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Criminal Behavior Expert Stanton Samenow Dies At 81

Stanton Samenow, a forensic psychologist who drew attention by challenging prevailing views of criminal behavior, arguing that its causes lie not in environmental factors such as poverty but rather in an identifiable “criminal personality” that could be addressed only through rigorous counseling and the acceptance of personal responsibility, died this week in Virginia at 81. Samenow devoted decades to the study and rehabilitation of criminal offenders, beginning in 1970 with his work alongside Samuel Yochelson, a psychiatrist who oversaw a years-long study of patients at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., reports the Washington Post. The study, which received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, began in 1961 and continued until 1978, two years after Yochelson’s death.


At the time, psychologists agreed that many if not most criminal offenders had mental disturbances and that those disturbances could be treated through psychotherapy exploring their personal histories, their past traumas and their motivations. That approach, Yochelson and Samenow came to believe, was profoundly flawed. “The outcome was criminals with insight, rather than criminals without insight,” Samenow wrote in Psychology Today. “ Yochelson and Samenow compiled their findings in a work titled “The Criminal Personality,” published in three volumes from 1976 to 1986. Samenow also wrote “Inside the Criminal Mind,” a 1984 book geared more toward a popular readership. Their findings prompted criticism from research psychologists who regarded the authors’ methodology as lacking and their interviews with hospital patients as overly subjective. Other critics denounced what they saw as an effort to minimize the role of poverty, neglect and abuse in the lives of some people who turn to crime. Samenow formulated intensive counseling techniques used in prisons to help offenders avoid recidivism by breaking away from those “errors in thinking.” At the core of the approach was the acceptance of individual accountability. “Criminals cause crime — 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,” he wrote in “Inside the Criminal Mind.”

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