You would think parole boards would know better. After all, they deal with bad guys all day, every day, and they’re supposed to decide when criminals are sufficiently rehabilitated to return to society. But a study released in January found that when psychopaths in Canada’s prisons were up for parole, they were 2.5 times more likely to win conditional release than non-psychopaths.
The study was conducted by Dr. Stephen Porter from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and published in the Journal of Legal and Criminological Psychology. It looked at 310 men who spent at least two years in a Canadian prison between 1995 and 1997. Most had committed violent crimes.
Ninety of the men were classified as psychopaths. They had committed significantly more offenses than the non-psychopaths. The psychopathic child abusers among them had far more charges and convictions than non-psychopathic offenders.
Yet the psychopaths won the get-out-of-jail-free card much more often than ordinary criminals.
“Despite their long and diverse criminal records and much higher risk posed to the community, psychopaths appear to be able to convince decision-makers throughout the correctional system that they can be reintegrated into society successfully,” Dr. Porter wrote.
Oscar award winning performances
How did they do it? Charm and crocodile tears. The researcher said they put on a good show.
“They use non-verbal behavior, a ‘gift of gab,’ and persuasive emotional displays to put on an Oscar award winning performance and move through the correctional system and ultimately parole boards relatively quickly, despite their known diagnosis.”
And apparently, it wasn’t just the members of the parole boards who were fooled—it was everyone who had any input into the parole decision.
“I don’t want to pick on the (National) Parole Board,” Porter said in an interview. “The parole board gets all kinds of information — therapy reports and case management reports and so on. So psychopaths are probably putting on a good show for everyone.”
What happened after the psychopaths won their freedom? They committed another crime. On average, they offended again and were returned to prison after one year, compared with two years for non-psychopaths.
Let’s not berate ourselves
Dr. Porter says that the parole boards and psychologists need help in dealing with psychopaths.
“We need to acknowledge that training in this area is essential and that objective file information is much more reliable than trying to assess performance in an interview context,” he said.
So here’s the conclusion for us survivors: We should never again berate ourselves for falling for a psychopath. After all, the professionals who dealt with these predators every day, and had access to their criminal files, were just as clueless as we were.
For more information on this study, see: