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Female Inmates Less Likely to Report Sexual Abuse if it is Perpetrated Repeatedly

Bivariate and multivariable mixed effects logistic regression analyses were used to examine individual, assault, and context-level predictors of reporting on 397 incidents of staff sexual misconduct. The final model revealed that 6 predictors (age at time of assault, physical injury, multiple incidents, perpetrator with multiple victims, the year the abuse began, and the number of years women have left on their sentence) account for 58% of the variance in reporting. Disclosure to inmate peers and/or family and friends was significant in the bivariate results. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2017, Vol. 41, No. 4, 361-374

Sexual Misconduct in Prison: What Factors Affect Whether Incarcerated Women Will Report Abuses Committed by Prison Staff?

Authors

Sheryl P. Kubiak, Michigan State University
Hannah J. Brenner, California Western School of Law
Deborah Bybee, Michigan State University
Rebecca Campbell, Michigan State University
Cristy E. Cummings, Michigan State University
Kathleen M. Darcy, University of Chicago
Gina Fedock, University of Chicago

Abstract

More than 80,000 prisoners each year are sexually victimized during incarceration, but only about 8% report victimization to correctional authorities. Complicating reporting is the fact that half of the perpetrators are staff members. Given the restrictive and highly regulated prison environment, studies that examine reporting behaviors are difficult to conduct and to date information available relied on those who have reported or hypothetical victimization studies. This study uses an ecological framework and archival data from a class action lawsuit of sexual misconduct to determine predictors of reporting. Relying on a subsample of 179 women, chosen because they have all experienced at least 1 penetration offense, we use bivariate and multivariable mixed effects logistic regression analyses to examine individual, assault, and context-level predictors of reporting on 397 incidents of staff sexual misconduct. The final model revealed that that 6 predictors (age at time of assault, physical injury, multiple incidents, perpetrator with multiple victims, the year the abuse began, and the number of years women have left on their sentence) account for 58% of the variance in reporting. Disclosure to inmate peers and/or family and friends was significant in the bivariate results. These findings indicate the need for stronger and more systematic implementation of Prison Rape Elimination Act guidelines and remedies that create and enforce sanctions, including termination, for staff violating policy and state law.

Keywords

incarcerated women, Prison Rape Elimination Act, reporting, staff sexual misconduct

Summary of the Research

“Given the growing national attention to the issue of sexual assault within prison settings and the national implementation of federal guidelines for the prevention and reduction of such assaults mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), it is important to understand what factors influence the reporting of sexual assault during incarceration…Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore what factors predict whether women who were sexually assaulted by staff while in prison report the abuse in an effort to inform and enhance the implementation of PREA” (p.362).

“The current literature suggests that individual, assault, and contextual factors affect victims’ decisions to report a sexual assault to authorities in noninstitutional environments. Some research suggests that similar factors may shape reporting decisions for incarcerated and nonincarcerated victims,,.however additional research is needed to explore factors unique to the prison experience and to enhance our understanding of the dynamics that affect prison reporting. The salience of studying these dynamics is particularly poignant when the primary authority figures that prisoners report to are staff members, in this case, also the same group that is perpetrating the victimization” (p.364).

“Logistically, reporting sexual victimization in prison requires the victim to notify an officer or other departmental staff. Per PREA standards, any notification of sexual victimization to departmental staff – whether verbal or written – sets in motion policies and procedures for staff reporting the incident to others in authority…For this study, records from a specific class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of victimized incarcerated women within one state, were used…the cases in this class action lawsuit constitute a sample with a naturally occurring comparison group: incarcerated women who experienced sexual assaults but did not report the abuse to prison authorities and those who experienced assaults and did report the abuse” (p.364).

“The aim of this study is to explore what differentiates the two groups of women by asking these specific research questions: (a) What individual, assault and contextual factors predict reporting sexual victimization within prison? (b) What combination of predictors produces the strongest model for predicting reporting by incarcerated women?…within this sample, we saw much higher frequencies of reporting. In fact, 112, of the 179 (62%) women reported at least one incident of sexual misconduct by a male staff member, a rate much higher than would be anticipated given the national data and previous research” (p.364-370).

“Of the individual level factors, only victim age was significant. In contrast to community studies, where older women are more likely to report than younger women, we found that age was negatively associated with reporting among these incarcerated women…Unlike the community based studies there were no differences found in reporting by race. These results indicate that there is not a distinct profile of incarcerated women who are more likely to report staff sexual misconduct. Assault-level characteristics showed multiple significant relationships while reporting. One key finding, mirroring community-based research, is that assaults that involved physical injury were more likely to be reported…Similarly, assaults that occurred multiple times by the same officer were less likely to be reported, and – as the bivariate analysis suggests – assaults involving an aspect of resource dependency for women were also less likely to be reported…Thus, addressing staff sexual misconduct may require considering safety for women in prison and reevaluation of the levels of and types of deprivation within correctional settings” (p.370-371).

“Pertaining to the contextual variables, the bivariate analysis demonstrated that women were more likely to report with the passage of time and after particular historical events, especially after the initial lawsuit was filed. However, once the linear time trend was controlled for, there were no additional effects of the individual policy changes…women were more likely to report in later years as compared with earlier…In addition, one variable at the victim-in-context level, years left to serve, was found to predict reporting in the final model. In particular, having to serve 12 or more additional years in prison lowered the likelihood of reporting…Disclosure of victimization,” to either peers within prison or friends/family outside of prison, “was associated with reporting” (p.371).

Translating Research into Practice

“Future research may focus the role of time and the range of abuse incarcerated women experience before reporting; in other words, time could be given special attention in terms of pinpointing crucial incidents that contribute to reporting decisions…Future research may consider life history calendars with women in prison in order to understand the timing of women’s experiences of staff sexual misconduct, including forms of retaliation over time. Similar to this study, mixed methods research may particularly provide insight into not only reporting decisions but also a richer depiction of women’s experiences of staff sexual misconduct” (p.370).

“Likewise, given abuse involving a sense of consent or dependency may go underreported and may occur several times over a woman’s stay in prison, interventions are needed that disrupt and ultimately prevent recurring sexual abuse by staff. Although prisons commonly forbid even overfamiliarity between officers and prisoners, improved policy implementation and monitoring may help detect staff perpetration tactics that rely on presenting abuse as ‘consensual’ and those tactics exploiting women’s lack of access to material goods…In addition, best practices for correctional institutions are needed for identifying and removing any correctional staff perpetrating multiple incidents over time. Thus, future research may examine successful institutional efforts to eradicate, prevent, and effectively respond to staff sexual misconduct. Interventions focused on staff, such as bystander interventions for correctional staff, may particularly help unravel, uncover, and disrupt the dynamics that allow correctional staff to perpetrate assaults against multiple prisoners” (p.371).

“Thus, for practice and policy procedures, peer support intervention models both within correctional settings and for support networks for incarcerated women may help improve formal reporting rates. These types of interventions could target both peers within correctional settings as well as family and friends of those who are incarcerated, and incorporate types of responses to provide to disclosures, education on formal reporting pathways, ways of advocating for correctional responses, report retaliation, and other types of activities to promote, facilitate, and protect the process of formal reporting” (p.371).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Taken together, these findings point to disturbing aspects of underreported staff sexual misconduct, yet also highlight key directions for improving reporting of this abuse. As a concerning dynamic, staff sexual misconduct that happens repeatedly to an incarcerated woman and abuse by officers perpetrating assault across multiple prisoners are less likely to be formally reported. Likewise, this abuse is likely to be insidious or occurring without causing additional physical violence. However, this type of abuse contributes to the epidemic nature of sexual victimization in prisons that prompted and propels PREA. Coordinated systematic efforts are needed to understand ongoing staff sexual misconduct and to improve formal reporting for this type of abuse” (p.371-372).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Amber Lin

Amber Lin is a volunteer in Dr. Zapf’s research lab at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated from New York University in 2013 with a B.A. (honors) and hopes to obtain her PhD in forensic clinical psychology. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.

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Psychopathy ≠ untreatable: Comorbid psychopathy in forensic psychiatric patients

Psychopathy is associated with greater therapy-interfering behavior, with PCL-R Factor 2 predicting institutional misconduct and PLC-R Factor 1 predicting dropout from treatment. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2017, Vol. 16, No. 2, 149-160

Forensic Psychiatric Patients with Comorbid Psychopathy: Double Trouble?

Authors

Inge Jeandarme, Knowledge Center Forensic Psychiatric Care (KeFor)
Claudia Pouls, Knowledge Center Forensic Psychiatric Care (KeFor)
T. I. Oei, Department of Criminal Law, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands
Stefan Bogaerts, Forensic Psychiatric Center the Kijvelanden, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Abstract

Patients with psychopathy need intensive care and supervision. There is however reluctance to treat them because of (supposedly) limited chances of success and risk of therapy-interfering behavior. This study focused on inpatient disruptive behavior in mentally disordered offenders during medium security treatment. Patients (N = 224) were assessed using the Psychopathy Checklist- Revised total, factor and facet scores and divided into three groups depending on the presence of low, medium, and high psychopathy traits. Associations between psychopathy and criminogenic risk and need factors were analyzed. Additionally, the association between psychopathy and therapy-interfering behavior (non-compliance, drop-out, institutional misconduct) was investigated with correlational and logistic regression analyses. The results showed that psychopathy was associated with greater risk, needs, and therapy-interfering behavior. PCL-R Factor 2 predicted institutional misconduct, whereas PCL-R Factor 1 predicted drop-out from treatment. The study highlights the importance of responsive treatment climates in retaining this difficult-to-treat group in treatment.

Keywords

PCL-R, psychopathy, forensic psychiatric patients, internees, therapy-interfering behavior

Summary of the Research

“Under Belgian law, internment is a safety measure for offenders who are found not guilty for reason of insanity (NGRI). As in other countries, this specific legislation allows mentally disordered offenders (MDOs) to be transferred to (forensic) psychiatric facilities for mandatory treatment. In line with research on non-mentally ill offenders, antisocial and/or psychopathic personality traits are also strong risk factors for recidivism in MDOs. Comorbid psychopathic traits in MDOs are associated with more impulsive and coercive and less compliant interpersonal styles, premeditated aggression, and poor criminal outcomes.” (p. 149)

“Furthermore, it is generally believed that high levels of psychopathy guarantee a problematic course of treatment and thus present a serious challenge for therapists. Skeem, Manchak, and Peterson (2011) compared these patients with poor students in the classroom: verbally combative, hostile, prone to break rules, and not motivated to cooperate with treatment. According to Wong, Gordon, and Gu (2007), one of the most daunting responsivity factors in treatment is treating unmotivated, non-adherent and treatment-resistant clients such as many patients with psychopathy or (antisocial) personality disorder.” (p. 149)

“Meta-analytic research findings in different settings— including forensic psychiatric settings—have indicated that the PCL-R total score is associated with broadly defined institutional misconduct (rw = .29) and to a lesser extent, with physical violence (rw = .17). PCL-R Factor 2 was moderately predictive of institutional adjustment, whereas Factor 1 showed a less robust association. Of the PCL-R’s four facet scores, Facet 4 was the strongest and most incrementally valid predictor of institutional aggression in forensic psychiatric settings.” (p. 150)

“Given the abovementioned problems with non-compliance and institutional misconduct and the resulting security concerns, the increased treatment drop-out rates may not be surprising. A meta-analysis performed by Olver, Stockdale, and Wormith (2011) found that having an antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy (both the diagnosis and dimensional PCL-R scores) predicted attrition. In male sex offenders, PCL-R Facet 2 showed significant unique contributions to drop-out, whereas none of the other facets did. In female patients with substance abuse, a shorter treatment stay was associated with PCL-R Factor 1 personality characteristics.” (p. 150)

