Online Discussion 3.1: Personality Theories and Justice

After reading Reid’s article, http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1690/crime-and-personality-personality-theory-and-criminality-examined engage in the online discussion by debating the following questions:

How do you think personality theories are currently affecting our criminal justice system?
How do you feel about labelling offenders? Why?
What are the ethical and moral concerns around the idea of determinism – if any?
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How do you think personality theories are currently affecting our criminal justice system?

Personality theories are deeply immersed in our criminal justice system. During pre-trial, a psychological evaluation will (expectantly) be done; during the trial, the defendant’s personality is a large part of how innocence or guilt will be decided. In sentencing, personality will contribute to how an inmate should be classified. And within confinement, personality theories can be used to decide what kind of treatments/rehabilitation this person may need and how they are adjusting to their new environment. Not only are personality theories used for people within the criminal justice system, but they are also used when finding employees to work in it. It is expected that one has certain personality traits that will allow them to properly and successfully do their job. Everyone from lawyers and judges, police and correctional officers to the mental health/rehabilitation staff (and others) are judged as to whether their personalities are right for the job.

I am a firm believer that personality can contribute to criminality but not necessarily cause it. Everyone’s personality sits on a continuum, with people having more or less of certain traits. Anyone with any type of personality can, with the influence of certain factors, commit a crime. I tend to be more inclined to agree with the quote by Eysneck from 2003 (as quoted by Reid, 2011, para. 19 ):

“There is no predestination about the fact that heredity, mediated through personality, plays some part in predisposing some people to act in an anti-social manner. Environment is equally important … the interaction between the two is perhaps the most crucial factor”.

How do you feel about labelling offenders? Why?

I believe that classifying offenders can be helpful. It will allow for an idea of risk assessment, what needs the offender has, and the most beneficial interventions for them. But, I do not think that labelling is helpful. Once labelled, the stigma associated with a said label can be devastating. I think about a student I once had who was cognitively behind his peers. At age 17, his mental age was more that of a 12 or 13-year-old. Regardless of his mental age, he was charged as a sex offender for having “relations” with a girl of 14. Because of consent laws, he was technically an offender but mentally had none of a 17-year-old boy’s maturity. He is now be labelled as a sex offender. Even though it will be wiped from his juvenile record, he will live the rest of his life being called one. Labels do not serve a purpose to the individuals labelled – they serve a purpose to those dealing/interacting with the individuals.

What are the ethical and moral concerns around the idea of determinism – if any?

Determinism is an archaic theory. Though many people still believe that people can be born “bad seeds,” to suggest that one’s life is predetermined is a severe injustice to those labelled in that matter. It is unethical and morally wrong. It shows the unjust cost of labelling. Labelling a person as a criminal (or anything, for that matter), regardless of the cause, be it biological, environmental, or something else entirely, can re-enforce the label, allowing free will to become obsolete. It also suggests that people can not make positive changes- which I do not believe.

Reference:

Reid, J. A. (2011). “Crime and Personality: Personality Theory and Criminality Examined.” Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse, 3(01). Retrieved from http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=1690
(Links to an external site.)

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