"Inside the Criminal Mind", by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. (book review)

As a police officer, I find interesting the study of the thought processes and personalities that inspire criminals to behave as they do.  Although originally written several years ago, "Inside the Criminal Mind" has been revised and updated to include recent news-breaking crime stories, taking readers on a journey through the criminal mind from adolescence to adulthood.

WHAT CAUSES CRIME? The main question in the book is the one asked frequently, "Can we predict who will or will not commit crime?"  While Dr. Samenow attempts to answer such questions, each chapter seems to conclude with the suggestion, "We cannot know for sure who will or will not become a criminal."

What is encouraging to know is that parents don't turn children into criminals, and that we cannot predict how a child will turn out by looking at his parents (p.21).  This is going to come as a relief for some people, wondering if their poor decisions as parents led one of their children into a life of crime, but will be frustrating to others, thinking fixed parenting will lead to the solution.  But citing numerous stories of siblings who grew up in the same households, Dr. Samenow showed how some became criminals, while others became productive members of society.

SOCIAL LIFE: Simply associating with "rotten apples" is not a causative factor in criminality.  While associating with delinquent peers is indeed a risk factor for turning to crime, Dr. Samenow says this is "like saying diving into water gets you wet.  It reveals nothing about causation, but a great deal about choice" (p.47).  We cannot forget that criminals make choices; they are not forced into any action they commit.

Citing case studies of criminals' school, work, and social lives, Dr. Samenow drives home the point that criminality is a matter of choice, and adding drugs and alcohol to the "mix" only intensifies what already exists in a person (p.176).  Drugs and alcohol are not inherently the problem; they simply exacerbate the problem that already exists.

Dr. Samenow makes the case that responsible people discover the meaning in the processes of achievement.  When hard work leads to accomplishing a task, a good feeling about oneself is achieved.  A criminal, however, tends to set unrealistically high goals for himself that he cannot realistically achieve.  As a result, he becomes discouraged and quits shortly after beginning his work (p.209).

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? Much great emphasis has been placed on the rehabilitation process of criminals.  The problem, however, according to Dr. Samenow, is not solved by RE-habilitation, but by habilitation.  "The very concept of rehabilitation is flawed" (p.279).  RE-habilitation assumes a positive personality trait and good character has always existed in a criminal's life, and that the criminal simply lost it and needs to get it back.  However, that is largely not the case.  Instead, the good character traits were never present in many criminals' lives to begin with, so the issue is establishing a new personality and character in place.  He calls this habilitation, rather than re-habilitation because for many, this process is a first-time event.

Unfortunately, many people (loved-ones, mentors, etc.) abandon the effort to habilitate criminals -- it's costly, time-consuming, and tiresome.  The criminal has to want to change if he is going to be habilitated.  But his mentors may just run out of steam in the habilitation process.  If the criminal, therefore, is your loved one, this process of habilitation will be long and arduous.  But, it will not succeed if the criminal does not want to change.  "They must reach a point in life when they are becoming fed up with themselves and, consequently, desire to change" (p.329).

CONCLUSION: I think the last paragraph sums up the solution quite succinctly, and it is found in the Bible's Proverbs: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (23:7).  We are as we think.  It is impossible to help a person give up crime and live responsibly without helping him to change what is most basic -- his thinking" (p.330).

RATING: For those interested in the study of crime and causality, I think you will appreciate this book.  I gleaned from it many invaluable insights, and I believe the intended readers are those employed as social workers, therapists, police officers, corrections officers, etc.  For this reason, I give "Inside the Criminal Mind" 5 stars out of 5.  For any other reader group, you likely won't be too interested in it.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.  I was made no promises in exchange for a positive review.

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