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Correctional Officers – Empathy in Psychopaths
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 09/30/2013

Psychopath Correctional employees need to take into consideration that working with psychopathic criminals takes some special management styles and security techniques in order to be an effective supervisor or manager. We must become aware how psychopaths process their minds to the environment and how they pose a significant threat to society as well as everyone inside a large jail or prison. Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another being. One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience accurate sympathy or compassion.

Whether we want to admit it or not they are capable and more likely to inflict more harm or pain to you or anyone else than any other type of inmate you are working with inside the penitentiary. I suggest this includes the mentally ill persons. Take in consideration that research has revealed a significant pattern of behavior that diagnosed psychopaths have “reduced empathy” while witnessing the pains of others or while committing crimes. Research showed that although they can activate their empathic side of the mind, they chose not do so so “automatically” like many others do. Feeling what other feel. Empathy is the ability to not only detect what others feel but also to experience that emotion yourself.

This is very disturbing for the correctional officers and others as it predicts a pattern of behavior that might endanger them immediately upon confrontation of a problem and explain how some of these type of criminals engage in the excessive violent acts with some type of spontaneous action such as gang beatdowns that are ruthless and senseless in nature as well as technique as it is designed to inflict as much pain and harm humanly possible within a very short period of time hoping not to be caught in the act. This also explains “why psychopathic individuals can be callous and socially cunning at the same time.”

This research of the brain conducted on these types of incarcerated psychopaths indicated there are reasonable chances they are more likely to hurt others much unlike those individuals that experience the feeling of empathy automatically. They are capable of inflicting more pain and harm therefore justifying a higher custody level for closer supervision of their behaviors or conduct. Hence we are dealing with a reduced level of empathy and a more spontaneous action that makes them volatile and unpredictable at times.

The research “At first, this seems to suggest that psychopathic criminals might hurt others more easily than we do, because they do not feel pain, when they see the pain of their victims. The brain data suggests, that by default, psychopathic individuals feel less empathy than others. If they try to empathize, however, they can switch to 'empathy mode” and perhaps be able to consider the other person’s feelings better.

The research goes on to say “There might be two sides to these findings. The darker side is that reduced spontaneous empathy together with a preserved capacity for empathy might be the cocktail that makes these individuals so callous when harming their victims and at the same time so socially cunning when they try to seduce their victims. Whether individuals with psychopathy autonomously switch their empathy mode on and off depending on the requirements of a social situation however remains to be established.” The other side may indicate that therapy could impact their ability to engage empathy and do so reducing their violent behaviors and reducing recidivism rates by self-control of their own emotions and actions.


Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Car’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


  1. YogTravel on 11/18/2019:

    Thanks for sharing such a informative post with in the great community you can find such information on Yoga community website too

  2. Hoang Ha on 05/27/2019:

    Hatha Yoga mang nghĩa là hồi phục sự cân bằng giữa ý chí và trí tuệ. Khi đạt tới sự cân bằng và kiểm soát tuyệt đối giữa ý chí và trí tuệ, ý thức của một người sẽ được đánh thức. Kết quả là khám phá sự bình an, mãn nguyện nội tại và sự thông suốt về trí óc. Mục đích sống trở nên rõ ràng hơn, và một người sẽ bắt đầu hiểu về sự sáng tạo. Bạn sẽ tồn tại trong thế giới với cảm giác về sự duy linh, sự tôn thần và sự thông suốt. Đây cũng chính là ý nghĩa trung tâm về mặt tinh thần của Hatha Yoga. Xem thêm về hatha yoga là gì tại Suckhoebabau.co

  3. Squeeze on 10/02/2013:

    I have been beating this drum for ever. Why does society find it unacceptable to have mental institutions where we house these mentally ill people. A place we used to control their enviornment and treat them so as to reduce the danger to society or themselves yet find it perfectly acceptable to house them in jails/prison with minimal control or treatment. I understand there were many abuses in the old "insane asylums" but the mainstreaming of mentally ill into the communities has not worked out well. Our homeless rate has skyrocketed, adequate money wasn't made available for community treatment centers and the crime rate has risen.We pay now or we pay later! We can pay for building these centers where modern treatment can occur or we pay more housing them in the correctional system where treatment is spotty at best. The damage to society is greater when the worst of these are out there hurting people because of their disease than if we committed them to an institution for treatment. This is not to criticize those who work hard to treat the criminally mentally ill but my observations over the last 31 years in corrections tells me the system we abandoned in the 70-80's may have been better for society over the long run. My opinion only.

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