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Interventions for Leaving a Violent Relationship
Violent Relationships continuing education psychologist CEUs

Section 23
Improving Clinical Prediction of Violence:
Environmental Approaches

CEU Question 23 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Despite its early stage of development, much may be learned from the study of environments in terms of predicting individual violence. The following are what appear to be the best candidates for situational or environmental correlates of violent behavior that potentially can be of use for prediction in the individual case. The first three can be conceptualized either as environmental "support systems" used by an individual for coping with life stress (President's Commission on Mental Health 1978), or as the sources of the life stress itself (see chapter 5).

One of the best predictors of whether released mental patients will survive in the community without being rehospitalized is the degree of support provided by their families (Fairweather, Sauders, and Tornatzky 1974). As Stone (1975, p. 13) stated, "A principal social function of the law-mental health system is to provide technical care for those individuals who are temporarily or permanently extruded from society's principal caretaking unit, the family. The wisdom and morality of this extrusion and the quality of this technical care are the bedrock problems of the law-mental health system."

In the case of violent behavior, the family context is crucial since family members are so frequently the victims of violent behavior (Monahan, l977b). Skodol and Karasu (1978), as noted previously, found that, in 77 percent of emergency commitment cases in which the patients admitted to actively considering violence, the victims were family members. The frequency of violence in police family-crisis interventions has been well documented (Bard 1969; Driscoll, Meyer and Schanie 1973).

The family environment may be critical because of its role in supporting or discouraging violent behavior on the part of the family member whose behavior is being predicted. The probability of a person being violent may be greater if he or she resides in a family that encourages robbery as a career and where violence by other family members is a frequent occurrence, than if he or she has support and models for nonviolent modes of interaction and needs satisfaction. Though their prior records may be the same, the probability of recidivism of a released offender living with grandparents on a farm may be substantially less than that of another offender living with alcoholic friends in an inner city.

There is an enormous sociological literature on "peer group influences" on behavior, particularly adolescent behavior. Likewise, numerous psychological studies attest to the effects of one's friends as behavior models (Bandura 1969). There is, in addition, ample folk wisdom about the effects of "getting in with the wrong crowd" on criminal activity. Gang violence is probably the paradigmatic case of peer-induced harm. To the extent that a person's violent behavior in the past has occurred in a particular social context (rather than "as a loner," for example), it may be important to ascertain whether the same peers who encouraged previous violence are likely to provide similar encouragement in the future. The person returning to the same friends who participated in the last robbery may have a greater likelihood of future violent crimes than the person who has broken contact with a criminally oriented support group.

There is a growing body of research on the effect of employment upon criminal behavior, although the research generally does not separate violent from nonviolent crime (Monahan and Monahan 1977). At monthly intervals, Glaser (1964) interviewed a sample of 135 parolees released from Federal institutions in 1959 and 1960. In comparing the job holding activity of the men who completed parole with that of men returned to prison, he found that the eventual successes acquired their first jobs sooner, and during the initial period of parole, earned a higher monthly income than did the eventual recidivists.

Cook (1975), studying 327 male felons released from Massachusetts prisons in 1959, found that 65 percent of those who held a "satisfactory" job (defined as a job which lasted 1 month or more) during the first 3 months of parole were eventually successful in completing an 18-month parole period compared with a 36 percent success rate among those who did not have a satisfactory job during the first 3 months. Seventy-five percent of parolees holding a satisfactory job during the second 3 months of parole were eventual successes, compared with 40 percent of those who did not hold a satisfactory job. Eighty-nine percent of those having a satisfactory job at the end of their first year on parole completed the parole period without revocation, while only 50 percent of those not satisfactorily employed successfully completed their term of parole.

Cook (1975) also found that steady job holding was related to parole success, while frequent job changing increased the likelihood that a parolee would recidivate. The probability of recidivism during the second 3 months on parole increased directly with the number of jobs held during the first 3 months, from 11 percent recidivism when one job was held to 43 percent when five jobs were held. While such data do not prove a causal relationship between employment and crime (since some third factor may cause both the reduction in recidivism and whether one is employed), it would appear that holding a job that is both satisfying and supportive reduces the probability of recidivism for at least some criminal offenders.

Violence, as Toch (1969) has emphasized, may be thought of as an interactional concept. It takes two for a murder to occur. Clearly, some persons are relatively indiscriminate in the victims they choose. Mergargee (1976, p. 8) quotes a steel worker interviewed by Studs Terkel in Working: "All day long I wanted to tell my foreman to go fuck himself, but I can't. So I find a guy in a tavern; to tell him that. And he tells me too . . . He's punching me and I'm punching him, because we actually want to punch somebody else" (Terkel, 1974, p. xxxiii). Consistent with the frustration aggression hypothesis and theories of displacement, it is likely that both parties to this dispute would have found other "victims" had they not chanced upon each other.

There may be other types of individuals who are quite specific in their choice of victim and will not be violent other than to a given victim or class of victims. Spouse murderers, for example, have a very low recidivism rate since they have removed their source of irritation. Incest offenders may desist when their children grow up. The now famous Tarasoff case (1976) is a clear example of victim specific violence (Roth and Meisel 1977; Wexier 1979). A client revealed in therapy his intention to kill a woman who had rejected his romantic interests. The client then committed no violent acts for 2 months while the woman was on vacation. Shortly after she returned home, he murdered her. As Shah (1978) has noted:

Decision-makers may wish to know whether the dangerous acts are more likely to occur against some particular persons (e.g., a spouse or girl friend, the individual's own children, or a neighbor with whom longstanding conflicts have occurred); and/or against some broader group of people (e.g., minor boys or girls in the case of a pedophile, adult women in the case of certain exhibitionists or rapists, etc); and/or a more dispersed segment of the community (e.g., the likely victims of "purse-snatchings" and other street robberies, potential victims of recidivistic drunken drivers, etc.) (p. 180).

Finally, the presence of weapons has long been held to be a situational instigation to violent behavior (Berkowitz and LePage 1967). Equally importantly, weapons may influence not the occurrence but the severity and lethality of violent behavior (Newton and Zimring 1970; Zimring 1977). The difference between assault and murder frequently revolves around whether the offender had a knife or only a fist at his or her disposal. The difference between murder and attempted murder likewise is often determined by whether the offender has access to a gun or a knife.

Just as the possession of the "means" to commit suicide is a frequently used predictor of suicide (Beck, Resnick, and Lettieri 1974), so the person who reveals possession of a household arsenal may be more likely to harm another than the individual without such means of destruction.

The evidence linking the excessive use of alcohol to violent behavior was noted in the last chapter. There is a great deal of literature on criminology relating the high frequency of violent behavior in and near bars and taverns (e.g., Wolfgang 1958). At least for those persons whose previous violent behavior has been associated with a state of intoxication, the easy availability of alcohol and the presence of a support group which encourages its excessive use (drinking buddies) may constitute a high-risk context for the occurrence of violent behavior.
- Monahan, J., PhD. (1998). Predicting Violent Behavior. London, England: Sage Publications.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 23
What concept is gang violence probably the best paradigmatic example of? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Test.

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