Criminals are as much a victim as those they have victimized, right? After all, they do what they do because of poverty, or bad parenting, or lousy peers, mental illness or the availability of a gun, right?
Well, no, says clinical psychologist Stanton Samenow. Criminals are the way they are because that is what they choose to do. From his experience, Samenow argues that even if a criminal has a mental illness, they commit crimes because they want to do so. Lots of people have mental illness, but very few of them commit crimes.
Samenow warns that criminals are not stupid. If they score low on IQ tests, that is usually because they could not care less about learning the kinds of things in school that are measured by such tests. They are quite adept at picking up on what will help them -- the law being a favorite course of study behind bars.
Also, criminals are quick to pick up on psychological jargon and get good at feeding it back to the practitioners. In other words, crooks are good at scamming mental health workers. If someone thinks they are nuts, not a crook, and that will get them out of jail, then, they quickly learn to sound as if they are mentally ill.
Samenow warns therapists against listening to just one side -- especially when the one side is a criminal (of any age) who lies not out of necessity but as a way of getting a thrill from manipulating other people. Lying gives power. A child or a student can often con a mental health practitioner into thinking that a parent or a teacher is an abuser and should be brought under control in the criminal justice system. Samenow has found that without a third party who can provide a "truth check" of what the child or student accuser is saying, devastating injustices can result.
Indeed, many people come from poverty, broken homes, lousy neighborhoods filled with budding criminals -- and lead good, productive lives. And criminals can come from wealthy homes just as easily as not.
One of the implications of Samenow's decades of experience is that the War on Poverty was doomed to failure as a crime-fighting measure.
Another implication of Samenow's research is that prisons do not make criminals into criminals, although they may increase their networking behind bars for when they get out.
Criminals like the excitement of doing what is prohibited. It is a characteristic they demonstrate often very early in life. Normal living is boring. Breaking the law is fun. One predator told Samenow: "If rape were made legal, I would find some other law to break." They lie not out of uncontrollable compulsion, but for the excitement of manipulating and controlling other people.
Criminals can change; they can stop being criminals, Samenow has found. To do so, they have to choose to do so. The have to learn how to think about the future, and especially about how their actions will affect other people.
(To learn more about Samenow's findings and his book, Inside the Criminal Mind, you can listen to my interview of him at http://www.gunowners.org/radio.htm in the archives of my Live Fire radio program.)
Until criminals choose to change, they will be criminals and the rest of us make a huge mistake to ignore that simple fact.
And, sorry gun control advocates -- criminals don't care about your gun control laws. They know that gun control is only for suckers (their word), not for them. What does that make those who support gun control laws? Aiding and abetting criminals is a term that comes to mind.
One of the legislative ramifications of Samenow's research bears on the so-called Our Lady of Peace Act. Anti-Second Amendment Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to add mental health records to the National Criminal Information database. The assumption is that mental illness is a predictor of violent behavior. Based on his extensive clinical experience, Samenow puts it very succinctly: "[A]ll criminals are rational and -- crime is never caused by mental illness."
Of course, Schumer wants to disarm Americans and has shown that, for him, any excuse is a good excuse. But the rest of us now know the truth: all medical records, including mental health records, should be off limits to police investigators.