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When addressing crime and psychology, it is crucial to understand both the terms, namely crime and psychology. As a result, the first question to consider is: what is crime?

Crime is a broad term that encompasses the crimes and attempted crimes reported to the police. A crime is an act, omission, or event that is prohibited by law and, if committed, results in prosecution by and in the name of the state rather than an individual person, and, upon conviction, punishment of some kind administered by state agents rather than compensation. Criminologist Paul Tappan defines crime as “an intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law, committed without defence or justification, and sanctioned by the state as a felony or misdemeanour.”

It is a phenomenon that has existed since before humanity had organized systems of law and goes back to more primitive times (Horn & Hughes), when something is proven as statistically rarer than others, it begs these researchers to study what makes individuals who commit such heinous crimes so much different from those who are not perpetrators of criminal behaviour. The nature and extent of crime in India are investigated at a crucial stage in the country's political institutions' development. This includes a brief history of crime since its inception, the evolution of criminal law, and the confounding conceptual dilemmas


Psychology is defined as the theory that studies the psychological factors which influence human behaviour. In a nutshell, it analyses the human mind and its effects on human behaviour. This includes cognitive, affective, and conative aspects. Psychological studies cover both conscious and unconscious mental states. Gaining a more comprehensive and in-depth understanding of psychology can help people gain insights into their own actions as well as a better understanding of others.

Psychology is of concern to researchers from a variety of disciplines, as well as the thousands of academic and clinical psychologists and members of the general public who are curious about why humans think and behave the way they do. Over time, many things have been classified as psychology. It is critical in determining the credibility of witnesses, a criminal's mens rea while committing the crime, and, most importantly, what punishment should be meted out to a person while keeping his psychological state in mind. To some extent, psychology has begun to see a criminal as a person suffering from a mental disorder, implying that such people should not be punished and should instead be treated medically.

The field of psychology and law employs resources, research methods, and findings from social psychology and cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and clinical psychology to examine legal assumptions and consider ways to expand them. The field of psychology and law has been reprimanded for changing away from its initial critical focus on the role of the law in justifying injustice. While this criticism exists, it is rarely discussed and is largely irrelevant to the field. Many researchers study injustice and related issues, but as the field has progressed, researchers have discovered ways to apply psychology specifically and empiricism more broadly to legal issues. Many legal psychologists avoid applying psychological "theory" and instead focus on demonstrating that legal questions can be answered scientifically.

Legal Psychology

Legal Psychology is a popular term that deals with the analysis and application of psychology to the legal system and the people who interact with it. Legal psychologists work with methods for understanding, evaluating, and questioning suspects, assessing jury candidates, making arrests and criminal investigations, forensic investigation, and other legally-related situations. The term legal psychology is used to differentiate this branch of applied psychology from clinical psychology, which is more theoretically based. Legal psychology is the practical and psychological study of the law, legal institutions, and the people who interact with the law. Basic social and cognitive principles are typically applied by legal psychologists to problems in the legal system, such as eyewitness memory, jury decision-making, investigations, and interviews.

Criminal Psychology and its History

Criminal psychology is the study of a criminal's thoughts, intentions, behavioural patterns, or responses with the aim of assessing and drawing a pattern that will aid police or other law enforcement agencies in investigating crimes or assisting a court during proceedings. A criminal psychologist is a psychologist who works in the field of criminal justice. Criminal psychology's main goal is to assist in determining what motivates a person to commit a crime, as well as his or her reaction during and/or after the crime. Criminal psychology provides insight and understanding of a criminal. It even has an impact on how the law is applied.

Criminal psychologists are frequently called as witnesses in court to assist the jury in understanding the minds of criminals. Psychology can also be used to address criminal behaviour. Forensic psychologists and mental health specialists are frequently enrolled to support the clinical evaluation of criminals' mental states. Criminal psychology is now a legitimate branch of applied psychology. According to Schuller and Ogloff (2001), there is an increase in the number of quality texts, dedicated research journals in the field of criminal psychology, and mainstream journals recognising this. Criminal psychology is like an unexplored ocean for those who have the skills to conduct research in the field.

According to G.H. Gudjonsson and L.R.C Haward in the U.K. defined criminal psychology as "The branch of applied psychology which is concerned with the collection, examination and presentation of evidence for judicial purposes". Psychologists began to offer psychological perspectives on criminal behaviour and speculate about the causes of crime in the early twentieth century. Criminal psychology, like police psychology, is typically not included in the narrow definitions of forensic psychology, primarily because it appears to be more theoretical than clinical in nature. However, in its early days, criminal psychology was primarily clinical in nature, with theories frequently focusing on the measurable mental capacities of offenders.

In the early 1960s, a psychological criminology distinct from psychiatric and more wide-ranging than psychometrics began to show signs of life. Hans Toch (1961), who was also making significant contributions to corrective psychology, edited one of the first books on psychological criminology, Legal and Criminal Psychology. Some may argue that Hans Gross published the first criminal psychology book in 1897(Kriminalpsychologie), the same time in which he was appointed professor in ordinary for criminal law and justice administration at the University of Czernowitz in Austria. One writer has asserted that Gross was the originator of the discipline of felonious psychology (Undeutsch, 1992).

