Roles of Psychologists in Criminal Justice

The roles of psychologists can differ quite a bit, depending on the part of the criminal justice system where they are working. From your book and additional outside resources, write a three and half page paper describing the roles of psychologists in criminal justice.

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The paper should:

  1. Identify the psychologists’ roles within the legal system (i.e. applied scientist, basic scientist, policy evaluator and advocate).
  2. Provide detailed examples of EACH of those roles in action within each of the following environments:
    • Law Enforcement
    • Corrections
    • Courts system (excluding jury selection)
    • Academia (university setting)
  3. Describe the role psychologists serve as a consultant in the jury selection process. Provide three examples of psychological concepts and describe how they are applied to the selection of juries.
  4. Address at least one common ethical obligation or issue facing psychologists in EACH area above.
  5. Explain how each ethical obligation is overcome and/or mitigated by psychologists by providing specific examples of policies, programs, laws, or regulations that are in place in each area of focus.

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The Roles of Psychologists in Criminal Justice

Whereas law and psychology are separate disciplines but they have so much in common. Veritably, psychology is instrumental to the legal system since it is varied and wide-reaching in the field. Notably, psychologists play various roles in different scenarios within the criminal justice system. This paper reviews the various psychologist’s roles within the legal system and the use of the various roles in different environments.

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Psychologists’ Roles within the Legal System

            There are four key psychologists’ roles within the legal system: applied scientist, basic scientist, policy evaluator, and advocate. As an applied scientist a psychologist is involved in the assessment of individuals to provide clinical judgments. The psychologist uses tools such as interviews and psychometric tests to aid in his/her assessment. The assessments allow the psychologist to inform various sections of the criminal justice system regarding the psychological functioning of an individual. As a basic scientist, a psychologist performs research to inform a case.

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Notably, this role entails carrying out experimental tests aimed to illustrate a point or provide specific information to various components of the legal system. The role can also involve the psychologist providing a given section of the legal system with a summary of contemporary research findings relevant to a case. As a policy evaluator, a psychologist uses his/her expertise to evaluate the effectiveness of a policy. The psychologist act as a consultant to policymakers in different constituents of the legal system whereby they provide research-based information on the potential effectiveness of a policy or strategy. As an advocate, a psychologist advocates for effective treatment, access to needed resources, and the wellbeing of people in the legal system. The advocacy role entails raising awareness regarding underlying issues in the legal system and their possible solutions (Bartol & Bartol, 2018).

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Example of the Roles in Different Environments

            Each of the above-described roles of a psychologist within the legal system can be applied in different environments including law enforcement, corrections, courts system, and academia. As an applied scientist, a psychologist can help assess the psychological status of law enforcement officers to help minimize the likelihood of mistakes. Also, psychologists can help inform the courts system about the mental functioning of an individual to determine if they are fit to stand trial. Additionally, the psychologist can help inform the corrections department about the mental functioning of an inmate to help in making decisions such as qualification for parole. In the academia setting, a psychologist can help evaluate students undertaking courses related to the legal system to determine if they are suited for the field.

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As a basic scientist, a psychologist can conduct research aimed toward helping police officers conduct their jobs much better or the courts system become more effective in doing their jobs to minimize cases of wrongful convictions. A psychologist can also use research results to advise corrections regarding the best approaches to rehabilitate inmates. Moreover, he/she can use his/her expertise to conduct research aimed to bridge gaps in the study of psychology related to the legal system.

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As a policy evaluator, a psychologist can use his expertise to help inform policies related to all components of the legal system including law enforcement, corrections, courts system, and academia. This includes policies such as how to best crime deterrence methods, best punishments for various crimes, best rehabilitation strategies, and how to best teach the various courses related to the criminal justice system.

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Lastly, as an advocate, a psychologist can use their expertise to raise awareness regarding the wellbeing of people in various sections of the legal system including law enforcement, corrections, courts system, and academia. For instance, a psychologist can advocate the need for police officers, judges, correctional officers, and legal scholars to have access to needed resources to make the legal system more effective and efficient.

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Psychologists Serve As Consultants in the Jury Selection Process

            Psychologists use their psychiatric expertise to make evaluations of individuals’ competence to serve as members of a jury in court proceedings. Thus, psychologists are essential to the jury selection process. Three psychological concepts applied to the selection of juries include describing, explaining, and predicting. The psychologists observe and describe the attitudes and psychological functioning of the jurors using various methods including evaluation of attitudes toward the legal system, case-relevant attitudes, and demographic characteristics. The psychologist then goes beyond the obvious to explain what they observe and use the information to predict the potential behavior of the juror in relation to the case at hand. This allows him or her to make conclusions regarding the suitability of a person to serve as a juror based on factors such as bias and psychological competence (Gudjonsson & Haward, 2016). Thus, the evaluation helps a psychologist determine whether an individual is competent to serve as an impartial juror.

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Ethical Obligation

            One common ethical obligation facing psychologists in each of the above-discussed areas is impartiality. When using the above-discussed concepts a psychologist has an ethical obligation to practice impartiality. Psychologists can ensure adherence to the said ethical obligation by upholding the American Psychological Association (APA) ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Principle C (Integrity) of the APA code of conduct categorically states that a psychologist should never attempt to misrepresent or deceive (“Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct”, 2017). Thus, upholding the APA ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct can help psychologists mitigate the issue of impartiality when carrying out their roles.

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