Understanding offending for material gain

Of some importance in work in the probation setting is the preoccupation with material objects, toys, etc., observed in children with anxious-avoidant patterns of attachment. Social relationships, and particularly the personal contact with the mother were apparently devalued by these children. This kind of detachment from personal relationships can often be mistaken for health. It has been noted in observing children’s progression in the grieving process from the overt distress of the protest and despair stages to the stage of detachment, that some carers misunderstood this as recovery. Many a bereaved parent can testify to the way friends and relations can almost conspire to keep his/her grief hidden and sustain a pretence of recovery with a consequent superficial feeling to any relationships. In disputes over access following divorce, the custodial parent can see the lack of distress in the child as healthy and distress as the result of the badness of the party seeking access.

In the criminal justice field, we are commonly encountering persistent offenders who show no signs of distress, are apparently rational and calculating in their offending, and are preoccupied with material gain so that money or possessions are their principal ‘toys’. This can easily be assumed to constitute health and either that the offending is truly rational and instrumental when it is actually fired by powerful submerged emotions, or that the offender lacks motivation to change when the cold rationality in truth reflects a profound anxiety about the probation officer’s attempts to get closer to him.

In negotiating contracts with offenders for their supervision, it is not uncommon for apparently rational sensible agreements persistently to break down for reasons that the client finds hard to explain. For such offenders, material gain becomes a self evident value, calling for no reflection or questioning on their part. Given the disadvantaged impoverished circumstances in which such offenders often live, a preoccupation with material things would seem understandable, quite apart from any attachment anxieties. Nonetheless, the material gains from their offences can be more of a ‘toy’ than something to put to rational use in alleviating any poverty.

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