidal ideation were not significantly correlated (r = .046, p = .179).

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DeLisi, M., Tahja, K., Drury, A.J. et al. The Criminology of Homicidal Ideation: Associations with Criminal Careers and Psychopathology among Federal Correctional Clients. Am J Crim Just 42, 554–573 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-016-9371-5

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Keywords

  • Homicidal ideation
  • Violence
  • Criminal careers
  • Psychopathology
  • Crime