Report to the Governor of HMP Lowdown expressing the multiple uses of forensic psychologists in the Prison service in an attempt to initiate a recruitment drive of psychologists at HMP Lowdown. Introduction to forensic psychology Forensic Psychology has often been defined as being concerned with the application of psychology to police investigations in addition to the procedures of the courts of law and professional practice within the legal system. References to research on behaviour related to legal processes, including criminal behaviour have also been made (Connolly & Mckellar, 1963; Bartol & Bartol, 1987).
However, the APA and the American Psychology-Law Society have come to a joint definition of forensic psychology being: “all forms of professional conduct when acting, with definable knowledge, as a psychological expert on explicitly psycholegal issues, in direct assistance to courts, parties to legal proceedings, correctional and forensic mental health facilities, and administrative, judicial, and legislative agencies acting in an adjudicative capacity” (Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991).
Although this definition of Forensic Psychology includes giving evidence to criminal proceedings as well as research concerning criminal behaviour, forensic psychologists are also concerned with working with offenders; this work can include individual assessments of offenders, interventions in the form of treatment programmes aimed at reducing the chances of prisoners offending again once their sentence has been served and they are released (especially with prisoners who have been given a life-sentence – assessing whether they are able to progress through the categorical system)
There has been a rising demand for forensic psychologists within the HM Prison Service and this has largely been due to the aims of the government to lessen to chances of re-offending by increasing interventions that focus on structured group work. Demand has also risen because of aims to increase individual work with prisoners serving life sentences. Work with lifers focuses on assessing and reducing prisoners’ level of risk with regards to re-offending.
Psychologists are also useful for assisting in the management of suicidal prisoners (Ashmore, 2003). That is not to say that young offenders and juvenile prisoners and even women do not benefit from intervention programmes provided and implemented by forensic psychologists. It is evident that psychologists provide assistance in a wide range of tasks within the prison service.
From a Governor’s perspective, psychologists can be useful in providing assistance to staff, in undertaking tasks by contributing to achievement of objectives outlined in any manifestos prisons may have, thus performing two jobs – the first being the assessment of offenders and training of staff and the second being the performance of other such menial tasks that assist in the administration of order in prisons.
The use of risk-assessment methods and tools by psychologists (often referred to as the multi-modal approach, are skills specific to contributing to the rehabilitation of prisoners. Types of Risk-Assessments psychologists may be required to make. By the identification and accurate definition of appropriate predictor and criterion variables, psychologists are able to assess and predict outcomes such possibility/probability of prisoners re-offending (criterion variables). Risk Assessment work with lifers in particular is an important part of the role psychologists can play in prisons.
In addition to the structured groupwork interventions mentioned before, individual interventions may also be made in the cases of prisoners who perhaps need more attention than is possible to give in group sessions. Risk-assessment also extends to the examination of interventions to try and reduce the number of fights within the prison itself, trying to encourage prisoners not to engage in such conflicts, making them aware that all they are doing is reducing their chances of getting probation earlier than recommended, amongst other things.
According to Miller and Evans (1987) evaluation, prevention and treatment of inmate problems in additions to the contribution to a safe and human manner is the main aim of the work that psychologists do in prisons. These problems are not restricted to mental health disabilities, rather they attempt to address deficits in cognitive, interpersonal and coping skills and concentrate on the development of a more fully rounded individual both inside and outside of the prison. Contributions of psychologists to staff training
Patrick (1992) acknowledges that there is a considerable amount of psychological research that is relevant for the training of staff in prisons. For example, research focussing on the behaviour of individuals in group settings, and the connections between an individual’s attitude and their behaviour, theories of the acquisition of skills and general learning, even the methods through which an individual’s performance on important indicative tasks can be assessed all contribute to making staff more aware of the ways in which they can effectively support prisoners achieve rehabilitation.
Psychologists can assist in the designing of courses in staff training, for example in the training of ‘tutors’ for groupwork intervention programmes and raising the general awareness of the nature and demands of programmes as well as giving expert advice to staff on hostage negotiation training, since they are able to give constructive advice drawn from experience. High levels of expertise in areas such as suicide prevention and working with lifers as well as other general areas helpful to the management of prisons also accounts for the invaluable contributions psychologists can offer in the enrichment of staff training programmes.