Understanding Psychology and Crime: Perspectives on Theory and Action

Understanding Psychology and Crime: Perspectives on Theory and Action

Understanding Psychology and Crime: Perspectives on Theory and Action

Understanding Psychology and Crime: Perspectives on Theory and Action


"This is an exceptional book that comprehensively covers the interface between psychology and criminology regarding an empirical understanding of crime. It is written in an engaging and accessible manner, nicely linking key themes in order to situate the contribution of psychology to theories of criminal behaviour, strategies for informed practice, and contemporary challenges. It should prove to be an incredible resource for students, but also be of interest to researchers and clinicians. I cannot recommend this text more heartily."
Dr Ralph Serin, Carleton University, Canada

"James McGuire is one of the leading international experts on what works in reducing reoffending, and he has written an extremely valuable and accessible textbook on psychology and crime. The book is a clearly written, well-researched and up-to-date survey of important contributions of psychology to key criminological issues. It is especially noteworthy for its illuminating reviews of cognitive-social learning theories, risk factors and longitudinal studies, risk assessment, cognitive-behavioural programmes and meta-analyses of treatment effectiveness."
Professor David Farrington, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge

  • What contributions can psychology make to our understanding of crime?
  • How can psychological models and research help to prevent crime and reduce repeat offending?
This highly readable book discusses the complex relationships between psychology, criminology and criminal justice. Challenging the assumptions of those who object to the use of psychology within criminology, this book shows how a methodical approach to the study of criminal behaviour can generate both systematic findings and practical solutions to problems.

McGuire argues for a broader understanding of crime, based on factors such as the individual's cognitive and emotional development, in addition to the influences of socialization, peer groups, and the social and economic environment. He highlights the value of understanding 'pathways' to offending behaviour, and the critical points at which choices are made. Topics include:

  • Theoretical and empirical research foundations of 'criminogenic risk factors'
  • Theory turned into practice – the development of offending behaviour programmes
  • A psychological perspective on some core concepts in criminology: retribution, deterrence and incapacitation
  • Major practical applications of psychology in policing, prosecution and sentencing
This authoritative and stimulating text is essential reading for students in criminology and psychology and for criminal justice practitioners and policy makers.


Some years ago, a well-known criminological researcher told me that he ‘had never had much use for psychology’ in his work and implied he could not see the relevance of it for criminology as a whole. I was at first taken aback by this, mainly on account of its abrupt and all-embracing dismissiveness, and thought it must be an idiosyncratic standpoint. Having become more familiar with the literature of criminology since then, I now realize it is a view that is quite widespread. Writers in criminology have depicted psychology as predominantly positivist in its orientation and have castigated it accordingly (e.g. Roshier 1989). Psychologists themselves have commented on how psychological theory and research have been marginalized and even ‘systematically downplayed’ in mainstream criminology (e.g. Andrews 1995). Textbooks in the field are evidently much more influenced by other social science disciplines, most prominently sociology. That may account for the 22 out of 564 pages devoted to psychology in the textbook by Conklin (1992), or the even thinner 6 out of 529 pages allotted by Glick (1995).

The rationale for the present book is not to assuage the feelings of hurt and rejection that we poor psychologists may feel in this situation, sensitive though many of us may be! It is instead to examine closely the contribution that psychology is able to make to understanding the activity we call ‘crime’, and what (if any) practical implications may flow from this. That activity can be studied using many approaches. At least one of them, surely, needs to take into account the observation that whatever other influences may be at play, acts of crime are for the most part committed by individuals. That is certainly the basis on which the law operates: legal decision-making attributes responsibility or guilt for crimes to persons; and while the basis for that may be questioned, there appears little immediate prospect of it being changed in any meaningful way. Even where crimes are committed by corporations or other collective entities, individual decisions are still intimately involved in the process. In a . . .

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