California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: August 26,1999
Faculty on the Site.
Violent Child Issue in Israeli Plea Bargain
Link added August 26, 1999.
Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children
Passage on Kellerman's view of ture psychopathic behavior as immutable.
From Kellerman's new book, The Savage Spawn, on violent children.
Started on May 31, 1999.
Voices from the Hellmouth
Article by John Katz detailing the way kids feel when school is "nightmare of exclusion."
Stories by the "geeks" themselves. A section of this very, very
long article, that takes a very long time to load, was excerpted
by the Critical Criminologist Newsletter in Summer 1999,
"with the aim of providing an interesting critical analysis from a point of view
frequently left out of the debate."
Link added July 24, 1999.
A Checklist of Psychopathy Indicators
T. O'Connor's Site. Link added July 9, 1999.
The Decision to Commit a Crime
Link from T. O'Connor's Site. Link added July 9, 1999.
Get to the Real Problem!
by Erik Harris. A student remembers high school violence.
Link added June 3, 1999.
Violence and the Plight of Homeless Children
Report on recent conference. Link added on July 1, 1999.
Pushing Them Away When They are Mentally Ill
Internet Links on Similar Issues in Three Strikes Law
Yolanda Williams' Project on Three Strikes Law Issues
Link added on May 31, 1999.
"If I Get Out Alive"
A National Public Radio Documentary, which "describes
the conditions faced by juveniles in the adult prison system.
Link courtesy of Susan Takata, added June 1, 1999. Difficulty of Measurement and Prediction of Child Violence
Discussion. Link added on May 31, 1999.
Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence
By Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson. 350 pp.
Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1996. $24.95. ISBN 0-395-69001-3
Review in New England Journal of Medicine
Link added June 29, 199.
More to go up soon!
Kellerman is a novelist. He tells his story well, seductively. He also takes a difficult position: when children kill, in a premeditative, unemotional way, lock them up for life. (That's a conservative position.)
The obvious critical or liberal response to Kellerman is that these are children, and that we must try to reach them. In choosing to highlight Kellerman's book, we meant to offer you a persuasive conservative argument. Don't be tempted to throw it out lightly. Consider the elements of the actual argument.
Kellerman is probably right. "There are bad people in the world." (passim, first 50 pages.) When we free them, if they have killed, they might kill again, and kill innocent people. Kellerman's argument is that no one knows. That's true. He says we're better off just keeping them locked up. That at least incapacitates them to hurt more innocent victims.
Do we know for sure they will kill again? Absolutely not. Kellerman does not claim that anyone knows. It's just his preference, given this terrible situation, to risk no more innocent lives. Many of our current laws, like Megan's Law, are written from that perspective.
This argument goes mostly against the insanity defense. Kellerman insists that psychopaths, even child psychopaths, can tell the difference between right and wrong. (at p. 19)
"They do it because they loveit.
They do it because they can.
"When smart police officials, such as those in New York, decide to lock up career bad guys no matter what the offense, crime rates plummet. The same goes for "three strikes" laws that incarcerate repeat offenders for life."
"When it comes to sentencing, academic distinctions between nonviolent and violent crime are less important than pinpointing the type of criminal at the docket. The otherwise law-abiding jerk who commits a one-time assault during a bar brawl is of much less threat to society than is the supposedly nonviolent con man who's been preying on marks for two decades, because you can bet the con man has committed scores of felonies in addition to con games that have never come to light." (op.cit., at p. 31)
It seems so simple to recognize the difference between the jerk of the brawl and the uncaring career criminal. But that is in part because this argument has been simplified to compare the extremes. Part of the raging argument over the "three strikes law" is what in fact constitutes a "career criminal." The clear cut cases are not the ones that trouble us. What's the magic number? Ten unfeeling, hurtful acts of violence (and what shall constitute an "act of violence" for this purpose?)? Twelve? Twenty? No bright line standard, is there? Each case must be considered on the totality of its circumstances.
