Stanton Samenow

The Criminal Personality

by C.T. Genre

Biography/Background The Criminal Personality Myths Changing the Criminal Criticism Books Links Bibliography


After contributing to and co-authoring a fourteen-year research-treatment study of criminal offenders at St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital in Washington D.C. , Stanton Samenow proposed that all criminal behavior can be explained by the existence of thinking errors that do not have deterministic origins. Biological, psychological, and sociological explanations have failed to account for the willful decisions of criminals to choose a life of crime, regardless of their personal and/or socio-economic background. Therefore, he believes that many traditional beliefs of crime and criminals are only mythical. Moreover, he eschews the traditional methods of rehabilitation for criminals, as he feels they are misguided and inappropriate for handling the true nature of the criminal. His method of "habilitation", therefore, was and has been employed to educate the criminal in a phenomenological sense to surmount his criminality by pre-empting and correcting wayward thinking.


"From very early, the oxygen of the criminal's life is to seek excitement by doing the forbidden."-S.Samenow.




Stanton Samenow received his B.A. from Yale University (cum laude) and his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968 ( ). As a promising young clinical psychologist, he began his career work at an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit in Ann Arbor, Michigan ( ). Yet, he felt compelled after a short while to investigate other opportunities in psychology, with the hope of discovering a suitable career milieu that would enable him to pursue his goal of rehabilitating adolescents with psychiatric disorders. He then toured much of the country to observe what the progressing field of psychology had to offer. Along the way, he was fascinated to observe a shift of adolescents being treated for psychotic disorders to those being treated for crimes like truancy, theft, and drugs(Samenow,1984:13). These were kids, he noticed, that were "in conflict with society" (Samenow, 1984:13). This observation furthered his interest in adolescent rehabilitation and exposed him to an element of criminality that would become a major component of his life's work.

After spending six years working at St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital in Washington D.C., from which his co-authored The Criminal Personality was born, he entered private practice in Alexandria, Virginia (   ). In addition to continuing the evaluation and treatment of juvenile and adult offenders, he has written several books and delivered lectures and training seminars to varieties of professional groups( ).During the 1980's, he was appointed by President Reagan to the Law Enforcement Task Force, the President's Task Force on Victims, and as a conferee to the White House Conference on a Drug-Free America( ). Furthermore, he has frequented radio broadcasts and television shows such as "60 minutes", "Good Morning America", "The Phil Donahue Show", "The Larry King Show", and "The CBS Morning News" (

Before his popularity surfaced from The Criminal Personality study, while touring the country for employment prospects in the early 70's, he met Dr. Samuel Yochelson, who would offer Samenow the opportunity to conduct studies on criminal offenders that would largely define the rest of Samenow's career. Yochelson, a friend of Samenow's father, immediately tried to persuade Samenow to join the program that he chaired at St. Elizabeth's psychiatric hospital( a division of the National Institute of Mental Health) in Washington D.C. (Samenow,1984: 12). Yochelson had invested a tremendous amount of himself into the Program for the Investigation of Criminal Behavior at St. Elizabeth's. At age fifty-five, Yochelson had given up his psychiatric practice in Buffalo to embark upon a new career in Washington D.C. (Samenow,1978:16) Yet despite Yochelson's passion and vigor for the work at the hospital, Samenow was initially reluctant to participate at the hospital, and perhaps with good reason. Primarily, his main interests did not lie with criminal behavior, as his beliefs held that social determinants were largely responsible for criminal behavior(Samenow, 1984:14). Trying to rehabilitate these persons, he felt, could potentially lead to a very unfulfilling career. Additionally, the socio-political climate of the late 60's and early 70's was not very agreeable to programs that sought to rehabilitate the criminal. The 1960's was largely an era where criminals were viewed as being victims of oppressive social circumstances. The 1967 report by the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice stated that "social and economic conditions 'cause' crime" (Samenow,1978:19). Among a variety of objectives, programs of criminal reformation were instituted to reduce crime (Samenow,1978:19). Unfortunately, in the early 70's, the evaluation of these programs had determined that change had not been measurable and the crime rate unaffected by these programs(Samenow,1978:19). In the wake of this governmental and public sentiment, Samenow was increasingly skeptical about investing his time into a purpose that seemed to have little promise. Yet, enamored with the personality and ideas of Yochelson, he joined the program at St. Elizabeth's. This proved to be a very rewarding and fulfilling decision, as to date, the Program for the Investigation of Criminal Behavior, despite Yochelson's death in 1976, continues to be the longest running research-treatment study of offenders in North America (Samenow,1998:16).

