To begin with, criminal psychology as a subject could be defined as the study of the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of criminals or those who engage in criminal activity. The exact answer to the question of why criminals do what they do still remains quite the conundrum for the society at large, but profound research in the fields of criminology (the study of crime from a social perspective plus its causes and ways to control it) and criminal psychology has made it considerably easier to understand the thinking patterns of deviant individuals. Discerning the nuances of the criminal mind is indispensable because doing so makes possible the apprehension and subsequent reformation of criminals, the latter being a feat so arduous that it seems impossible but may well be achieved with the appropriate form of effort. One of the biggest predicaments faced by law enforcement everywhere, in general, is how to effectively handle offenders and help them change so as to live responsible and productive lives, and the book in question has addressed this issue directly by discussing the fundamental personality of the criminal along with the stark differences in his or her thought process.

Inside The Criminal Mind’ provides brilliant reasoning for why the criminal is difficult to identify and why most attempts at rehabilitation are met with dissatisfying results. Using a plethora of case studies, incidents and examples, Prof. Samenow in the third edition of his book, has established how human nature does not ever change and that realizing this is imperative in order to make any sort of positive impact on the criminal’s way of life. The principal argument made throughout is that behaviour is a product of thinking, due to which comprehending how criminals think is of absolute essence. Ultimately, the formulation and development of public policy or criminal law can, therefore, improve only with the practical know-how of the tactics and extreme behaviour common to all kinds of offenders. In a precise manner, the sentence “we are as we think. It is impossible to help a person give up crime and live responsibly without helping them to change what is most basic-his thinking.” from the final chapter, perfectly encapsulates the raison d’etre of the book.

Stanton E. Samenow is an American clinical psychologist who has spent forty years as a consultant, researcher, clinician and expert witness specializing in criminal behaviour. In 1970, he joined the Program for Investigation of Criminal Behaviour at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C. where he participated in the longest in-depth clinical research-treatment study of offenders ever conducted in North America, with the late Dr. Samuel Yochelson. He has served as a consultant for various agencies and courts including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Office of Probation. In addition to this, he has also been appointed to three presidential task forces on victims’ rights, law enforcement and a drug-free America. The first edition of this book was published in 1984 and has been revised twice since then to keep up with a constantly changing society. The 2014 edition contains expanded discussions of the chapters to better explain the traits of all criminals, regardless of their background.

Inside The Criminal Mind consists of sixteen chapters, ranging from the beginning of criminality in a person during childhood to a novel approach of “habilitation” for criminals. A detailed explanation is devoted to the shocking similarity in thinking patterns between affluent white-collar criminals and street muggers. The apparently “sick” mind of the criminal with regard to sex in his life is meticulously profiled to understand the mentality of those who sexually prey upon children after gaining their trust. The commission of sex crimes have very little to do with sexual fulfilment but far more with power and ego nurturing and this concept has been distinctly established through years of empirical research. Most importantly, much attention has been given to prove why and how crime is not basically dependent on the environment that a person grows up in, a fact that is rather contrary to popular belief. Factors which do affect criminal behaviour or so-called risk factors include unalterable genetic predisposition, the choices one makes and the inherent characteristic of juveniles who commit crimes.

A particular area in which this book excels is in its elaboration on the myth of the “out of character” crime. The way the author has discussed the actual character of people who had fine reputations before committing gruesome offences is remarkable and goes on to clear up numerous common misconceptions about human psychology. For instance, the perception that responsible, ethical people under the influence of stressful circumstances reach a point where they “snap” and commit a crime that seems to be entirely out of character has also been deemed inaccurate through notorious cases and deep research. Further, a chapter on the criminal’s immersion in the drug world and the deadly effects of the manufacture and distribution of new synthetic drugs or abuse of prescription drugs on existing social problems adds to the book’s strength as an academic work.

On the whole, this book happens to be exceptionally well-written while possessing the sought-after quality of simplifying a difficult subject. Frankly, Prof. Samenow has managed to address every component in sufficient detail so that any reader would be keen on learning more about a study so intriguing. In addition to discharging several preconceived notions about crime and criminals, it is capable of giving rise to hope for a better society via feasible solutions. I’d recommend this pioneering book for anybody interested in or wanting to know about criminal justice, psychology or even public policy.


About the Author: Subhasree Neogy [2018-23] is pursuing undergraduate in law from the Institute of Law Nirma University.

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