All Commentary
Monday, April 1, 1985

Book Review: Inside The Criminal Mind by Stanton Samenow

(Times Books, 130 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011), 1984 285 pages • $15.50 cloth

President Ronald Reagan, in his address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, pointed out that every 30 minutes in the United States at least one person is murdered, nine women are raped, 67 people are robbed, 97 are assaulted and 389 homes are burglarized. And just as tragic is that many of these criminals are “repeat offenders.”

Crime casts a shadow over the lives of virtually every one of us. We install burglar alarms in our homes, put anti-theft devices on our cars, avoid the New York subways, stay indoors after dark because the streets are taken over by criminals. The criminal justice system is widely distrusted and millions of Americans buy hand guns for self-defense. Why this epidemic of crime?

At the core of the problem is a false view of human nature. Too many criminologists, penologists, and even judges accept the pernicious notion that the individual person is a creature of his environment, shaped by social forces into whatever he happens to be. The criminal is corrupted by the institutions of his society and therefore is not responsible for himself and his actions. Blame attaches to the society whose product he is.

It follows that the criminal is not personally answerable for his crimes; blame his slum background, his broken home, his shady companions, or whatever. The criminal, in short, is a “victim,” who should be treated and not punished.

Dr. Samenow, who has spent years dealing with criminals takes a radically different tack: “Criminals cause crime,” he writes, “not bad neighborhoods, inadequate parents, television, schools, drugs, or unemployment. Crime resides within the minds of human beings and is not caused by social conditions. Once we as a society recognize this simple fact, we shall take measures radically different from current ones. To be sure, we shall continue to remedy intolerable social conditions for this is worthwhile in and of itself. But we shall not expect criminals to change because of such efforts.”

Dr. Samenow adds that “Behavior is largely a product of thinking. Everything we do is preceded, accompanied, and followed by thinking. A train cannot fly for it is not so equipped. Similarly, as he is, a criminal is not equipped to be responsible. A drastic alteration must occur, and to accomplish this, a criminal requires help. The criminal must learn to identify and then abandon thinking patterns that have guided his behavior for years. He must be taught new thinking patterns that are self-evident and automatic for responsible people but are totally foreign to him. Short of this occurring, he will continue to commit crimes.”

To alleviate the pervasive and persistent problem of crime, we need to have a realistic and tough-minded view of human nature, criminals and crime. Then we can develop and ira-plement some equally realistic and tough-minded approaches to deal with the problem.

  • Mr. Gow is a freelance writer and English teacher who lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois.