Stanton E. Samenow's Inside the Criminal Mind
Book report by J. Zimmerman

Book report for a class on criminal behavior. Page references are to the hardback 1984 edition.

Inside the Criminal Mind:
* Theories of criminal causation.
* Book structure.
* Strengths.
* Weaknesses.

Thesis of Inside the Criminal Mind

Stanton E. Samenow advocates the confrontation of criminals, in the style of psychiatrist Samuel Yochelson, who used confrontation as his core method, as in this example:

"In a direct, yet polite manner, Dr. Samuel Yochelson was telling Leroy that he was a menace to society." [p.211]

Yochelson and Samenow believe that criminals should:

"be treated as responsible for their behaviors and held accountable. ... significant and lasting change in the behavior of criminals could occur only with a 180-degree alteration of their thinking. He developed a technique to teach criminals to report their thinking so that it could be monitored and errors pointed out and corrected."

Samenow does not discuss the "cognitive therapies of A.T. Beck and D.H. Meichenbaum" [p.198]. He does not even acknowledge the pioneering (1930s) work of George Kelly, the first to equate personality with cognitions. Nonetheless, the advocated approach is intent on changing how criminals think. It is cognitive therapy for criminals.

Two theories of criminal causation

1. "Classical school"

In 1764, Cesare Beccaria published his brief treatise Dei Delitti e delle Pene (On Crimes and Punishments):

"The criminal possesses reason and free will. The major reason for his negative behavior communally is his will to commit crime. ... He is basically no different from the non-offender. He exercises freedom and is capable of choice."

2. "Positive school"

Inside the Criminal Mind:

Structure of Inside the Criminal Mind

The book relies on case studies, which fill the first 9 of its 14 chapters:

  1. A new beginning.
  2. The basic myths about criminals.
  3. Parents don't turn children into criminals.
  4. Peer pressure: no excuse for crime.
  5. "The hell with school."
  6. Work and the criminal.
  7. People as pawns.
  8. "Getting over the shrinks."
  9. Locked up.

Those chapters tear down existing theories, but only by using individual examples, not by citing any statistical correlations, let alone by reporting any scientific experiments that might determine cause and effect.

Chapter 10 (Criminals self-image: "decent people") argues:

"The criminal knows right from wrong. ... When it suits him, he is law-abiding and even takes pride in being meticulous about it. ...

If a criminal regards something as wrong for him personally, he will not do it. An act is wrong if it is too risky. ... If a criminal makes an error in judgment and is caught, he will say what he did wrong, but only because he was caught."
[p.160.]

Samenow goes on to disagree with other psychologists by this unusual claim:

"Criminals do experience guilt and remorse. They have a conscience but it is not fully operational. When they commit a crime, they can shut off considerations of conscience as quickly and totally as they can shut off an electric light. Just the fact that the criminal can feel guilt, no matter how ineffective it is as a deterrent, helps him to maintain the belief that he is decent."
[p.163.]

Chapter 11 (The conventional wisdom: how wise?) asserts that "Crime is not significantly reduced by social programs." [p.179.]

Chapter 12 (Coping with criminals: dusty trails and dead ends) reviews several systems that attempt to reform incarcerated criminals but have little success.

Chapter 13 (To change a criminal) presents the case of Yochelson's consistent confrontation and education of Leroy, a criminal, teaching him habilitative procedures to:

  1. to control his anger and his thoughts.
  2. to acquire new goals.
  3. to perform a daily moral inventory.

Chapter 14 (Corrections that correct) argues:

"Criminals experience brief periods of dissatisfaction with their lives during which they sincerly want to change. Those in corrections much learn how to take advantage of these periods by helping the criminal to see himself as the rotten person he is and then teaching him new ways of thinking."
[p. 245.]

Teaching someone 'new ways of thinking' is at the heart of cognitive therapy, one of the most proven psychological techniques of therapy. It is, therefore, not surprising that this method has some success.

And finally we get a bottom line number from the statistics-shy Samenow:

"The only meaningful statistics with respect to Yochelson's work occur during the years 1970 to 1976 (the year of his death). ... he was utilizing the habilitative procedures ... with 30 hard-core criminals. As of May 1976, 13 out of 30 [43%] were living responsible lives ... better than a 30% success rate [sample size? error bars?] with men whom others had given up on."
[p. 251.]

In the rest of the chapter, Samenow returns to his usual style of generalization from individual case studies.

Strengths of Inside the Criminal Mind

Weaknesses of Inside the Criminal Mind