Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ethical Challenges of Criminal Psychology - Topic Choice


 Criminal psychologists face ethical challenges specific to their field.  Due to working in a prison setting, psychologists are called upon to work in various roles that may challenge the American Psychological Association's (APA) Code of Ethics and General Principles.  At times, functioning as both psychologist and correctional worker, the lines can easily blur, and worse, put the psychologist in the position of Multiple Relationships, Standard 3.05, as well as creating other issues with inmates.

If an inmate shares personal information with the psychologist and later that evening is involved in a "count" during a security lock down, the inmate may lose trust and view the psychologist in the same negative light as he views the Correctional Officers (CO's).

I chose this topic due to my interest in the Criminal Justice and Prison System. I have always found it interesting that we live in a society that is still committed to rehabilitation of our criminals.  No matter what you believe, we do have one of the most forgiving criminal justice systems in the world!  If you don't believe me, just ask anyone who has found themselves locked up in a foreign country and embroiled in years of a ghoulish nightmare to gain freedom, while never having the right to counsel or a fair trial.  Rehabilitation, programs, lawyers, and fair treatment does not exist in many of these foreign prisons. In fact, these prisons violate many Principles of the American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Ethics.

Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence; Principle D: Justice; and very importantly, Principle E: Respect for Other People's Rights and Dignity.  

I feel pretty confident in saying that respect for other people's rights and dignity are not a top priority in these prisons,which leaves our society in gratitude for our criminal justice system and the psychologists that endeavor to enter the prison walls. I believe that the role of a psychologist in prison might be the most challenging role for someone in psychology to pursue.  While you would like to make a difference with a population in need of your services, the ethics that must be followed and overcome must at times, feel insurmountable.

Whether or not you believe that we have a flawed Criminal Justice system, I personally feel it works as well as it can due to the cost of incarcerating an individual, as well as the cost of all the social services involved in providing rehabilitation to each inmate. It is a daunting task in a less than perfect environment.

Hats off to the psychologist's with the courage to make a difference by entering the field of Criminal Psychology.


  1. It is true, that our system is better than most around the world, yet it is still so flawed, and I have read that our percentages of locked up people are so much higher than other countries...why is that? Are we are more violent society? Stricter laws? Your comments made me think about the case of the young woman who was an Italian exchange student, Amanda Knox, and the quagmire she was caught up in, being part of a foreign system. Here is a link to that case:

    One more thought provoking blog entry. Thanks for the hard work, Sheila.

  2. Prison psychology is indeed very complex environment as psychologists are facing inherent multiple loyalties (to institution, clients, society, etc) and therefore are involved in unavoidable or mandatory multiple relationships. See more on the topic at