Prison is a rough place for everyone, including the correctional/forensic psychologist. Imagine that you're a psychologist entering a prison with the main goal of providing counseling in an effort to offer rehabilitation as well as re-entry back into society to a specific population. Now, for a moment, also imagine that you will be making recommendations to a parole board that will dictate whether or not the individual remains in prison or is released. Is this an ethical dilemma? I would say so. Most correctional psychologists end up in dual roles which are in complete contrast with the American Psychological Association (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (1992), which warns that "forensic psychologists should avoid participation in any practice that has multiple and potentially conflicting roles" (Decaire).
The role of the correctional psychologist has changed in the prison setting from a treatment focus to security and custodial focus. This shift has created ethical concerns that appear to have large "gray" areas with regard to ethics, causing the psychologist to draw upon his own morals and the general principles of the APA. For example, a psychologist refuses to reveal confidential information he is privy to during therapy with an incarcerated individual to the warden upon the warden's request. The warden's goal is to use the shared information to decide on an appropriate punishment for the individual after his involvement in physical altercations. Had the psychologist revealed this information to the warden, he could be in possible violation of several ethical standards, including 1.01, Misuse of Psychologists' Work; 3.05, Multiple Relationships; and 4.01, Maintaining Confidentiality (Fisher, pg. 53).
The dual role unintentionally begins immediately upon hire of the psychologist when they are mandated to participate in correctional training which is geared toward firearms training, inmate search procedures, and inmate review from a correctional perspective. The Federal Bureau of Prisons Manual (1987) states that in emergency situations, the psychologist's primary function is as a correctional worker, not a psychologist. In many cases, when the prison is short staffed, psychologists find themselves in dual roles by responding to emergency situations and taking head count. When responding to an emergency and functioning in a correctional capacity, Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence - to do good and avoid doing harm, becomes a paradoxical quandary.
In the prison setting, it is important that the roles and boundaries of staff remain clear. When a psychologist is called to function in any role other than therapeutic, the prison population will have a tendency to view them simply as a cop, thus reducing their main role status of psychologist. This can lead to individuals being less than honest during therapy due to fear of retribution or punishment for their honesty.
One of the main issues is the fact that correctional psychological services are categorized under correctional administration and not mental health, thus perpetuating the ethical issues that surround the position. I t is necessary for correctional psychologists to be on high alert for situations that could place them in danger of violating the Code of Ethics and Principles. It is an on-going challenge for psychologists to function in their proper capacity in the prisons and remain effective and ethical at the same time. Vigilance and adhering to the Codes are necessary to be successful in this role.
Ethical Concerns in Correctional Psychology - Michael Declair - Lakehead University
Decoding the Ethics Code, A Practical Guide for Psychologists - Celia B. Fisher (2012)
Ethical and Professional Conflicts in Correctional Psychology - Linda E. Weinberger and Shoba Sreenivasan (1994)