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Heinous Crime

Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences

Frederic G. Reamer
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Heinous Crime
    Book Description:

    What circumstances lead someone to commit murder, rape, or acts of child molestation? Why does society have such a deep-seated wish for vengeance against perpetrators of heinous crimes? Can those found guilty of such crimes ever be rehabilitated? What are the long-term consequences of incarceration, for inmates and society?

    Officials of the criminal justice system, politicians, and ordinary citizens argue about possible answers to these controversial and vital questions, with little agreement. Violent crime and overflowing prisons continue to be unfortunate aspects of our society as the criminal justice system struggles to develop a coherent strategy to deal with heinous crimes.

    This book offers innovative perspectives on the difficult issues concerning a civilized society's response to offenders guilty of heinous crimes. It considers specific cases and the chilling accounts of victims and the criminals themselves. In providing detailed strategies for prevention and rehabilitation, Frederic G. Reamer draws on his extensive experience as a member of the Rhode Island Parole Board, where he has heard more than 13,000 cases, and as a social worker in correctional facilities. He examines the psychological and social factors that lead individuals to commit reprehensible crimes, arguing that a fuller understanding of different criminal types is crucial to developing successful answers to the problem of heinous crimes. Closely looking at various criminal typologies, Reamer examines the effectiveness and rationale of various responses, including revenge and retribution, imprisonment for public safety, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50688-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-40)

    I have clear recollections of my first close encounter with someone who committed a truly heinous crime. In the fall of 1981, I was meeting with a group of inmates at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, what was then the state’s principal maximum-security institution. I was working at the penitentiary part time as a social worker, in conjunction with my full-time duties as a professor at the University of Missouri School of Social Work. All the group members were serving lengthy sentences for serious crimes, including robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and murder.

    When I first met...

    (pp. 41-84)

    Why people commit heinous crimes defies simple explanation. Rather, based on decades of research and experience, we are able to identify a series of factors that, independently and in concert, help us to understand why people commit heinous crimes. Such understanding is essential in order for us to fashion thoughtful, principled, and just responses to heinous crime.

    Theories of crime causation—known as etiological theories—have evolved and matured since their origin in the mideighteenth century.¹ These theories have ranged from narrowly focused speculation about the influence of genetic and biochemical factors on criminal behavior to broad analyses of the...

    (pp. 85-128)

    What heinous crimes have in common is that they are shocking. These cases, more than any other crimes, lead to newspaper headlines, television and radio news reports, and Internet bulletins that invariably make us shake our heads, go weak in the knees, feel faint, and cry.

    These are also the cases that boil our blood and make us seethe with vengeful rage. Reports that a man slit the throat of a sleeping four-yearold, that a toddler was raped by his mother’s boyfriend, an elderly couple died in a fire-for-profit, a nurse was kidnapped as she left the hospital and then...

    (pp. 129-172)

    People who commit heinous crimes have to be in prison in order to protect the public—most for a significant period of time and some forever. Apart from whatever retributive reasons we may have to incarcerate heinous offenders, we need to ensure public safety. The optimal length of imprisonment is subject to debate, both in theory and practice, depending on one’s interpretation of current knowledge about the deterrent and rehabilitative effects of incarceration, the trajectory of criminal careers, and risks associated with noninstitutional, community-based supervision.

    For quite some time political jurisdictions in the United States—federal, state, and local—have...

    (pp. 173-210)

    By definition, offenders who commit heinous crimes need help. Some offenders commit their crimes because of major psychiatric disorders. Others have significant problems stemming from traumatic life experiences (rape, molestation, child abuse and neglect), poor innate impulse control, anger management, sexual deviance, and addictions.

    It is one thing to assert that offenders who commit heinous crimes need professional assistance to help them conquer, or at least manage, their demons. It is quite another to assert that concerted professional efforts to help offenders are effective. In some instances treatment and rehabilitation are feasible and successful. In others the results are mixed...

    (pp. 211-236)

    One of the most compelling developments in criminal justice in recent years is the restorative justice movement. Restorative justice is a victimcentered response to crime that provides opportunities for the victim, the offender, their families, and representatives of the community at large to address the harm caused by the crime. The number of formal restorative justice programs has increased dramatically, especially since the early 1980s (Umbreit 2000). Although some forms of restorative justice are not appropriate or feasible in cases involving heinous crime, several are.

    Restorative justice is based on a belief that an important goal of the criminal justice...

    (pp. 237-242)

    I have learned a great deal during the years I have worked in the criminal justice system. Many ideas that I have today about how best to respond to offenders who commit heinous crimes are similar to those I held at the start of my career. And, not surprisingly, some other ideas have changed over time.

    But why the change? For one thing, years and years of reading and hearing media accounts and reviewing police reports, court transcripts, prison inmates’ social histories completed by counselors, and victims’ testimony and letters describing heinous crimes have a cumulative effect, as I suspect...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 243-246)
  11. References
    (pp. 247-268)
  12. Index
    (pp. 269-278)