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Criminal hazard: keys and concepts to evaluate it

Criminal hazard: keys and concepts to evaluate it

June 24, 2021

At this time, it is not strange to hear the term "dangerousness" often on newsreels, radio and other media, especially when they talk about issues related to criminal matters.

"Criminal of high dangerousness", "prison of half dangerousness" and other concepts and terms are examples of how we hear this terminology day by day, to the point where we believe to be familiar with it. Despite this, this concept remains one of the most misunderstood within criminology as it is often confused with others such as aggression and violence.

In addition, the new forms of criminality that arise with the new times obliges us to give a review and an in-depth review. In this article we propose to conceptualize the concept of dangerousness, point out its characteristics and explain its importance .


Criminal hazard: knowing the history of the concept

The idea of ​​danger is by no means new, however the concept of criminal dangerousness It is relatively modern.

Its clearest antecedent goes back to the theses of the German author Feuerbach, whose term would become part of the Bavarian Penal Code in 1800 and who defined it as the quality of a person who presumes that he will violate the right.

Definitions and modern approaches

The most modern definition of dangerousness was introduced to criminology by Rafael Garófalo with its fearsomeness to designate the constant and active perversity of the offender and the amount of expected evil that must be feared by the same offender.


The concept, although controversial since then, was quickly accepted until in 1892 the International Union of Criminal Law, from the hand of eminent masters of this branch of law as Von Liszt and Prins, officially recognized.

Unitary definition from criminology

Danger, from Latin periculum, refers to the risk, to the imminent contingency of some evil happening , being the situation, thing or obstacle what increases the possibility of some damage or damage.

Dangerwhen we apply it to a person, it is the quality of damage that could cause this, in response to the factors that impel him to do this damage . The Royal Academy of the Language accepts this term referring to a person as one who can cause harm or commit criminal acts.


To make this concept clearer, let's review other definitions granted by various authors who study law and criminology. Rocco defines it as the power, attitude, suitability, the ability of the person to be the cause of harmful or dangerous actions. Petrocelli defines it as a set of subjective and objective conditions under whose impulse, it is probable that an individual commits a socially dangerous or harmful event. The Quillet Encyclopedia says that dangerousness is the set of subjective conditions that authorize a forecast about the propensity of an individual to commit crimes.

As you can see, The common elements in the definitions are the potential and the intention to be prone to crime . Just as there is a clear difference between aggression and violence, the danger is different from the previous two in that both terms help us to try to diagnose the latter.

Components of dangerousness

Students of criminal behavior agree that dangerousness has two essential components: criminal capacity and social adaptability .

The first concept, the criminal capacity, refers to the internal criminal tension, the criminal power, which is capable of giving itself the criminal personality in the criminal field. For its part, the social adaptability is the suitability of the offender for social life, that is, the possibility of adapting the activity of the criminal to the environment in which it is inserted.

From these components we can recognize four forms of dangerous state .

  1. Very strong criminal capacity and very high adaptability Here are the most serious manifestations of antisocial behavior such as white collar crimes, political-financial crimes, organized crime, organized psychopaths, and so on.
  2. Very high criminal capacity and uncertain adaptability : less severe but with very harmful criminogenic potential. Their maladjustment makes them attract attention to them easily. Professional and specialized criminals, social outcasts, among others are in this category.
  3. Low criminal capacity and weak adaptation : they constitute the delinquents that habitually flood the prisons. Among them are psychic maladjustments, character criminals and similar typologies.
  4. Weak criminal capacity and high adaptability : light forms of criminality. Its danger is low or acute (the danger can be chronic or acute in attention to the duration, we will talk about this later). Here we recognize the occasional and passionate criminals

Elements constituting dangerousness

We will quote and explain below the most important characteristics of the dangerousness .

  • Elements : two elements of dangerousness are recognized. The first known as a dangerous state is the situation experienced by a person who is about to commit a crime. In as much, the opportunity is the convenience of time and place that lends or favors to the subject to give the step to the act.
  • Shapes : psychiatrists, psychologists and criminologists distinguish two types of danger, being the first chronic (or permanent) that usually occurs in cases of psychopathy and other offenders difficult to adapt; while the second refers to the acute danger, which is rather episodic and can even be exhausted in the event itself. In spite of this, if the criminogenic circumstances are maintained, the acute danger can be chronic.

Quantify dangerousness, an interdisciplinary work

Clinical criminology tries to explain the crime from the point of departure of the criminal, his personality, his personal history and the different factors that play a role in his behavior. Its purpose is to formulate a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment on the subject who commits antisocial behavior .

Citing Wolfgang and Ferracuti, clinical criminology consists of the integrated and joint application of criminological knowledge and diagnostic techniques to particular cases and for diagnostic-therapeutic purposes. Thus, in terms of the functions of clinical criminology, they stand out

TO) Synthesize the various studies conducted on the antisocial subject and integrate them for a correct criminological synthesis that allows to emit a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment

B) Discover criminogenesis and criminodynamics of the offender

C) Issuing opinions and expert opinions criminological

D) Propose, if applicable, what kind of penalty it is more convenient

AND) Make criminological prophylaxis and address criminological needs of the subject

F) Estimate the level of danger

Sciences and professionals that evaluate the dangerousness of criminals

Although the clinical criminologist is the figure responsible for quantifying the level of danger, it would be impossible to perform this task without the correct application of various disciplines that provide objective tools on the subject antisocial.

