Understanding the mind of a criminal

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Few subjects divide people like crime. Political and media agendas shape our understanding in simplistic and often polarising ways, and it’s the job of a modern criminologist to ignore the hype, and seek real solutions beyond the rhetoric.

Criminology is not CSI

Dr Chad Whelan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Deakin University. He defines criminology as ‘the study of crime and responses to crime’. He says his first job is myth-busting, ‘Many assumptions are contradicted by the evidence. We spend considerable time breaking down misconceptions.’

The complexities start in the language we use to define crime, says Dr Whelan. Studies show the words we use to describe crime reveal how we think crime should be dealt with in society. If you define crime as ‘evil’ and criminals as ‘monsters’ for example, you are likely to support harsher punishments. Dr Whelan explains that this simplistic language feeds stereotypes of crime, and policies built upon these stereotypes rarely work, ‘So the primary role of a modern criminologist is critical thinking.’

'Many assumptions are contradicted by the evidence. We spend considerable time breaking down misconceptions'

Dr Chad Whelan,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

The mind is your medium

Criminologists look at all angles when trying to understand the nuances that influence crime. ‘We investigate the causes of criminal behaviour, the criminal justice system responding to crime, human behaviour, brain patterns and other agencies involved in preventing and controlling crime, and how to manage offenders in the correctional system as well as their rehabilitation in society.’ Explains Dr Whelan.

Students who study criminology undertake psychology and sociology studies to better understand the complexity of criminal behaviour. ‘Students will always take unique paths to solving problems’, says Dr Whelan. Analysing the thought processes of killers, the rituals that take place and delving into the disturbing literature of criminal manifestos are all skills required of the creative criminologist.

Future careers

‘Criminology offers students a wide range of career paths in the areas of criminal justice, government departments and the public sector, state and federal policing, national security and intelligence agencies, and more.’ says Dr Whelan.

Often students will use criminology as the foundation for a career in law, seeking change within the criminal justice system. Dr Whelan explains that those who can provide innovative solutions will find themselves in the best position for a career in criminology. The advent of data analysis from sources such as police body cams and phone mapping technology, means criminologists have access to greater troves of information than ever before. Careers focused on leveraging these numbers to portray justifications for solutions to crime, will be highly sought after in future.

Interested in learning how to analyse criminal minds? Study criminology at Deakin University.

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Dr Chad Whelan
Dr Chad Whelan

Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
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