The 'Criminal Personality' Study

When Samenow joined Yochelson at St. Elizabeth's, Yochelson had been evaluating the offenders for several years. He had spent thousands of hours with the individuals, probing their fantasies, psychosexual developments, early life experiences, and conflicts as well(Samenow,1983:24). Yochelson's four objectives concerning his approach to the study were as follows : (1) understand the personality makeup of the criminal, (2) to establish technique that could be used to alter the personality disorders that produce crime, (3) to encourage an understanding of legal responsibility, and (4) to establish techniques that can be effective in preventing criminal behavior (Samenow,1978:16). The study was composed of two-hundred fifty-five participants from various backgrounds. Blacks, whites, those from the inner city, those from the suburbs, wealthy, poor, etc. were all evaluated (Samenow,1978:16). The population of studied offenders was composed of those confined to the hospital who were found guilty by reason of insanity, as well as a roughly equal portion of criminals who were not confined to the institution (Yochelson and Samenow,1976:24). Not surprisingly,the acquisition of valuable information from criminals is difficult, for criminals usually are not very forthright with personal habits and information. Therefore, many of these subjects had to be offered "therapy" as a possibility for earlier reprieve from legal punishments(Yochelson and Samenow,1976:31).

As Samenow and Yochelson were both trained in the Freudian school of psychoanalysis, the first four years of the criminal personality project involved rigorous psychodynamic therapeutic practices with the offender subjects (Harris,1984:227). The purpose and goal of the men were to locate the roots of criminal behavior, with the ideal of providing the criminal insight to how he could change(Samenow,1978:16). Causation, therefore, was the chalice that was sought, as Samenow and Yochelson believed it held the answers for the offenders' errant ways. Appropriately, as psychoanalytic protocol mandates, family conflicts, Oedipal complexes, and childhood traumas were all evaluated so as to gain insight to the etiology of the criminal's making (Borkin,1976:239). In effort to be more thorough, attempts at diagnosis also considered sociologic influences (Samenow,1998:10).

The practices employed by the researchers appeared to have induced progress, as the subjects readily made marketable gains. In fact, some of the subjects, in expressions of gratitude, went so far as to give parties for the researchers (Serrill,1978a:90 ). Most importantly, the offenders appeared to have come to terms with the criminal elements of their lives, and made sincere declarations of the want and need for change (Samenow,1983:243). The researchers logically felt as if their diagnoses of mental illness as well as accompanying treatments were successful in generating willful change in the offenders. They were soon to be very disappointed.

Much to his consternation, Yochelson discovered that, despite the genuine appearance of reformation, the patients had not changed their criminal ways, as they were continuing to commit crimes. They were violating hospital rules, using alcohol and drugs, stealing hospital supplies, and committing a plethora of other offenses (Samenow,1983:244). In fact, the parties that the patients threw for the researchers were done so with supplies stolen from the hospital!(Serrill,1978a:90). Something was drastically amiss, and the researchers needed to retool their mode of approach towards the patients. It was evident that through psychiatric counseling, the patients manipulated the sessions in such a way as to provide fabrications of causation that the researchers were so diligently looking for (Samenow,1983:244). The patients were using the sociological and psychological techniques to their own advantage, so as to provide excuses for their criminal ways and to offer false answers to the researchers with the intent of avoiding any feelings of culpability. The patients hoped that the appearance of self-change would yield them a shorter path to freedom.

The search for causes was then abandoned. It was clear that the patients were offering information about their pasts in self-serving ways (Samenow,1983:245). The criminals used their feelings to justify all of their actions. None of them were actually mentally ill (Goodman,1983:31). Although valuable and copious information had been gathered from these patients over years of study, it needed to be seen from a different perspective. The criminals, themselves, needed to be seen from a different perspective. A paradigm shift, in essence, was needed in their study. What they then did realize was that all of the patients exhibited certain common personality and behavioral traits from an early age, regardless of their background (Samenow,1978:17). Traditional analytic techniques and methods were insufficient to enact change in criminals, for their depressions, tensions, and anxieties were significantly different than non-criminals (Samenow,1998:198). Focusing upon parent-child and child-environment interactions only reinforced the criminal's blame of others as well as his position of claiming to be victimized (Serrill,1978a:89). The search for causes was then replaced by the search for the thinking patterns of the criminals, as it became evident to Samenow and Yochelson that no one determinant effected any criminal proclivity(1984:16).The only commonality among the two-hundred and fifty-five patients were certain patterns of thinking(Samenow,1984:16).

"There is the possibility, I would say the likelihood, that the child is stealing simply because he finds it highly exciting. Then what do we do with that? Ask why the child finds it exciting?…The "why" questions continue indefinitely. Do we really ever have an answer? And even if we did, identifying the cause might only serve as an excuse to perpetuate the behavior, not change it"-S.Samenow (Samenow,1998:215).

The rejuvenated focus of the criminal personality study aimed to see the world as the criminals viewed it(Harris,1984:227). In general, the criminal saw the world in "chess-board" terms, as people were there pawns to manipulate at will for their own personal gain(Harris,1984:227). The anti-social behavior developed when the offenders were young, some as young as age four(Nott,1977:*). The criminal, early in life, consciously removed himself from the rules of society. The conventional activities and interests of his peers were abhorred by the fledgling criminal(Samenow,1978:17). Fighting, lying, and stealing were very frequent activities by the young criminal. Notably, the criminal is pro-active in his approach of rejection to others(Samenow,1978:17). Consequently, he is the first to establish polarity between himself and others(Samenow,1984:49). Additionally:
bullethe shies away from affection(Nott,1977:*)
bullethe is very restless, dissatisfied, and irritable(Samenow,1984:26)
bullethe perfunctorily engages in civil communication only to prevent others from being suspicious of his behavior(Nott,1977:*)
bullethe considers requests from teachers, parents, and others as impositions(Samenow,1984:47)
bullethe continually sets himself apart from others
bullethe is enamored with living a life of excitement, at whatever expense (Samenow,1981:6)
bullethe habitually experiences anger as a way of life(Samenow,1984:172)
bullethe lacks empathy
bullethe feels no obligation to anyone except his own interests
bullethe has no understanding of responsible decision making, having prejudged situations(Samenow,1998:68)
bullethe has a daily struggle with "Murphy's Law". That is, when something is bound to go wrong, it probably will. Criminals cannot cope with this obstacle well(Samenow,1998:69).

All told, fifty-two thinking patterns were distinguishable in the criminal personality(Harris,1984:227). These were considered "errors" in thinking, and though not unique to criminals, they were displayed to extreme magnitudes by criminals (Harris,1984:227). Though criminals may differ in the types of crime that they commit, and their modus operandi, they exhibit identifiable and classifiable paralleled errors in thinking(Samenow,1978:17). For example, the white collar criminal and the inner-city street drug dealer come from very different backgrounds, yet they conduct their lives very similarly according to the way that they consistently supersede their wants and desires over those of others. Importantly, the criminal act is the end product of a specific thinking process and personality characteristics. The criminal personality precedes the criminal act. But criminality goes well beyond arrestability. It pertains to the way in which a person acts, thinks, and lives his life (Samenow,1978:17). Because a person has a criminal personality, however, does not necessarily mean that he will have a criminal record.

The first to be victimized by the criminals are their parents(Samenow,1984:25). Parents are not exempt from the habitual exploits of the criminal. The offender perceives people as being beneficial or detrimental to achieving their wants. Essentially, parents, like other people are objectified. Because the criminal does not see things from another's perspective, his emotional investment to family is minimal(Samenow,1991:56). Parents and family, therefore, serve a utilitarian purpose for the criminal. Though criminals are very selfish and demanding, they will often try to ensure that their parents have a least a decent concept of them, in the event that their parents' devotion can be exploited for the need of money, material wants, or even help from punishment from the law (Samenow,1984:37). Yet if the parents try to effect a positive change in the criminal (for example, with counseling), the criminal has little reserve from misrepresenting the parents intentions by blaming them for his problems(Nott,1977:*).

Beyond their parents, criminals are next to victimize others in their lives. As mentioned earlier, criminals see the world in "chess-board" terms. People are viewed as their puppets and pawns. This is perhaps the defining trait of the criminal(Samenow,1984:95). The world is seen by him as a forum for his coercion, scheming, and manipulation (Samenow,1998:67). As the criminal is walking down the street or through stores he is always scheming; thinking that no one knows what he is up to and that he can take advantage of them whenever he wants. Not surprisingly, spouses and companions are to serve a subservient role for the criminal(Samenow,1984:99) They are to serve a utilitarian purpose, like parents, for the criminal. Incidentally, criminals do not feel love like non-criminals can, for they lack the feelings of empathy necessary for love (Samenow,1984:107). People that serve functional roles in the lives of the criminals are seen as property, and criminals have an acute vision for detecting those that can serve their wants and needs(Samenow,1984:171). Because their lifestyle is conformed around the idea of taking rather than giving, few exceptions exist. The most notable one is when criminals "give" in order to impress someone of their importance and stature. (Goble,1978:2).

The criminal's capacity and desire for manipulation extends beyond the realm of personal abuse. Work, for example, provides an avenue for the criminal's exploits, and it is often perceived as serving that role by the criminal(Samenow,1984:86). Ironically, although the criminal may very well have the means to make a lot of money legitimately, he willingly selects illegitimate means for honest work means little(Samenow,1984:87). The reason for this is generally two-fold. First, the criminal is appalled at being told what to do and how to conduct himself(Serrill,1978a:89). He feels as though he should only pledge allegiance to his own standards and rules. Second, the criminal is easily bored with following established protocols that serve the function of anyone or anything other than himself. Excitement is the fuel that sustains life for the criminal, and eschewing the rules of work will often provide this fuel (Samenow,1978:17). Yet, because the criminal protects himself from feelings of accountability, he is quick to provide excuses when he is dismissed from a job or unable to find one(Samenow,1984:88). Claiming that there are no decent jobs available or that his previous job was "below" him are frequent excuses employed by the criminal to justify his aversion to work. Of course there are some criminals that are frequent contributors to the work force, and even hold positions of relatively high esteem within their field of work. But the prevailing purpose of work is to exploit it for there own gain; one that might very well be material. White-collar criminals, for instance, are those that pointedly use the arena of work as a grounds for selfish improprieties(Samenow,1984:92)

Like work, school is generally a place to be disliked by the criminal. There is a belief that when schools fail to meet the needs of children, they eject kids from the mainstream. In other words, delinquency is a result of blocked goal attainment(Samenow,1984:68). Actually, Samenow contends, it is the children who reject school long before school rejects them(Samenow,1984:69). The criminal rejects the school environment because he doesn't, as with work, accept being subjugated to others. Some delinquents will fail in school based upon this reasoning, not because they are incapable of performing well academically(Samenow,1998:67). Yet, there are others who do fairly well in school. The motivation for these criminals, however, is not to succeed in academics, but to provide an appearance of them abiding by the rules while they continue to behave in criminal ways(Samenow,1984:71). This keeps their parents and teachers from entangling with their criminal ventures.

Despite such rancorous behavior, the criminal has a decent self-concept. He has his own set of morals, for traditional ones do not significantly apply(Samenow,1978:17). Although callous and daring, he can be warm and friendly, though this behavior is somewhat limited(Samenow,1978:17). He feels as though he is basically a decent person, despite a plethora of crimes and injustices to others he may have committed (Samenow,1978:17). Yet, he is inherently hypocritical as he doesn't see other criminals in such a positive way as he sees himself. For example, a thief may view property crimes as being innocuous. However, if another thief steals from his family's home, he feels as though that crime should be punished to a high magnitude.

Hans Eysenck's theory claims that criminals fail to condition adequate responses which society requires them to integrate into some form of "conscience"(Pfohl,1994:125). Freud, also, as well as others, has a "conscience" deficient perspective that may be applied to criminals(Pfohl,1994:117). Yet, Samenow believes that criminals have a functional conscience insofar as they have the ability to feel guilt and remorse(Samenow,1984:163). But their conscience is not fully operational. When they commit a crime, they simply disable their conscience(Samenow,1984:163). But because they can feel guilt, they think that they are decent people.

Most criminals have idealist visions(Samenow,1984:164). They long for large cash retirements and dream of going to heaven(Samenow,1984:165). Many, too, are religious, and look at themselves as better people because of it(Samenow,1984:168). However, these visions all exist on their own terms. The path to fortune and heaven only forks where the criminal will allow it. Many of their prayers are focused upon desiring success for their next criminal venture or release from jail (Samenow,1998:75).