“The objective of this study was to investigate the relations between psychopathy measured with the PCL-R and indicators of therapy-interfering behavior, namely institutional misconduct, non-compliance and drop-out from treatment. We controlled for other risk/need factors because these may contribute to the associations of interest.” (p. 150)

“The following categorical variables were considered indicators of therapy-interfering behavior (TIB) during inpatient treatment: (1) treatment drop-out, (2) non-compliance, and (3) institutional misconduct. Non-compliance was defined as a report to the CPS that the treatment rules had not been respected (such as the use of alcohol during treatment or failure to cooperate with treatment). Institutional misconduct was defined as (1) absconding (such as escaping from the institution or absconding from supervised or unsupervised leave), (2) violating individually formulated judicial conditions, and (3) engaging in offense related behavior, which was defined as incidents coded under offending categories in the Belgian penal code, regardless of whether they led to further prosecution or sentencing.” (p. 152)

“In the current study, psychopathy was significantly associated with greater risks, needs and TIB. PCL-R Factor 2 predicted institutional misconduct, whereas PCL-R Factor 1 predicted drop-out from treatment.” (p. 155)

“Considered together, our findings support other research stating that treatment should focus on criminogenic PCL-R Factor 2 features while also carefully accounting for PCL-R Factor 1 characteristics to keep patients in treatment.” (p. 156)

“Although it is understandable that clinicians often prefer highly motivated and compliant low-risk patients, the RNR model states that most resources should be deployed to treat more difficult, less compliant patients. Forensic mental health professionals therefore face a great challenge. They must tolerate difficult interpersonal behavior, such as hostility and manipulation, and control their countertransference while still motivating forensic patients who seemingly do not want to change or even stay in treatment. This is clearly not an easy task, but as shown by international research, it is not impossible. Difficult-to-treat should not become synonymous with untreatable.” (p. 158)

Translating Research into Practice

“Therapeutic settings involved in the treatment of MDOs with psychopathic traits face major challenges. Psychopathy is linked to institutional maladjustment, lack of motivation, early drop-out from treatment, and slower progression as well as poor treatment outcomes, for example, in terms of reducing recidivism. The behavioral manifestations of these traits can significantly interfere with treatment, as they impede the formation of a good working alliance and therefore must be appropriately managed. The current study found support for the two-component model proposed by Wong, Gordon, Gu, Lewis, and Olver (2012). The Criminogenic component, or Factor 2, was significantly associated with greater criminogenic need/risk factors and institutional misconduct and reflected an established pat- tern of antisocial behavior and dysfunctional lifestyle both inside and outside the institution. While the Criminogenic component should be the focus of forensic treatment, the Interpersonal component, or Factor 1, is equally important. Factor 1 was significantly associated with drop-out and can thus also contribute to poor out- comes if TIBs are not appropriately managed. As noted by Wong et al. (2012), it is important to distinguish between using risk reduction versus personality change interventions when designing and implementing treatment programs (p. 157).

“[A]s observed, psychopathic and other personality disorder traits in MDOs may be barriers to forensic psychiatric treatment and can lead to premature interruption or discontinuation of treatment. Clinicians are advised to develop a responsive treatment climate with staff and management who are willing to invest time and effort in these personality disordered patients (for good practices, please see Bulten & Decoene, 2015). Instead of viewing poor motivation as a contraindication to treatment, motivation should be evaluated and innovative treatment studies should be designed to enhance individual’s motivation for treatment.” (p. 157)

“A meta-analysis revealed that treatment responsivity indicators such as disruptive behavior during treatment and negative treatment attitudes were among the strongest predictors of increased attrition rates, while higher levels of motivation and treatment engagement predicted decreased attrition. Therefore, it is also important to measure progress in therapy in a uniform manner, with tools specifically developed for thera-peutic measurement, such as the Instrument for Forensic Treatment Evaluation (p. 157).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“When comparing the groups with low, medium, and high psychopathic traits, a small significant difference was found, indicating that patients with more psychopathic traits were less compliant. However, when investigating the correlations between the PCL-R total, factor, and facet scores and non-compliance, no significant associations were found, which contradicts other research reporting associations with PCL-R total, Factor 1, and Factor 2 scores. The differences in the operationalization of non-compliance may have contributed to these different findings. Additionally, it should be noted that in the current study, non-compliance might have been underreported.” (p. 156)

“[L]imitations of this study warrant caution when interpreting and generalizing the current findings. First, the PCL-R scores used in the current study were field validity scores with a low IRR. This finding is generally consistent with a growing body of field research that suggests that the high levels of reliability reported in many controlled research studies are not generalizable to practice. However, it calls into question how reliable clinical scores truly are.” (p. 156)

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Authored by Kenny Gonzalez

Kenny Gonzalez is currently a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. His main research interest include forensic assessment, specifically violence risk. In the future, Kenny hopes to obtain a Phd in clinical forensic psychology and pursue a career in academia and practice.

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Quality of Parent-Child Relationship—Not Parental Conflict—is Best Predictor of Outcomes for Children in Custody Arrangements

In determining custody arrangements, parental conflict has been overrated, and parent-child relationships are more closely linked to child outcome. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2017, Vol. 23, No. 2, 211-231

Re-examining the Research on Parental Conflict, Coparenting, and Custody Arrangements

Authors

Linda Nielsen, Wake Forest University

Abstract

This article addresses 4 questions: First, how much weight should be given to parental conflict and the quality of the coparenting relationship in determining parenting time—specifically with respect to children’s living at least 35% time with each parent in joint physical custody? Second, to what extent are low conflict and cooperative coparenting connected to better outcomes for children? Third, to what degree are children’s outcomes linked to whether their parents take their custody disputes to court or have high legal conflict? Fourth, is joint physical custody associated with worse outcomes than sole physical custody for children whose parents have a conflicted, uncooperative coparenting relationship? Recent research does not support the idea that conflict—including high legal conflict—should rule out joint physical custody as the arrangement that best serves children’s interests. Parents with joint physical custody do not generally have significantly less conflict or more cooperative relationships than parents with sole physical custody. Conflict and poor coparenting are not linked to worse outcomes for children in joint physical custody than in sole physical custody. The quality of the parent–child relationship is a better predictor than conflict of children’s outcomes, with the exception of the most extreme forms of conflict to which some children are exposed. While continuing our efforts to improve parents’ relationships with one another, we should become more invested in helping both parents maintain and strengthen their relationships with their children.

Keywords

coparenting, divorce conflict, custody conflict

Summary of the Research

“Parental conflict and the quality of the coparenting relationship generally play pivotal roles in child custody evaluations and court decisions, especially with regard to children’s living with each parent at least 35% of the time in joint physical custody (JPC). When separated parents have considerable conflict and get along poorly as coparents, it is often assumed that their children cannot benefit from JPC and may, in fact, have worse outcomes than if they lived in sole physical custody (SPC) with one parent” (p. 211).

“In addressing this issue, this paper focuses on four questions: First, to what extent do low conflict and a cooperative coparenting relationship benefit children? Second, do children whose parents are in high legal conflict or who take their custody disputes to court have worse outcomes than children whose parents reach a custody agreement without high legal conflict? Third, if children live with each parent at least 35% of the time in JPC, are the outcomes significantly better if their parents have little to no conflict and work closely together as a friendly coparenting team? That is, are conflict and poor coparenting more strongly associated with worse outcomes for children in JPC than in SPC families? Fourth, do JPC parents have significantly less conflict and more communicative, cooperative coparenting relationships? If we base our answers to these questions on outdated, flawed, misrepresented, or incomplete data, then we are allowing the conflict and coparenting ‘tail’ to wag the custody ‘dog'” (p. 211).

“To be clear, the question addressed in this paper is not whether chronic, poorly managed conflict that frequently and directly involves the children is linked to worse outcomes for children. The question is how much weight the conflict and cooperation in the parents’ relationship with one another should be given in determining which parenting plans are the most likely to benefit the children” (p. 213).

“Articles were then selected on the basis of whether they had statistically analyzed quantitative data that addressed any of the five questions presented at the outset of this paper. All 44 studies identified through this search were included. In addition, the three published papers where a group of experts have made recommendations regarding JPC and SPC in situations where the parents had conflictual, uncooperative relationships were included” (p. 213).

“The assumption that, unless parents have a low conflict, cooperative relationship, the children will fare more poorly if they have frequent contact with their father or if they live in a JPC family seems to have originated from five studies in the 1980s. […] These beliefs are reflected in custody laws which have historically restricted children’s time with their fathers to every other weekend and occasional vacation time” (p. 213).

“[L]ow conflict and collaborative coparenting at the time of separation and in subsequent years are the bedrock of JPC arrangements. If these assumptions are correct, then whatever positive outcomes for children might be linked to JPC may in fact be linked to the low conflict and cooperation, not to living with each parent at least 35% of the time” (pp. 215-216).

“The alternative and more recent perspective is that conflict and the quality of the coparenting relationship should not be such pivotal issues, especially when the children have—or would be able to develop— supportive, loving relationships with their parents” (p. 216).
“[I]t is a mistake to assume that JPC will be more harmful than SPC for children whose parents were physically abusive toward one another when they lived together” (p. 217).
“The complicated links between conflict and the quality of children’s relationships with their parents is also related to whether the children are caught in the middle of the conflicts. Perhaps all three variables interact: the overall level of conflict, being caught in the middle, and the quality of the parent–child relationship” (pp. 225-226).

Translating Research into Practice

“Overall, high legal conflict or custody hearings have not been found to be reliable measures of how much conflict exists between the parents, how damaging the conflict is to the children, or whether the children could benefit from JPC. This is an important finding because negative assumptions about parents with high legal conflict could lead to custody decisions that restrict children’s time with one of their parents, or that deny them the possible benefits of JPC” (p. 218).

“[S]even of the nine studies fail to support the belief that JPC couples have significantly less conflict than SPC couples at the time they are separating. In two studies, however, the JPC couples did have less conflict than SPC couples. Overall then, conflict is not closely linked to whether the parents have a JPC or a SPC arrangement” (p. 220).

“[A]fter accounting for parental conflict, in 16 of the 17 studies JPC was linked to better outcomes for the children on most measures and was not linked to worse outcomes on any measure. To be clear, these studies did not conclude that high, ongoing conflict had no impact on children or that JPC erased the negative impact of intense conflict involving the children. What these researchers did find is that, even after accounting for conflict, children in the JPC families had better out comes on almost all measures. These findings are extremely important because they refute the claim that JPC cannot be linked to better outcomes for children unless the parents have a low conflict, amicable, collaborative relationship” (p. 222).

“[T]here is not strong support for the belief that high conflict and poor coparenting are closely associated with worse outcomes for children. This is not to say that being dragged into or exposed to ongoing, frequent, high conflict will not be linked to worse outcomes for children when they have close relationships with their parents. But the bulk of the research does not support the belief that the level of conflict is more strongly linked to the outcomes than is the quality of the parent–child relationship. Nor do the data support the generalization that JPC should only be considered appropriate for parents who have low conflict, cooperative relationships or only for parents who resolve their custody disputes without high legal involvement or custody hearings” (p. 224).

“[T]hese studies concur that conflict and coparenting interact with the quality of the parent–child relationships. […] Conflict and coparenting should be considered in the context of the children’s relationships with their parents” (p. 225).

“[T]he best research currently available suggests that the quality of the parent–child relationship is more closely linked than parental conflict or the quality of the coparenting relationship to children’s outcomes, with the exception of the most extreme forms of conflict to which some children are exposed” (p. 228).

