Since the time psychology has become an academic and applied discipline that employs empirical scientific methods of investigation, its areas of influence grew tremendously and the public’s interest and fascination has inspired many TV producers to release successful TV series such as CSI, NCIS, Profiler, Lie to me, etc.
A major contribution of social psychological theory and research was made in the field of Law, Criminal Justice and Offending Behaviour Programmes.
Many applications of social science research were published by Collins in the early 1978, others areas, such as jury selection procedures, jury size, group dynamics in decision making and voting rules, measuring crime, crime reduction programmes, public attitudes towards crime, false confessions, violence and crimes committed by juveniles and/or the mentally ill and other aspects of the criminal justice system benefiting from empirically based research studies, increasing numbers of psychologists acting as witness experts (Oskamp, 1984).
This has lead to a fructuous field of research (Tapp, 1976, 1981; Monahan & Loftus, 1982) with topic based publications by the American Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society alike, such as Law and Human Behaviour, Legal and Criminological Psychology and Journal of Offender Rehabilitation –to name but a few – with an aim to investigate and publish non-clinical law-related research findings on the application and relevance of social psychological theory and research to Law, Criminal Justice and the development of evidence based Offending Behavior Programmes and efficacy investigations.
As explained by Fox (1993), the specialized field of Psychology and Law begun in 1960 and aimed to direct “legal attention to fundamental psychological values such as dignity, privacy, justice, equality, and autonomy” (p.234). The field of critical social psychology aims to shed a light on long-standing issues in mainstream social psychology by taking a radical perspective on topics such as racism, gender discrimination in employment settings and courts, ageism, discrimination towards victimized groups such as children of lesbian and gay parents, sexualized violence against women and children, and other social pressures exerting influence on the ruling of courts. This recognizes that the field of Legal Psychology and Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry exercise a right on public policy making and have the authority to propose and influence the legislation that affects the general population.
Munsterberg (1908) was a major contributor to the field of witness testimony. Findings by Lindsay (2005) indicate that in the case of police line-up and identification even eyewitnesses who are confident in their decision are most likely to misidentify a person.
Although courts utilize psychological theories, and are subject to public and expert scrutiny, it was found that judges and juries are persuaded by eyewitness accounts (Engelhardt, 1999), contrary to current knowledge and empirical findings that show recall of an offensive act is subject to the eyewitness’s personality, intelligence quotient, education, socio-economic background, etc. (Marshall, 1966), the criminal justice system sometimes neglecting or overlooking the advances in cognitive social psychology (Hamilton Krieger, 2004).
There has been an increased presence of elders in the legal system (Brank, 2007), and gerontological research continues to assess the influence of physical and cognitive decline on eyewitness testimony and/or fitness-to-practice.
Bartlett and Fulton (1991); Brimacombe, Quinton, Nance and Garrioch (1997); Bornstein, Witt, Cherry and Greene (2000); Brimacombe, Jung, Garrioch and Allison (2003); and O’Rourke, Penrod, Cutler and Stuve (1989) found the elderly give less accurate information, provided more often misleading false information (Cohen & Faulkner, 1989) and display an increased false recollection of events (Schacter, Koutstaal, Johnson, Gross & Angell, 1997), although other research found that the older eyewitnesses are perceived as more honest (Allison, Brimacombe, Hunter & Kadlec, 2006; Ross, Dunning, Toglia & Ceci, 1990). Research into the effects of acting as a judge or testifying in court as an elder eyewitness has been slow to provide any measure or insight (Brank, 2007).
Psychologists are now present in courts acting as experts on specific topics such as the abuse syndrome – a chronic repetition of violence in some families (Straus, Gelles & Steinmetz, 1980), the effects of parental abuse on personality development, battered wife syndrome, etc., and provide challenging debates on the philosophical concept of free will andthe conventional notion of criminal charges and culpability.
These findings provide evidence to suggests brain dysfunctions can compromise free will(Brass & Haggard, 2007), and raises the necessity of making the Penal System and the Criminal Law consistent with current research knowledge of brain functioning and chemistry. The contribution will lead to an increased and ensured presence of both mainstream and critical social psychology, as well as other fields of psychology such as cognitive psychology and neuroscience in courtrooms, law and rehabilitation programmes as a relevant aid to decision makers and jury deliberation (Hamilton Krieger, 2004).
Fox (2001) acknowledges the presence of bias within the law and reflects on the potential critical social psychology holds in addressing the limiting views of law and sees psychologist as pivotal components in addressing issues of justice and legitimacy, the widely used slogan Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, fraternity/brotherhood) gaining a new meaning that attracts further challenges that seek to reform previous misconceptions of what the law stands for in society.