Despite having a decent self-concept, the criminal's self-image is very tenuous (Samenow,1998:74). His self-esteem is veritably frail. When he is not immediately gratified, he is likely to become irate. These situations are commonly manifest when the criminal is asked to work for his rewards and to prove his trustworthiness (Serrill,1978a:89). As an extension to a tenuous self-image, the criminal is imbued with fear(Goble,1978:2).One of the things that he fears most is criticism(Goble,1978:2). A lasting and pervasive fear develops within the criminal at an early age(Serrill,1978a:89). Despite a sense of adventure and even recklessness, the criminal is preoccupied with various fears that are consistent throughout his life. For instance, a criminal may be exceedingly afraid of trivial matters, such as heights, water, or even driving(Goble,1978:2). Samenow believes that although the causes of such fears may be traceable to early traumatic experiences or specific teachings, most probably have an unknowable origin(Serrill,1978:90).

The Myths of Criminals and Crime

"To say that a pattern is ingrained or habitual does not diminish our personal responsibility or decision-making capacity." S.Samenow (Borkin,1976:239)

Inherent in Samenow's writings, he counters some prevailing and traditional beliefs of crime and criminals. Some of the more dominant "myths" he has addressed are:

Criminals must not know right from wrong:

Samenow believes that this is what society often wants to believe(1984:10). A seemingly random act of murder actually has precedence in the criminal's mind. If a man who has a decent social image, for instance, murders his wife, the reaction of surprise and bewilderment by the public might lead them to believe that the man just "went crazy". In other words, he was temporarily without the ability to recognize the weight of his actions. Yet, to the man, there was precedence to such an event. It was not random at all. He likely came close to doing it before, but used restraint. Therefore, the criminals understands what is right and wrong, and often he exercises measures to prevent detection (Samenow,1984:11). Simply, he chooses what crime he feels is necessary to commit based upon his wants, and pushes aside his conscience and potential external circumstances (Samenow,1984:12). Simply, he knows what is right from wrong.

Criminality is caused by the social environment:

So how does one justify a theory of criminal behavior that discounts the influence of society's ills? Samenow believes that if poverty was a cause, then the affluent would not have criminal proclivities. But they do(Samenow,1984:17). In fact, living in poverty often compels some people to work hard and be responsible citizens. What he does contribute to the conditions of poverty is an increased opportunity to commit crime (Samenow,1984:16).

Bad parenting causes criminality:

Again, Samenow seeks to dispel the myth by citing the existence of the alternative. Some criminals, in fact, come from conditions of very good parenting (Samenow,1984:26).Popular opinions vary as to the potential negative influences of permissive and authoritative parenting. Both are believed, by many, to illicit certain types of behaviors from children, some of which may be criminal(Samenow,1998:33). Latchkey children, or those children who are often left at home alone because their parent(s) work, are believed by some to favor criminal behavior because of an increased opportunity to commit crime due to a lack of supervision(Samenow,1998:32). Yet, Samenow believes that there exists no compelling information supporting these theories (1998:37).

Abused children, some feel, are more likely to become criminals. For instance, it is fairly common to assert that sex offenders were actually "made" by being victims of parental sexual abuse. Samenow believes that the source of this information is largely from the criminals themselves, used primarily to exonerate themselves from accountability from their illegal and caustic behavior(1998:42). Criminals, therefore, employ this information to accentuate their victim position.

Peer pressure causes criminality:

Edwin Sutherland's Differential Association Theory offers that people become criminals because of their close contacts with criminals(Pfohl,1994:269). Samenow believes this is fallacious reasoning, as it ignores personal choice(1998:37). Criminals choose their friends, they are not forced to. They engage other delinquents more for what they can selfishly acquire from others than to be an affiliate of a gang or group (Samenow,1984:51). Yet, if they are caught by their parents and/or authorities, they are quick to blame the inescapable influence of others as being responsible for their behavior(Samenow,1984:57).

What remains consistent with the criminal's personality, as illustrated in the myths of crime and criminals, is the criminal's reinforcement of the myths by taking a victim position. Essential to this position is the criminal's motive to shape others, through manipulation and/or rejection, more than they shape him. Samenow believes that what gets rejected when analyzing many of these children is that across socio-economic boundaries, a constant for delinquents is that they choose early a life of no restraint, discipline, or responsibility(1978:16).