The criminological synthesis must derive from at least seven sciences that, in conjunction, allow a reliable diagnosis to be made and that, together, they complement each other in the explanation of antisocial behavior. Such sciences are: anthropology, medicine, psychology, sociology, victimology and penology. To these can be added others that allow other objective criteria to be issued on the subject such as: social work, pedagogy, etc.

A practical example to understand the role of each professional

For sample of the interdisciplinary work, we could exemplify with the following case : we have a subject who is accused of theft, the pedagogue stresses that an important criminogenic factor is their level of learning itself that turns out to be scarce, dictates that this difficulty affects their few job opportunities, finding in robbery the easiest way to earn life. For his part, the doctor explains that malnutrition played an important role in the poor development of his brain during the first years of life, which would partly explain a low IQ that reinforces the idea of ​​his low level of learning; In turn, a psychologist explains that, both conditions, over the years, accentuated levels of insecurity and feelings of inferiority that prevented him from seeking an honest way of life due to the fear of being rejected.

In this way, the criminogenesis of the offender is detached, a question that in turn allows us to more reliably estimate their level of danger.

Assessment and quantification of criminal dangerousness

The assessment of the danger is qualitative and quantitative . The first is seen in the meticulous and objective study of the criminogenic factors of the antisocial subject, both endogenous (for example its character and biotype, organic disposition, psychopathologies, etc.) or exogenous (social environment, environmental conditions, culture, educational level, others) .

In this sense, it is also very important to establish if the dangerousness of the subject in question is absolute, that is, if their antisocial behaviors are developed under the influence of any criminogenic stimuli, or if we speak of a relative danger in which the individual it only happens to the act after the influence of specific factors and in very particular circumstances.

On the other hand, The quantitative assessment refers to the value, quantity and size of factors that allow predicting, among other things, the likelihood of recidivism and the effectiveness of a prison treatment. . Usually it is classified as minimum, medium and maximum, but different authors handle multiple scales based on pre-established items correlated to the qualitative danger, trying to point out the greatest number of possible criminogenic factors present in the subject. From such studies we will cite examples later.

The criminogenic threshold

This raises several problems in relation to something that various students of human behavior called criminogenic threshold, also known as crime threshold, which is defined as the ability of the subject to react to a certain amount of criminogenic stimulus.

This is an individual feature. Thus, the lower the criminogenic threshold of the subject, the less criminal stimulus will be needed to take the step to the act (just as people with a low threshold for pain need a small stimulus to produce it). When comparing personality studies, the antecedents must be added for previous crimes of the individual, as well as observing the differences in action between one act and another, since the danger tends to increase in proportion to the complexity of the crime.

Scales to assess the dangerousness

For Schied (German author), The hazard can be quantified on a scale consisting of 15 factors and where each of them adds a negative point and which in turn are related to the likelihood of recidivism. Among the factors that this author includes, psychopathies, hereditary diseases, work regularity, judicial background, etc. stand out.

Other support tools that are included to assess the dangerousness include the HCR-20 (protocol to assess the risk of any type of violence), LSI-R (which calculates the probabilities of recidivism), SVR-20 (specially designed to calculate the probabilities of recidivism of sexual aggressors), et cetera.

What is the use of knowing the danger of a criminal?

From a clinical point of view, establishing the level of danger of a criminal has several objectives among which we highlight the following:

1. Establish what the criminological action will be . If it will be prophylactic or only a specific treatment, if you need a total reintegrative work or if you simply have to attend to the specific criminogenic factors that lead to criminal behavior, that is, allows you to make prison treatment more individualized.

2. Help determine the judge what the criminal reaction is . if it is worthy of a custodial sentence or a security measure. If you need a prison treatment of five years or twenty.

3. Indicate what is your probability of recidivism helping to establish a correct diagnosis and a prognosis and therefore its probability of reintegrating into society.

4. Justify which penitentiary institution is most convenient for the treatment and if it deserves to be in a penitentiary center or in a prison of low, medium or high danger.

5. Provide an idea of ​​the damage that can be inflicted against others.

Reflections on the validity of the concept of dangerousness

Due to the enormous complexity of the human personality, despite the various items and methods proposed to try to quantify the danger, there are no 100% objective parameters that allow a reliable diagnosis in this aspect.

In addition, among the most pronounced criticisms against the term is the idea that it is stigmatizing and prejudiced. Some jurists and psychologists criticize the concept of dangerousness since it limits the study of criminals.

If we reflect carefully, the jail is practically useless: it is expensive, it keeps the criminals idle, it multiplies its vices, it is just one more penalty, the isolation causes abnormalities that range from neurosis to psychosis and promotes promiscuity.

Regrettably, At present, the vast majority of governments still choose to punish the intention to commit a crime and the reasoning used to commit criminal acts. , but the proportionality of the crime and the danger involved in carrying it out are not examined in depth. However, countries that adopt the model of individualized reintegration based on the criminogenic needs of the subject, which take into account the level of danger of the subject and that apply qualitative and non-quantitative punishments, obtain better results and their recidivism figures are lower.

Bibliographic references:

  • Rodríguez Manzanera, L. (2003). Criminology. (18 ed.). Mexico: Porrúa
  • Mendoza Beivide, Ada Patricia. Psychiatry for criminologists and criminology for psychiatrists. Mexico: Trillas (Reimp, 2012)
  • Pérez, Luis Carlos: Criminal Law. Ed. Bogotá, 1981.
  • Landecho, Carlos María. Social danger and criminal dangerousness .. U. de Valencia. 1974

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