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Psychopathy is a personality disorder that effects roughly 1% of the population. The stereotype associated with psychopaths is that they are all ‘cold-blooded killers’, however this is not true. Most of those with psychopathic traits are often considered to be the average citizen, most achieving high-ranking roles such as CEO’s or Lawyers as their psychopathic traits allow them to excel in competitive workplaces. Roughly 20% of the criminal population in America are psychopaths (Dr. P. Babiak & Co, 2012), this mean means that over 400,000 people in detention centres are psychopathic. Before being incarcerated, many of these psychopathic criminals were still perceived as a typical member of society due. In saying this, what exactly is a psychopath? Although there is debate among forensic psychologists, these are the most agreed upon traits of psychopathy:
Psychopaths are up to four times more likely to reoffend than those who do not show psychopathic tendencies. A 1988 study conducted by Canadian researchers concluded that, after a three-year period, 80% of criminals with high psychopathy ratings had reoffended (S. Porter, 1988.) Although these statistics are often blamed on a failing criminal justice system and rehabilitation program, psychopaths scientifically do not respond well to any form or rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is defined as the process of having inmates change and remove themselves from their past lifestyles, the aim of rehabilitation is to help and teach prisoners not to commit crimes. Common forms of rehabilitation is not effective on people with psychopathic tendencies as they do not deter from punishment. This is because, characteristically, they do not fear “social stigmatization” (Dr. Nigel Blackwood, n.d). Dr. Nigel Blackwood, a leading forensic psychiatrist at Kings College in London has stated that a reward system is the most effective method of rehabilitating criminalized psychopaths, an example of such would be rewarding good behaviour with special privileges like their favourite food.
This leads many to debate whether psychopathic criminals should be released from imprisonment after completing their sentence, or whether they should remain in a rehabilitation centre or psychiatric ward.
Psychological understanding has changed over the past four decades, and the amount of people interested in forensic psychology has grown immensely as a result of the media publicizing illicit cases, an example being the Ted Bundy murders. As a result of the increasing interest and concern in forensic psychology, recent scientific developments have assisted society in understanding the mind of a psychopath.
Developed in the 1990s by Robert Hare and still used to this day, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R) is a test used to understand whether a subject shows signs of psychopathy, as well as the degree of psychopathy exhibited. The PCL-R test is used clinically as well as in the court of law as it assists the Judge in making a decision in how the criminal should be treated in jail and the length and type of detention sentences (Mind Disorders, 2008).
The study of epigenetics in criminal psychopaths and the epigenetic difference between violent and mild psychopaths is key to understanding the development of psychopathy. Epigenetics is often referred to as the study of changes in an organism caused by the reformation of gene expression rather than the reconstruction of genetic code. Kristen Hovet, a North-Dakota based Science Journalist, states that the development of violent psychopathy requires specific genetic components “interacting with certain environmental insults” (K. Hovet, 2016). Examples of such would be inequality or perceived injustice, neglect and suffering caused by loved ones. Furthermore, a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked at the functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) of prisoner’s brains; the experiment determined that psychopathic prisoners have reduced connection between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the amygdala (2017). This information is significant as the vmPFC and the Amygdala are responsible for feelings such as fear, anxiety, empathy and guilt – traits that psychopaths lack or struggle exhibiting.
Technology is consistently improving in this modern age, and as a result, scientific research is becoming more accurate and accessible. New technologies have vastly improved the state of psychology research and has revolutionized the study of psychopathy to a cellular level.
The first functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI), was invented by a cohort of Bell Laboratories led by Seiji Ogowa. The fMRI scans the brain and measures the blood flow in the brain as a person performs a task. The fMRI works on the theory that Energy requires glucose and oxygen, it shows the neurons in the brain that use the most energy during a task (W. R. Uttal, 2002). This imaging technique has influenced psychologists to research the physical brain functions of psychopathy.
Currently, The United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom have been leading in psychopathologic research, but Israel is leading in trauma related mental disorders. Specifically, for Psychopathic Studies, Harvard University in Boston, MA and Kings College in London are leading in research. Dr. Robert Nigel is a leading forensic psychologist situated at Kings College.
Government funding of psychopathy and criminal studies is justified as their results could affect the lives of thousands. If the government didn’t put any research or money into questioning whether psychopathic criminals are safety risks in society, the lives and wellbeing of many could be jeopardized. Government funding of forensic psychology and psychopathic research helps improve the criminal justice system and has the ability to revolutionize the rehabilitation techniques in detention centres, specifically violent criminals with psychopathic symptoms. Government finding has already advanced this case overseas,
Phillip Garrido, a high-ranking psychopath currently serving 431 years behind bars, is known for the kidnapping of 11 years old Jaycee Dugard in 1991. Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped by Garrido and his wife for 18 years, she was repeatedly raped, constantly fed lies, and was impregnated twice by Garrido, giving birth once at 14 and another at 17 (Carla Norton, 2014). Phillip Garrido’s case was publicized and still causes outrage globally, especially because he had done it before. In 1972 and 1976, he was convicted for similar crimes but never served his full sentence, often earning bail (Editors at Biography.com, 2019). Phillip Garrido was a known psychopath in the criminal justice system and was clearly known to reoffend after release, yet he was still given bail and walked free, only to harm Dugard for 18 horrible years. The Jaycee Dugard Case begs the question of whether known psychopaths should be released from imprisonment, or whether the social risks are too great. By releasing psychopathic prisoners, the lives around them are jeopardized. On the other hand, will all criminal psychopaths reoffend after release? Some state that these criminals with psychopathic traits deserve a chance to redeem themselves in society like every other prisoner, or that some have truly been rehabilitated and have exhibited a personality change and are now fit for real life. In saying this, there is no measure of whether psychopaths truly have been “cured”. The PCL-R test can be reconducted, but psychopaths are renown liars and may be lying for their own benefit.
The economic factors of the debate pose whether releasing psychopaths from prison is worth the financial cost from the government, and consequentially tax-payer’s money. For high-ranking psychopaths, it would include parole officing, technological tracking, increased cop patrols in the area, increased therapy, constant cop monitorization, camera and microphone recording technology, just to monitor one ex-convict. This money would come from bail or tax-payer money, which would increase the already high amount of tax payed by the average citizen. Is this extra cost worth it? On the other hand, this monitorization can help keep society safe from a potential risk to the peace of the neighbourhood, and the said increased amount of money will help rehabilitate the criminal and give them a stable and easier readjustment to real life.
20% of all criminals are psychopaths, and some of these criminals are the most violent and potentially deadly to ever pass through the criminal justice system. When considering the likes of Ted Bundy or Phillip Garrido, the question lies of whether these criminals should have ever been let out of jail. Further making forensic psychologists globally question whether psychopathy can be cured at all. The incarceration system aims for equality and justice in all cases, so why deny psychopathic criminals the chance to be rehabilitated or to redeem themselves? As the ethical and social debate continues, the question persists as to whether psychopathic criminals should be allowed back into society.
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