What might the policy implications be for such a menace to society? If there are no determinants to criminal behavior, wouldn't this justify the disinvestment of funds into economically depressed areas? Samenow has admittedly attracted some foes because of potential policy implications. He believes that money should be carefully channeled into depressed areas(Samenow,1998:229) Although he said, "changing the environment does not change the man," he believes that governmental investment should be justified and prudent(Borkin,1976:240). Teaching a criminal job skills are potentially dangerous, in that the effort could prove futile. Teaching a criminal how to use computers so he can get a job, for example, may backfire when the criminal uses his computer skills illegally for criminal ventures. But criminals are not to be viewed as intractable societal anomalies that are completely inflexible. Between the criminal's way of life and the life of a responsible citizen, there lies the possibility for reformation.

To Change a Criminal

"To change one hard-core criminal means saving society from an incalculable injury" -S.Samenow (Samenow,1978:17))

Society has generally dealt with criminals in four general ways: retribution, confinement, deterrence, and rehabilitation. The most relevant one to Samenow's field, rehabilitation, is perhaps, in his opinion, the one least understood. In a strict sense, rehabilitation means to "return to a former constructive state"(Samenow,1984: 212). Yet, the problem with the criminals was that their errors in thinking were developed early in life. So, essentially, they never exhibited a "constructive" period of their life(Yochelson and Samenow,1977:98). Rehabilitation, therefore, does not apply to them as there exists no prior constructive state to return them to.

However, criminals can change. They must be taught that there is a worthy substitute for crime(Samenow,1998:168). This is one of the most difficult parts for the criminal, as they must learn a new way to think. Appropriately, Samenow believes that through this process of change, the psychotherapists serve more as educators of correct thinking than as therapists(Samenow,1978:18). The vehicle through which the criminals will learn ways to correct thinking errors was termed "habilitation"(Samenow,1991:56). The objective of the process of habilitation is to change the criminals errant thinking patterns that have existed for nearly his entire life(Samenow,1991:57). Criminals must learn to think before they act. Preemptive thinking, therefore is necessary for the criminal to exist in society responsibly(Samenow,1978:18). The St. Elizabeth's study was the first place where the habilitative method was employed, and today, nearly thirty years later, it's methods and guidelines are still practiced by Samenow(1998:205). The necessary components for the habilitative process to work are:
bulletthe criminal must hit "bottom" before the program can work(Samenow,1983:249)
bulletthe criminal must accept that he is and always will be a criminal. He will always need habilitative practice(Samenow,1984:229).
bulletthe change agent must make an effective presentation to the criminal at a time when the criminal is vulnerable and willing to change(Yochelson and Samenow,1977:101)
bulletthe change agent must have a detailed knowledge of the criminal's thinking process. It is imperative that the agent know specifically with whom he is dealing (Samenow,1998:289)
bulletthe change agent must apply the knowledge appropriately to the change process(Samenow,1998:289)

The first step in the process is to interview the criminal. He is told immediately that only a complete turnaround in his thinking and behavior will work(Serrill,1978a:90). The goals of the habilitative process, full disclosure, receptivity to others' perspectives, and constructive self-criticism, are difficult to achieve, but made possible only with total commitment(Samenow,1991:57). He is offered, what Samenow believes, are his only options: more crime and its associated risks, total change with the habilitative process, or suicide(1998:294). The criminal then has the choice to join or leave.

The second step in the process begins with a one-on-one counseling session. Samenow does all of the talking and presents to the criminal the way in which the criminal thinks(1978:90). Astounded by the keen insight of the counselor, the criminal is supposed to gain a sense of respect for the habilitative process, and most importantly to know that the counselor will not tolerate being manipulated like the other people in the criminal's life(Serrill,1978a:90). Beyond this stage, the criminal is introduced to group counseling, where he will participate in situational problem solving with other members of the group who are at different stages of habilitative progress(Samenow,1984:239). The goal of situational problem solving is to take any given trivial situation from a criminal's life, review it, point out the thinking errors, and teach the proper correctives (Samenow,1984:241). It is important to remember that no attempt is made at deriving causation. This will provide the criminal the opportunity to adopt a victim stance, and his desire to change is likely to dissipate. The criteria for success is (Samenow,1998:188):
bulletthe offender is receptive to criticism
bulletif he is employed, he is responsible and reliable
bullethe is drug-free
bullethe is responsible with his time and money
bullethe is receptive to constructive criticism and is constantly striving to improve

