Written exclusively for Joinnia.com by Arianna Commons
American psychologist and attorney Dr. William Marston made an impact on forensic psychology by creating the systolic blood pressure test, signifying that a person’s blood pressure rises when they are telling a lie. This led to the development of the polygraph machine.
Today, the lie detector test has become an essential part of ascertaining an individual’s honesty. In the same way, psychiatrist James Brussel was contacted by investigators to come up with a criminal profile based on psychological ideas to help solve the “Mad Bomber,” George Metesky case that had dragged on for 16-years.
When it comes to the law, the power of psychology cannot be underplayed. That is why there is always a growing need for more experts in said field; their understanding of the human mind and behavior can help deliver justice.
Understanding Psychologists Role in Criminal Justice
Mental health professionals and experts who fall under the spectrum of criminal and forensic psychology study the behaviors and motivations that drive criminals to commit crimes. Often, knowing why people commit crimes can deter others from following in the same footsteps in the future. Motives such as poverty, personality type, and even genetic makeup can all be factors that drive people to break the law. Professionals also study psychological changes that happen to convicted criminals. For instance, prison systems and long-term incarcerations can cause negative psychological effects on inmates. This is counterproductive considering that such systems are in place for rehabilitation.
The need for psychology in criminal justice has become even more crucial at this time of social unrest. The murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, drew widespread outrage across the country. The perpetrator, convicted white ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, was part of the Minneapolis PD. Since 2012, Minneapolis PD failed to administer psychological testing on its police recruits. This meant they were essentially handing badges and guns to officers who could potentially be psychologically inadequate to hold down such important positions.
This is also something that mental health and psychological experts can help with; their presence in law enforcement can teach crisis intervention training by educating officers on de-escalation tactics and peaceful interventions. Instead of heavily-armed police, law enforcement and emergency respondents should be accompanied by specially trained mental health experts who can intervene in a crisis. This model is already being adopted by police stations in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The police agency underwent a program led by experts, who trained officers in interacting with mentally-ill individuals in de-escalating a situation through psychological means. This can potentially reduce the number of arrests and violent altercations between perpetrators, emergency respondents, and civilians.
Psychology Education for Criminal Justice Professionals
Fortunately, there are now more psych-related criminal degrees that focus on blending psychological principles and the criminal justice system, which can hopefully be a norm for anyone who has to enforce the law. Case in point: Forensic psychology degrees determine likely suspects via a mix of crime-scene analysis, investigative psychology, and other behavioral sciences. These programs also allow individuals to work closely with victims and offenders, and conduct valuable research that can further today’s knowledge on criminal psychology.
There are also agencies and organizations that push for development in said field. The Society for Police and Criminal Psychology (SPCP) encourages input from psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and other professionals and applies scientific knowledge to problems in criminal justice. The SPCP also holds yearly conferences to tackle challenges and current issues. On a larger scale, the ACCOP, or the Asian Conference for Police and Operations Psychology, offers workshops and presentations on a variety of public safety topics. Law enforcement and public safety officers, academics, behavioral scientists, and students from different countries are all encouraged to attend.
The field of criminal justice is continuing to expand, and psychology has proven itself to be a crucial part of it. Individuals seeking to make this their specialty area will no doubt be able to find a place within the system, as new roles and responsibilities are being developed. Consider contacting a criminal psychologist in your area to learn more, and doing a bit more research on what it takes to deal with this line of work.