Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Rough for Everyone In Here...Even For The Psychologists.












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)






11 comments:

  1. Love the topic, love the ethical quandaries you are thinking and speaking about...great first post and love the dark look of the blog for this topic...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cynthia. Thanks for the great feedback and your support.

      Delete
  2. Sheila,
    I love your blog, the layout and design! What an amazing topic! I can't wait to read more...there is some serious business going on here! Well done comrade!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Dr. B. I appreciate the kind comments. I went in on your blog and I am quite impressed. Right back at ya girl!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sheila,
    Great comments and exploratory into the ethical dilemmas of this situation. I wanted to point out that in the PA State Correctional Facilities, the counselor/psychologist is hired as such and guidelines of job descriptions follow that of therapeutic duties. It is in the Federal Prison Systems that this great loss of theories and principals occur, when they want to have their proverbial "cake and eat it too".
    Because of the high risk of potential security breaches in the federal system, they must maintain certain guidelines for safety and security will all employees and contractors. Most inmates in the Federal System, other than White Collar Criminals, are not only a great threat to security, but there is also an exorbitant amount of individuals who are in protective custody as well. As a prospective contractor for employability skills training in a Federal Prison System, I have experienced the persecution and scrutiny of those security measures that are taken even prior to being approved for employment.

    Pam Cicero

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the additional information Pam!

      Delete
  5. Very thought provoking blog so far Sheila!...I have thought upon graduation with at least my Master's to be a psychologist in a prison setting and you gave me many things to think about in regards to conflicts with the APA codes and helping my clients to the best I can. There are people that think rehabilitation doesn't work because the inmates being institutionalized I strongly disagree with this thinking. Great work!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Excellent blog. I am attempting to start one of my own. Hopefully it won't take me all night. I enjoyed reading. Keep up the excellent work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good Luck Kim! Thanks and I know you'll do a great blog. I'll watch out for the listing. Happy blogging.

      Delete
  7. I can not imagine the stress level, being an ethical psychologist in a prison setting, so many layers of complexity...another great entry.

    ReplyDelete
  8. You are absolutely correct Sheila, when you write about the dual role of the correctional psychologists and the dual focus on security and treatment with a primary focus on security and custodial focus. This is similar to military setting where the primary focus is 'combat readiness' not the welfare of the individual. I have posted a resources page on this very topic at http://www.zurinstitute.com/dual_relationships_prison_resources.html which would add support to your blogs.

    ReplyDelete