Criticisms and Popularity

Despite the relatively clear objectives of the habilitative process, the program only achieved marginal success during the St. Elizabeth's study. Of the two-hundred and fifty-five participants, most dropped out of the study, thirty completed the program, and only nine genuinely changed by the established standards(Serrill,1978:90). In his own estimate, Samenow believes that the habilitative approach would not reach more than twenty percent(Serrill,1978a:90). Some have argued that Samenow's scientific techniques, from the beginning, are flawed. Many research oriented scientists have labeled his work as being unscientific (Goble,1978:3).Demanding that the patients have and admit to what Samenow believes is a criminal's personality is not a strongly scientific position(Pfohl,1994:125). Additionally, his phenomenological studies used no control or comparison groups, which rendered determinations of diagnosis and progress subjective.

Some have argued that in disregarding all relevant psychological and criminological theories of criminal behavior, Samenow has misdiagnosed the criminal personality. The discovery and diagnosis of a "criminal personality", some contend, is only re-naming that which has already been discovered. Yochelson and Samenow's discovery of the "criminal personality" is rivaled by those who believe that the attributes of the criminal's personality meet most of the criteria of the Cleckley psychopath, the Kernberg psychopath, and the DSM-III-R quadruple diagnosis of antisocial, narcissistic, borderline, and histrionic personality disorder (Wulach,1988:186). The discordant opinions of Samenow's work is furthered by many liberal social scientists who believe that in discounting any negative influence of poverty and social structure upon criminality, the biases of the superordinate institutional perspectives are confirmed(Serrill,1978b:92).

Yet, despite the prevalent doubt among academicians, there has been some success among the few programs that have employed Samenow's techniques. The Maine Youth Center and the North Central Secure Treatment Unit in Daville, Pa., for youthful offenders have both attempted such techniques(Goodman,1983:32). In the three years the program operated at the Maine Youth Center, criminal behavior was markedly decreased by evidence of lower theft, fighting, and runaway rate(Goodman,1983:32). One individual made such an astounding change that he later became head of a prison camp in another state(Barger,1980:103). Yet, the research-treatment studies of criminals, as proffered by Samenow, has not significantly been furthered by many other scientists. Samenow remains one of the few to employ and continue the methods erected from the St. Elizabeth's study according to his criteria.

Despite the fact that the habilitative program is only successful with a minority of hard-core offenders, Samenow has generated significant popular in his private practice and among others peripheral to the academic world(Samenow,1978:18). Law enforcement personnel, corrections, and politicians frequent his seminars to learn how Dr. Samenow recognizes the criminal and seeks to engineer change within the criminal personality(Samenow,1998:17).

Books by Stanton Samenow:

bulletInside the Criminal Mind
bulletThe Criminal Personality
bulletBefore It's Too Late:Why Some Kids Get Into Trouble and What Parents Can Do About It
bulletStraight Talk About Criminals


Stanton Samenow's Homepage
A Review of "Inside the Criminal Mind"
People Magazine Interview
The Criminal Profilers
A Word for Parents
Fewer Excuses


bulletBarger, M. (1980). Crime: the unsolved problem. The freeman. 30, 98-104.
bulletBorkin, J. (1976). The criminal personality. Federal bar journal. 35, 237-241.
bulletGoble, F. (1978). The criminal personality. Thomas Jefferson research center. 142.
bulletGoodman, D. (1983). Do juvenile offenders have 'criminal personalities'?. Corrections magazine. 9(1), 30-35.
bulletHarris, H. (1984). The criminal personality: a dialogue with Stanton Samenow. Journal of counseling and development. 63, 227-229.
bulletNott, M.(1977, June 3). Why? Everyone is baffled. St. Petersburg independent. p.*
bulletPfohl, S. (1994). Images of deviance and social control: a sociological history. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
bulletSamenow, S. (1991). Correcting errors of thinking in the socialization of offenders. Journal of correctional education. 42(2), 56-58.
bulletSamenow, S. (1978). The criminal personality: new concepts and new procedures for change. The humanist. 38(5), 16-19.
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