Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences

Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences

Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences

Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences


What circumstances lead someone to commit murder, rape, or acts of child molestation? Why does society have such a deep-seated wish for vengeance against perpetrators of heinous crimes? Can those found guilty of such crimes ever be rehabilitated? What are the long-term consequences of incarceration, for inmates and society?

Officials of the criminal justice system, politicians, and ordinary citizens argue about possible answers to these controversial and vital questions, with little agreement. Violent crime and overflowing prisons continue to be unfortunate aspects of our society as the criminal justice system struggles to develop a coherent strategy to deal with heinous crimes.

This book offers innovative perspectives on the difficult issues concerning a civilized society's response to offenders guilty of heinous crimes. It considers specific cases and the chilling accounts of victims and the criminals themselves. In providing detailed strategies for prevention and rehabilitation, Frederic G. Reamer draws on his extensive experience as a member of the Rhode Island Parole Board, where he has heard more than 13,000 cases, and as a social worker in correctional facilities. He examines the psychological and social factors that lead individuals to commit reprehensible crimes, arguing that a fuller understanding of different criminal types is crucial to developing successful answers to the problem of heinous crimes. Closely looking at various criminal typologies, Reamer examines the effectiveness and rationale of various responses, including revenge and retribution, imprisonment for public safety, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.


I have clear recollections of my first close encounter with someone who committed a truly heinous crime. In the fall of 1981, I was meeting with a group of inmates at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, what was then the state’s principal maximum-security institution. I was working at the penitentiary part time as a social worker, in conjunction with my full-time duties as a professor at the University of Missouri School of Social Work. All the group members were serving lengthy sentences for serious crimes, including robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and murder.

When I first met Dale Simpson, I barely noticed him. He was simply part of the inmate crowd, and he made no special effort to stand out. It took quite some time for me to notice him enough to even wonder about him. In time my wonderment turned to preoccupation with his life, its special tragedy, and the broader subject of heinous crime.

Dale faithfully attended the discussion group that I facilitated each week at the penitentiary. He rarely spoke, but he was there. For months I knew nothing about Dale’s past or the crimes of which he was convicted. Eventually, I learned a great deal about both but in a most unconventional way. One December evening, as I was about to leave the prison, Dale handed me a paper bag and muttered something like, “This is for you for the holidays—oh, and for your wife too.” To my surprise, Dale had handcrafted two leather wallets for us, customized with our respective initials. I was deeply touched—and puzzled. True, for months Dale had attended the weekly group meetings without exception. But I had virtually no sense of him; he was chronically silent. We had not engaged in a single conversation.

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