Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Predicting the Dangerousness of a Criminal

The Issue

The presence of certain offence or offender characteristics, such as the nature and seriousness of the charge, the extent of prior arrests and convictions, and a history of drug addiction, have been shown to have a strong relationship to predicting the probability that a defendant will commit a new offence on release [Adair]. The very idea that professionals may be able to determine the risk posed by a member of society is very controversial. It is often the primary criterion on which involuntary psychiatric internment and prison security classification is made [Shaffer]. Whether or not this decision should be made on past behaviour raises an interesting ethical question; that is, once an offender has served his time, should he be released? A number of studies suggest that such predictions can be made, although the accuracy of such predictions is questionable.

Despite criticism, it is convincingly argued that the community should be protected from offenders who pose a threat to the safety of others. Many industrialised nations have a policy of involuntary commitment of an individual who displays extremely antisocial behaviour [Quinsey] and this is often counterbalanced by the rights of the general population to be free from victimisation. The issue is further clouded when certain individuals who are in need of treatment are incarcerated as opposed to getting the [psychiatric] help they require.

The question still remains though, whether a professional should be allowed to judge the suitability of an individual to return to the society from which he was removed owing to some past criminality or antisocial behaviour.

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