Some of us, statisticians, would be very happy to throw out some of the data, thus separating the "clearly psychopathic" from the "not psychopathic." Consider that if we had created categories of psychopathy, high, medium, and low, based on the number of observed cases of unrepentant infliction of cruelty, or recounted instances of such infliction, we would have designed one plausible measure of psychopathy. Imagine:
A table such as this would seem to reflect the kinds of assessment Kellerman is using. One might feel fairly comfortable in claiming that those who rank low on acts of cruelty were considerably different from those who rank high on such acts. But what about the young person that receives a score of 11. How sure can we be that that young person is different from the one who receives a 10? What about one who receives a 24? How sure can we be that these people are "clearly" different from the one with the next higher or lower number of acts perceived or recounted?
Kellerman assures us on page 34 that: "Bad people are reallydifferent."
Judgments such as Dr. Kellerman's are based on some such calculation of all his observations and records, though not necessarily as precisely as we have laid it out, and certainly not with our imaginary numbers. We in statistics are always more comfortable with throwing out some of the data to guarantee a real difference between categories. Suppose we threw out the data from the middle category. Then we would know the high category must display some real difference from those in the low category. There should be a real difference between those with a maximum of 10 cruel acts and those with 25 or more. "Aye, but there's the rub." We can throw out data, but not people. How would we categorize the young people with scores in the middle range? Psychopaths? Or not psychopaths?
That question becomes more critical in face of Kellerman's philosophical position, especially in the case of young children, that psychopathy simply IS. That position presumes that both the child and its mentors are passive, with respect to this condition, that nothing can reliably be done to alter the condition. That may or may not be true. But assuming arguendo that it is true, the line of demarcation between who is and who is not classified as psychopathic becomes increasingly critical.
Kellerman comments on p. 34 that he wants none of our "situational-ethics gibberish about fine distinctions between good and evil . . ." Granted Kellerman is a novelist and wont to turn a catchy phrase. Nonetheless, beware of those who use value-laden terms such as "gibberish." I am always wary of those who trash other people's views, for such an arrogant attitude does not substitute well for well-honed argument. Susan Faludi, in Backlash, does this, as does Catharine MacKinnon. It confuses. Faludi's and MacKinnon's work is excellent. They would be better advised not to excoriate feminists with whom they do not agree. Kellerman's position is well taken. But so also is that of the social constructivist. In this world of social science, no one has all the answers. We're not even sure we have the right questions. A critical approach would urge us to listen in good faith to the claims of all perspectives.
Kellerman himself makes this point when he reminds us on page 50 that "[m]ost human behavior is the reseult of the interaction between inborn traits and environment." No need for more pointless debates on nature or nurture, he says. "It's both." (p. 52) How much of each? In what proportion? "The problem is, the kind of data it would take to pinpoint how specific processes of emotional scrambling occur are hard to obtain, for we are generally unable to study and observe large numbers of children and family from the moment of birth through adulthood with the kind of detail necessary to establish causation."
How can the perceptions be so different? They are coming from different contexts. There are issues of how the three strikes law is sometimes wrong, and real people are hurt in the process, as we force them into a system that does not fit. There are issues of how Kellerman can be certain of his diagnosis of psycopathy, and of how we can even agree on a definition for that term. We've had trouble enough with the M'Naughten standard of "knowing right from wrong." Look at the Ain't Us file on how often people are simply hammered through the cracks of the system. When we make mistakes in disciplining and punishment, we harm people. Some of our resources document this harm.
Measurement and tolerance of ambiguity always present difficulties in the social sciences. After the fact we can all agree that Hitler was a bad apple. We might have a little more trouble with Kellerman's assertion that Charles Keating is a psychopath (p. 21). And quite a few people in the world are having trouble with such a judgment of Milosevic, over Kosovo.
