Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian Perspective Chapter 1: Crime in Canada
CHAPTER 1: Crime in Canada
1. Describe a typical offender, with a discussion of implications for understanding
criminal behaviour in general.
2. Provide an interdisciplinary context to understanding criminal behaviour.
3. Describe public perceptions of criminal justice agencies.
4. Describe crime trends throughout Canada.
5. Describe the empirically derived determinants of crime and discuss their implications
for assessment and treatment of offenders.
6. Introduce types of crime and their implications for understanding criminal
7. Describe variations in rates of crime according to different sources.
8. Describe the financial and social impact of crime on Canadians .
The goal of this introductory chapter was to highlight some key reasons why crime is
of concern to Canadians and to provide an empirical setting (Central Eight major risk
factors) to understanding criminal conduct upon which the rest of the chapters are based.
The book focuses on Canadian data and Canadian contributions. Key studies covered in
this chapter illustrate the role of media, Canadians’ perceptions of components of the
criminal justice system, and rates and types of crimes for youth and adults. Crime and
incarceration in Canada have been situated in an international context, showing that
relative to the United States we are in fairly good shape, although less so relative to
Western Europe. With respect to crime in Canada, there are differences in terms of age
and gender—topics that are addressed in Chapters 5 and 11, respectively.
Restricting the text to correctional psychology is intended to inform an explanation
and understanding of offending (i.e., criminal) behaviour in a manner that will be
of interest and assistance to staff involved in community corrections and prisons,
including parole and probation staff and psychologists. The purpose is to highlight key
literature regarding offenders such that an evidence-based practice is described and
supported, allowing its application to yield improved understanding and correctional
outcomes (i.e., reduced re-offending). While not a clinical “how to” book, this text is
clearly intended to underscore the contribution that correctional psychology can make
in addressing concerns about criminal behaviour in Canada.
The balance of the book reviews theory about criminal behaviour, specific chapters
on types of offenders, a discussion of how theory informs practice, and some descriptions
about different career paths in the field of corrections practice and research. Each chapter
is written with a focus on Canadian research, underscoring significant contributions
made by Canadian researchers and why Canadian corrections remain the envy of most
countries in the world.
Copyright © 2011 Pearson Canada Inc. 1 Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian Perspective Chapter 1: Crime in Canada
1. The Influence of the Media:
the Ontario government raised its food allowance of meal per diem to
Ontario prisoners receive meals worth more than $10 per day.
2008 the Toronto Star published a special series highlighting the
complexity of crime and criminal justice issues in Canada
At times of political change, crime and public safety are typically high on
the agenda of issues to discuss.
During the federal election in 2008, all three major political parties
espoused views on getting tough on crime, especially in terms of
Canadian surveys indicate that crime is an important concern (Queen’s
research indicates that 44 percent of Canadians believe more money
should be spent on the criminal justice system (Queen’s University 2006)
a telephone survey of more than 4500 Canadians regarding their
perceptions of crime found that government information has a moderate
influence, and academic contributions has no influence
Clearly these data confirm the importance of media for Canadians.
2. Current Context:
Difference between sociology and psychology is the level or focus of
Forensic psychology: key activities of psychologists in court, intended to
guide legal decision making—than the understanding of criminal
In the United Kingdom (McGuire 2002), the specific psychological study
of criminal behaviour is referred to as criminological psychology; in the
United States and Canada, the area would often be described as
this text focuses on understanding the assessment and management of
individuals who engage in criminal behaviour. The idea is to follow
dispositions by the court, not the actual issues
relating to the operation of justice the text’s preferred “model” is that of
correctional psychology as described by Magaletta and Boothby (2002).
