The Psychology of Criminal Behavior and Sentencing

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Modern theories to explain criminal behaviour are diverse and include biological theories (Wilson and Herrnstein, 1985; Mednick, Gabrielli and Hutchings, B. 1987; Raine, Buchsbaum, and LaCasse, 1997), psychological theories (Blackburn, 1992; Caspi, et al., 1994; Farrington, 1994; Eysenck, 1977, 1998) and sociological theories (Merton, 1938, Cohen, 1955, Cloward and Ohlin, 1960; Agnew, 1985, 1992; Wolfgang and Ferracuti, 1967; Bursik and Webb 1982; Bursik 1984). All of these theories are based on the positivist tradition (Vold et al. 2002, 27; Greene et al, 2007). In addition, to some extent these theories interact and overlap each other but each has its own identity. The present chapter is however concerned with psychological perspectives on criminal behaviour- that is the assumption that personality traits are associated with criminal behaviour (Blackburn, 1992; Caspi, et al., 1994; Farrington, 1994; Eysenck, 1977, 1998). This chapter shall also focus on sentencing. In this respect, there are five main purposes of sentencing: punishment, crime reduction, reform and rehabilitation, public protection, and reparation. The use of risk/needs instruments is the dominant approach to offender sentencing (Andrews and Bonta, 2006). The risk/need model focuses primarily on utilitarian goals of sentencing (Hannah-Moffat, 2010, 9). These goals seek to reduce the crime level by preventing re-offending and protecting the community (Andrews and Bonta, 2006). However, it can be maintained that psychological theories of criminal behaviour also reflect retributive aims. This is because, the process of working to change the faulty thinking patterns that lead an individual to criminal behaviour often beings with the admission of wrongdoing or guilt, and the commitment to changing his ways. Here the criminal is said to suffer the "pain of remorse". As stated by Meyer (2005): '[l]ike retribution, remorse is a boomerang of the crime. The offender gets his own law thrust back upon himself, to experience for himself the pain of the crime...'
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCriminal Psychology
EditorsJacqueline B. Helfgott
PublisherGreenwood Publishing Group
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-313-39608-3
ISBN (Print)978-0-313-39607-6
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


  • penology
  • theories of offender psychology
  • criminal justice


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