“[T]he data strongly support the idea that the quality of the parent–child relationship is the best predictor of future outcomes for the children. In other words, the role of conflict has too often been exaggerated and should not be the determining factor in child custody decisions or in regard to JPC arrangements except in those situations where the children need protection from an abusive or negligent parent” (p. 228).

“While continuing our efforts to reduce parent conflict and to improve the coparenting relationship, we should be equally—or perhaps even more—invested in helping both parents strengthen their relationships with their children and improve their parenting skills” (p. 228).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“As previously emphasized, this paper’s discussion of conflict does not apply to the 10%-12% of parents with a history of ongoing violence and severe emotional and physical abuse that has traditionally been referred to as ‘domestic violence’ or ‘battering.’ And as already explained, one of the limitations of the research on ‘violence’ or ‘physical abuse’ in the literature on custody is that the studies do not differentiate between the various types of physical conflict” (p. 217).

“Naturally we cannot draw conclusions from only two studies. But at the very least, we should be aware that no quantitative data yet exist to support the assumption that children whose parents contest custody have significantly worse outcomes than children whose parents agree at the outset on the custody arrangements” (p. 218).

“How common is low conflict and cooperative coparenting for couples with SPC arrangements? The research from the past several decades is robust and consistent: most SPC parents do not have low conflict, cooperative relationships” (p. 218).

“[C]ouples with JPC do not have substantially less conflict than SPC couples at the time they are separating or in subsequent years. […] Still, most JPC couples did not arrive at their custody plan because they were getting along so much better than SPC couples at the time they were separating. Nor are JPC parents a ‘special’ atypical group who have a low conflict, collaborative relationship in the years following their separation” (p. 221).

“[T]he quality of the parents’ relationship with the children mediates the association between conflict and children’s well-being” (p. 224). “Even for young adult children, the quality of their relationship with their parents can mediate the link between being caught in the middle and feeling stressed or dissatisfied” (p. 226).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Rosanne Libretti

Rosanne Libretti is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She received her BA in psychology and anthropology from Brandeis University. Her research interests include forensic assessment and psychopathy.

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Predictors of Reconviction in Lithuanian Offenders using the MMPI-2-RF

Good evidence was found for the construct validity of the MMPI-2-RF in a sample of Lithuanian offenders, with scale scores differentiating between various offender groups in a manner consistent with conceptual expectations. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2017, Vol. 41, No. 5, 494-505

Utility of the MMPI-2 Restructured Form (MMPI-2-RF) in a Sample of Lithuanian Male Offenders

Authors

Ilona Laurinaitytė, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
Alfredas Laurinavičius, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
Laura Ustinavičiūtė, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania
Dustin B. Wygant, Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky, United States
Martin Sellbom, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Abstract

The aim of the current study was to examine the construct validity of the Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 Restructured Form (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory [MMPI]-2-RF; Ben-Porath & Tellegen, 2008/2011) in a correctional setting. More specifically, we examined the associations between MMPI-2-RF scales with external variables relevant for sentence planning as well as the relationship with risk of reconviction assessed with the Offender Assessment System (OASys; Home Office, 2002). A random sample of 228 male offenders from Lithuanian custodial institutions was selected for the study. The results revealed that MMPI-2-RF scale scores differentiated offender groups classified on the basis of external variables, such as history of suicide attempts, violent offending, use of drugs, violence under the influence of alcohol, and early criminal onset, in a manner consistent with conceptual expectations. Moreover, Behavior/Externalizing Dysfunction (BXD), Antisocial Behavior (RC4), Juvenile Conduct Problems (JCP), Substance Abuse (SUB), and Disconstraint-Revised (DISC-r) scale scores evinced correlations with OASys scores that were moderate in magnitude. Results from regression analyses showed that MMPI-2-RF scale scores accounted for approximately 21% of variance of OASys risk of reconviction scores. Overall, the findings provide support for the utility of the MMPI-2-RF in Lithuanian correctional institutions.

Keywords

MMPI-2-RF, OASys, offender assessment, risk of reconviction

Summary of the Research

“The current research was designed to evaluate the construct validity and utility of the most recent version of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the MMPI-2 Restructured Form (MMPI-2-RF), which is one of the most common assessment tools in forensic and correctional psychological practice internationally,” and “research has found that the MMPI-2-RF effectively assesses various forms of internalizing, externalizing psychopathology, and personality disorder symptoms” (pp. 494-495).

“[T]he current study focused on the validity and utility of the MMPI-2-RF in assessing a range of important variables … External variables selected for analysis were: (a) history of self-harm, attempted suicide, suicidal thoughts or feelings; (b) history of committing a violent crime; (c) history of drug misuse; (d) violent behavior related to alcohol use at any time; and (e) first conviction at any court prior to age 18. Information related to external variables was present in OASys assessment forms” (pp. 495, 498).

“The goals of the current study … were to elaborate on the construct validity and utility of the MMPI-2-RF in a sample of incarcerated Lithuanian offenders. First, [researchers] investigated the utility of the MMPI-2-RF to differentiate groups of offenders on the basis of various external variables … A second goal of the current study was to examine the concurrent associations between MMPI-2-RF scales and a measure assessing risk of reconviction, the Offender Assessment System (OASys), which was deemed important as risk of reconviction evaluations are routinely conducted in Lithuanian correctional institutions. More specifically, the aim was to identify MMPI-2-RF scales that uniquely contributed to the prediction of OASys scores, and to determine the proportion of variation of risk of reconviction scores that could be accounted for by variation in MMPI-2-RF scale scores” (p. 496).

“MMPI-2-RF scale scores accounted for up to 21.1% of the variance in OASys risk of reconviction scores … [These] findings provided good support for construct validity, including in association with actuarial risk of reconviction scores, and indicate that this omnibus personality measure can be used in Lithuania to formulate important clinical impressions of incarcerated male offenders” (p. 499).

Translating Research into Practice

“[A] number of the MMPI-2-RF scales evaluate different aspects of behavioral dysfunction and problems of undercontrolled behavior, which should be related to risk of reconviction. For this reason, the results from MMPI-2-RF assessments can potentially provide valuable prognostic information … MMPI-2-RF results can provide valuable information for final risk judgment in these types of violence risk measures” (p. 496).

“[T]he OASys provides an indication of actuarial static risk, whereas most MMPI-2-RF scales reflect constructs that are more dynamic in nature. Many risk assessment tools rely on both sets of factors and the MMPI-2-RF provides for objective assessment of psychopathology (e.g., psychosis, depression) and maladaptive personality traits (e.g., emotional instability, impulsivity) to inform (corroborated by other information sources) risk ratings on the dynamic factors within such tools” (p. 502).

“[R]esults confirmed the utility of this scale as well as that of other behavioral dysfunction in differentiating offenders with early versus late onset to criminal conduct. These findings are important as early criminal onset is one of the most influential factors predicting future criminal behavior, and it is routinely used as an independent variable in multivariate models relating to problem behaviors and delinquency over the life course” (p. 501).

“[C]orrectional psychologists can benefit from MMPI-2-RF scale scores to generate information regarding substance abuse problems, anger, antisociality, and violence. Assessment of criminal offenders is important in several respects, such as to manage risk of self-harm in offenders, aggression to other offenders, to evaluate the risk of reconviction, and to provide appropriate treatment to match offenders’ needs” (p. 502).

“[T]he MMPI-2-RF can be useful in identifying offender characteristics associated with potential suicide risk … Moreover, suicidal offenders were also characterized as having more problems in emotional and behavioral domains. The observed differences confirm theoretical assumptions that those who attempt suicide are characterized as having more expressed emotional dysfunction” (pp. 499-500).

“The results indicate that offenders with a history of drug use are more antisocial, have more problems of undercontrolled behavior, are more aggressive, extroverted, assertive, and their behavioral problems start earlier … However, MMPI-2-RF scales from the behavioral dysfunction domain did not differentiate offenders who engaged in violent behavior under the influence of alcohol from those who did not. Rather, these offenders had higher scores on a number of emotional, somatic, and thought dysfunction scales” (p. 501).

“[B]ehavioral problems should be taken into consideration when formulating risk, particularly if these findings are cross-validated in a prospective design. Emotional and cognitive dysfunction problems have also appeared to be related to risk of reconviction scores. Higher riskof reconviction scores were related to higher levels of general unhappiness and dissatisfaction, inefficacy, suicidal thoughts, and complaints about cognitive problems … indicating that higher risk of reconviction is related to higher levels of psychopathology” (p. 501).

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Eliza Kopelman

Eliza Kopelman is a first year master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2015 with her B.A. in psychology and English from Brandeis University, and then went on to work as a community residence counselor at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA before coming back to school. Eliza’s research experience is on levels of psychopathy in sex offenders, and her professional interests include crime scene analysis and violent risk assessment.

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Examining the Validity of Risk Assessments in Predicting General, Nonsexual Violence in Sexual Offenders

This study, published in Law and Human Behavior, provides implications with respect to the accurate assessment of institutional violence risk within a sex offender population. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2018, Vol. 42, No. 1, 13-25

Predictive Validity of HCR-20, START, and Static-99 Assessments in Predicting Institutional Aggression Among Sexual Offenders

Authors

Joel K. Cartwright, North Carolina State University and RTI International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
Sarah L. Desmarais, North Carolina State University
Justin Hazel and Travis Griffith, California Department of State Hospitals–Coalinga, Coalinga, California
Allen Azizian, California Department of State Hospitals–Coalinga, Coalinga, California, and California State University, Fresno

Abstract

Sexual offenders are at greater risk of nonsexual than sexual violence. Yet, only a handful of studies have examined the validity of risk assessments in predicting general, nonsexual violence in this population. This study examined the predictive validity of assessments completed using the Historical-Clinical-Risk Managment-20 Version 2 (HCR-20; Webster, Douglas, Eaves, & Hart, 1997), Short-Term Assessment of Risk and Treatability (START; Webster, Martin, Brink, Nicholls, & Desmarais, 2009), and Static-99R (Hanson & Thornton, 1999) in predicting institutional (nonsexual) aggression among 152 sexual offenders in a large secure forensic state hospital. Aggression data were gathered from institutional records over 90-day and 180-day follow-up periods. Results support the predictive validity of HCR-20 and START, and to a lesser extent, Static-99R assessments in predicting institutional aggression among patients detained or civilly committed pursuant to the sexually violent predator (SVP) law. In general,
HCR-20 and START assessments demonstrated greater predictive validity—specifically, the HCR-20 Clinical subscale scores and START Vulnerability total scores—than Static-99R assessments across types of aggression and follow-up periods.

Keywords

HCR-20, Static-99R, START, risk assessment, sexual offender

Summary of the Research

Background
“Structured risk assessment protocols have become integral components of the criminal justice system, as part of efforts to mitigate the potential risk to public safety, as well as strategies designed to rehabilitate offenders. One subgroup of offenders for which this is especially true is sexual offenders. Indeed, many jurisdictions mandate the use of risk assessment instruments with sexual offenders to assist in making decisions regarding placement, treatment, and other management concerns within the institutions. As a result, the use of instruments designed to inform assessments of institutional aggression among sexual offenders is common practice in correctional and forensic psychiatric settings” (p. 13).

“Accordingly, much empirical attention has been focused on testing the psychometric properties and establishing the validity of assessments completed using these instruments for predicting sexual violence in this population. Overall, findings of the extant research provide overwhelming support for the validity of risk assessment tools in predicting sexual recidivism . . . In contrast, less empirical attention has focused on the assessment of risk for general (nonsexual) aggression among sexual offenders, and institutional aggression specifically, which is the focus of the present study” (p. 14).

