What are criminal thinking errors?

Jo Gustafson
posted this on December 26, 2012 01:20 PM

Last Updated November 2013



I work in corrections and I also am working on a Master's in Criminolgy. I am looking for a resource similar to the "the Idiot's Guide to..." on Theory of the causes of crime.



According to Don Andrews and James Bonta (The Psychology of Criminal Conduct. 2010. New Providence, NJ: Anderson), the following are risk factors contributing to an individual's criminal conduct"

1.  Antisocial/procriminal attitudes and values.
2.  Procriminal associates and isolation from others who are anticriminal.
3.  Temperamental and personality factors, including psychopathy, impulsivity, and other cognitive deficits.
4.  History of antisocial behavior.
5.  Familial factors that include criminality, family psychological and disfunctional patterns.
6.  Low levels of personal education, vocational, or financial achievement and unstable employment.

1.  Lower-class origins (assessed by neighborhood conditions and parental achievements).
2.  Personal distress (strain, alienation, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, etc.)
3.  Other combinations of biological/neuropsychological indicators.

Numerous books and articles have been written to explain the major risk/need factors of criminal conduct.  We cannot provide a complete list, but a very brief sample follows.

"What are Thinking Errors?"

Barnhart, Tracy. 2009. Thinking errors are thoughts people exhibit or demonstrate during irresponsible behavior. This thinking leads to and brings on self-destructive behavior.  This self-destructiveness leads to and brings on criminal behaviors.

"Thinking Errors Defined."

Barnhart, Tracy., 2010. These definitions of criminal thinking errors will assist the reader in determining where inmates are coming from. Errors covered are: anger; assuming; avoiding the hot iron; blaming; confusion; excuses; fact stacking; fronting; grandiosity or maximizing; minimizing; helplessness; hopovers; hot shot or cockiness; I can’t attitude; it’s mine or entitlement; justifying; keeping score; lack of empathy; let’s fight or splitting; lying; making fools of; Mr. Goodguy; my way or no way; pet me; powerplay; redefining; refusal to accept obligations; refusal to acknowledge fear; secretiveness; seeking sympathy; silent power; slacking; uniqueness; vagueness; victim stance; and you’re OK, I’m OK.  024287 

Transitions Between Juvenile Delinquency and Adult Crime

Through the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, NIJ has made available a series of six final technical reports which describe findings from the National Institute of Justice Study Group on the Transitions between Juvenile Delinquency and Adult Crime. 

The series presents the latest research findings and information about:

  • criminal career patterns
  • special categories of serious and violent offenders
  • explanations for offending
  • contextual influences
  • prediction and risk/needs assessments

In addition, the series of bulletins considers legal boundaries between the U.S. juvenile and criminal justice systems, young offenders and an effective justice system response to young offenders, approaches to prevention and intervention, and research and policy recommendations.

15 Common Cognitive Distortions

Grohol, John M., 2011. Common cognitive distortions that are found in the general and offender populations are described. "Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves" (p. 1). Addressing these perceptions can help in changing offender behaviors so they can be more successful in the community. These are filtering, polarized thinking (it’s black or white), overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, personalization, control fallacies, fallacy of fairness, blaming, should, emotional reasoning, fallacy of change, global labeling, always being right, and heaven’s reward fallacy. 025988

What Factors Help Explain Criminality   

Jones, Greg, and Michael Connelly, Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy. 2002. The causes that are most important for explaining or predicting crime and criminality are discussed. Risk factors identified are family history, school performance, peer association, early adulthood, and community.   019221  

Moving from Correctional Program to Correctional Strategy: Using Proven Practices to Change Criminal Behavior

Gornik, Mark. 2001. Strategies to affect offender behavioral change are discussed. Sections of this paper address:  attributes associated with criminal behaviors and recidivism; What Works -- common characteristics; practices associated with effective intervention; criminal thinking -- understanding the logic and rewards; cognitive behavioral intervention -- targeting offender behavior; models of social learning; cognitive programs; programs that incorporate the principle of responsivity; programs that incorporate relapse prevention strategies; sanctions and treatment -- accountability and change; evidence based program structure -- the cognitive community; 12-step (twelve-step) programs and criminal justice treatment; staff as community members and agents of change; organizational and community issues; and therapeutic integrity--maximizing results.  017624 

Inside the Criminal Mind: Revised and Updated Edition

Samenow, Stanton E. Crown Publishers. 2004. The premise that criminals all share the same manner of thinking and that they choose the life they want to have, often as juveniles, is extrapolated on. Topics covered are: the basic myths about criminals; parents don’t turn children into criminals; peer pressure -- no excuse for crime; schools are not to blame either; work and the criminal; people as pawns; ultimate control -- crimes of violence; "zit's thugs not drugs, it’s thinking not drinking"; "getting over on the shrinks" or frequent psychiatric misinterpretations; locked up; the criminal as terrorist -- implications for international terrorism; criminal's self-image; the total failure of the conventional wisdom; coping with criminals -- dusty trails and dead ends; to change a criminal; and 'habilitation' and change.    Copyrighted    020817  

Criminal Psychology: Nature, Nurture, Culture: A Textbook and Practical Reference Guide for Students and Working Professionals in the Fields of Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, Mental Health, and Forensic Psychology

Miller, Laurence. Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, Ltd. 2012. While primarily a textbook, this book is an excellent source of information about the different types of offenders in the correctional system. The content is divided into five parts: the nature and origins of criminal behavior—psychology in the criminal justice system, biological theories of criminal behavior, and psychological theories of criminal behavior; personality, psychopathology and crime—brain syndromes and substance abuse, schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, anxiety and mood disorders, personality disorders, and antisocial personality disorder and the psychopath; the homicides—homicide, serial homicide, and mass homicide such as workplace violence, school violence, and terrorism and political violence; sex crimes and family crimes—rape and sexual assault, sexual offenses against children, child abuse and family violence, and domestic violence; and other crimes and punishments—stalking and harassment, juvenile crime, other crimes, and corrections, the death penalty, and crime victims.  026221

Understanding the Criminal Mind [Lesson Plan] (File Attached)

Filip, Raymond. Connecticut Department of Correction. 2005. This 2-hour training session focuses on criminal intention. Participants will be able to: profile the criminal based upon his or her thinking; define what motivates criminals; and explain how to effectively deal with criminals.  021343

Thinking for a Change (T4C) 3.1

National Institute of Corrections, 2013. The T4C model consists of three components that target change in offenders around social skills, cognitive self-change, and problem solving skills, and include 25 lessons. Order a copy.