A "Crime" May not Be a Product of a "Criminal Mind"

Thinking patterns, not current laws and customs, are basic.

Posted Oct 02, 2014

While writing the book, Inside the Criminal Mind (new revised paperback edition to be published 11/4/14), I discuss my use of the word “criminal.” One can rightly assert that a person may be a criminal today but not in the future if a law changes. Laws in fact do change as do social mores. However, human nature remains the same. There are people who would be criminals no matter where they reside or what the laws are.  One such person remarked to me, “If rape were legalized today, I wouldn’t rape, but I’d do something else.” Such predatory individuals pursue power and control at others’ expense no matter what the current laws or  social standards are.

I just returned from Ireland where I toured the old “gaol” (jail) built in 1796 that housed criminals during the potato famine of the 1846 to 1805.  Many of the adult and child inmates were jailed for stealing food or for vagrancy during the desperate years when a million Irish died of starvation and disease. People actually tried to get arrested in order to secure food and shelter. (To make life in jail seem less attractive, the authorities reduced the number of meals from three to two per day and provided smaller portions.)

During the Irish fight for independence from England (1919-1921), other citizens were incarcerated at that very facility for fomenting political unrest. A number were executed for expressing their beliefs. Some of those convicts were transported to Australia where they in fact did not show themselves to be “criminals.”  Instead, they demonstrated that they were individuals of integrity and accomplishment.

Although in Ireland starving people and political foes were branded as “criminals,” it is likely that most were not unprincipled individuals who habitually resorted to deception, intimidation, and violence in order to build themselves up, indifferent to the enormous financial, emotional, and physical suffering they inflicted.

There is then a significant difference between the “criminality” of a starving, impoverished 18th century Irishman who steals bread during a famine merely to survive and a twenty-first century shoplifter who pilfers an items when has more than enough money to purchase it and is stealing for thrills. In 21st century America, a poor citizen does not need to steal in order to eat for he has recourse to social programs, agencies, and charities that will help provide for him.  There is also a major difference between a person who is starving and has no hope of working because of a lack of jobs and an individual who rejects opportunities to work but demands at gunpoint that others surrender their valuables.  And a person championing a cause in which he truly believes  is very difference from a person embracing a cause to exploit it and use it as a vehicle to express his criminality.

In short, criminality emanates from the basic personality of the individual.  Laws, customs, and community standards change from time to time.  Fundamental thinking patterns of a criminal do not change with the seasons or the times!