Researchers show value to understanding juvenile psychopathic traits for public safety

Henriikka Weir and Jonathan W. Caudill
Henriikka Weir and Jonathan W. Caudill

As schools and law enforcement officials continue to look for warning signs to prevent acts of violence, researchers at UCCS looked at the presence of psychopathic traits as a tool to identify serious and violent juvenile offenders in a new chapter in the “Routledge International Handbook of Psychopathy and Crime.”

Jonathan W. Caudill, associate professor, and Henriikka Weir, assistant professor, in the School of Public Affairs, found that when juveniles with traits associated with psychopathy, like “callousness, grandiosity, manipulativeness, impulsivity, disregard for law and the welfare of others, and risk taking,” action should be taken to prevent violence. Caudill, a former juvenile probation officer, and Weir, a former police officer, both used their past experiences to look at the practical implications of avoiding psychopathic traits among juvenile violent offenders.

“While clinical and professional associations express concern with and limit the labeling of youthful offenders as psychopathic, the traits associated with psychopathy are associated with an elevated risk to public safety,” the researchers said. “These characteristics, if used appropriately, may serve to identify serious and violent juvenile offenders that posed a significant risk to the community and would be better suited for more intensive supervision.”

Caudill’s previous work for the book “Lost Causes: Blended Sentencing, Second Chances, and the Texas Youth Commission” about the state’s Determinant Sentencing Act, also outlined the need to the criminal justice system to focus on the factors that led to the crime, and not just the crime itself. Texas’ blended sentencing law provided a second chance to juvenile offenders while preserving public safety. Courts were allowed to make the determination to either release an offender or continue incarceration based on the factors of the original offense.

“Dr. Weir’s background in psychology and developmental aspects of offending, and my expertise in formal social control, particularly sentencing of serious and violent juvenile offenders, made this project a natural fit,” Caudill said. “There is value in understanding the presence of psychopathic traits among juvenile homicide offenders for public safety.”

The “Routledge International Handbook of Psychopathy and Crime” was edited by Matt DeLisi and published Aug. 10, 2018.

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