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/

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/

Creating Crime Myths

In order for the momentum of a crime myth to be prolonged…myths must be accompanied by certain characterizations. Momentum is achieved if the crime problem has traits that either instill fear or threaten the vast majority of society in some appreciable way. Not unlike Greek mythology, modern crime myths must follow certain themes for success. There must be “virtuous’ heroes, “innocent” victims, and “evil” villains who pose a clear and certain threat to the audience. Only then can a crime myth reach its potential . [There were two crime myths that dominated the 1980s: hundreds of serial killings running loose and an epidemic of stranger kidnappings of children. Currently there is myth that a growing army of zombie meth and bath salts addicts are roaming our cities.]

Victor E. Kappeler, Mark Blumberg and Gary W. Potter, The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice, Third Edition, 2000

In order for the momentum of a crime myth to be prolonged…myths must be accompanied by certain characterizations. Momentum is achieved if the crime problem has traits that either instill fear or threaten the vast majority of society in some appreciable way. Not unlike Greek mythology, modern crime myths must follow certain themes for success. There must be "virtuous' heroes, "innocent" victims, and "evil" villains who pose a clear and certain threat to the audience. Only then can a crime myth reach its potential . [There were two crime myths that dominated the 1980s: hundreds of serial killings running loose and an epidemic of stranger kidnappings of children. Currently there is myth that a growing army of zombie meth and bath salts addicts are roaming our cities.]

Victor E. Kappeler, Mark Blumberg and Gary W. Potter, The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice, Third Edition, 2000

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Poverty and Crime: What Comes First?

     Many academic criminologists, most of whom are sociologists, believe that capitalism produces pockets of poverty, inequality, and unemployment, which then foster crime. The solution, they believe, is government intervention to provide jobs, stimulate the economy, and reduce poverty and other social ills. There certainly is a correlation between the geography of crime and the geography of certain socio-economic factors, but to interpret the correlation as evidence that poverty causes crime is to get it just about backwards.

     As James K. Stewart, the Director of the National Institute of Justice, has pointed out, inner city areas where crime is rampant have tremendous potential for economic growth, given their infrastructure of railways, highways, electric power, water systems, and large supply of available labor. There is every reason for these areas to be wealthy and, indeed, many of them have been rich in the past. But crime takes a terrible toll on the physical, fiscal, and human capital, making it difficult to accumulate wealth and break out of the cycle of poverty. Criminals steal and destroy property, drive away customers and investors, reduce property values, and depreciate the quality of life in a neighborhood. Businesses close and working families move away, leaving behind a vacuum of opportunity. As Steward says, crime “is the ultimate tax on enterprise….The natural dynamic of the marketplace cannot assert itself when a local economy is regulated by crime [and corrupt politicians]. What these areas need most from government is not economic intervention but physical protection and security. The struggling inner-city dwellers whom sociologist William Julius Wilson has dubbed “the truly disadvantaged” deserve greater protection from their truly deviant neighbors. [The city of Detroit is a good example of the application of the poverty causes crime theory.]

Charles H. Logan and John J. DiLulio, Jr., “Ten Deadly Myths About Crime and Punishment,” in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994 

     Many academic criminologists, most of whom are sociologists, believe that capitalism produces pockets of poverty, inequality, and unemployment, which then foster crime. The solution, they believe, is government intervention to provide jobs, stimulate the economy, and reduce poverty and other social ills. There certainly is a correlation between the geography of crime and the geography of certain socio-economic factors, but to interpret the correlation as evidence that poverty causes crime is to get it just about backwards.

     As James K. Stewart, the Director of the National Institute of Justice, has pointed out, inner city areas where crime is rampant have tremendous potential for economic growth, given their infrastructure of railways, highways, electric power, water systems, and large supply of available labor. There is every reason for these areas to be wealthy and, indeed, many of them have been rich in the past. But crime takes a terrible toll on the physical, fiscal, and human capital, making it difficult to accumulate wealth and break out of the cycle of poverty. Criminals steal and destroy property, drive away customers and investors, reduce property values, and depreciate the quality of life in a neighborhood. Businesses close and working families move away, leaving behind a vacuum of opportunity. As Steward says, crime "is the ultimate tax on enterprise….The natural dynamic of the marketplace cannot assert itself when a local economy is regulated by crime [and corrupt politicians]. What these areas need most from government is not economic intervention but physical protection and security. The struggling inner-city dwellers whom sociologist William Julius Wilson has dubbed "the truly disadvantaged" deserve greater protection from their truly deviant neighbors. [The city of Detroit is a good example of the application of the poverty causes crime theory.]

Charles H. Logan and John J. DiLulio, Jr., "Ten Deadly Myths About Crime and Punishment," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/