For hundreds of generations before psychology appeared on the scene, scientists and philosophers long sought to understand evil and antisocial acts. The first seeds of forensic psychology were planted in 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt, called ‘the father of psychology’ – formed a psychology lab in Germany where he first established experimental procedures in psychology research.
Perhaps you’ve seen the TV shows, “Criminal Minds,” “CSI” or “Bones” which, although highly fictionalized, do give a window of insight into a fascinating world! Forensic psychologists possess extremely valuable skills which help improve not only the criminal justice system, but also our society. Follow on to explore Forensic Psychology: 5 Ways it Helps Society!
Serving as one of the most impactful professions today, forensic psychology is defined by The American Psychological Association as the application of psychology to the criminal and civil justice systems.
It essentially explores the connection between the criminal mind and the legal system. Utilizing tools, ideas and clinical research from psychology and implementing them into complex legal scenarios – forensic psychologists have the critical ability to promote the psychological well-being of criminals, communities, as well as the structures within the legal framework.
1. The Criminal Mind
Forensic Psychology lays the foundation for understanding the criminal mind. Oftentimes, individuals who commit crimes may be under pressure, or not in a stable state of mind when committing the crime.
A forensic psychologist researches the elements of criminal intent. In any criminal case, the ‘intent’ requirement is important in order to find the offender guilty of all elements of a crime. If an offender did suffer from a mental condition at the time of the crime, it may be impossible to form the required intent.
As a result, in this scenario, the criminal may be liable for reduced charges compared to mentally rational individuals. The forensic psychologist’s role would be to assess the questioned criminal’s mental condition, and conclude whether their mental state influenced their decision making – which would then be used to devise a suitable punishment for the criminal offences.
State of mind may also be questioned if the offender was intoxicated or under severe distress during the act, a forensic psychologist will review the evidence and medical history, and testify in court whether the offender had formed criminal intent.
2. Additional Evidence in Court
Statements and testimony given by a forensic psychologist may provide additional evidence to ease the jury’s or judge’s decision-making. Loopholes and lack of evidence may make a case confusing, it is here where forensic psychologists can provide further details, and insights into the criminal’s behavior and their intention of committing the crime.
Forensic Psychologists as expert witnesses can testify about an individual – for both the defendant and plaintiff – who they evaluated and give their opinion on the individual’s cognitive, behavioral, emotional and mental health condition as it relates to the criminal responsibility.
Testifying as an expert witness, a forensic psychologist’s credibility, integrity, and qualifications are often challenged by the opposing party. Attorneys will obtain experts ‘word of mouth’ and challenge the reputation of a forensic psychologist, based on their work, reports, consultations and testimony – therefore; a positive reputation is extremely important.
For this reason, it is recommended that forensic psychologists are comfortable with fielding questions, and working under extreme pressure – as well as meeting qualifications of an expert witness with appropriate education, qualifications, experience, knowledge, training and skills.
A forensic psychology report can be used directly by a solicitor, and is essential to form and strengthen their criminal case.
3. Treatment of Criminals
Therapeutic and counselling services can be offered by forensic psychologists to those who have been offended by violent or sexually motivated crimes. Forensic therapy concerns mental health assessments, evaluations, as well as treatment plans for individuals who are sentenced offenders.
Victims and families could also be involved in the treatment program related to the occurrence of the crime. Forensic psychologists may help the offender examine the reasoning for their behavior, actions committed, and as a result take responsibility, which may help prevent any future crime from reoccurring.
Many criminals who have a disturbed mental state may also be vulnerable to self-harm, or harming other prisoners. Such individuals are put in separate rooms with designated settings depending on their cognitive needs, a forensic psychologist may advise on the appropriate room for the offender, and the most suitable punishment for them.
Individual or group therapy can also be useful in decreasing recidivism rates and aiding inmates who are struggling with substance abuse issues.
4. Influence on the Criminal Justice System
Apart from the treatment of criminal offenders and contributions to criminal cases in the courtroom, a forensic psychologist may influence the actual process of the criminal proceedings. Psychological research for example, helped the justice system understand how important the initial stage of interviewing the potential offender is.
For example, leading questions – words used by the police investigator are important and reflect on how the witness will answer, instead of asking ‘’How ‘big’ was the knife?’’ which already suggests to the witness that the size of the knife could have been big, the more suitable question would be ‘’What size was the knife?’’.
Other research which changed the process of the criminal justice system include how line ups are conducted. When a witness has to determine the criminal based on a line-up, back in the day a lot of innocent individuals would be picked up based on their facial expression for example.
Psychology research helped the justice system conduct them fairly, and correctly to decrease unfairness, mistrials or mistakes which may occur during an investigation.
5. Minimizing Crime
Since forensic psychologists undertake clinical psychology, they are appropriately trained in understanding the behavior of individuals.
They may break down why criminals commit certain crimes, what type of people are more vulnerable to falling into criminal acts, and even potential victims. This information load aids police in methods on how to prevent, or minimize crime from happening.
As for the treatment of criminals, forensic psychologists help minimize crime by offering their counselling services to offenders in an attempt to help, and prevent them from conducting further crimes.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most common method used by forensic psychologists which is effective in changing criminal behavior. Offenders can also be offered Anger Management if they struggle with aggressive emotions and violent behaviors.
Forensic psychology is an incredibly useful field in that its study not only helps understand criminal behavior, but also aids the judicial system, in all its process. From supporting the police in their investigations, advising in the selection of police officers, providing expert evidence to courts, working with criminals, conducting evaluations and interventions, and carrying out research, to sharing it with future forensic psychologists!
It is a vast, yet still-budding career field whose functions are varied, and challenging – but incredibly practical and useful to the criminal justice system, police, attorneys, offenders, families, victims, and communities all around the world.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of forensic psychology? Have you enjoyed TV shows such as “Criminal Minds,” “CSI” or “Bones”? Let us know in the comments below, and join in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!