Concept of the Month -- December 2002

Does the Criminal Have a Conscience? 

It seems that a person who leaves a trail of devastation behind by committing crimes as a way of life could not possibly suffer from remorse, guilt, pangs of conscience -- call it what you will. 

The fact is that the criminal can experience remorse and guilt.  These are fleeting emotions.  He is able to shut them off long enough to do as he pleases. A man told me how guilty he felt about making his wife worry because he just didn't bother to come home at night.  He promised to make it up to her. He bought her flowers, took her out to dinner, and apologized profusely. He did the same thing again not long after.  All the making up to her was worthless in her eyes.  This man believed in his own goodness.  He was a person who could experience remorse and apologize. The fact that the criminal can experience guilt adds to his view that he is basically a good person, even though his fragments of conscience provide no enduring deterrent. 

One could conclude that conscience is absent.  But that formulation is too simple.  A person can be a one man walking crime wave, feel remorse on various occasions, then go out and do the same or worse. In a sense then, the momentary remorse, guilt or pangs of conscience could be considered worse than having none at all.

Stanton E. Samenow

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