The accent is first of all on the fact (point 1) that the conception of dangerousness is a criminological construct based on the establishment of a causal model within the framework of an objective that is sought. It might be said that this objective is the control of criminal activities and behaviour of groups likely to threaten the social order.
It may be said that this point of view (point 2) makes any multidisciplinary approach relatively gratuitous because it does not allow the different disciplines to carry through their own logic.
The problem is (point 3) to know how to get rid of this notion without criminology losing its justification and the criminologist/practitioner his usefulness.
After a brief review of the criticism leveled at the definitions and use of dangerousness, this article examines how criminol-ogists work with it on a daily basis within the adult justice system.
We first describe the important place it occupies in their practice, notably in their work of evaluating and treating the clientèle. Next we analyze the process by which criminologists effect the social reconstruction of their clients' dangerousness. To do this, we ascertain how criminologists categorize the clientèle as dangerous or not dangerous, and also show the influence of the practice on the process by which criminologists define dangerousness.
Follow-up studies of the physical dangerousness of men released from correctional institutions, mental hospitals and special security psychiatric institutions have indicated that we cannot as yet predict with an acceptable degree of accuracy which men will be dangerous upon release. Because of the methodological and conceptual weaknesses of these predictive studies and their lack of success, as well as the practical difficulties which would arise from not attempting to select nondangerous men for release, a new approach to the problem of prediction is required. Such an approach might profitably make predictions according to how different sorts of offenders respond to various situations. Theories taking into account the interactions between persons and their environment may in future allow tolerably accurate predictions of future assaultive behavior under certain circumscribed conditions.
In this article, we examine how dangerousness is a concept which is now scrutinized in Europe in terms of criminal policy, clinical criminology and criminology in general. On the one hand, new rationales based on the fear of crime shed some light on criminal policy; on the other, the current conceptual crisis in criminology must not lead to a refusal to perceive serious problematic situations which really affect some persons. Social intervention interrogates us in a critical perspective linked to the abolitionist model.
The concept of “dangerosity” as applied to a single individual excludes other forms of social violence.
I) A “mythical” function which names what appears threatening.
II) An “instrumental” function which identifies the so-called Social Disease, legitimizes the violence of incarceration, and pursues the quest for a rationale.
III) A “symbolic” function which points out dangerous individuals in order to set them apart.
The clinician becomes a prisoner of that notion. As an expert he is forced by the judicial process to restrict the psychic reality down to the responsibility and irresponsibility levels. The play-then moves on from the social to the individual scene. Within the institution, he must tell fantasies and reality apart while at the same time — caught in the trap — he becomes the “watcher” of those excluded.
Society asks the clinician to restore its image of a perfect world but when the penalty is applied, it seems likely that it can be traced back to the same drives.