“While the importance of assessing risk for sexual recidivism is without question, sexual offenders demonstrate higher rates of nonsexual violent recidivism than rates of sexual recidivism . . . Many sexual offenders are hospitalized for very long periods, particularly under SVP laws. Thus, risk of aggression posed by sexual offenders against staff, peers, and property within the institution is a pressing safety and risk management concern. Consequently, the accurate assessment of institutional violence risk within sexual offenders would benefit case management and treatment, as well as assist in decisions regarding supervision and release. However, there has been limited evaluation of the validity of assessments completed using tools designed to forecast general (nonsexual) violence risk among sexual offenders” (p. 14).

“Meta-analytic research shows that many violence risk assessment instruments can have good validity in predicting violence. Research also shows that instruments developed for predicting violent offending perform better than those developed to predict sexual or general offending. When risk for general violence is assessed among sexual offenders, tools designed to evaluate risk for sexual recidivism, such as the Static-99R, are frequently used rather than tools designed to evaluate risk for general (nonsexual) violence. However, the HCR-20 and, most recently, the START are two risk assessment instruments now used to assess risk for general violence in this population” (p. 14).

Current Study
“This study examines the predictive validity of the HCR-20 and START assessments, as well as Static-99R assessment, in predicting institutional aggression in a sample of 152 male sexual offenders. Our specific aims were to: (a) examine the distribution of HCR-20, START, and Static-99R assessment scores and risk estimates; (b) evaluate concordance among the HCR-20, START, and Static-99R assessments; and (c) test the predictive validity of the HCR-20, START, and Static-99R assessments in predicting institutional aggression over 90 and 180 days” (p. 15).

Results
“Overall, almost a quarter of the sample engaged in some form of aggression during the 90-day follow-up period and over a third of the sample at 180-day follow-up . . . Across both START and HCR-20 assessments, very few patients were rated as high risk for violence (4.1% and 6.5%, respectively). Using the HCR-20, the majority were rated as low risk (67.4%); few were rated as moderate (26.1%) or high (6.5%). START final risk estimates showed a similar pattern of results: most participants were rated as low risk (83.7%), followed by moderate (12.2%) and high (4.1%). The Static-99R risk classifications demonstrated an inverse pattern of results, with more than half of participants classified as high risk (54.5%). Approximately one third (32.1%) were classified as moderate risk by the Static-99R, and relatively few (13.4%) as low” (p. 17-19).

“Associations were moderate to strong between START Strength total scores and Vulnerability total scores, and between HCR-20 subscale and total scores. Conversely, START Strength and Vulnerability total scores were weakly associated with Static-99R scores, if at all. The HCR-20 and START risk estimates showed moderate agreement. There were no instances in which a patient was identified as high risk on the HCR-20 or the START and low risk on the other instrument, and both HCR-20 and START assessments showed similar distributions of violence risk estimates” (p. 19).

“Over the 90-day follow-up period, HCR-20 total scores predicted all forms of aggression except physical aggression toward objects. The HCR-20 Clinical subscale score was the most predictive of the HCR-20 subscales, predicting all forms of aggression. All three HCR-20 subscale scores and total score predicted both any aggression and verbal aggression. START Strength total scores predicted all forms of aggression with the exception of physical aggression toward objects. START Vulnerability total scores predicted all forms of aggression. Static-99R total scores predicted any aggression and verbal aggression, but not physical aggression toward others or toward objects” (p. 19).

“We found significant discrimination among participants classified as low compared with moderate and high risk on the HCR-20 for any aggression, verbal aggression, and physical aggression toward others. For example, those rated high risk on the HCR-20 were almost 20 times more likely, and those rated as moderate risk were over 4 times more likely, to engage in any aggression compared with those rated as low risk. For physical aggression toward objects, there was only significant discrimination between those classified as low versus high risk, but not moderate versus high risk. For the START assessments, there was significant discrimination among participants classified as low compared with moderate and high risk for any aggression and verbal aggression. To demonstrate, those rated as high risk on the START were almost 15 times more likely, and those rated as moderate risk were over 7 times more likely, to engage in any aggression compared with those rated as low risk. For physical aggression toward objects, significant discrimination was only found for those identified as low versus moderate risk. START violence risk estimates did not discriminate among participants in the prediction of physical aggression toward others. Statistics for Static 99-R risk categories could not be calculated due to empty cells” (p. 19-20).

“Over the 180-day follow-up period, HCR-20 Clinical and Risk Management subscale scores, as well as the HCR-20 total score, predicted all outcomes, with one exception: Historical subscale scores were not associated with physical aggression toward objects. START Vulnerability total scores showed strong predictive validity across outcomes. START Strength total scores predicted any aggression and verbal aggression, but not physical aggression toward others or toward objects. Static-99R total scores showed moderate associations with any, verbal, and physical aggression toward others, but not physical aggression toward objects” (p. 20-21).

“HCR-20 risk estimates predicted all forms of aggression during this time frame, with the greatest discrimination appropriately found between those estimated as low and high risk. To demonstrate, those estimated as high risk using the HCR-20 were over 20 times more likely to engage in any or verbal aggression, over 70 times more likely to engage in property damage, and almost 15 times more likely to engage in aggression toward others compared with those classified as low risk. In contrast, we did not find discrimination between those rated low versus high risk on the START. However, those estimated as moderate risk using the START were approximately 8 times more likely to engage in any or verbal aggression, over 12 times as likely to engage in physical aggression toward objects, and over 3 times more likely to engage in physical aggression toward others when compared with those classified as low risk. For the Static-99R, ORs were significant for only one comparison: those classified as high risk on the Static-99R were almost 5 times more likely to engage in verbal aggression than those classified as low risk” (p. 21).

Translating Research into Practice

“Although we may have anticipated ceiling effects on the HCR-20 subscale and total scores, and START Vulnerability total scores, as well as floor effects for the START Strength total scores, in our relatively homogenous sample of male sexual offenders, this was not the case. Instead, assessments made use of the full range of possible scores and violence risk estimates for both HCR-20 and START ratings. This finding suggests that HCR-20 and START assessments may be useful for distinguishing between patients more or less likely to engage in aggressive behaviors even within a somewhat homogenous, high-risk population. They also suggest that HCR-20 and START assessments may be useful for informing supervision decisions and risk management strategies (e.g., identifying which patients require higher security levels)” (p. 21).

“Further, we found high rates of concordance between the results of HCR-20 and START assessments, but low rates of concordance among HCR-20 and START total scores with Static-99R total scores and high rates of discordance among HCR-20 and START total scores with Static-99R. These patterns of results are not surprising, given that both instruments were developed to predict violence risk over the short-to-medium term. In contrast, the Static-99R is designed to predict sexual recidivism over much longer time frames. Nonetheless, these findings indicate that the HCR-20 and START are measuring constructs and risks that are distinct from those measured by the Static-99R. And, as such, they support the use of the HCR-20 and START in addition to the use of the Static-99R in clinical practice with sexual offenders. Indeed, results of the predictive validity analyses provided stronger support for the use of the HCR-20 and START, compared with the Static-99R, in assessing risk for different forms of institutional aggression among sexual offenders” (p. 21-22).

“Consistent with prior research examining the predictive validity of the HCR-20, HCR-20 assessments performed well across outcomes. Like prior studies, however, the HCR-20 Historical subscale demonstrated the lowest levels of predictive validity of the HCR-20 assessment components and failed to predict physical aggression toward objects or others. In contrast, the HCR-20 Clinical subscale performed the best of the HCR-20 scales and predicted all forms of aggression at good or excellent levels. Generally, performance of HCR-20 assessments was greater for the prediction of aggression over the 180-day than 90-day follow-up period, demonstrating good to excellent predictive validity. Taken together, these findings add to the empirical evidence supporting the use of the HCR-20 for identifying violence risk over the medium term (i.e., 6 months) among sexual offenders” (p. 22).

“START assessments, including the Vulnerability and Strength total scores, as well as violence risk estimates, showed good to excellent validity in predicting any aggression and verbal aggression over both 90-day and 180-day follow-up periods. In fact, of all the assessments, the START Vulnerability total score outperformed any other HCR-20, START, or Static-99R subscale or total score. The extant literature varies on whether the START Strength or Vulnerability total scores perform better than the other, but the current results suggest greater validity of the Vulnerability than Strength total scores in the prediction of institutional aggression among sexual offenders. Strength total scores nonetheless demonstrated good validity in predicting any aggression, verbal aggression, and physical aggression, particularly over the 90-day follow-up period. This finding is consistent with the START’s intended 3-month assessment and prediction time frame and is similar to, if not slightly better than, findings reported in prior studies of START assessments in forensic psychiatric patients. Overall, findings support the use of the START in the assessment and management of risk for short-term institutional aggression among sexual offenders” (p. 22).

“Finally, the Static-99R assessments showed fair to good validity in predicting any aggression and verbal aggression, as well as physical aggression toward objects, but not physical aggression toward others. Further, although the Static-99R assessments demonstrated validity in predicting these forms of aggression, performance was consistently poorer compared with the performance of both the HCR-20 and START assessments. Prior research has found good validity of Static-99R assessments in predicting general aggression; however the majority of these studies have focused on community-based rather than institutional aggression, have aggregated sexual offenses with general offenses, and have investigated much longer follow-up periods. For these reasons, findings of the current study suggest that the Static-99R is most appropriately used for estimating sexual recidivism risk and that general violence risk assessment instruments, such as the HCR-20 or START, should be used to assess general aggression within sexual offenders” (p. 22).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“This study supports the validity of the HCR-20, START, and to a lesser extent, the Static-99R assessments in predicting institutional aggression among patients detained or civilly committed pursuant to the SVP law. Typically, risk assessment instruments have shown lower levels of predictive validity in field studies compared with development studies. However, this does not appear to be the case in this sample of SVPs” (p. 23).

“This study adds to the body of literature supporting the application of structured violence risk assessments across diverse populations in the criminal justice system, and sexual offenders specifically. Beyond the assessment of risk for sexual recidivism, our findings suggest that general violence risk assessment instruments, such as the HCR-20 or START, have a place in the assessment and management of sexual offenders. Indeed, results indicate that instruments designed to assess sexual recidivism risk, and the Static-99R in particular, are limited in their ability to assess risk for general (nonsexual) violence. This is in keeping with the recommendations of the Static-99R authors to administer the Brief Assessment for Recidivism Risk – 2002R (BARR-2002R) for predicting nonsexual violence among sexual offenders, though this is not always done in practice. Consistent with the risk-need-responsivity model, findings suggest that using the HCR-20 or START to identify general violence risk among sexual offenders would benefit case management and treatment, as well as assist in decisions regarding supervision and release. Yet, the contributions of such assessments to clinical practice and, ultimately, violence prevention among sexual offenders remain to be tested in future research” (p. 23).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Becca Cheiffetz

publicBecca Cheiffetz is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated in 2015 from Sam Houston State University with a BS in Psychology and plans to continue her studies in a Clinical/Forensic Psychology PhD program in the near future. Her professional interests include providing clinical evaluations and treatment for individuals in prison as a prison psychologist and conducting forensic assessments for defendants in criminal court.