Kellerman is certain he knows who is, and who is not a psychopath. He is adding up a series of behavior manifestations, and trying for deep contemplation of the other. But psychologists have been wrong before. Measurement in the social sciences is not exact. Personally, I would trust Kellerman's assessment much of the time. But how will I deal with a ten-year-old child, when I can never know for certain whether we have accurately foretold who that chid will become? We come face to face with the monster: tolerance of ambiguity, of uncertainty. Major social issues here.
More later . . . Added on May 31, 1999.
Coming . . .a comparison to Karen Armstrong's attempt to weed out the "unworthiness" and compllete her spiritual vows. Some of her apparent weakness in doing so (i.e., unexplained fainting and food disorders) ultimately turned out to be the result of undiagnosed illness. How are we ever to know, even with the most caring and well intentioned mentors, that non-attention, misuse of uncontrolled energy, and any other "failings" are caused by the factors we believe to be causing them? Karen Armstrong's poignant telling of her attempt to control her "weaknesses" remind us that sometimes even the subject does not understand the contextual patterns within which behaviors occur.
Karen Armstrong, Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery, St. Martin's Press, 1981. ISBN: 0312119038 In this thoughtful recollection of what kept her in the convent for seven years, Karen Armstrong considers all the factors that contribute to her ultimate spirituality of a "freelance monotheist." She is no longer a practicing Roman Catholic.
Visit Amazon.com for more information on Jonathan Kellerman's Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children.
Visit Amazon.com for more information on Karen Armstrong's Through the Narrow Gate.
"Across the United States, numerous children are locked up in adult prisons and jails every year. Laws are pending in Congress and several States that could double or even triple their number.
"If I Get Out Alive" is a 1-hour radio documentary that describes the conditions faced by juveniles in the adult prison system. Narrated by actress and child advocate Diane Keaton, the program features first-hand accounts from adolescents currently behind bars, rehabilitated youths, parents of children who died in adult prisons, legal experts, policy makers and correction officers. The program also addresses mental health conditions faced by youth in prisons and jails (50 percent of whom, according to new research, are affected by a serious mental illness). In addition, the broadcast examines alternative sentencing programs that are successful in diverting young offenders from prison.
"If I Get Out Alive" is being distributed over the National Public Radio Satellite System to more than 530 public radio stations nationwide, with a total of 17 million regular listeners. Please call your local public radio station for the broadcast date and time in your area. Contact information for local public radio stations is available online via http://www.npr.com.
"If I Get Out Alive" is available on audio cassette for home use and educational outreach purposes. An educational kit is being developed for use by public policy makers, schools, universities and for distribution to local advocacy organizations. To obtain additional information online, or to hear a Real Audio preview, visithttp://www.ifigetoutalive.com/alive2.htm."
I vividly recall my junior year in high school, and its climatic ending. After the Christmas break, students began to rob other students of their pull-over coats with the Raider logo, as they headed for the bus stop after school. Rather than taking steps to ensure student safety by calling for school police, the Principal banned the wearing of the black Raider coats. This did not end the conflict, and the authorities ultimately had to be called in. By that time, many students had already been traumatized and robbed. DON'T REPEAT THE PAST, GET TO THE REAL PROBLEM!!
Anne-Marie O'Connor, "Ranks of Homeless Children on the Rise, Study Finds," Metro Section, p. B1, July 1, 1999. Summarizes results of Better Homes Fund report, "Homeless Children: America's New Outcasts." "Deborah Weinstein, of the Children's Defense Fund, . . . said one of the most ominous findings fo the two-year stsudy was that an alarming number of the mothers studied--92%--had been sexually or violently abused." The conference stressed the extent of violence to which this group and its children are exposed. This may predispose the children to future homelessness or future violence. As Weinstein says: "we need to help these people . . . We can't just push them off . . ."
Homeless Families and Children: A Longitudinal Study
Link added July 1, 1999.
Good Samaritan Shelters
Link added July 1, 1999.
U.S. Dept. of Publications Search
Search for +homeless +children
Link added July1, 1999.