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Developmental Aspects of Violence and the Institutional Response

NCJ Number
Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health Volume: 10 Issue: 3 Dated: 2000 Pages: 185-198
Stephen Blumenthal
Date Published
14 pages
This paper reviews the literature on violence that focuses on developmental and attachment factors.
Violence is conceptualized as an attempt to achieve justice. The cycle of violence is explored with reference to the early experience of perpetrators and their treatment by the criminal justice system after they have committed violent acts. The origins of violence are considered in the context of the experience of trauma in childhood and the consequent damage to "internal working models" of relationships. The perpetration of violence in later life is viewed in the context of identifying with the aggressor, the obliteration of thought processes, and the repetition of the earlier childhood trauma. The offense is considered as a symptom, a symbolic communication by individuals who are unable to symbolize distress verbally. The "violence begets violence" hypothesis is then extended to include the response of society and its institutions as part of the full circle of the repetition compulsion: the childhood victim who later becomes a perpetrator, then again becomes the victim of a cruel and persecuting system. Incarceration is viewed as a "compromise formation," in that it fulfills the wish both for punishment and for care, albeit in a highly disguised form and allowing for a defensive state of mind to continue. These issues are considered in the context of the therapeutic relationship and the enactment of early trauma in this setting, which may provide insight into the psychological processes at work between the offender and society. Understanding violence indicates that, although some individuals must be physically checked, a response that focuses on retribution fails to address the problem of violence and colludes with the pathology of those who engage in such action. 46 references