Other social psychological theory and research application has extended to and made its presence in the law enforcement agencies (Ostrov, 1986). Areas such police staff selection, prevention and treatment of stress-related illness, fitness-for-duty evaluation, hostage negotiation, psychological profiling of criminals such as serial killers, terrorists and/or mass murderers benefiting from the application of social psychological insight of human behaviour and behaviour predictors.
In the UK criminal justice system, the Offender Rehabilitation Programmes are based on cognitive behavioural approaches. As outlined by Green, Lancaster and Feasey (2008), and Hollin and Palmer (2006), the National Probation Service and the Prison Service in the United Kingdom currently offer a variety of social psychological evidence based programmes such as:
Reasoning and Rehabilitation (R&R)
Straight Thinking on Probation (STOP)
Enhanced Thinking Skills (ETS)
Think First, One to One
The Women’s Programme
Aggression Replacement Training
Controlling Anger and Learning to Manage It (CALM)
Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP)
Community – Sex Offender Group Work Programme (C-SOGP)
Thames Valley – Sex Offender Group Programme (TV-SOGP)
Northumbria – Sex Offender Group Programme (N-SOGP)
Drink Impaired Drivers (DIDs)
Addressing Substance – Related Offending (ASRO)
Offender Substance Abuse Programme (OSAP)
Personal Reduction in Substance Misuse (PRISM)
Community Domestic Violence Programme (CDVP)
Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP)
Internet Sex Offender Programme
These techniques are set out to equip the offender with life, interpersonal and professional skills and attempt to prevent and deter recidivism.
Psychologically Informed Risk Reduction includes risk management, treatment programmes that focus on risk factors such as substance abuse, pro-criminal acts and attitudes, and personality disposition and aim to effectively address criminal behavior (Andrews, Zinger, Hoge, Bonta, Gendreau & Cullen, 1990).
Others are based on the social learning principles by reinforcing pro-social behaviour (Trotter, 2006) and non-violence, problem solving skills, anger management programmes, empathy training, etc., that take into account and measure treatment motivation and treatment needs, incorporating Prochaska and Di Clemente’s (1982) cycle of change stage theory (pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, maintenance and relapse) to assess and determine the stages offenders reached in the rehabilitation programme.
Studies by McGuire (1995), Izzo and Ross (1990); Gendreau and Andrews (1990); and Rex (2002) suggest that cognitive behavioural approaches are effective in reducing reoffending.
However, when looking at the big picture from a critical perspective, findings by the Prison Reform Trust (2007) and the Social Exclusion Unit (2002) state that the majority of offenders in the criminal justice system originate from the lower uneducated socio-economic background.
The persistent labelling of individuals such as poor, criminal, or determining a criminal class, etc. attracts social stigmatisation, oppression and discrimination of the groups affected. Stigma is significantly affecting the life not only of a person who has served a prison sentence but also to their family members and/or children.
Although Cavadino and Dignan (2007) found a clear absence of regular official statistics that compare profession and social class in relation to crime and criminal justice, the 2002 Social Exclusion report claims to have assessed the characteristics of prison population to that of the general population, further stating: “Crime is also disproportionately committed by people from socially excluded backgrounds” (http://www.socialexclusionunit.gov.org).
Psychologist have attempted to explain violence and criminal behaviour and provide workable solution for the prevention of antisocial acts, biological theories, genetic predisposition to personality or behavioural styles that promote criminal behaviour, mental illnesses, emotional or hormonal imbalance and parental characteristics and discipline style. Other theories came in the form of the social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) that looks at reinforcement as an explanation for the continuation of criminal behaviour.
Social bonding or control theories (Hirschi, 2002) look at explaining the influence personal values placed on bonds with societal institutions and other individuals. Others have looked at individual differences as a way of explaining the effects of hostility, anger, mental illness – not all individuals with a mental illness such as schizophrenia will commit offences and on the other hand, not all individuals suffering from a mental illness will get diagnosed – on the issue of law, criminal justice and effectively of Offender Rehabilitation Programmes.
However, research continues in the hopes of elucidating the motives, actions and prevention of criminal acts and their impact on the victims, society and the legal system.
The application of social psychological theory and research is of paramount importance to the application of law, criminal justice and Offending Behaviour Programmes.
HM Prison Service issued a statistical statement of expense of approximately £25, 000 per year per capita for every prisoner convicted and serving a sentence.
Crime incidents are costly to the health services and present an economic burden on the National Health Service, violence and crime prevention, violence risk assessment and correctional systems adding to the national expense, without taking into account costs to the police, courts and judges, etc.
Most crimes are not reported to the police and result in an increased public concerns.
It is therefore, the responsibility of both mainstream and critical social psychology theory and research to help devise tools that can be applied effectively in the field of law, criminal justice and offending rehabilitation programmes.
This will aid develop a fair, just and safe society not only for us but also for future generations and citizens must be encouraged to get involved in policy making and to report antisocial criminal acts, trusting complete anonymity and ease for their distress.
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