Forensic Psychology For Dummies
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Forensic psychology is the application of psychological knowledge to the criminal justice system. Print out and pin up this Cheat Sheet to remind yourself of how forensic psychology is used within the justice system to assess offenders, identify criminal capacity in young people, and to characterize psychopaths.

Examining the characteristics of a psychopath

Robert Hare’s Psychopathy checklist is a tool commonly used in clinical practice to assess whether an individual is a psychopath. Here are Hare’s definitions of two types of psychopath:

  • Selfish, callous psychopaths

    • Glibly, but superficially charming

    • Grandiose feeling of how important they are

    • Pathological liar – lies when there is no need to

    • Manipulates others, cunning

    • Lacks remorse or any feelings of guilt

    • Does not really feel strongly about anything

    • Lacks empathy

    • Does not accept responsibility for their actions

  • Deviant psychopaths

    • Easily bored, needs excitement

    • Feeds off other people

    • No realistic, long-term goals

    • Impulsive

    • Irresponsible

    • Lack of control over actions

    • Behavioral problems in childhood

    • Juvenile delinquency

    • Different types of offending

    • Abuses any conditions set by the courts

Using forensic psychology to assess criminal offenders

Forensic psychologists often assess offenders to determine whether they’re fit to plead their cases in court, or are likely to be violent in the future. There are a number of important issues to be considered in this assessment and these are outlined here:

  • Family background

    • Any history of abuse?

    • Offender ever removed from family?

    • Any criminal close relatives?

  • Criminal background

    • Amount and variety of criminal convictions?

    • Types of victims (particularly their ages and genders)?

  • Education

    • Achievements at school (or lack of them)?

    • Age left school?

    • Literacy skill level?

    • Numeracy skill level?

  • Attitudes

    • Opinions about crime and criminality?

    • Justifications of their offenses?

    • Any processes of denial or minimization?

  • Psychological characteristics

    • General intelligence level?

    • Any indications of mental illness?

    • Any indication of personality disorder?

  • Domestic circumstances

    • History of intimate relationships?

    • Current intimate relationships?

    • Any children?

    • Occupational history?

    • Residential circumstances?

    • Economic circumstances?

Identifying criminal capacity in children

Criminality can often be linked back to an offender’s childhood. A child who exhibits three or more of the following behaviors is at risk of becoming seriously anti-social as an adult:

  • Habitual lying

  • Cruelty to animals

  • Cruelty to people, especially vulnerable people

  • Breaking into buildings or cars

  • Destroying property ― their own or others

  • Deliberate fire-setting

  • Running away from home overnight more than once

  • Stealing more than once

  • Frequent truancy

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

David Canter, the world-leading crime psychologist, is perhaps most widely known as one of the pioneers of 'Offender Profiling', being the first to introduce its use to the UK. He subsequently founded the discipline of Investigative Psychology and is now Director of the International Research Centre for Investigative Psychology.

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