Criminal danger: keys and concepts to assess it

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear the term “danger” often in the news, on the radio and in other media, especially when it comes to criminal matters.

“High Risk Criminal”, “Medium Danger Prison” and other concepts and terms are examples of how we understand this terminology day to day, to the point where we think we know it. Despite this, this concept remains one of the most misunderstood in criminology because it is often confused with others such as aggression and violence.

Moreover, the new forms of crime which emerge with the new times oblige us to make a thorough examination and examination of it. In this article we propose to conceptualize the concept of danger, to indicate what are its characteristics and to explain its importance.

Criminal danger: knowing the history of the concept

The idea of ​​danger is by no means new, but the notion of criminal danger is relatively modern.

Its clearest antecedent goes back to the theses of the German author Feuerbach, the term would pass to be part of the Penal Code of Bavaria in 1800 and which defined it as the quality of a person who makes presume with foundation that he would violate the right.

Modern definitions and approaches

The most modern definition of danger was introduced into criminology by Rafael Garófalo with its fear of designating the constant and active perversity of the delinquent and the amount of anticipated evil that one must fear from the delinquent himself.

The concept, although controversial since then, was quickly accepted until 1892 by the International Union of Criminal Law, led by eminent masters of this branch of law such as Von Liszt and Prins, they officially recognized it.

Unitary definition of criminology

Danger, from the Latin periculum, it refers to the risk, to the imminent contingency that an evil will occur, Being the situation, thing or obstacle that increases the possibility of harm or damage.

The danger, when we apply it to a person, is the quality of the damage that it could cause, in attention to the factors which push it to do this evil. The Royal Academy of the Language accepts this term by designating a person as a person likely to cause harm or to commit criminal acts.

To clarify this concept, we review other definitions given by various authors studying law and criminology. Rocco defines it as the power, attitude, aptitude, capacity of the person to be the cause of harmful or dangerous actions. Petrocelli defines it as a set of subjective and objective conditions under the impulse, it is probable that an individual commits a socially dangerous or harmful act. The Quillet Encyclopedia says that danger is the set of subjective conditions that allow a prognosis on an individual’s propensity to commit crimes.

As you can see, common elements in definitions are potential and intention to be prone to crime. Just as there is a clear difference between assault and violence, danger differs from the previous two in that both terms help us try to diagnose the latter.

Hazardous components

Criminal behavior specialists agree that danger has two essential elements: criminal capacity and social adaptability.

The first concept, criminal capacity, refers to the internal criminal tension, the delinquent power, which is capable of giving itself the criminal personality in the penal domain. For its part, social adaptability is the offender’s aptitude for social life, that is to say the possibility of adapting the criminal’s activity to the environment in which he is inserted.

From these components we can recognize four forms of dangerous state.

  1. Very strong criminal capacity and very high adaptability: Here are the most serious manifestations of anti-social behavior such as white collar crimes, political-financial crimes, organized crime, organized psychopaths, etc.
  2. Very high criminal capacity and uncertain adaptability: Less serious but of very harmful criminogenic potential. Their maladaptation easily makes them draw attention to themselves. Socially marginalized professional and specialized criminals, among others, fall into this category.
  3. Low criminal capacity and poor adaptation: They are the criminals who usually flood prisons. Among them are the psychically maladjusted, character criminals and similar typologies.
  4. Low criminal capacity and high adaptability: Mild forms of crime. Its danger is low or acute (the danger can be chronic or acute in the attention to duration; we will discuss this later). Occasional and passionate offenders are recognized here

Elements of the danger

We will quote and explain below the most important characteristics of the hazard.

  • elements: Two elements of danger are recognized. The first, known as a dangerous condition, is the situation experienced by a person who is about to commit a crime. Meanwhile, opportunity is the convenience of the time and place that lends itself or favors the subject to take action.
  • shapes: Psychiatrists, psychologists and criminologists distinguish two types of danger, being the first chronic (or permanent) which generally occurs in cases of psychopathy and other criminals difficult to readjust; while the second refers to acute danger, which is rather episodic and which can even be exhausted in the event itself. Despite this, if the criminogenic circumstances persist, the acute danger can lead to chronicity.

Quantifying the danger, an interdisciplinary work

Clinical criminology attempts to explain crime from the point of view of the criminal, his personality, his personal background and the various factors that play a role in his conduct. It aims to formulate a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment on the subject who commits antisocial behavior.

Quoting Wolfgang and Ferracuti, clinical criminology is the integrated and joint application of criminological knowledge and diagnostic techniques to individual cases and for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Thus, at the level of the functions of clinical criminology, they stand out

A) Synthesize the different studies of the antisocial subject and integrate them for a correct criminological synthesis which makes it possible to make a diagnosis, a prognosis and a treatment

B) Discover criminogenesis and criminodynamics of the offender

VS) Issue expert opinions and reports criminological

RE) Suggest, if applicable, what type of sanction it’s more convenient for him

E) Perform criminological prophylaxis and meet criminological needs from subject

F) Estimate the level of danger

Sciences and professionals who assess the danger of criminals

Although the clinical criminologist is the figure in charge of quantifying the level of danger, it would be impossible to accomplish this task without the correct application of various disciplines that offer objective tools on the antisocial topic.

The criminological synthesis must derive from at least seven sciences which, together, allow a reliable diagnosis to be made and which, from one another, are supplemented in the explanation of antisocial conduct. These sciences are: anthropology, medicine, psychology, sociology, victimology and penology. To these are added others which make it possible to emit other objective criteria on the subject such as they may be: social work, pedagogy, etc.

A practical example to understand the role of each professional

As an example of interdisciplinary work, we could illustrate the following case: We have a subject who is accused of theft, the teacher emphasizes that an important criminogenic factor is their level of learning itself which turns out to be low, decides that this difficulty affects their few employment possibilities, to find in the flight the easiest way to earn a living. For his part, the doctor explains that malnutrition played an important role in the poor development of his brain during the first years of life which would partly explain a low CI which reinforces the idea of ​​his low level of learning; In turn, a psychologist learns that the two conditions, over the years, have heightened levels of insecurity and feelings of inferiority that have kept him from pursuing an honest way of life for fear of rejection.

In this way, the criminogenesis of the offender is detached, a question which in turn allows us to more reliably estimate his level of danger.

Assessment and quantification of criminal danger

The hazard assessment is qualitative and quantitative. The first is found in the detailed and objective study of the criminogenic factors of the antisocial subject, both endogenous (for example his characterology and biotype, organic disposition, psychopathologies, etc.) or exogenous (social background, environmental conditions, culture, etc.). educational level, others).

In this sense, it is also very important to establish whether the danger of the subject in question is absolute, i.e. whether his antisocial behavior develops under the influence of criminogenic stimuli, or whether it is a question of ‘a relative danger in which the individual takes action only after the influence of specific factors and in very particular circumstances.

On another side, quantitative assessment refers to the value, quantity and size of factors that predict, among other things, the likelihood of recidivism and the effectiveness of treatment in prison. It is generally classified into minimum, average and maximum, but different authors manage several scales based on pre-established items correlated with qualitative risk, trying to highlight as many possible criminogenic factors present in the subject. Examples of such studies will be cited later.

The criminogenic threshold

This poses several problems with respect to what many specialists in human behavior refer to as the criminogenic threshold, also known as the delinquent threshold, which is defined as the subject’s ability to respond to a certain amount of criminogenic stimulus.

It is an individual characteristic. Thus, the lower the subject’s criminogenic threshold, the less criminal stimulus will be required to take the step. (Just like people with a low pain threshold need a little stimulus to produce it). To the comparison of the studies of the personality they will have to add the antecedents of previous crimes of the individual, as well as to observe the differences in the action between one act and another, since the danger tends to increase up to the point of death. complexity of the crime.

Scales for assessing danger

By Schied (German author), the danger can be quantified on a scale made up of 15 factors and where each of them adds a negative point and that in turn relates to the likelihood of recidivism. Among those factors that this author covers are mainly psychopathies, hereditary diseases, regularity of labor, legal history, etc.

Other included support tools for assessing danger include HCR-20 (protocol for assessing risk of any type of violence), LSI-R (which calculates probabilities of recidivism), SVR-20 (specially designed to calculate recidivism probabilities of sex offenders), etc.

What is the point of knowing the danger of a criminal?

From a clinical point of view, establishing the level of danger of a criminal has several purposes, among which we highlight the following:

1. Establish what the criminological action will be. Whether it is a prophylactic treatment or only a specific treatment, whether it requires a full reintegration task or whether the specific criminogenic factors that lead to criminal behavior simply need to be addressed, i.e. – to say allow more individualized prison treatment.

2. Help the judge determine what the criminal reaction is. whether he deserves a custodial sentence or a security measure. If you need five or twenty years prison treatment.

3. Indicate your likelihood of recurrence by helping to establish a correct diagnosis and a prognosis and therefore its probability of reintegration into society.

4. Justify the prison facility that best suits your treatment and whether he deserves to be held in a penitentiary or a low, medium or high risk prison.

5. Give an idea of ​​the harm this can inflict against others.

Reflections on the validity of the concept of danger

Due to the enormous complexity of the human personality, despite the different items and methods proposed to attempt to quantify the danger, there are no 100% objective parameters allowing a reliable diagnosis in this regard.

Further, among the most pronounced critiques of the term is the idea that it is stigmatizing and precautionary. Some jurists and psychologists criticize the concept of danger because it limits the study of criminals.

If you think about it, prison is practically useless: it is expensive, it keeps criminals inactive, it multiplies their vices, it is only one more punishment, isolation causes anomalies ranging from neurosis to psychosis and promotes promiscuity.

Unfortunately, today, the vast majority of governments still choose to punish the intent to commit a crime and the reasoning applied to commit criminal actsBut it does not examine in depth the proportionality of the crime and the danger associated with it. However, countries which adopt the individualized reintegration model based on the subject’s criminogenic needs, which take into account the subject’s level of danger and which apply qualitative rather than quantitative sanctions obtain better results and their recidivism figures are lower.

Bibliographical references:

  • Rodríguez Manzanera, L. (2003). Criminology. (18th ed.). Mexico: Porrúa
  • Mendoza Beivide, Ada Patricia. Psychiatry for criminologists and criminology for psychiatrists. Mexico: Trillas (reimp.2012)
  • Pérez, Luis Carlos: Criminal law. Ed. Bogota, 1981.
  • Landecho, Carlos Maria. Social danger and criminal danger. U. of Valencia. 1974

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