Sociological explanations regarding such factors as age, gender, and social
class provide some insight into groups of individuals.
theoretical explanation varies with levels of analysis: at the macro level,
the objective is to understand crime as a large-scale social phenomenon;
at the micro level the importance of socialization and the influence of
community, family, and peer groups becomes of greater interest; the
narrower focus examines patterns of individual behaviour and the
influence of psychological factors such as thoughts, feelings, or attitudes
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offenders comprise a particularly heterogeneous group
as many as 70 percent of offenders follow some approximation of the age-
crime curve, with only a small percentage maintaining criminal activity
well into adulthood
This phenomenon of decreased criminal activity is a process referred to as
Psychology attempts to refine our understanding of criminal behaviour by
considering individual variation in order to account for heterogeneity and
provide differentiated assessment and intervention
A psychological understanding is derived from recognizing the variability
of criminal behaviour between individuals as well as within an individual
over time and across situations.
the Personal, Interpersonal and Community-Reinforcement model (PIC–
R; Andrews and Bonta 2006) an integrative and situational model of
criminal behaviour, suggests that criminal behaviour reflects the
“immediate situation” in that factors (e.g., temptations, facilitators,
inhibitors, and stressors) combine to influence a decision to engage in
The decision is further influenced by attitudes supportive of crime, a
history of criminal behaviour, a balance of the costs and rewards for
crime, and the presence of social supports for crime
PIC–R highlights the contributions of community (i.e., family of origin,
social economic factors), interpersonal (i.e., family/child relations,
childhood attachment, neglect, abuse, ties to criminal others), personal
(i.e., early conduct problems, biological factors such as temperament and
verbal intelligence, gender and age, and cognitions), and consequences
(i.e., whether criminal behaviour is rewarded).
The model recognizes the influence of both historical and immediate
factors in an individual arriving at the decision to engage in a criminal act
and to view such behaviour as appropriate.
the PIC–R reflects a learning theory of crime that attends to social and
cognitive factors as well as behaviour, underscoring it as a contemporary
cognitive social learning theory of crime.
3. Definition of Crime:
involves a variety of factors including individual’s motivation,
opportunity, politics, social convention, and context.
Types of definitions typically include legal (acts prohibited by the state
that are punishable under the law), moral (refers to the violation of norms
of religion and morality that are punishable by supreme beings), social
(the violation of certain norms and customs that are punishable by the
community), and psychological explanations (acts that are rewarding to
the perpetrator but harmful to others)
there is consistency across countries regarding what is viewed as criminal
e.g., robbery, theft, and incest were all viewed to be criminal.
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A definition of crime is critical in that the specific description will
influence prevalence - more conservative or restrictive definition will
decrease the rate of crime
there are inter-cultural variations regarding normative and acceptable
behaviour, and acceptable norms can change over time within a culture
immigrants may behave in a manner consistent with the cultural norms of
their native country, but such behaviour may be illegal in their new home
sensitivity to both legal and cultural issues must be reflected in
psychological responses to criminal behaviour.
4. Determinants of Crime:
distal (i.e., historical) and proximal (i.e., immediate, situational).
psychology’s perspective identifies factors that are most strongly
associated with criminality in order that assessments are developed to
reflect these domains and that interventions are derived to address (i.e.,
change, modify, diminish) them and reduce future re-offending.
meta-analysis empirically identifies determinants of crime.
Meta-analytic reviews are less biased in that they provide a quantitative
estimate of the importance of the results rather than a narrative
interpretation by the author.
considered the standard for reviewing the literature
5. First and Second Order Correlates of Criminal Conduct:
the Central Eight risk/need factors in understanding criminal behaviour
within this group are the Big Four or the major causal variables in the
analysis of the criminal behaviour of individuals.
a series of meta-analyses have confirmed that certain variables previously
considered important correlates of crime in sociological theory have
proved to be relatively unimportant - are referred to as minor risk factors.
Major risk factors are considered first order correlates
the most compelling demonstration of the relative importance of major
(first order) and minor (second order) risk factors comes from an ongoing
research project and collaboration between the University of New
Brunswick and Carleton University (Andrews and Bonta, 2006).
