Suicide and the Werther Effect

     Sociologists studying the media and the cultural contagion of suicidal behaviors were the first to recognize the copycat effect. In 1974, University of California at San Diego sociologist David P. Phillips coined the phrase Werther …

     Sociologists studying the media and the cultural contagion of suicidal behaviors were the first to recognize the copycat effect. In 1974, University of California at San Diego sociologist David P. Phillips coined the phrase Werther Effect to describe the copycat phenomenon. The name Werther  comes from the 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the author of Faust. In the story, the youthful character Werther falls in love with a woman who is promised to another. Always melodramatic, Werther decides that his life cannot go on and that his love is lost. He then dresses in boots, a blue coat, and a yellow vest, sits at his desk with an open book, and, literally at the eleventh hour, shoots himself. In the years that followed, throughout Europe, so many young men shot themselves while dressed as Werther and seated at their writing desks with an open copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther in front of them that the book was banned in Italy, Germany, and Denmark.

     Though an awareness of this phenomenon has been around for centuries, Phillips was the first to conduct formal studies suggesting that the Werther Effect was, indeed, a reality--that massive media attention and the retelling of the specific details of a suicide (or, in some cases, untimely deaths) could increase the number of suicides.

     The August 1962 suicide of Marilyn Monroe presents a classic modern-day example of the Werner Effect. In the month that followed it, 197 individual suicides--mostly of young blond women--appear to have used the Hollywood star's suicide as a model for their own. The overall suicide rate in the U.S. increased by 12 percent for the month after the news of Monroe's suicide. But, as Phillips and others discovered, there was no corresponding decrease in suicides after the increase from the Marilyn Monroe-effect suicides. In other words, the star's suicide actually appeared to have caused a whole population of vulnerable individuals to complete their own deaths, over and above what would be normally expected. This is the copycat effect working with a vengeance.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Bad Schools Don’t Create Criminals

The criminal delinquent praises virtually anyone who lets him do what he wants and reviles anyone who imposes limits. A group of adult inmates in a Minnesota prison brainstormed 77 ideas in response to being questioned about how schools could help elim…

The criminal delinquent praises virtually anyone who lets him do what he wants and reviles anyone who imposes limits. A group of adult inmates in a Minnesota prison brainstormed 77 ideas in response to being questioned about how schools could help eliminate crime. Their suggestions revealed a perspective unchanged from childhood, namely that schools should cater to the student and make few demands of him. Among the inmates' suggestions were "more spontaneity," "dump dress codes," "more rap sessions," "supervise kids and not teach them," "let kids teach some classes," "let students choose teachers." Additional proposals were offered, but most were directed toward giving students free reign while requiring little personal responsibility.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Mind of the Criminal, 1984 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Drugs and Crime

The great availability of illicit drugs contributes not only to more frequent crime but to more serious crime. The man who steals from stores and houses may have ideas about bank robberies flash through his mind, but without drugs he is too fearful to …

The great availability of illicit drugs contributes not only to more frequent crime but to more serious crime. The man who steals from stores and houses may have ideas about bank robberies flash through his mind, but without drugs he is too fearful to carry them out. Once he is on drugs, barriers to more daring ventures are overcome. The drugs do not cause a person to obtain a sawed-off shotgun and hold up a liquor store, or for that matter, commit any other crime. They simply make it more feasible for him to eliminate fears for the time being in order to act upon what he has previously considered. That is, drugs intensify and bring out tendencies already present within the individual user. They do not transform a responsible person into a criminal. The criminality comes first, the decision to use drugs later.

Dr. Stranton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

[I believe this concept holds true in the relationship between mental illness and violent crime. Violence is not a symptom of mental illness. However, when a violent person loses his mind, the tendency already present in the person manifests itself. The mental illness merely releases the violence.]

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Mystery of Why People Commit Crimes

     It’s like the old staple of 1930s gangster movies: why does one person become a criminal and the other a priest? Or from my perspective, why does one become a serial killer, another a rapist, another an assassin, another a bomber, a…

     It's like the old staple of 1930s gangster movies: why does one person become a criminal and the other a priest? Or from my perspective, why does one become a serial killer, another a rapist, another an assassin, another a bomber, another a poisoner, and yet still another a child molester? And within these crime categories, why does each commit his atrocities in the precise way he does? The answer lies in one fundamental question that applies to every one of them:
     Why did he do it?
     The who? follows from there.
     That's the mystery we have to solve.

John Douglas [criminal profiler] and Mark Olshaker, The Anatomy of Motive, 1999

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Innocent Youth Fallacy

     My brother Ed is a criminal lawyer who often handles juvenile cases. He once told me, “I look at some of my young clients and tell myself, ‘That’s a kid.’ Then I say to myself, ‘That’s also a criminal.'” Perhaps none of us can easil…

     My brother Ed is a criminal lawyer who often handles juvenile cases. He once told me, "I look at some of my young clients and tell myself, 'That's a kid.' Then I say to myself, 'That's also a criminal.'" Perhaps none of us can easily resolve this conflict in our own minds.

