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Behavior Patterns

Natalia J. Garland

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Death comes to Joseph Smith. The 39-year-old father of three girls was sentenced to death for his crimes against 11-year-old Carlie Brucia. The death penalty was recommended by the jurors (in a 10 to 2 vote) in Sarasota, Florida, after five hours of deliberation on December 1, 2005. The same jurors had, on November 17, 2005, also after five hours of deliberation, convicted Smith guilty of: (1) murder in the first-degree; (2) sexual battery of a child less than 12 years of age; (3) kidnapping with infliction of bodily harm.

As I wrote previously in my essay, Violation of Probation , what is striking about Joseph Smith is his criminal history. He had a record of arrests and charges dating back to 1993 in Sarasota County, had been released from prison in 2003, and was in jail for another crime when he was arrested for Carlie Brucia's murder.

How did it happen that Smith repeatedly committed crimes, but was free to abduct, rape, and strangle a young girl? Who was responsible for evaluating Smith's history and determining his ability to live in harmony with society? The criminal justice system must improve both its methodology and accountability. Laws must be enforced, changed or enacted to protect citizens from repeat offenders who show no ability to learn from consequences, to rehabilitate, and to live without harming others.

As mental health workers, we are responsible for writing a detailed psychosocial history of our patients. Not only do we encourage discussion of feelings, but we also look for concrete information. Whether we are treating a victim or an offender, we need to ask questions which penetrate the behavioral context of alcoholism and addiction, domestic violence and other forms of abuse, and arrests and convictions. We must notice connections, repetitions, progressions, and any inconsistencies in the information shared with us.

Many facts can be obtained by asking questions that begin with who, what, why, where, when, how. Below is a list of question starters that might be helpful in obtaining information.

  • What happened?
  • When did it happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • With whom _____?
  • Why were you/they/he/she there?
  • How is _____?
  • How is it that _____?
  • How much _____?
  • How often _____?
  • What was the least _____?
  • What was the most _____?
  • How many times _____?
  • What kind of _____?
  • Where did you get the _____?
  • When did it begin?
  • When was the last time it happened?
  • How long did it last?
  • What was the sequence of events?
  • What happened next?
  • Who else was there?
  • What did they do?
  • Who/what were the major _____?
  • Which one _____?
  • How old were you when _____?
  • What year was it when _____?
  • How would you describe _____?
  • How would you explain _____?
  • What examples could you give of _____?
  • What was the purpose of _____?
  • How was _____ connected to _____?
  • What was the relationship between _____?

An unofficial rule for assessing behavior patterns is this: once is an isolated incident, twice is a pattern. This is more applicable to crimes such as D.U.I.'s. It is possible that someone could get a D.U.I. for reasons of excessive drinking on one occasion, something very out of character for that individual. But, a second D.U.I. would very likely indicate alcohol addiction. A pattern has already been established. Patterns need to be taken into consideration when forming diagnoses, treatment plans, and recommendations.

There are, of course, some behaviors which should not be tolerated even once: murder and other forms of violence, including sexual assault. We do not need to see a pattern of murders to know that such a person is a danger to society.

Let us keep in mind that not all unacceptable or criminal behavior results in arrest or conviction. An individual may have driven while intoxicated many times before getting his first D.U.I. He got caught once, but may have had severe alcoholic problems for many years. Asking the who, what, why, where, when, how questions can help to uncover what lies beneath the official record of actual evidence.

Another tip is to ask the same questions again. If the patient is lying or concealing information, he will have to remember his lies in order to repeat them. If you listen carefully, he will probably confuse his lies somewhere in the interview process. Also, when soliciting facts, the patient is relying on memory. Reviewing some of the questions and answers with him may help to clarify his recollection of stressful events.

Questions must be asked with all the tact and skill expected of mental health workers. This is not an interrogation, but the building of a trusting therapeutic relationship between patient and worker. (Written 12/05/05: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2005 Natalia J. Garland