Psychopathy is a personality disorder, mainly characterized by a lack of remorse or empathy, and is highly associated with antisocial behavior alongside other symptoms (Pozzulo, 301). Research shows that psychopathy can develop during childhood and adolescence (Pozzulo, 314). Psychologists are able to present to court the most probable criminal behavior of an young offender, as well as how specific models of psychopathy should be addressed, and how the offender should be punished including specific aspect of the sentence.
However, psychologists’ expert testimonies labeling an offender as psychopath can lead to biased jurors’ sentences. Moreover, psychology is far from a perfect science and therefore contains many contradictions on psychopathy amongst youth. To begin, psychopathy amongst adults is most frequently assessed through the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) (Pozzulo, 302). This assessment was adjusted for both children and adolescents.
The Antisocial Process Screening (APSD) aims at identifying psychopathy amongst children, while the Hare Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV) is adapted for adolescents. The APSD bases itself on ratings for various questions from authority figures of the child and contains three different dimensions: the callous-unemotional dimension; the impulsivity dimension; and the narcissist dimension (Pozzulo, 314). These scales can be used to determine whether or not a youthful individual will be likely to encounter problems with the police and/or if they will be likely to engage in a violent behavior.
It is proven that there is a direct correlation between children who obtain high scores in the unemotional dimension in the APSD and more frequent encounter with the authorities in addition with problematic behavior (Pozzulo 316). Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that adolescents which present many psychopathic traits according to the PCL:YV are prone to earlier criminal activities as well as more violent behavior (Pozzulo 316). These young individuals are usually more likely to recidivism.
Psychologist, when providing expert witness testimony in court, can use all these factors in order to bring to light the likelihood of a youthful offender of engaging criminal behavior to the jurors. Moreover, they can testify whether or not the offender is likely to commit future felonies. Next, various researches lead to believe that there are two models of psychopathy amongst youth: the motivational model and the self-regulatory model. Both models can result in psychopathic traits among youth.
The motivational model is based on the individual’s lack of fear-related stimuli. This results in the child lacking fear of consequences for his actions (Roose 2). On the contrary, the self-regulatory model is a result of a cognitive failure to properly change their attention and thus not being capable of properly responding to an event. Moreover, research suggests that with the self-regulatory model, psychopathic trait can be corrected to a certain extend if an individual stops for an instant before responding to a given situation (Roose 2).
While further research needs to be conducted on this specific aspect (Roose 6), psychologists can use these findings to effectively present possible treatments or ways of addressing the youthful psychopaths in front of the court. Further research will extend knowledge on how those different models of psychopathy can be dealt with. Additionally, a psychopathic diagnosis is far from being simple. According to some research, diagnosing youth with psychopathy has a dimensional latent structure. This signifies that there are degrees of psychopathy rather than types of psychopathy.
Therefore, it is not an issue of whether or not an individual can be assessed as a psychopath, but rather an issue relating to the level of psychopathy demonstrated by an individual. This is consistent of how psychopathy functions amongst adults (Edens 21). This can pose a challenge to determine the minimum level of psychopathy in order to be considered clinically as psychopath (Edens 22). Considering the complexities of the diagnosis and disorder, psychologists are necessary to comprehend the specific extend of levels of psychopathic traits observed in an individual’s behavior.
In addition, psychologists can provide additional recommendations regarding what would consists of the most appropriate sentence for a specific young offender. Furthermore, they can suggest precise measures that should be considered for the punishment, such as the level of supervision (Edens 22). Nonetheless, not only does psychopathy raise ethical questions regarding assessment in criminal cases, but also psychology can be quite contradicting, as it is not an absolute science.
The evident assumption that a psychopathic diagnosis will lead to a more severe judgment is debatable. While some research appears to prove this assumption, many are contradictory (jones, 151). In fact, some research suggests that juvenile probation officers are more likely to choose treatment over a stricter sanction (Jones, 153). Even so, according to another research, jurors are more likely to be in favor of more severe penalty, such as the death penalty, when a minor is clearly defined as a psychopath as opposed to not attributed to any mental disorder (Pazzulo 315).
Jones and Cauffman conducted research amongst youth to determine the possible effect of labeling offenders as psychopaths. They conducted a mock trial in which there was four possible scenarios: there was no details regarding the offender’s mental state; the offender was labeled as psychopath (without introducing psychopathic traits to court); the offender was described with psychological traits associated to psychopathy (without being labeled as psychopath); and the offender was labeled as psychopath and was described as having specific psychopathic characteristics (Jones 157).
Their findings advance that judges found non-psychopathic offenders more amenable to treatment. Their study suggests there was no correlation between whether or not the found the offender guilt (jones 158). However, their shows that judges tend to perceive psychopaths as more dangerous resulting in more severe sanctions (Jones 159). Labeling young offenders as psychopath can influence the outcome of the trial negatively, leading to question whether or not it is beneficial to present such diagnosis in court.
To conclude, while psychologist can effectively present expert testimonies on the diagnosis itself, but can also present the associated risk regarding the young offender’s criminal behavior, in addition to suggests how certain models of psychopathy should be dealt with and how they should be sentenced to insure a proper punishment (safe for others).
It is however, primordial to bear in mind the possible outcome of labeling a young offender as a psychopath such as the potential biased decision from the judge. And lastly, the contradictory evidences presented, as psychology does not consist of a perfect science. As more and more researches are made in the field of psychopathy amongst youth, is it plausible that they can find an effective treatment specifically for children and adolescents?