Still, Gross was a counsel by training, in practice, and in spirit and ultimately became a successful judge. His book details his compliances of offenders, witnesses, jurors, and judges but relies veritably little on psychological exploration. This isn't surprising, of course, because psychology in 1897 was far from being an intertwined discipline with a rich body of knowledge. Nonetheless, it's significant that Toch’s book, published further than 60 times later, represents the foremost attempt to integrate, in an interdisciplinary fashion, the empirical examination of psychologists applicable to criminal actions and legal issues.

Role of Psychologists in criminal justice.

Psychologists aid in the understanding of the criminal justice system. The three main areas of study for psychologists are law enforcement, correctional facilities, and courts; they study not only the offender but also victims, law enforcement personnel, jurors, prison guards, and judges. Expert witnesses and parole officers Their research findings have an impact on all of these areas in the legal system, and this responsibility comes with the requirement to adhere to strict ethical standards guidelines for producing and communicating precise information to explain specific legal issues

Law Enforcements-

Psychologists play an important role in law enforcement as overall organizational advisors, performance evaluation advisors, and security services psychologists. Police psychologists, also known as Behavioural Scientists, work with law enforcement as expert profilers, studying criminals' traits and patterns of behaviour. They may be hired on a permanent basis, such as the FBI's Behavioural Science Unit (BSU), or on a contract basis. The following are the responsibilities of behavioural scientists or psychologists who work in law enforcement:

a) Criminal profiling- Criminal profiling is an important aspect of criminology which has helped expert profilers, FBI agents and detectives to systematically analyze the traits of the offender based on the crime and to locate him in a large pool of suspects.

b) Hostage Negotiation- The psychologist can provide emotional support to the negotiator, offer stress-management advice, and possibly alert the team leader to the negative effects of stress on the negotiator's behaviour. The psychologist can also assist the negotiator with post-event support and post-trauma counselling for the hostages.

c) Officer Risk Management- Risk management is a structured approach to managing uncertainty associated with a threat, involving a series of human activities such as risk assessment, risk management strategy development, and risk mitigation using managerial resources. Transferring the risk to another party, avoiding the risk, reducing the risk's negative impact, and accepting some or all of the risk's consequences are among the strategies.

Correctional Facilities:

A correctional facility psychologist's role is to assist these individuals in regaining control of their lives and preventing them from committing additional crimes. Correctional psychologists collaborate with other members of the staff to develop treatment plans and rehab programmes. Their efforts are aimed at enhancing public safety and assisting inmates in gaining the necessary skills to live a normal life. These mental health professionals assist inmates with a variety of issues, including drug withdrawal, psychological issues, victimisation, and suicidal thoughts. They also work with juvenile offenders to develop rehabilitation programmes while attempting to comprehend the reasons for their actions. According to the American Psychological Association, some provide one-on-one counselling, while others assist inmates with intellectual disabilities

  1. Courts: During trials and proceedings, psychologists who cooperate in the criminal justice system play an important role in the trial. Psychologists are frequently hired by attorneys or the court to assess witnesses and provide an expert opinion on the mental health of the person being evaluated. Their reports will give the court information about the offender's mental state. Psychologists who appear in court as consultants may advise the court on the specifics of psychological research, examination conclusions, or even other psychological experts' opinions. Regardless of how it will shape the case, it is the responsibility of a psychologist to share all relevant information and findings with the court.

Psychological factors that drives an individual to resort to criminal activity

1. Adverse childhood experiences- High rates of childhood trauma and children growing up in abusive homes make them more vulnerable to criminal activity. We have no control over our genetics and no influence over how we are raised as children. Some of us had wonderful, even idyllic childhoods, whereas others had less fortunate upbringings. Children raised in particularly poor circumstances are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour as adolescents and adults. According to studies, convicted criminals are four times more likely to have had four times as many adverse childhood events as non-criminals.

2. Negative Environmental factors - The surrounding environmental factors frequently influence our behaviour. Living in a high-end criminally active neighbourhood may have a negative impact on someone's behaviour and lead to that person engaging in illegal activities.Researchers have identified social factors such as poverty, negligent parenting, poor family structure, community involvement, and school involvement as having a correlation with children's criminal behaviour development.

3. Substance Abuse- Substance abuse and the law have become inextricably linked over time. Substance abuse increases one's chances of getting into trouble with the law, and the link between substance abuse and criminal behaviour is well-established. 'In recent years, the rise in illicit substance use has resulted in an increase in drug-related arrests and convictions, with greater punitive consequences for drug-related charges.' The increase in the number of drug-related offenders has resulted in prison overcrowding, the need for more jails, higher costs of keeping arrestees, delays in processing court cases, and increased demand for treatment services.


Psychology provides assistance in understanding the offender's requisite mens rea, and thus embracing it into the judicial process will benefit us in knowing and understanding criminal behaviour and patterns, which will lead to a reduction in crime in society, as well as reforming and rehabilitating criminals so that they do not return to criminal activity. Criminal psychology has frequently suggested that some people are more likely to commit crime than others. They have been divided into three categories by psychologists.

The first group of people are psychologically disturbed criminals who commit more crimes as a result of their adverse childhood experiences. Second, there are individuals whose sociological and environmental circumstances have a negative impact on their mental health, causing them to enter the criminal world. Finally, there are some hardened criminals who are victims of substance abuse. However, based on the above analysis, most psychologists believe that certain criminals are far more likely to commit crime in society.


This article is written by Priyal Shah of University of Mumbai.

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