Society encourages psychopaths

22/03/2013 16:32

Today's society is a fertile breeding ground for psychopathic behaviour, says an international expert in the field.

 
Today's society is a fertile breeding ground for psychopathic behaviour, says an international expert in the field.

Dr. Robert Hare, professor emeritus at the University of B.C., says that shifting ethical standards, reflected in television crime shows that glamorize the abnormal, allow psychopaths to flourish.

"What is clear is that society is making it a lot easier for psychopathy or psychopathic behaviour to flourish," Hare said.

"The moral ethical standards that we have now are shifting. What is acceptable now would not have been acceptable five or 10 or 20 years ago."

Hare told a conference of criminal justice professionals that they should consider psychopathic tendencies when dealing with offenders.

"[Police] are dealing with the very people I am discussing all the time," he said, adding the way police deal with individuals should depend on who they think they are confronting. "So if you are dealing with somebody who you think might have psychopathic features, you might want to approach him a little differently than if the person, say, had mental health problems."

Hare, author of the best-selling Without Conscience, The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, was a keynote speaker at the three-day gathering of criminal justice professionals looking at prolific and dangerous offenders and how to reduce their impact on public safety.

Hare said research indicates that about 15 per cent of the prison population in Canada is psychopathic, compared to a guess of about one per cent of the general population.

He said it is hard to know if the numbers are increasing overall because studies are generally limited to people in jail and not society at large.

But he said changing social values -- reflected in popular TV hits like Dexter, which is about a heroic serial killer -- have made things worse.

"I won't even watch Dexter," he said. "In a sense what they are doing is glorifying, glamorizing and making normal what is really abnormal. All these programs like CSI and the hundreds of others. They are caricatures of what law enforcement does."

Hare has developed programs to evaluate psychopathic behaviour in the prison population that are being used to plan programs and post-custody supervision for criminals.

"My argument is that they know the difference between right and wrong. They know the rules of the game. They are perfectly aware of what society expects of them, but they have chosen for whatever reason not to follow these rules," he said of psychopaths.

"If it is to their advantage to engage in pro-social good behaviour, they are going to do so; if it is to their advantage to engage in anti-social behaviour, they are going to do so."

Abbotsford Detective Judy Dizy, one of the conference organizers, said there is increasing coordination between law enforcement agencies, prisons and provinces in dealing with high-risk violent offenders.

Dizy, who is seconded to the RCMP's behavioural sciences group, prepares all the special court applications -- called 810s -- to place conditions on high-risk offenders.

"We are beginning to make many more steps forward in regards to treatment, supervision and education of citizens, communities as well as police," Dizy said.

"We liaise with other high-risk offender units in other provinces to make sure we are all on the same page, nobody slips through the cracks. And that we keep track of where they are when they come in and out of our province."

She said the increased supervision and monitoring of high-risk offenders, plus greater support to parolees, can help reduce recidivism.

"Yes they are being supervised, but if they need assistance, there are people there who can help," she said. "At least we can monitor them wherever they go throughout Canada and the U.S."

kbolan@png.canwest.com

 

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