Concept of the Month -- September/October 2011

The Criminal's Shutoff of Fear

If you could ask the toughest inmate in a prison, "Didn't you ever think you'd get caught?", if he were being truthful, his answer would be, "Of course, but not this time." Criminals know the occupational hazards of crime -- getting caught, convicted, and confined. Or getting injured or killed in a high risk crime. Criminals know the possible consequences of crime better than most law-abiding citizens. However, they have a chilling capacity to eliminate considerations from their thinking long enough to do what they intend with a belief that they are invulnerable at the time. They are vigilant enough to look over their shoulders for the police or to look out for anyone else who might hold them accountable unless they are on high doses of mind-altering substances. Then, as more than one offender has told me, "Drugs knock off my caution."

Because criminals take such high risks, even engaging in crimes that appear to be ill-conceived or carelessly executed, people sometimes think that they actually want to get caught. In more than 40 years of interviewing offenders, I have never encountered this. There are offenders who fail to take proper precautions or are confident to the point of recklessness. They still remain certain that they are in control and that they will get away with whatever action they intend.

It is almost inconceivable to a responsible person that a criminal would risk losing his freedom or life. The responsible person is afraid to leave his car parked too long at a meter lest he get a ticket. He bears in mind potential consequences of his conduct. He does not want to deal with the aftermath of breaking the law which can entail multiple consequences: financial, embarrassment, loss of freedom, emotionally or in some other way hurting another person. For people who are basically responsible, deterrents are automatic. The criminal can shut off deterrents (considerations of consequences) as instantaneously as someone can turn off a light switch.

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