Moderate risk factors are those that are part of the Central Eight but are
not major correlates.
some risk factors (antisocial history, seriousness of current offence) are
static, meaning they cannot change, whereas others (antisocial cognition,
substance use) can change and are dynamic risk factors.
In general, the Central Eight, as reflected in PIC–R, yielded more robust
correlations than other factors in 372 studies
if the goal is to understand and reduce criminal behaviour, then
assessments and treatment must attend to those factors that are most
highly correlated with criminal conduct.
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Specifically, antisocial attitudes and associates are much more important
than such factors as social class or mental health symptoms.
These major risk factors are often termed criminogenic in that they are
empirically related to criminal conduct and, when reduced, lead to
reductions in future re-offending.
For this reason, criminogenic needs typically inform treatment referrals.
6. Impact of Risk and Need Model of Criminal Conduct:
for young offender services, all provinces except Quebec utilize some
form of a risk and need assessment modelled after the major risk factors
Most use variants of either the Wisconsin model or the Level of Service
adult assessments in provincial corrections also reflect the Level of
Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) or variations.
there is no centralized survey as there was in the case of youth services
The federal correctional system, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC),
uses an Offender Intake Assessment based on the Wisconsin model.
This automated assessment was recently refined and renamed as a
Dynamic Factor Identification Analysis
The LSI-R has also been adopted for use internationally, most notably in
the United States.
All these assessments are intended to assist in the identification of levels
of criminal risk for decision purposes (i.e., security placement, release),
specific treatment targets (i.e., criminogenic needs), and treatment
7. Role of Substance Use:
Substance abuse is described as a moderate risk factor
meta-analyses show modest effect sizes through intervention
an inordinate number of offenders report substance abuse as an important
precursor to their commission of crimes
52.1 percent report regular drug use and 62.7 percent report regular
approximately 50 percent of federal offenders report using drugs and/ or
alcohol prior to or during the commission of their crimes.
68 percent of federal offenders have substance abuse problems warranting
Understanding substance abuse is germane to increasing our
understanding of criminal behaviour.
The use of alcohol or drugs is related to different types of violent crime,
with alcohol being more related to interpersonal conflict (i.e., assaults,
homicides) and drugs being related to more acquisitive violence (i.e.,
despite the clear link between alcohol and crime, the nature of its
influence is unclear - does alcohol cause crime directly through
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diminished inhibitory control or increased cognitive impairment and thus
is an important treatment target.
if alcohol is mediated by another factor such as personality - such an
influence may not be remedied by a program that simply addresses an
substance abuse has also been uniquely implicated for sexual offenders,
where rapists and child molesters report higher levels of alcohol
consumption than non-sexually violent offenders.
the challenge is to reconsider the role of substance abuse in domestic
violence when determining intervention models
integrated substance abuse programs are now popular in addressing both
the nature of addiction and its impact on offending
8. Linking the Research to Case Studies:
a clearer understanding of typical criminal behaviour comes from a review
of primary or first-order risk factors.
in examining prevalence rates for different types of crimes, the majority of
crimes reflect ordinary individuals committing less serious offences.
most individuals involved in criminal behaviour are ordinary individuals
with ordinary problems (i.e., poor self-regulation, substance abuse, lack of
employment, or poor choice in friends) whose decision to engage in
criminal conduct reflects disinhibition, a failure to consider short- and
long-term consequences, support from criminal peers, and attitudes about
As support for prosocial behaviour increases, offenders’ decisions and
behaviours, especially when supported by intervention, become less
9. Federal and Provincial Corrections:
more data pertaining to federal corrections is available than provincial
corrections because of the existence of a national electronic dataset.
Correctional services are operated by both federal and provincial
sentences of less than two years, community sentences such as fines,
community service work, or probation are under provincial jurisdiction.
prison sentences of two years or more are the responsibility of the federal
young offender services, including pre-trial supervision, community and
custody sentences, and extrajudicial sanctions programs, are the
responsibility of provincial governments
a sentence of two years or greater are incarcerated in federal prisons
in the United States, state and federal prisons have marke