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Some Criminogenic Traits of Offenders

  • Richard J. Herrnstein
Part of the Critical Issues in American Psychiatry and the Law book series (CIAP, volume 4)

Abstract

Who commits crime? Depending on how broad the brush, the picture we develop of the typical offender may or may not reveal patterns of traits that predispose certain people to break the law. With too fine a brush, only the accidents of single lifetimes become salient; with too broad, it is only general sociological forces that emerge. Between these two pictures—the one too specific, the other too general to be very useful—lies evidence showing offenders, on the average, to be something other than a random sampling of the population at large. This evidence, reviewed here, also makes clear that the distinguishing traits of criminals cannot be fully explained as the result of society’s treatment of them at home, in school, or in the workplace. Nor can they be entirely explained by the operation of the criminal justice system. The average offender is psychologically atypical in various respects, not necessarily to a pathological degree, but enough that the normal prohibitions against crime are in some measure ineffective. In designing public policy, it is helpful to understand that a society that successfully deters crime in 80% to 90% of its citizens may find it hard to deter it in the remaining 10% to 20% for reasons that have more to do with individual differences than with defects in policy.

Keywords

Criminal Behavior Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Federal Prison Impulsive Reaction Criminal Population 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard J. Herrnstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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