Criminal psychology, also referred to as criminological psychology, is the study of the views, thoughts, intentions, actions and reactions of criminals and all who participate in criminal behavior. Criminal psychology is related to the field of criminal anthropology. The study goes deeply into what makes someone commit a crime, but also the reactions after the crime, on the run or in court. Criminal psychologists are often called up as witnesses in court cases to help the jury understand the mind of the criminal. Some types of psychiatry also deal with aspects of criminal behavior. Criminal behavior can be stated as “Any kind of antisocial behavior, which is punishable usually by law but can be punished by norms, stated by community,” therefore, it is difficult to define it as there is a fine line between what could be considered okay and what’s considered not to be, being considered as violation at one point of time may now be accepted by community.
The four roles of criminal Psychology:
In 1981, one of the fathers of UK’s criminal psychology – Professor Lionel Haward – described four ways that psychologist may perform upon being professionally involved in criminal proceedings. These are the following:
Clinical: In this situation, the psychologist is involved in assessment of an individual in order to provide a clinical judgment. The psychologist can use assessment tools, interview or psychometric tools in order to aid in his/her assessment. These assessments can help police or other comparable organizations to determine how to process the individual in question. For example, help finding out whether he/she is capable to stand trial or whether the individual has mental illness which relates to whether he/she is able or unable to understand the proceedings.
Experimental: In this case, the task of the psychologist is to perform research in order to inform a case. This can involve executing experimental tests for the purposes of illustrating a point or providing further information to courts. This may involve false memory, eyewitness credibility experiments and such. For example, this way questions similar to “how likely would a witness see an object in 100 meters?” could be answered.
Actuarial: This role involves usage of statistics in order to inform a case. For example, a psychologist may be asked to provide probability of an event occurring. For example, the courts may ask how likely it is that a person will reoffend if a sentence is declined.
Advisory: Here, a psychologist may advise police about how to proceed with the investigation. For example, which is the best way to interview the individual, how best to cross-examine a vulnerable or another expert witness, how an offender will act after committing the offense.
The Psychology of crime
Exactly why people commit crimes, and what could deter them from doing so in the future, is of great interest to psychologists and law enforcement officers alike. So far, extensive research points to a complex mix of genetics, personality, life circumstances, and environmental factors.
Psychologists also undertake research—often working with individuals who have committed crimes or are the victims of crimes—to understand how criminals choose victims, whether it’s possible to protect oneself from certain types of crime, and what legal professionals and policymakers can do to stop crimes before they occur. But though great progress has been made in understanding the criminal psyche, there’s much that remains unknown about certain criminals’ motivations, as well as an element of randomness in who is victimized and who isn’t.
Psychology’s role in the legal system
Psychologists are licensed professionals that can assess both mental and physical states. Profilers look for patterns in behavior to typify the individual(s) behind a crime. A group effort attempts to answer the most common psychological questions: If there is a risk of a sexual predator re-offending if put back in society; if an offender is competent to stand trial; whether or not an offender was sane/insane at the time of the offense.
Criminal psychologists can be used to do investigative work, like examine photographs of a crime, or conduct an interview with a suspect. They sometimes have to formulate a hypothesis, in order to assess what an offender is going to do next, after they have broken the law.
The question of competency to stand trial is a question of an offender’s current state of mind. This assesses the offender’s ability to understand the charges against them, the possible outcomes of being convicted/acquitted of these charges and their ability to assist their attorney with their defense. The question of sanity/insanity or criminal responsibility is an assessment of the offender’s state of mind at the time of the crime. This refers to their ability to understand right from wrong and what is against the law. The insanity defense is rarely used, as it is very difficult to prove. If declared insane, an offender is committed to a secure hospital facility for much longer than they would have served in prison—theoretically, that is.
Legal psychologists, or known as Criminal psychologists are the ones who make the decisions on offenders. They see if those offenders are a threat to society.
Applied criminal psychology:
The effect of psychological and social factors on the functioning of our brain is the central question forensic or criminal psychologists deal with, due to the fact it is the seed of all our actions. For forensic psychiatry, the main question is ‘Which patient becomes an offender?’, or ‘Which offender becomes a patient?’. Another main question asked by these psychiatrists is, ‘What came first, the crime or the mental disorder?’. Psychologists also look at environmental factors along with genetics to determine the likeliness (profiling) of a particular person to commit a crime.
Criminal and forensic psychologists may also consider the following questions:
Is a mental disorder present now? Was it present during the time of the crime?
What is the level of responsibility of the offender for the crime?
What is the risk of reoffending and which risk factors are involved?
Is treatment possible to reduce the risk of reoffending?
Accordingly, individual psychiatric evaluations are resorted to measuring personality traits by psychological testing that have good validity for the purpose of the court.