Criminal psychology involves the study of criminals through the application of psychological principles. Criminal psychologists generally have a bachelor's degree in psychology. In addition, they often have an advanced degree, such as a master's or doctorate, in a more specified area of psychology. Criminal psychologists use their expertise in a number of ways, but the three most common types of criminal psychology are: criminal profiling, forensic psychology and research.
The concept of criminal psychology can be said to have existed as early as biblical times, when people believed that criminals could be recognized by certain physical characteristics. One of the earliest criminal psychologists was Cesare Lomborso, who wrote a book in 1896 entitled "Criminal Man. In Criminal Man, Lomborso" that discusses the practice of criminal psychology and the importance of things like cranium size, emotions, jargon, tattoos, and religion in understanding criminals and criminal behavior.
Criminal psychology gained popularity in 1943 when psychologist Walter C. Langer was asked by the Office of Strategic Services to draft a psychological profile of Adolf Hitler. The profile, which ended up a 281-page report, was to be used to gain a deeper understanding of Hitler and to serve as a guide for future dealings with the man.
Criminal Profiling is the process of inferring the personality traits of an individual who committed a criminal act. According to Brent Turvey, M.S., the purpose of criminal profiling is to reducing suspect pools, assist with case linkage, and develop leads and strategies to solve cases. Perhaps the most famous example of criminal profiling involved George Metesky in the 1940s and 1950s. Metesky was responsible for setting off dozens of bombs around the city and sending angry letters to local politicians and newspapers. For 16 years, Metesky eluded the New York City police. Psychologist Dr. James Brussel created a profile of the then unknown Metesky which included such details as the mans ethnicity, age, living situation, religious affiliation, employment status, even the fact that he wore a double-breasted suit. When police finally caught Metesky in 1957, they found that nearly all of the information given by Brussel was accurate, right down to the double breasted suit.
The American Board of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society define forensic psychology as "the professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, when they are engaged regularly as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system." Most forensic psychologists have advanced degrees, such as a master's or doctorate, from programs that offer forensic psychology courses. According to the Psi Chi National Honor Society, forensic psychologists are employed in a variety of settings including jails, prisons, state hospitals, federal and local law enforcement agencies, community mental health centers, juvenile detention facilities, and private practice. Forensic psychologists engage in a broad range of activities. For example, they may be called upon to evaluate whether a defendant is competent to stand trial or to determine whether a convict is at risk for re-offending.
Others may testify at trial or train law enforcement to recognize criminal behavior and to effectively deal with individuals who have psychological disorders.
Many criminal psychologists use their knowledge for research purposes. Often, these criminal psychologists work for colleges and universities. The breadth of research is wide, but some of the most common research topics include jury decision making, prevention and treatment programs and victim services.
Much of the criticism surrounding criminal psychology focuses on criminal profiling. Some critics simply question the validity of criminal profiles. Others, such as Michael Foucault, question whether we should be focusing on the people rather than the act. The idea being that focusing on the people leads to the troublesome notion of "dangerous people."
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