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Forensic Psychology and the Prison Service

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Forensic Psychology and the Prison Service Psychologists have a part to play in many aspects of prison life, from the training of officers to decisions about the release of prisoners. The range of psychological techniques employed within the prison service is wide. It stretches from assessment using psychological instruments to the delivery of therapy. Modern prison services are likely to have tailored cognitive behavioural programmes for the treatment of sex offenders and some violent offenders. This paper will begin by examining the effect of prison on inmates and whether there are realistic alternatives to incarceration. It will explore the use of cognitive behavioural therapy in the treatment of sex offenders and anger management therapy for violent offenders. There is no consensus about the purpose of prison. The three major views about prison are retribution, utilitarian, and the humanitarian. Retributionists regard the purpose of prison as delivering punishments; utilitarians see prison as part of a process of bringing about changes which reduces the probability of re-offending, and humanitarians see that prisoners often come from backgrounds of deprivation and victimisation so are deserving of rehabilitation. There has been research into whether the experiences of inmates have a regressive impact on mental health. The need for this research stems from alarming figures regarding prison life. For instance, there are higher rates of suicide among prison populations. The risk is especially high during the early stages of imprisonment, as is the risk for psychotic episodes. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the average suicide rate is two per week (Howitt, 2006). ...read more.


and Enhanced Thinking Skills (ETS). The theory on which cognitive skills programmes are based involves an assumption that for some offenders their offending behaviour is linked to a lack of thinking skills, such as interpersonal problem solving, social perspective taking and self-control (Wilson et al, 2003). Research conducted by Ross and Fabiano showed that persistent offenders appeared to lack cognitive skills when compared with less persistent and non-offenders. The two programmes mentioned above have similar objectives and use comparable methods. The curriculum includes teaching problem-solving skills, perspective taking and social skills, creative thinking, moral reasoning, management of emotions, and critical reasoning' (Blud et al, 2003). To pass through the first stage of selection for a cognitive skills programme in HM Prison Service, offenders should either have a current or previous conviction for a sexual, violent or drug-related offence, or they should demonstrate a life-style factor such as serious drug abuse or poor family relationships which indicate they may benefit from the programme. One study conducted by the Canadian Correctional Service showed that there were modest outcome effects at best, with 47% of the sample being readmitted to prison. Critics of this treatment suggest that focusing on developing compensatory strategies to repair 'deficits' in thinking does not allow sufficient account to be taken of the predisposition, choices, opportunities and motivations of the individual, and that it would be more useful to design interventions which focus on providing opportunities to change and develop. ...read more.


There is an important distinction between predictors and causes of dangerousness and risk. Predictors can comprise of simple things such as age, criminal history, or social background. Causes of crime are multiple and complexly interrelated. The HCR-20 violence risk assessment scheme has attracted a great deal of attention. One study examined whether institutional violence could be prevented through comprehensive risk assessments followed by adequate risk management. They concluded that while there was no significant reduction in the risk factors for violence, the number of violent incidents showed a marked decrease. However, no matter how useful risk assessment is within the prison system, its major downfall is that there is no evidence that it is possible to predict serious criminal violence by individuals who have not already committed a violent crime. There appears to be no broad-spectrum, systematic, longitudinal program of study designed to answers the questions regarding the mental state of prisoners during their confinement. The affective, behavioural, and cognitive impact of imprisonment must be examined. Consequently, little can be concluded about the contribution of imprisonment to a prisoner. Within the prison service, cognitive behavioural treatments seem to have a positive effect on both sex offenders and violent offenders. According to Redondo (2002), criminology has demonstrated that punishment may not be effective on all offenders. There are many factors that contribute to crime, including social factors and individual psychological factors. Punishment is unlikely to have much of an influence on such factors. However, there is every reason to believe that prison, so long as appropriate services are provided, can have a limited but significant impact on crime. ...read more.

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