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Violent Children

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: August 26,1999
E-mailFaculty 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's Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children

Review by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata

A Good Read

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.

  1. We've tried to ignore other psychopaths and they've done more harm. "Oops," says Kellerman, we can't seem to predict rehabilitation. Keep them locked up.

    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.

  2. Psychopathic isn't crazy. It's just unemotional, guilt-free, conscience-free, and gratuitously violent. Kellerman calls it evil.

    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.

  3. We do not know what makes of anyone a psychopath. And there is little likelihood that we will know in the near future, since the data are not accessible. U.S. society has no means for tracking large groups of families over long periods for the kind of data we would need, if we even knew which variables to measure and how to measure them. (At p. 55.)

Lock 'Em Up and Throw Away the Key

"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: