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Criminal Lessons

Criminal Lessons: Case Studies and Commentary on Crime and Justice

Frederic G. Reamer
Copyright Date: September 2003
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Criminal Lessons
    Book Description:

    Why do people commit crimes? How can crime be prevented? And what can society and criminal justice professionals do to implement constructive responses to criminal behavior? Summarizing what he has learned about crime and criminals during his long career, one of social work's most distinguished theoreticians speculates about the factors that lead to crime and considers what we can do to prevent and respond to it meaningfully. Criminal Lessons is based on more than thirteen thousand cases in which Frederic G. Reamer has been involved as a parole board member, a role that was supplemented by his earlier experiences working in a federal correctional facility, a state penitentiary, and a forensic unit in a state psychiatric hospital.

    Reamer presents an original and compelling typology of crime that classifies offenders on the basis of the circumstances that led to their offenses. He isolates seven categories, tracing crime to desperation, greed, rage, revenge, frolic, addiction, or mental illness. Using actual case studies to illustrate these patterns of 'criminal circumstances,' Reamer presents a model for the prevention of, and response to, crime and throughout the book offers recommendations related to social services, criminal justice, and public policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50315-0
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. 1 First Lessons
    (pp. 1-28)

    Like many people—the general public, politicians, human service professionals, and professionals in the criminal justice field—I have spent years trying to understand crime and criminals. My journey started early. I clearly recall my first horror-filled realization that some people commit crimes so serious that they are imprisoned. When I was six years old my father took my older brother and me to the local library in my Baltimore neighborhood. While a librarian assisted my brother, I scanned books on the lower shelves in the stacks. Quite by accident my eyes landed on a book jacket that featured a...

  4. 2 Crimes of Desperation
    (pp. 29-48)

    Perhaps the most common refrain I hear from inmates is that they committed their crimes—offenses as diverse as robbery, breaking and entering, automobile theft, bank fraud, and embezzlement—because they were desperate. The dictionary definitions of desperate include “reckless or dangerous because of despair or urgency,” “having an urgent need, desire,” “leaving little or no hope,” and “undertaken out of despair or as a last resort” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary 1991). These certainly are accurate descriptions of the state of mind described by the “desperate” offenders I have met. Briefly, they claim to have run out of options,...

  5. 3 Crimes of Greed, Exploitation, and Opportunism
    (pp. 49-79)

    According to the positivist school of thought in criminology, people commit crimes because of a variety of circumstances beyond their control. Economic forces, biological factors, psychiatric torment, abusive conditions, and peer pressure, for instance, are key determinants. It is true, no doubt, that a significant portion of criminal conduct is influenced, to greater or lesser degrees depending on the facts of the case, by factors over which offenders have little, if any, control.

    Over the years, however, I have met a number of offenders whose crimes appear to be primarily a function of their out-and-out greed, wish to exploit, and...

  6. 4 Crimes of Rage
    (pp. 80-96)

    A large percentage of offenders have committed some kind of violent act. However, only some offenses are planned with, as they say in the legal trade, malice aforethought and plotted out as acts of revenge or retribution (see chapter 5). Most violent acts are far more spontaneous, arising from impulsive instincts ignited by intense conflict.

    The crimes of rage that I have encountered fall generally into four major groups: incidents involving family members and partners, social acquaintances, workplace colleagues, and strangers.

    An overwhelming percentage of violence involves family members. Without question, our awareness of the dynamics involved in family violence...

  7. 5 Crimes of Revenge and Retribution
    (pp. 97-119)

    Many offenders who victimize other people do so deliberately, intentionally, and with advance planning. Unlike crimes of rage—which are much more impulsive and spontaneous—crimes of revenge and retribution are calculating and deliberate.

    Typically, crimes of revenge and retribution involve a premeditated attempt to harm someone who, in the offender’s judgment, deserves to be injured. The harm may be physical, psychological, or financial. Physical attacks are self-explanatory. The perpetrator feels resentful and angry and plans a vengeful attack. Most of these incidents involve domestic partners, friends and acquaintances, and coworkers.

    Psychological attacks tend to be more subtle. We have...

  8. 6 Crimes of Frolic
    (pp. 120-133)

    Although most crimes involve individual offenders, many crimes are committed by people who are involved in group mischief. Perhaps the most familiar group-related crimes are committed by gangs (chapter 3). Other crimes are committed by people who are not part of a formal gang but are involved in some kind of group that takes on a life of its own.

    Many group crimes are related to phenomena that I have already addressed—greed, exploitation, opportunism, rage, revenge, and retribution. Many others, however, should be considered crimes of frolic, that is, crimes that result from group members’ decision to have some...

  9. 7 Crimes of Addiction
    (pp. 134-158)

    People with addictions or whose offenses are related to addiction commit a substantial percentage of all crime. The most prominent crime-related addictions involve alcohol, other drugs (such as cocaine and heroin), and pathological gambling.

    Addictions to substances (alcohol and other drugs) and gambling contribute to crime in three ways. First, some offenses are specifically defined as drug or gambling crimes, such as possession, distribution, manufacture, or cultivation of drugs (heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, and so on), or illegal gambling activities. Second, many crimes are related to drugs or gambling, for example, violent acts (such as murder, rape, domestic assault, robbery)...

  10. 8 Crimes of Mental Illness
    (pp. 159-179)

    A number of major mental illnesses—such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and mental retardation—are associated with a significant portion of crime (Guy et al. 1985; Powell, Holt, and Fondacaro 1997; Steadman et al. 1989; and Teplin 1990).

    Here is what a recent federal study found about the prevalence of mental illness among offenders (Ditton 1999). This study considered an inmate mentally ill if he or she reported a current mental or emotional condition or an overnight stay in a mental health or treatment program.

    State and federal prisons and local jails hold 283,800 mentally ill offenders,...

  11. 9 Final Lessons
    (pp. 180-194)

    The premise of my typology of criminal circumstances is that meaningful attempts to address the crime problem must take into consideration the diverse circumstances in offenders’ lives that contribute to their criminal conduct. The vast majority of criminal acts arise from offenders’ sense of desperation (financial and interpersonal); greed, exploitation, and opportunism; rage; wish for revenge and retribution; eagerness for frolic and entertainment; addictions to alcohol, other drugs, and/or gambling; and mental illness and mental retardation.

    Recognition of the circumstances that lead some people to commit crimes should fuel more than intellectual curiosity. It should also be relevant. We can...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 195-196)
  13. References
    (pp. 197-210)
  14. Index
    (pp. 211-214)