     The television version of crime usually portrays middle-aged offenders or victims. When the young are there, they are portrayed as innocents corrupted by those older. This is the innocent youth fallacy.

     Are you people really so innocent? I have heard many people say, "Let's keep the young offenders separate from the hard-bitten older offenders, who will be a bad influence on them." If you ask the prison officials, they tell you something different. The young offenders give them the most trouble. The reason to keep the ages separate is to protect the older prisoners from the young thugs.

Marcus Felson, Crime & Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Blue Collar Versus White Collar Crime

Essentially, the term “white collar” crime is regrettable. In my view, it is the product of class snobbery, and is the Edsel of criminological terminology. Let’s say the socially connected president of a prestigious savings and loan institution is indi…

Essentially, the term "white collar" crime is regrettable. In my view, it is the product of class snobbery, and is the Edsel of criminological terminology. Let's say the socially connected president of a prestigious savings and loan institution is indicted and convicted on a charge of stock fraud, manipulation and theft. So we call the act a white collar crime. But if the same sort of crime is committed by an Italian-American Mafioso who used to make his living by hijacking trucks, then we call it something else. But the act is the same, whether the perpetrators wear blue collars or white! On top of this, the term obscures the additional fact that the so-called white collar criminals are increasingly allied with the blue collars on many of these criminal ventures. Why is the fence a blue collar criminal and receivers of stolen property lily-white? Why is the man who hijacks a truckload of shrimp with a pistol inferior, in some sense of terminology, to the manufacturer who robs the public with his defective products?

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Government Gathered Crime Statistics

Criminal statistics are based on recorded criminality. This criminality consists of offenses which, having come to the notice of public authorities through complaints lodged by private citizens or directly as a result of police patrol, etc., are regist…

Criminal statistics are based on recorded criminality. This criminality consists of offenses which, having come to the notice of public authorities through complaints lodged by private citizens or directly as a result of police patrol, etc., are registered by such authorities. This recorded criminality is only a sample of the total criminality, the latter being an unknown quantity. [Police agencies are notorious for fudging local crime statistics to make it appear they are preventing crime and the jurisdiction is much safer than it really is. Official crime statistics are almost worthless.]

Thorsten Sellen, "The Significance of Records of Crime," in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin Wolfgang, Editors, 1971 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Peer Pressure and the “Bad Influence” Myth

     If parents of criminals were asked what went wrong in their children’s lives, many would reply, “My child ran with the wrong crowd.” They would maintain that their son was a good boy at heart but that he was corrupted by others. The…

     If parents of criminals were asked what went wrong in their children's lives, many would reply, "My child ran with the wrong crowd." They would maintain that their son was a good boy at heart but that he was corrupted by others. The belief is widespread that youngsters turn to crime, alcohol, and drugs because they succumb to the pressures of their peer group.

     Peer pressure is a force that we all have to contend with from the time we are in nursery school until the time we die. But we choose which peer group or groups to belong to. As is the case with nearly all children, the criminal as a child chooses his friends. No criminal I have evaluated or counseled was forced into crime. He chose to associate with risk-taking youngsters who were doing what was forbidden.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Mind of the Criminal, 1984

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

J. Edgar Hoover on the Criminal Mind

A criminal does not look upon himself as such. You must accept this as an axiom if you ever are to learn the slightest rules about protecting yourself, your home and your family. His viewpoint is this: he wants something. That is the end of the matter….

A criminal does not look upon himself as such. You must accept this as an axiom if you ever are to learn the slightest rules about protecting yourself, your home and your family. His viewpoint is this: he wants something. That is the end of the matter. Wanting it, he feels he should have it. No ideas of justice ever enter his mind; if they do, they are quickly swamped by selfishness. The old excuse of "I did not stop to think" was never true, although this alibi for crime has worked to the amelioration of sentences until it is threadbare. The true statement, which is rarely voiced, is: "I did not stop to think of anyone but myself."

J. P. Bean, editor, The Book of Criminal Quotations, 2003 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Crime in American Life and Politics

The founders [of our nation] would be astounded and alarmed at the level of serious crime in contemporary society. They could not have imagined that crime, and the fear of it, would so dominate people’s daily habits and the political life of the nation…

The founders [of our nation] would be astounded and alarmed at the level of serious crime in contemporary society. They could not have imagined that crime, and the fear of it, would so dominate people's daily habits and the political life of the nation. By their standards, they would certainly be gravely worried about the fate of the democracy they had worked so hard to establish.

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, 1998

[I wonder what George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would make of SWAT teams, police tanks, rampant substance abuse, and the mass murder of innocent victims.] 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/