Encouraging Harris-Moore?

Brain Diagram

I just posted this on another blog that asked what we could be doing to encourage Colton Harris-Moore to live a more responsible life. Feel free to join the discussion at http://catchthebarefootbandit.wordpress.com/. Healthy, respectful discussions can lead to great things.


I’m fine with being the lone dissenting voice on this view if that winds up being the case. I’ll stick to my guns about Harris-Moore needing an in-depth evaluation by a qualified forensic psychologist for the public’s sake as well as his own. This should factor into his sentencing, along with expert testimony.

Some will question if the responsibility of the prison system is to rehabilitate offenders or punish them. Some crime victim advocates believe that the criminal justice system’s focus should be on the victim(s) and restitution–improving the victim’s situation–rather than trying to improve the criminal.

*If*—please note the emphatic caveat—Harris-Moore is found by an expert to be a psychopath (lacking empathy, no real conscience), then forget about rehabilitation. Many people with pathological personalities in general, not just the psychopaths (including some narcissists, antisocials, borderlines), cannot be loved or encouraged into change. That not what effects change. Often they create the appearance of change to get what they want, but the change is unlikely to last.

The book Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior, edited by the renowned Dr. Theodore Millon and others, says:

In many jurisdictions, it is not uncommon for a trial judge to accept expert testimony that a defendant convicted of a serious crime is a psychopath, and then to sentence the defendant to a prison where he or she “can receive treatment.” The uninformed views of such judges and the anecdotal evidence of those who run prison programs notwithstanding, there is little convincing evidence that psychopaths respond favorably to treatment and intervention (see Dolan & Coid, 1993; Hare, 1993; Losel, 1996, 1998; Suedfeld & Landon, 1978). This does not mean that the egocentric and callous attitudes and behaviors of psychopaths are immutable, only that there have been no methodologically sound treatment or “resocialization” programs that have been shown to work with psychopaths (see the next section). Unfortunately, both the criminal justice system and the public are routinely fooled into believing otherwise. As a result, many psychopaths take part in all sorts of prison treatment programs, put on a good show, make “remarkable progress,” convince the therapists and parole board of their reformed character, are released, and pick up where they left off when they entered prison.

I’m very wary of how Harris-Moore’s attorney has emphasized his client’s naivety, youth, innocence, and certain child-like habits. It detracts from the more serious aspects of his crimes—setting a fire in front of a child, pointing a laser sight (possibly on a gun) at a homeowner, possibly shooting at police. It makes it easier to feel sorry for him and his horrible upbringing. At a certain point, though, we need to turn off our sympathy sensors and evaluate offenders in an objective manner that weighs the risks and benefits to society. His childhood and family did not make him do this; he made a series of unlawful choices.

The reason I have come out swinging on this issue repeatedly is that I’m afraid that our emotions and sympathy have been and will be manipulated into going easy on this guy to the detriment of the victims and the public. Those of us who had challenging childhoods or who strongly empathize with abused and neglected children can be played by low to no conscience types. We want to save them. Instead, if they are pathological, or worse, have no real conscience, then ultimately we need to focus on saving ourselves, not them.


The most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.
-Martha Stout

©2011 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

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