With high-profile role models such as Cracker and Agent Starling in Silence of the Lambs , it is not too surprising that forensic psychology is flavour of the month with psychology undergraduates. Those who persist with their studies to postgraduate level can look forward to ready employment with the police, prison service or Home Office, but few, if any, will ever become "offender profilers". Dennis Howitt's new student text is one of the first to encompass both the forensic (court-based) and criminological (offender-centred) aspects of the discipline. It offers a comprehensive and fair-minded review of this relevant and exciting area of psychology and can be read with profit and pleasure by all psychologists who are drawn to a life of crime.
Howitt's reputation as an experienced writer and teacher ensures that this textbook is exceptionally well structured and comprehensive in its coverage. Much of the literature cited is less than a decade old, with a welcome emphasis on European research. All the traditional topics such as eyewitness testimony, the causes of crime, juvenile offenders, juries and, yes, offender profiling, are covered. A number of new areas of study are also highlighted, including treating and catching sexual offenders; false allegations and confessions; and the special problems children face in coping with the law. Some discussion of the role of the psychologist as an expert witness seems the only significant omission.
The book has been written in modular form, a chapter per topic, so that lecturers can make their own selection, with the certainty that each chapter will be a self-contained unit of knowledge. Each begins by setting out the issues and then presents the evidence, making effective use of bulleted text and boxes that expand on particular facets in greater detail (there is, for instance, an excellent treatment of the recovered memories controversy), culminating with a succinct series of take-home messages. Succinctness sometimes leads to difficult issues not being fully addressed and there is frequently a lack of anecdote with which to leaven the facts. Nonetheless, a generation of students and not a few hard-pressed lecturers will be grateful to Howitt for providing the first all-round British introduction to this emerging discipline.
Graham Davies is professor of psychology, University of Leicester.
Forensic and Criminal Psychology. First edition
Author - Dennis Howitt
ISBN - 0 13 016985 4
Publisher - Prentice Hall
Price - £25.99
Pages - 423