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Of mice and men
Written by Editor   
Sunday, 15 January 2006 07:42

Our society is ill equipped to effectively prevent, or even deter, violent and sadistic crime. By its very nature, our legal system is designed to be reactive, which translates to the apprehension of an individual during or after the commission of a crime. To be sure, any other approach would undoubtedly result in chaos. Consider also, the need for a solution waxes and wanes as new murders shock the public, causing many to cry for action, and old murders seem to fade away into the collective unconscious, their victims little more than dust in the cave of time. While the law attempts to define and refine its response to the more extreme crimes by enacting stiffer penalties, steps have been taken to address recidivism in an attempt to at least curb the extent to which such crimes occur.

In the area of Forensic Psychology, specifically that area where psychology intersects with the criminal justice system, SVO/SVP programs are implemented and risk assessment instruments, such as the VRAG, SORAG, SVR-20, and Static-99/RRASOR, are used, to modify behavior and predict recidivism, respectively. Current research however suggest that SVO/SVP programs have little, if any, impact"After an average 12-year follow-up period, no differences were observed in the rates of sexual (21.1% vs 21.8%), violent (42.9% vs. 44.5%) or general (any) recidivism (56.6% vs 60.4%) for treated and untreated groups, respectively. The outcome remained comparable after controlling for length of follow-up, year of release, age, and seven static risk factors coded from official criminal history records. Retrospective ratings of the treatment quality also showed no relationship to observed recidivism rates. The static risk factors coded in the current study accounted for considerable variance in recidivism and could easily be used to improve statistical controls in future evaluations." (Hanson, Broom, & Stephenson. Evaluating Community Sex Offender Treatment Programs: A 12-Year Follow-Up of 724 Offenders Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. 2004, 36:2, 87-96) with regard to recidivism. And identified issues"Many of the variables commonly addressed in sex offender treatment programs (e.g., psychological distress, denial of sex crime, victim empathy, stated motivation for treatment) had little or no relationship with sexual or violent recidivism." -- Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005 appear to have little to no relevance with regard to the success or failure of the program. Moreover, the plethora of Risk Assessment tools appear to fall woefully short of their intended goal--one need only look to the recent case of Joseph Edward Duncan III to see the results.

To add insult upon injury, Forensic Psychologists seem to be more successful in finding reasons to excuse criminal behavior vis-a-vis 'mitigating circumstances' than they are in either prediction or behavioral modification. The case of James Leslie Karis"On July 8, 1981, Ms. P and Ms. V were taking a brief walk during their midmorning break from their jobs in Placerville, California. At approximately 10:30 a.m., as they were walking under an overpass, a man ordered the women at gunpoint to enter his car. (...) Ms. P was gagged and her hands tied and Ms. V was raped. The man then ordered the women to continue walking down the creek bed. When they reached a large hole, the man ordered both women to get into the hole. In reply to Ms. V's plea that she not be killed, the man stated that he had to kill them so that he would not be killed. The women turned away from the man and Ms. V heard five shots. She felt a numbness in her neck after the second shot and felt the impact of a second bullet in her neck with the fourth shot. She feigned death and heard the man throwing rocks on her and Ms. P (...) On July 15, 1981, Karis kidnaped two women and the fivemonth-old son of one of them in Sonoma County. The women had been playing tennis at a Fairfax park and when they returned to their van, Karis ordered them inside at knife point and forced the owner of the van to drive northward. The women testified that he told them that he was a murderer, wanted for murder and had nothing to lose." [People v. Karis (1988) 46 C3d 612] exemplifies this with the result of his 1999, 9th circuit appeal. His case was remanded to the penalty phase. On what grounds? He alleges his actions were the result of a history of child abuseThe Magistrate Judge recommended that Karis' petition be granted as to the penalty phase of the trial on the basis of trial counsel's failure to investigate and present evidence of child abuse and family violence, but that it be denied on all other claims.. We fare even worse, when it comes to solving serial crimes, the Crime Classification Manual, and various Forensic tools touted to be state of the art, notwithstanding. Indeed, upon closer examination, it is neither the experts or their tools, that seem to play a prominent role in solving the crimes. Rather, it is often a slip-up on the part of the criminal. When considering these, the question therefore remains: how are we to effectively fight violent and sadistic crime?

In chapter 25 of the first installment of Douglas Adam's 1979 classic, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," the great thinkers of that period decide to build a computer, Deep Thought, believing its computational superiority would allow it to compute the Ultimate Answer. Seven and a half million years and a great many thinkers later, in chapter 33 of his second installment, Deep Thought responds with the much anticipated answer. Forty-Two. The remainder of the book involves discovering the Ultimate Question.

At this point, some may wonder, how Adam's somewhat tongue in cheek, and at times profound, spoof on humanity is relevant to combatting violent and sadistic crime? To which I would respond, it is quite relevant. Indeed. We have been answering the wrong question. Which is why we are no closer to effectively preventing, or even deterring, violent and sadistic crime than we were well over a century ago. How so? We are using our framework when attempting to understand this class of criminal. In other words, we are assuming those things which both motivate and deter the general population can be applied to these people. And then we amazingingly, or perhaps not so, develop programs and tools based upon these assumptions, and are perplexed when they do not work. Consider the SVO/SVP programs, for example. They focus upon, among other things, "psychological distress, denial of sex crime, victim empathy, stated motivation for treatment." (Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2005) Those areas we would address were we in treatment. It is no wonder then, that such programs have little to no effect upon this class of criminal. For they are built upon the faulty assumption that [that] which is salient to us, is salient to them. To my mind, if we are to even remotely begin to comprehend the ShadoWraithS, it might be time to discard what we think we know about human nature and look to the past to identify that which at one time was necessary for our survival. The killing instinct.


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