Inside the mind of a psychopath

These interspecies predators use charm, manipulation, imitation and violence to control others and satisfy their own selfish needs, ACA session told

By Erin Hicks
CorrectionsOne Associate Editor

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Psychopaths make up just 1 percent of the general population, but around 15 to 20 percent of the prison population, meaning if you haven't come across one already, you're bound to meet one soon.

Broadly defined as interspecies predators, psychopaths often use charm, manipulation, imitation and violence to control others and satisfy their own selfish needs, said Dean Aufderheide, Ph.D., M.A., Director of Mental Health Services with the Florida Department of Corrections.

But what makes them so dangerous is that any attempt at treatment will make them more likely to commit crimes and develop better manipulation and deceptions then if they were never treated at all, Aufderheide told a session at The American Correctional Association convention in Kissimmee, Fla.

In general, the characteristics of a psychopath are:
• Lack of conscience or empathy
• Average or above in intelligence
• Grandiose/superficial charm
• General disregard for rights of others
• Extreme sensation seeking behaviors

There are three sub types of psychopathic profiles inmates can fall under, the session was told:

Primary: Controlled and deliberate; aimed at power and control; dominant; show little emotions or feeling.

Secondary: Impulsive and angry; lack of conscience as a result of psychosocial factors such as parental abuse; capable of some empathy; shame and resentment.

Dyssocial: Learned behavior based on affiliation and environmental circumstances. Often seen amongst gang members, those in a cult, or within terrorist organizations.

He said about the rates of psychopaths is 6 to 10 percent for pedophiles, 35 percent for rapists, and 64 percent for those who sexually aggressive against both children and adults.

While there is no treatment, the best solution to dealing with this type of inmate is to identify they as a psychopath early on and contain them so they do minimal harm to staff and other inmates, Aufderheide said.

They are twice as likely as other offenders to be sent back to prison upon release, and three times more prone to violent recidivism. Not only that, but they are four times more likely to commit a violent offense after treatment release from an intensive treatment community.

You can't control what they do out of your system, but when they are inside there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your coworkers.

To better handle psychopaths in your system, Aufderheide said to keep your eyes open. "Don't be blind to their need to control through deception. Be on guard against flattering statements," he said.

Understand that this type of inmate is looking to exploit your weak spots for their own personal gain. Never share any personal information with inmates—and especially not with a psychopath.

"Try not to be influenced by props like a winning smile, soothing voice or emotionless gaze. Understand that nonverbal mannerisms are really sleight-of-hand efforts to influence and distort your judgment. Offender's revering eye contact is not necessarily an indication of concern or interest but an attempt to establish dominance and control.

"They are skilled at exploiting weak spots. If you're a sucker for flattery or feel unappreciated or lonely, you are vulnerable," Aufderheide said.

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