Youngs, Donna E. and Canter, David V. (2012) When is an Offender not a Criminal: A Comparison of the self report offending of convicted and non convicted respondents. Psychology, Crime & Law. ISSN 1068-316X (Submitted)

Although most theories of the aetiology of crime assume that offenders are a distinct subset of the population, whose offending actions differentiate them from law-abiding citizens, there is considerable evidence that many illegal acts are committed by people who would not otherwise be regarded as criminals. The question therefore arises as to what illegal actions set convicted offenders apart from those who are apparently non-criminal. To answer this question a 45 item self- report questionnaire was administered to a sample of 185 male prisoners and 80 male students with a similar age distribution who explicitly reported an absence of any criminal convictions. The results draw attention to an underlying psychological dimension of Instrumentality that operated across the range of offence forms from violence or stealing to anti-authority acts and drug-taking, distinguishing the acts the convicted criminals committed from those the non-convicted sample were prepared to do. The findings challenge our conceptualisation of criminals and criminality, having implications for what psychological theories of crime should be seeking to explain.

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