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Understanding the Developmental Course and Severity of Criminality Among Individuals with SMI

This study, published in Law and Human Behavior, examines differences in criminal, health, demographic, and social functioning characteristics among several groups of forensic mental health clients. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2018, Vol. 42, No. 1, 83-93

Expanding the Early and Late Starter Model of Criminal Justice Involvement for Forensic Mental Health Clients

Authors

Anne G. Crocker, Université de Montréal and Institut Philippe-Pinel de Montréal
Michael S. Martin, University of Ottawa
Marichelle C. Leclair, Institut Philippe-Pinel de Montréal and McGill University
Tonia L. Nicholls, University of British Columbia and BC Mental Health and
Substance Use Services, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Michael C. Seto, Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Abstract

The early and late starter model provides one of the most enduring frameworks for understanding the developmental course and severity of violence and criminality among individuals with severe mental illness. We expanded the model to account for differences in the age of onset of criminal behavior and added a group with no prior contact with the justice or mental health systems. We sampled 1,800 men and women found Not Criminally Responsible on account of Mental Disorder in 3 Canadian provinces. Using a retrospective file-based study, we explored differences in criminal, health, demographic, and social functioning characteristics, processing through the forensic psychiatric system and recidivism outcomes of 5 groups. We replicated prior research, finding more typical criminogenic needs among those with early onset crime. Those with crime onset after mental illness were more likely to show fewer criminogenic needs and to have better outcomes upon release than those who had crime onset during adulthood, before mental illness. Individuals with no prior contact with mental health or criminal justice had higher functioning prior to their crime and had a lower risk of reoffending. Given little information is needed to identify the groups, computing the distribution of these groups within forensic mental health services or across services can provide estimates of potential intensity or duration of services that might be needed. This study suggests that distinguishing subgroups of forensic clients based on the sequence of onset of mental illness and criminal behavior and on the age of onset of criminal behavior may be useful to identify criminogenic needs and predict outcomes upon release. This updated framework can be useful for planning organization of services, understanding case mix, as well as patient flow in forensic services and flow of mentally disordered offenders in correctional services.

Keywords

typology, recidivism, violence, criminality, mental illness

Summary of the Research

Background
“The criminal justice system has become a common gateway to mental health care for individuals with serious mental illness (SMI). Both forensic and civil psychiatric services provide care to growing numbers of individuals with SMI who have come into conflict with the law. With this increase comes a much more heterogeneous population of mentally ill individuals who are stigmatized with combined psychiatric and forensic labels. The variability in mental health and criminogenic needs in this evolving population has direct implications for the
organization of services in terms of intensity and breadth of services, resource allocation, as well as safety and security of patients, care providers and the community” (p. 84).

“The early and late starter model is one of the earliest and most enduring for understanding criminality among individuals with SMI . . . In the most recent version of the model, Hodgins (2008) posited three trajectories: (a) individuals who exhibit antisocial behavior during adolescence, usually prior to mental illness onset, and persist into adulthood; (b) individuals who first exhibit antisocial behavior in adulthood, after the onset of their mental illness; and (c) individuals who suddenly engage in serious violence, later in life, sometimes many years after the onset of mental illness. This revised model divided the late starter group into two groups: individuals with an atypical onset of criminal activity in mid- or late-life and those whose criminality began during the more typical periods of adolescence or early adulthood. This new group accounts for the important distinction in terms of typical versus atypical timing of onset of criminal behavior. However, to date there has been little consideration of atypical onset of mental illness” (p. 84).

“The early and late starter model suggests that mental illness may be an important risk factor for criminality for those individuals whose criminality occurs around or after the onset of mental illness. For individuals whose criminal onset precedes the illness, traditional criminogenic factors such as substance abuse or criminal associates are thought to be more important than clinical factors. Studies have found that people in the early starter trajectory display more violent behavior, more versatile criminal behavior, are more likely to have substance use problems, and have higher scores on psychopathy and antisocial personality scales compared with those who fall in the late starter trajectory. Many authors have continued to hypothesize that symptoms of mental illness would be more important drivers of violence among late compared with early starters, despite variability observed across studies. The early and late starter model can help define subgroups of individuals differing in etiologies, needs, and risk for future mental health and criminal justice involvement” (p. 84).

Current Study
“We sought to expand the testing of the early and late starter model to explore its utility across the full spectrum of severe mental disorders found in the forensic population. Our specific objective was to compare different starter groups according to their onset of criminality and mental illness on their sociodemographic, mental health and criminological characteristics, as well as their pathways through the forensic system . . . Data from this study were extracted from the National Trajectory Project, a longitudinal study of individuals found NCRMD in the three largest provinces of Canada—Québec, Ontario, and British Columbia . . . The sample included 1,800 adults found NCRMD between 2000 and 2005” (p. 85).

“Our application of the model included five groups based on two dimensions: (a) the sequence of onset of mental illness and criminal behavior, and (b) the age of onset of criminal behavior . . . Based on the first dimension, we identified two groups, which we further split based on the age of onset of criminal behavior. Preillness starters (traditionally labeled “early starters”) had a first criminal charge before their first contact with mental health services. They were divided into adolescent preillness starters (criminal onset before 18 years old) and adult preillness starters (criminal onset at 18 years old or older). Postillness starters (traditionally labeled “late starters”) had a first criminal charge after their first contact with mental health services. They were divided into younger postillness starters (criminal onset before 35 years old) and older postillness starters (criminal onset at 35 years old or older) . . . Finally, we labeled those whose NCRMD verdict was the first formal contact with both the mental health and criminal justice system as first presenters, regardless of their age” (p. 85).

Results
“Adolescent preillness starters had 0.3 times the odds of high school completion compared with younger postillness starters. They had similar primary diagnoses, but had 63% increased odds of having a comorbid substance use disorder and two times the odds of having a comorbid personality disorder or traits. They had a lower rate of prior psychiatric hospitalization per year lived, but over three times the rate of prior charges compared with younger postillness starters. Among those with at least one prior charge, adolescent preillness starters displayed greater criminal diversity than younger postillness starters” (p. 86).

“Adult preillness starters had two times the odds of being in a relationship and of earning an income at the time of the index offense compared with younger postillness starters. There were few differences in terms of diagnoses, with the exception that the relative odds of having “other” primary diagnoses rather than psychotic spectrum disorder were 85% higher in adult preillness starters than in younger postillness starters. Similar to adolescent preillness starters, adult preillness starters had under half the rate of prior psychiatric hospitalization, but an increased rate of prior charges compared with younger postillness starters. However, they displayed lower criminal diversity. Older postillness starters had three times the odds of being in a relationship compared with younger postillness starters. The relative odds of having a primary diagnosis of mood spectrum disorder rather than psychotic spectrum disorder were over 50% higher in this group than in younger postillness starters. They also had half the odds of having a comorbid substance use disorder and of having a comorbid personality disorder or traits. They had lower rates of psychiatric hospitalizations and prior charges, and those with at least one charge showed lower criminal diversity compared with younger postillness starters” (p. 87-88).

“First presenters had three times the odds of being in a relationship and six times the odds of earning their income compared with younger postillness starters. They also had half the odds of being homeless at the time of the index offense. They differed in terms of diagnosis: the relative odds of having a primary diagnosis other than mood spectrum or psychotic spectrum disorders rather than psychotic spectrum disorder were 2.7 times higher in first presenters than in younger postillness starters, and they had half the odds of having a comorbid substance use disorder” (p. 88).

“There were few differences between the groups in terms of psychiatric symptoms at the time of the index offense. Adolescent preillness starters were similar to younger postillness starters with respect to all characteristics of the index offense. Adult preillness starters had lower odds of having a mention of psychotic symptoms at the time of the index offense compared with younger postillness starters. They also had lower odds of weapon use, and 50% increased odds of victimizing an acquaintance. Older postillness starters had lower odds of drug/alcohol use at the time of the index offense compared with younger postillness starters. They also had lower relative odds of having perpetrated an index offense against a person and of having perpetrated an administrative offense rather than an “other” type of offense. First presenters were those that showed the strongest differences from younger postillness starters in terms of index offense characteristics. They had lower odds of drug/alcohol use at the time of the offense, but twice the odds of suicidal ideation. They also had 1.5 times the odds of weapon use and had almost twice the odds of victimizing a family member and of victimizing an acquaintance” (p. 88).

“We hypothesized that the postillness starters would have a shorter trajectory through the Review Board system than preillness starters. Similarly, when compared with the preillness starters, the postillness starters were expected to experience more successful community reintegration in terms of recidivism. Findings were generally consistent with these expectations. In fact, differences were observed regarding outcomes while under the purview of the Review Board and in the reoffense rates after the NCRMD verdict. Adolescent preillness starters were similar to younger postillness starters, with the exception that they were more likely to recidivate. Adult preillness starters had lower relative odds of receiving a detention order in hospital as their first Review Board disposition and higher relative odds of receiving an absolute discharge as their first Review Board disposition rather than a conditional discharge compared with younger postillness starters. They also had higher rates of absolute discharge and release from detention before the end of the follow-up. Older postillness starters and first presenters showed similar patterns in terms of outcomes compared with younger postillness starters. They both had higher relative odds of receiving an absolute discharge as their first Review Board disposition rather than a conditional discharge compared with younger postillness starters. They were both less likely to display violent behaviors, suicidal behaviors, and to use substances between Review Board hearings. Their rates of absolute discharge and release from detention were also higher than for younger postillness starters. They were also less likely to recidivate” (p. 88).

Translating Research into Practice

“Our results replicated findings from prior studies, which point toward traditional criminogenic needs (e.g., substance abuse, personality disorder, extensive criminal history) among forensic patients with preillness onset of crime. Our findings also reinforce prior research revealing the heterogeneity among adult criminal-onset individuals that could not have been observed in studies using the original two-group model. These findings help to disentangle unique and important needs among subgroups of forensic psychiatric patients that could be targeted in prevention, rehabilitation and risk management strategies” (p. 89-90).

“As expected from previous studies, comorbid substance use disorder was less common among adult postillness starters and first presenters and more common among adolescent preillness starters. Older postillness starters and first presenters were also less likely to have used alcohol or drugs at the time of the offense. The role of mental health symptoms vis-a`-vis substance use in relation to the index offense requires further consideration for a verdict of NCRMD. While substance use may be an indicator of antisociality and moderate the relationship between mental illness and crime, it can also be a consequence of mental illness because of self-medication or increased vulnerability to substance use. Thus, consistent with prior research, the added presence of substance use disorders and personality disorders appears to be important in differentiating mentally ill individuals who are at elevated risk of criminal versatility and recidivism (i.e.,early starters/preillness offenders)” (p. 90).

“Younger postillness starters had similar risk of problem behaviors while under the Review Board to preillness starters, and were less likely than all the other groups (except for adolescent preillness starters) to be discharged by the end of the study. However, their risk of recidivism is not particularly high which bears the question regarding the justification of time spent under the Review Board purview. They seem to be getting into trouble for noncompliance and substance use issues but do not seem to pose a particularly great risk of violence. As hypothesized, the older postillness starters and the first presenters had very low risk of problem behaviors while under the Review Board, and a low risk of recidivism” (p. 90).

“Lastly, this study sheds light upon a little-known group of offenders, who had no prior contact in either the justice and mental health systems. Although Hodgins (2008) had discussed and examined “first offenders,” a group of mentally ill offenders who unexpectedly commit a very serious crime without any prior signs of antisociality, they seemed to have already had contact with mental health services, which is not the case of the first presenters. First offenders and first presenters are similar in that they both have better psychosocial functioning than the other groups. This group is of particular clinical interest and requires more investigation. This group is more likely to be found NCRMD following a tragic event involving a family crisis or in a highly emotionally distressed situation, including suicidality” (p. 90).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“These results suggest that the early and late starter model is relevant to risk management, as it is associated with violence and criminal recidivism. The new five-group model provides more refinement in potential developmental and services trajectories of this heterogeneous population. Examining potential typologies can be helpful in attempting to understand pathways to offending among individuals entering forensic services and targeting intervention strategies. For example, a clear focus on antisocial attitudes and behavior would be optimal for the adolescent preillness starters whereas more focus may be put on illness management for the older postillness starters and the first presenters. The model is associated with dynamic risk factors such as failure to comply with conditions, substance use, and medication noncompliance, which are all potential targets for ongoing intervention” (p. 90-91).

“It is an accepted principle of the risk-need-responsivity model that low-risk individuals should receive minimal or less intense services because providing more intense services is unnecessarily costly and raises the potential of iatrogenic effects. Given the costs of forensic hospitalization from an economic perspective and in terms of potential loss of employment, income, housing, and relationships, which are all protective against further crime, particular attention to duration of forensic hospitalization for the the older postillness starters and first presenters would appear warranted. Consideration should be given to the potential iatrogenic effect of undue (lengthy) hospitalization or Review Board purview if the patient responded well to medications and psychiatric symptoms have abated; particularly, if the patient does not have prior criminal justice involvement and/or other antisocial behavior. While they were more likely to be absolutely discharged by the end of the study, it is possible that forensic services are “over managing” these two groups by keeping them under the Review Board mandate longer than necessary” (p. 91).

“Although individualized risk assessments are essential to address specific needs and responsivity issues, knowledge of case-mix can potentially guide resource allocation and flag whether alternative, less expensive responses (e.g., diversion from the justice system to mental health services, even greater use of absolute or conditional discharge) might be warranted. Appropriate discharge from forensic services may be important to ensure optimal health and prevent escalation of criminal risk, reduce to the greatest extent possible the stigma associated with the forensic label and from a system-level can help to reduce the considerable back-log of beds common in forensic contexts. The model could provide a clinical-administrative tool in service planning at the organizational level” (p. 91).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Becca Cheiffetz

Becca Cheiffetz is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated in 2015 from Sam Houston State University with a BS in Psychology and plans to continue her studies in a Clinical/Forensic Psychology PhD program in the near future. Her professional interests include providing clinical evaluations and treatment for individuals in prison as a prison psychologist and conducting forensic assessments for defendants in criminal court.

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Criminal Culpability of Juveniles: Adult Time for Adult Crime or Differential Treatment?

This article summarizes the developmental differences between adolescents and adults, providing implications for differential treatment under criminal law. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2017, Vol. 23, No. 4, 410-420

Adolescent Brain Science and Juvenile Justice Policymaking

Authors

Laurence Steinberg, Temple University

Abstract

The American legal system’s thinking about the criminal culpability of juveniles has been radically transformed over the past 12 years, largely as a result of the introduction of developmental science into the United States Supreme Court’s deliberations about the appropriate sentencing of adolescents who have been convicted of the most serious crimes. The author examines the role that developmental science, and, especially, developmental neuroscience, has played in this policy transformation. After a brief overview of the Court’s rulings in 4 landmark cases decided between 2005 and 2016, he summarizes the relevant psychological and neurobiological evidence that likely guided the Court’s rulings. The author concludes with suggestions for future research and policy analysis, including (a) the study of developmental differences between adolescents and adults that have implications for their differential treatment under criminal law, with a particular focus on the neural underpinnings of these differences; (b) the study of the impact of variations in juvenile justice policy and practice on outcomes other than recidivism; and (c) the study of the financial costs and benefits of juvenile justice policy alternatives.

Keywords

juvenile justice, adolescent brain development, Supreme Court

Summary of the Research

“Few issues challenge a society’s ideas about both the nature of human development and the nature of justice as much as serious juvenile crime. Because we neither expect children to be criminals nor expect crimes to be committed by children, the unexpected intersection between childhood and criminality creates a dilemma that most people find difficult to resolve. Indeed, the only ways out of this problem are either to redefine the offense as something less serious than a crime or to redefine the offender as someone who is not really a child” (p. 410).

“For most of the 20th century, American society has most often chosen the first approach—redefining the offense—treating most juvenile infractions as matters to be adjudicated as delinquent acts within a separate juvenile justice system designed to recognize the special needs and immature status of young people and to therefore emphasize rehabilitation over punishment … In the latter decades of the 20th century, as violent youth crime rates rose, attacks on the juvenile court intensified. Critics railed at the depiction of young criminals as children, a characterization that was discordant with media images of teenage street gangs spreading fear in urban neighborhoods … Under the mantra of “adult time for adult crime,” young offenders became subject to increasingly harsh punishments, many of them administered by adult criminal courts and sometimes carried out within correctional facilities that had been previously reserved for individuals 18 and older” (p. 410).

“The American legal system’s thinking about the criminal culpability of juveniles has been radically transformed over the past 12 years, largely as a result of the introduction of developmental science into the United States Supreme Court’s deliberations about the appropriate sentencing of adolescents who have been convicted of the most serious crimes … My purpose in this article is to examine the role that developmental science, and, especially, developmental neuroscience, has played in this policy transformation” (p. 411).

“The logical starting point for such a discussion is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that abolished the juvenile death penalty, Roper v. Simmons, which was decided in 2005, because the logic that shaped the Court’s decision in this case has had a far-reaching effect on juvenile justice policy and practice, extending well beyond death penalty jurisprudence … Prior to 2005, in the United States, 16- and 17-year-olds who were convicted of homicide could receive the death penalty, and until 2010, individuals under the age of 18 could be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for homicide and other crimes” (p. 411).

“In a series of cases decided during the past dozen years (see Table 1), the Supreme Court issued rulings that have banned the use of capital punishment and limited the use of life without the possibility of parole in cases involving juveniles who have been convicted of serious crimes and, more recently, opened the possibility for reconsidering the sentences of adults who are presently serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. The Court’s decisions were increasingly influenced by findings from studies of brain development to support the position that adolescents are less mature than adults in ways that mitigate their criminal culpability, and that adolescents’ diminished blameworthiness makes it inappropriate to sentence them in ways that are reserved for individuals who are deemed fully responsible for their criminal acts” (p. 411).

“In Roper, writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Kennedy explicated three characteristics of adolescents that distinguish them from adults in ways that mitigate their culpability. First, citing evidence of adolescents’ overinvolvement in reckless behavior, Kennedy concluded that adolescents are characterized by immaturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, which leads them to make impetuous and ill-considered decisions. Second, he noted that adolescents are more susceptible than adults to external influences, especially peer pressure, which makes it difficult for them to extricate themselves from “criminogenic” situations. Finally, referencing theories of identity development, Kennedy wrote that the personality traits of adolescents are less fixed than they are in adults, and that this makes it difficult to infer that even heinous criminal behavior during adolescence is evidence of an “irretrievably depraved” character” (p. 413).

“There is strong scientific support for Kennedy’s characterization of juveniles. In general, adolescents and individuals in their early 20s are more likely than either children or somewhat older adults to engage in risky behavior; most forms of risk-taking follow an inverted U-shaped curve with age, increasing between childhood and adolescence, peaking in either mid- or late adolescence, and declining thereafter. Involvement in violent and nonviolent crime also follows this pattern, referred to as the age-crime curve” (p. 413).

“In recent years, several psychologists have theorized that the relationship between age and risk-taking, including criminal activity, is best understood by considering the developmental trajectories of sensation-seeking and self-regulation. Sensation-seeking increases substantially around the time of puberty and remains high well into the early 20s, when it begins to decline. Self-regulation is low during childhood and improves gradually over the course of adolescence and early adulthood. Mid-adolescence, therefore, is a time of high sensation-seeking but still developing self-regulation—a combination that inclines individuals toward risky behavior” (p. 413-414).

“Over the period that spans Roper, Graham, Miller, and Montgomery, several amici assembled and summarized the scientific evidence showing differences between adolescents and adults in psychological capabilities and capacities that are relevant to judgments of blameworthiness. Importantly, they incorporated more and more neuroscience into their briefs, as evidence of significant structural and functional brain maturation during adolescence began to accumulate” (p. 414).

“The relevant evidence that was brought to the Court’s attention in the amicus briefs described a maturational imbalance during adolescence that is characterized by relative immaturity in brain systems involving self-regulation during a time of relatively heightened neural responsiveness to appetitive, emotional, and social stimuli. With respect to self-regulation, structural imaging studies using diffusion tensor imaging indicate immaturity in connections within a fronto-parietal-striatal brain system that supports various aspects of executive function. These connections become stronger over the course of adolescence as a result of both maturation and experience, and the strength of these connections is positively correlated with impulse control. Maturation of structural connectivity in this brain system is paralleled by increases in functional connectivity and by changes in patterns of activation during tasks that measure working memory, planning, and response inhibition (all of which are important for impulse control and thinking ahead)” (p. 414).

“By contrast, numerous fMRI studies show relatively greater neural activity during adolescence than in childhood or adulthood in a brain system, located mainly in the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that is known to play an important role in the processing of emotional and social information and in the valuation and prediction of reward and punishment. According to what has been referred to as a “dual systems model,” the heightened responsiveness of this socioemotional incentive-processing system is thought to overwhelm, or at the very least, tax, the capacities of the self-regulatory system, compromising adolescents’ abilities to temper strong positive and negative emotions and inclining them toward sensation-seeking, risk-taking, and impulsive antisocial acts” (p. 414).

Translating Research into Practice

“By all indications, the influence of neuroscience on legal decision-making is growing rapidly, and references to adolescent brain development are appearing regularly in lower court decisions. As psychologists, we should welcome the use of scientific evidence in important legal deliberations. But in discussions of where we should draw legal boundaries between adolescents and adults, neuroscience should continue to play a supporting role, and behavioral science should continue to carry the weight of the argument” (p. 416).

“Further neuroscientific research on three specific issues would be especially helpful to future discussions of adolescents’ criminal responsibility. First, few studies have linked changes in brain structure or function between adolescence and adulthood to changes in the legally relevant behaviors, especially as they play out in the real world. Just because adolescents’ and adults’ brains differ doesn’t necessarily mean that they differ in ways that have legal relevance. It is certainly reasonable to speculate that adolescents who commit crimes make more impulsive decisions than their adult counterparts because their prefrontal lobes are less fully developed, or because their ventral striatum is more responsive to rewards or emotional stimuli. However, this remains largely a matter of what I would characterize as sensible conjecture. More research that directly links age differences in brain structure and function to age differences in legally relevant capacities and capabilities is needed” (p. 416).

“Second, there is growing interest in whether neurobiological data, either alone or in combination with other types of data, can improve the prediction of future behavior at the individual level, either with respect to recidivism or responses to intervention. Although there are studies that have compared juvenile offenders’ brain structure or function with that of nonoffenders, using neuroscience to predict individuals’ future behavior is a different (and more difficult) matter. And, of course, the key question is not what the individual’s brain is like at the time of a trial, but what we expect it to be like at some later point. Furthermore, it is not clear whether using neuroscientific data to foretell individuals’ future offending improves our prediction models by a significant enough degree over standard psychological assessments to warrant the added time and expense” (p. 416).

“Finally, it is not yet clear whether or how recent discoveries about continued brain maturation during the early 20s should lead us to rethink how we treat young adults who come into contact with the justice system. Some writers (generally, nonscientists) have pointed to this research as grounds for raising the age of legal adulthood, at least under criminal law, to age 21 or even 25. This proposition, although intuitively appealing, is potentially problematic” (see article for details; p. 416).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Studies of various justice system interventions find surprisingly few effects on rates of reoffending. The vast majority of juvenile offenders reoffend within a few years of their first offense, regardless of whether they have been treated in the community or in an institutional setting, and regardless of the specific intervention to which they have been exposed. This absence of effects can be looked at through very different lenses. A pessimistic interpretation is that very little works. A somewhat more positive view is that if less expensive interventions are just as effective (or as ineffective) as more costly ones, resources can be saved by opting for the less expensive ones and reallocating the savings elsewhere, perhaps to prevention efforts. A third perspective, and one to which I subscribe, is that perhaps recidivism is not the only metric along which we should evaluate juvenile justice policies” (p. 417).

“A major limitation of research on the consequences of justice system involvement is that it has focused almost exclusively on a single outcome—recidivism, ignoring other important developmental and behavioral outcomes. Yet, adolescents’ experiences with the justice system have the potential to substantially influence their life courses in both direct and indirect ways. For example, the few studies that have examined consequences of juvenile justice experiences other than recidivism has found that juvenile court involvement has a negative impact on educational outcomes, such as high school completion. However, it stands to reason that involvement with the juvenile justice system could affect adolescents’ lives in a range of domains” (p. 417).

“Adolescence is a critical period with regard to many aspects of development, not only academic achievement, such as social relationships, mental health, vocational preparation, and psychosocial maturity. Life events (such as incarceration) that disrupt functioning in one or more of these areas may have greater long-term consequences for adolescents than they do for adults. Apart from its impact on subsequent offending (whether positive or negative), justice system involvement may engender considerable human costs and/or benefits that have gone unrecognized and unaccounted for due to an exclusive focus on recidivism as the outcome of interest. Moreover, an absence of research on outcomes such as education, adjustment, employment, and family formation limits our ability to determine just what it is about incarceration that increases, rather than diminished, the odds of reoffending” (p. 417).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Becca Cheiffetz

publicBecca Cheiffetz is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated in 2015 from Sam Houston State University with a BS in Psychology and plans to continue her studies in a Clinical/Forensic Psychology PhD program in the near future. Her professional interests include providing clinical evaluations and treatment for individuals in prison as a prison psychologist and conducting forensic assessments for defendants in criminal court.

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Miranda comprehension and misconceptions reflect distinct abilities

Contrary to widespread assumptions, serious Miranda misconceptions commonly occur, even among detainees with intact verbal abilities and those with extensive arrest histories. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health Services | 2018, Vol. 17, No. 1, 13-24

Miranda Misconceptions of Criminal Detainees: Differences Based on Age Groups and Prior Arrests

Authors

Darby B. Winningham, Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
Richard Rogers, Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
Eric Y. Drogin, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA (L3)

Abstract

Knowing and intelligent Miranda waivers remain the cornerstone of our 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in the United States. Until recently, however, Miranda-related research and practice have focused almost entirely on comprehension of proffered warnings and waivers as opposed to identifying ingrained misconceptions that affect how detainees process this input. The current archival investigation brings together data on Miranda misconceptions for more than 799 detainees in the United States, ranging from 11–67 years of age. Miranda misconceptions were systematically examined on the Miranda Quiz (MQ) and parallel items of the Juvenile Miranda Quiz (JMQ) across four age groups (i.e., younger juveniles, older juveniles, emerging adults, and adults) with varying histories of prior arrests. As expected, the two adult groups had fewer Miranda misconceptions than the two juvenile groups. Contrary to widespread assumptions, serious Miranda misconceptions commonly occur, even among detainees with intact verbal abilities and those with extensive arrest histories.

Keywords

Miranda misconceptions, Miranda rights, Miranda Quiz

Summary of the Research

“The current investigation addressed potentially devastating misconceptions concerning Miranda rights in the U.S. As an important distinction, professionals and the public alike may hold false beliefs about Miranda warnings (e.g., easily understood and virtually the same in any jurisdiction). For Miranda misconceptions, we focused specifically on inaccurate knowledge or beliefs held by criminal suspects that may affect their waiver decisions (i.e., invoke or waive Miranda rights). These findings also served as an initial template for examining misbeliefs concerning the rights of the accused in other countries” (p. 14).

“As the primary goal, the current investigation systematically evaluates whether detainees’ Miranda misconceptions differ between age groups. Similar to Miranda comprehension, it is predicted that younger age groups will have more Miranda misconceptions than their older counterparts. To examine this goal, detainees were divided into four age groups. Consistent with Viljoen et al. (2007), juveniles are categorized here as ‘younger’ (i.e., ages 15 and below) and ‘older’ (i.e., ages 16 and 17). As noted, age has often been used as a proxy for maturity and concomitant experience with the criminal justice system. In J.D.B., the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that juveniles were ‘generally less mature and responsible than adults’ (p. 271)” (p. 15).

“As a secondary goal, the current study investigates whether prior arrests can help to explain differences in Miranda misconceptions for any of the four age groups. Courts often assumed that arrestees build a cumulative understanding of Miranda that could potentially improve their waiver decisions. This perspective was commonly associated with the Supreme Court’s decision in Fare v. Michael C. (1979), which questioned the efficacy of ‘imposing rigid restraints on police and courts in dealing with an experienced older juvenile with an extensive prior record’ (p. 725). The current investigation examined whether more prior arrests are related to fewer Miranda misconceptions for any of the four age groups” (p. 16).

Regarding Miranda misconceptions, the researchers found that the adult groups were essentially indistinguishable. “Only one Miranda misconception stood out as a significant cause for concern about detainees in the emerging adult group. Nearly half believed that there was a legal recourse (i.e., retracting a confession) that could be invoked in instances of police deception. However, as noted by Rogers and Drogin (p. 121), ‘Most Miranda misassumptions do not impair the waiver decision.’ They provided an extensive list of 20 Miranda misconceptions that could potentially impair Miranda waivers. However, retraction of a confession due to police deception was not included because it is unlikely to be considered in rendering the waiver decision. If arrestees believe that the investigating officers are lying to them, then such perceived prevarications are unlikely to form the basis of their waiver decision” (p. 20).

“A major objective was to examine whether younger juveniles were substantially more susceptible to Miranda misconceptions than other age groups. Previous research suggested this might be the case, but did not investigate it directly. In looking at Miranda comprehension, age does make a difference; however, as discussed subsequently, Miranda comprehension and misconceptions reflect quite distinct abilities. Although Rogers et al. directly examined differences in psychosocial maturity—a construct closely related to age—that study’s findings were limited by the small number of participants with low maturity” (p. 20-21).

“While participants of all ages had relatively few misconceptions about the right to silence, juveniles performed substantially worse on the next three Miranda components (Risks of Talking, Right to an Attorney, and Free Legal Services). When considered as a composite, younger juveniles scored poorly at 65.3% correct and slightly lower than older juveniles. Although a minimal trend was observed, the differences were not significant and the effect sizes remained very modest. Simply put, both juvenile groups performed poorly on these Miranda components” (p. 21).

“The broader comparison of juveniles and adults yielded more interesting and variable results. For Risks of Talking, larger effect sizes occurred between juvenile groups and adults. In contrast, Right to Counsel yielded very similar effect sizes ranging from. As observed in the Results, Free Legal Services consistently produced the largest effect sizes. Because juvenile arrestees—in virtually all cases—lack the financial resources to fund legal counsel, it is imperative that they understand their access to free legal services. In looking more closely at individual Miranda Quiz items, legalese (e.g., “indicted” and “indigent”) in Miranda warnings constitutes a formidable barrier, leading to misunderstandings in the majority of cases. In addition, juveniles are often used to parents shouldering most of the family’s financial responsibilities. It is therefore not surprising that more than 40% wrongly believe their parents will be burdened with likely unaffordable legal costs. On this point, Rogers and Drogin (2014) described how this fundamental inaccuracy could lead to an invalid Miranda waiver, because ‘their decision to forgo counsel is based on a false premise’ (p. 234)” (p. 21).

“Data from the current investigation suggest that Miranda misconceptions are not necessarily related to poor recall of Miranda warnings. Most legally involved juveniles completely omit the fifth Miranda component, Continuing Legal Rights …The current juveniles appeared to have a general grasp of their Continuing Legal Rights with average scores of 2.15 for younger and 2.18 for older juveniles out of maximum of 3 points” (p. 21).

“The disjunction between Miranda recall and Miranda misconceptions also appears in the other direction, with comparatively good recall yet substantial percentages of misconceptions. Relying on Rogers et al. (2016), omissions are very low for Right to Counsel: 19.2% (written advisement) and 16.0% (oral advisement). Yet, Miranda misconceptions are slightly greater than Continuing Legal Rights for both younger and older” (p. 21).

Translating Research into Practice

“Rogers (2011) posited the professional neglect hypothesis to explain why so few cases with impaired Miranda abilities are referred for forensic consultation. Using conservative estimates, only about one of every 200 potential Miranda cases are evaluated. Of course, in some instances (e.g., drug charges), other evidence may minimize the importance of outright confessions. Nonetheless, many seasoned criminal attorneys—including public defenders with large caseloads—have failed to challenge the validity of a single Miranda waiver during their entire careers. Rogers (2011) concluded that this professional neglect was based on a core misassumption that ‘everyone already knows the Miranda warnings.’ This professional neglect may also extend to forensic psychologists with only about one-fourth conducting very small numbers of Miranda evaluations” (p. 22).

“Collaboration among researchers in transnational research is urgently needed to ensure legal rights and safeguards serve their intended purpose. Research comparing and contrasting the effectiveness of warnings and associated procedures could rigorously evaluate which methods actually protect the rights of the accused and which might be better characterized as legally required, obligatory rituals. Fundamental fairness and justice demand effective measures that serve the courts, the prosecution, and the defense” (p. 22).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Our recent PsycINFO search of the international literature found no empirical research outside of North America that addressed arrestees’ understanding and appreciation of their legal rights. This dearth of applied research is very concerning” (p. 22).

“A further methodological concern is whether the widespread popularity of Miranda serves to mislead arrestees in other countries. In Canada, for example, most members of the public (86.3%)—perhaps due to American media exposure—wrongly believe they have the right to counsel during police questioning. Alternatively, members of the public may simply possess an unwarrantedly positive view of their legal protections. For instance, a majority of American public wrongly believed that Miranda guarantees them an immediate advisement of their rights as well as specifics of why they are being arrested; however, these protections are afforded by the EU Letter of Rights, but not by Miranda. Such fundamental errors merit further investigation, regardless of their source” (p. 22).

As a specific methodological improvement, Miranda research must move beyond the expediency of using age as proxy for maturity. Moreover, some measures of maturity used for Miranda research (e.g., Psychosocial Maturity Inventory Form D) need to be updated and further validated. Recently, Kemp, et al. (2017) provided an important and integrative survey of perspectives on developmental maturity by sampling the opinions of psychologists from four specialties: developmental, forensic, child-adolescent, and neuropsychological. Results underscored the complexity of developmental maturity, as features of independent functioning were coupled with general cognitive processing, emotion regulation, and decision-making. The resulting model can provide a more complete picture of developmental maturity and the role of its components regarding Miranda misconceptions and waiver decisions” (p. 22).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Amanda Beltrani

Amanda Beltrani is a current doctoral student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her professional interests include forensic assessments, professional decision making, and cognitive biases.

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Implementing DBT in Forensic Settings

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), in partnership with the Risk Need Responsivity (RNR) principles, has the potential to reduce recidivism risk within the criminal justice system. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2018, Vol. 17, No. 1, 72-95

A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Dialectical Behavior Therapy Within Forensic Psychiatric and Correctional Settings Worldwide

Authors

Monica F. Tomlinson, The University of Western Ontario

Abstract

Cognitive-behavioral programs which are structured, skills-based, and risk-focused have been found to reduce recidivism rates by up to 55%. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) exemplifies all of these components, and has been rapidly adapted and implemented in correctional and forensic psychiatric facilities worldwide to reduce recidivism. Regrettably, the widespread implementation of
adapted DBT has outpaced the research on its effectiveness for this purpose. Thus, it is currently unclear whether these programs are meeting the rehabilitation needs of these systems. In the following article, a qualitative systematic literature review of all DBT programs within forensic psychiatric and correctional populations using the PRISMA statement guidelines is presented, along with a detailed exploration of how these programs align with best practices in offender rehabilitation, and whether they are effective in reducing recidivism risk. Results offer very preliminary evidence that DBT has the potential to reduce recidivism risk in criminal justice systems if applied within a Risk-Need-Responsivity framework.

Keywords

Criminal justice policy, dialectical behavior therapy, DBT, offender rehabilitation, systematic literature review

Summary of the Research

“After decades of subscribing to a primarily punishment-based model, criminal justice systems around the world are increasingly calling for prison reform. Governments can no longer ignore the unequivocal evidence that punishment-based systems do not deter crime, are financially unsustainable, and fail to reduce recidivism. Unlike previous calls for prison reform, which lacked an empirically based alternative to punishment, the present movement is being supported by a wealth of research on effective offender rehabilitation. This research argues that criminological theories of risk and psychological approaches to mental health care can be synthesized and used to inform each other’s practice.” (p. 72)

“Among the third-wave cognitive-behavioral models, DBT has received particular attention in the forensic community. DBT is an intensive, structured, skills-based cognitive-behavioral program that enhances emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal skills. DBT already includes several of the additional components of effective CBT programs (e.g., interpersonal skills, emotion regulation skills) and it has shown its effectiveness among difficult-to-treat populations, such as those with borderline personality disorder, eating, comorbid substance use disorders, psychopathy, and antisocial personality traits. Personality disorders and substance use disorders are specifically important to treat in forensic settings (compared to psychotic spectrum and mood disorders, for example) as they are significantly associated with recidivism (Crocker et al., 2015). Although this connection has not been made explicit in the literature, DBT also theoretically aligns with the most prominent and evidence-based risk reduction model in the recidivism literature, the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model. The RNR model posits that offenders should receive interventions that target the most acute risk factors for crime, that are matched in intensity to the person’s level of risk, and that are responsive to their individual needs.” (p. 73)

“The skills taught in DBT address many of the most significant risk factors for crime. For example, the module “interpersonal skills” can help individuals address many of the maladaptive interpersonal styles that lead individuals to developing procriminal associates. The “emotion regulation” module of DBT can assist individuals in better managing their emotions to help prevent aggressive or impulsive behavior. DBT is an intensive program (which would make it appropriate for high risk individuals), but can also be adapted to suit the risk level of offenders, as the four skills modules can be repeated and individuals can participate in as many “rounds” of DBT as needed. DBT is also derived from a cognitive-behavioral framework; which theoretically would enhance patient responsivity, according to Bonta and Andrews.” (p. 73)

“Arguably the most significant changes discussed in extant implementations of DBT within forensic settings pertained to the changes in skills training materials. Several sources extensively discussed how they adapted the material presented in the DBT skills training sessions to better serve the forensic setting. For practical reasons, many implementations changed the wording of the skills manuals to have simpler language (e.g., “Difficulties in Controlling Emotions” rather than “Emotional Dysregulation), less jargon (e.g., “Relationship Skills” instead of “Interpersonal Effectiveness”), more gender-neutral language (to account for the reality that forensic populations are predominately male), and more activities that apply to a custodial environment. The majority of programs suggested activities for reducing emotionality were not appropriate for a forensic con- text (e.g., having sex, arranging flowers, having a bubble bath), and thus had to be largely re-written. One source provided a completely re-written manual for a juvenile forensic population.” (p. 82)

“According to the “Risk” principle of the RNR model, program intensity should correspond to individuals’ risk levels. Since DBT is an intensive program, it would likely be most effective for high-risk populations. Of the 23 evaluated programs outlined in this review, six programs (26%) included only high- risk patients and two programs (9%) conducted separate DBT groups for participants at different risk levels. Seven programs (30%) did not report on the risk level of their participants, five (22%) programs included low or medium risk participants, and 3 programs (13%) included participants with varying risk levels.” (p. 87)

“The “Need” principle of the RNR model indicates that programs should target criminogenic needs. The adaptations and evaluations of DBT programs suggest that institutions are altering their programs to meet this principle. Of the “Big Four” criminogenic needs identified, the three dynamic needs (antisocial attitudes, antisocial personality traits, and procriminal associates) were all incorporated into DBT adaptations with forensic populations through changes in the DBT content. The majority of content changes to the standard DBT manual involved targeting crime-related thinking and behavior (which map onto the antisocial attitudes need). Additions to the manual included extensive crime-review sessions, groups for individuals with ASPD, and emotion regulation skills concentrated on increasing emotional responsivity and victim empathy, all of which map onto the antisocial personality traits need.” (p. 88)

“The “responsivity” principle of the RNR model asserts that rehabilitative programs should be tailored to the individuals’ learning styles, motivation, strengths, and abilities. Serin and Kennedy fleshed out the complexities of the responsivity component in great detail. They have emphasized a greater focus on understanding and addressing the “treatability” and motivation of offenders. An offender’s motivation for treatment can be assessed using self-report and staff-report measures of treatment motivation. An offender’s “treatability” can be determined by assessing: (1) the degree to which a program is appropriate to target the offender’s deficits; (2) the offender’s past experiences with the program (if any); (3) the programs/interventions that have been beneficial to the offender in the past; and (4) and whether there is reason to believe that the program may have contraindicated effects on the individual. Ideally, an offender would receive a program that is in line with his or her deficits, provided in a manner that has previously been beneficial for him or her, and has no expected contraindicating effects. Consistent with these recommendations, […] [I]ndividuals’ responsivity to their selected programming should be continuously monitored and programming should be adjusted as necessary. Creators of the RNR model, Bonta and Andrews, indicate that cognitive-behavioral treatments are most effective in maximizing the offender’s ability to learn from a rehabilitative intervention, and most beneficial to offenders who are “treatable” and motivated.” (p. 88)

“The state of DBT programs within forensic settings signals an encouraging, yet perhaps premature, move toward an empirically supported rehabilitation-focused approach to criminal justice policy. It is certainly hopeful to see forensic institutions implementing intensive psychotherapies with difficult-to-treat offenders. However, DBT has only recently been deemed an empirically-supported treatment for borderline personality disorder by the American Psychological Association (APA), and has not yet been deemed an empirically supported treatment for ASPD, or for forensic populations in general by Division 12 of the APA. Therefore, there are practical and ethical issues with the widespread implementation of DBT in forensic settings. The potential for iatrogenic effects in this highly vulnerable population certainly warrants caution and concern. To quell these concerns, forensic institutions around the world have been building an evidence base on which to support the use of DBT to reduce risk in forensic populations.” (p. 90)

Translating Research into Practice

“There is also some evidence that program fidelity was related to reduction in criminogenic needs. Across studies, the programs that adhered more faithfully to the program elements of DBT (e.g., skills training, individual counseling, consultation groups, and between-session coaching) were more effective in reducing criminogenic needs, such as poor impulse control, hostility, anger, emotional dysregulation compared to programs that did not implement all program elements of DBT. Furthermore, the programs that were applied faithfully within an RNR framework (targeted high risk individuals, criminogenic needs, and responsivity elements) were associated with reductions in institutional defiance and aggression more than programs that did not adhere to the RNR framework. It is possible, however, that programs which simply offered more services for longer were associated with better outcomes. More studies are needed to evaluate whether the length and intensity of programs are associated with better outcomes compared to shorter, less intensive programs. Overall, the findings from this review provide some indication that adapted implementations of DBT are able to reduce both risk and recidivism, and that programs which most successfully accomplish this goal adhered closely to standard DBT protocol (in terms of their program components) and fit within an RNR framework.” (p. 90)

“The present review of DBT programs within forensic settings demonstrates that forensic institutions are standardizing DBT within their institutions and evaluating their programs. Organizations such as Correctional Services Canada, the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, and the Connecticut Department of Corrections, have written extensively on their standardized adaptations and preliminary evaluations. Many of these organizations have developed their own DBT manuals to better meet the needs of their populations. These manuals have integrated best practices for offender rehabilitation and incorporated the wealth of research on risk and rehabilitation.” (p. 90)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The present literature review of extant forensic DBT programs suggests that, while the evidence-base for these programs is limited, modifications are generally consistent with best practices of offender rehabilitation according to the RNR model. The general lack of rigorous, well-designed, randomized control trial studies in this area is problematic, however. Given that random assignment to groups was scarce, and several comparison groups were from different facilities or different time periods, there is insufficient data to indicate that DBT is having an effect on recidivism that is greater than the effects of treatment as usual. Further, due to important ethical limitations, most comparison groups are receiving some form of intervention, which precludes any evidence that DBT, alone, is reducing recidivism. Future research in this area is needed to improve the quality of studies, the size of research samples, and the fidelity with which programs are implemented. Such research can help to lead criminal justice policy into an era of prison reform that has the unprecedented luxury of standing upon empirically-supported approaches to offender rehabilitation.” (p. 91)

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Kenny Gonzalez

Kenny Gonzalez is currently a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. His main research interest include forensic assessment, specifically violence risk. In the future, Kenny hopes to obtain a Phd in clinical forensic psychology and pursue a career in academia and practice.

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I was Born this Way: Psychopathology Etiology Determines Level of Blame

Criminals with a genetically predisposed psychopathology are seen as more blameworthy than those having psychopathology with an environmental etiology. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy and Law | 2017, Advanced Online Publication

Crime, Punishment, and Causation: The Effect of Etiological Information on the Perception of Moral Agency

Authors

Philip Robbins, University of Missouri
Paul Litton, University of Missouri

Abstract

Moral judgments about a situation are profoundly shaped by the perception of individuals in that situation as either moral agents or moral patients. Specifically, the more we see someone as a moral agent, the less we see them as a moral patient, and vice versa. As a result, casting the perpetrator of a transgression as a victim tends to have the effect of making them seem less blameworthy. Based on this theoretical framework, we predicted that criminal offenders with a mental disorder that predisposes them to antisocial behavior would be judged more negatively when the disorder is described as having a genetic origin than when it is described as environmentally caused, as in the case of childhood abuse or accident. Further, we predicted that some environmental explanations would mitigate attributions of blame more than others, namely, that offenders whose disorder was caused by childhood abuse (intentional harm) would be seen as less blameworthy than offenders whose disorder is caused by an unfortunate accident (unintentional harm). Results from two vignette-based studies designed to test these predictions, conducted with participants recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk (N=244 and N=387, respectively), confirmed the first prediction but not the second. Implications of this research for three areas—the psychology of moral judgment, philosophical debates about moral responsibility and determinism, and the practice of the law—are discussed in the sequel.

Keywords

moral typecasting, blame, punishment, responsibility, causation

Summary of the Research

“Are physiological or environmental explanations relevant to determining […] culpability [in] crimes? Aside from this puzzling philosophical question, it is important to know whether people generally find such explanations relevant to blame and punishment. Accordingly, empirical researchers have investigated the extent to which such causal explanations influence ordinary intuitions about appropriate punishment. With scientific knowledge advancing with respect to the causes of antisocial conduct, it should be helpful to lawyers and lawmakers to know the extent to which such evidence may affect judges and juries. Empirical research into the effect of causal explanations on judgments of blameworthiness, moral responsibility, and appropriate punishment could have practical importance for criminal lawyers as well as for courts assessing the obligations of counsel.” (p. 1)
“A natural starting point for this investigation is empirical research on the general structure of moral cognition. Of particular relevance to our project is the Theory of Dyadic Morality (TDM), which posits a single cognitive template underlying all moral judgments. According to TDM, moral judgments about a situation are profoundly shaped by the perception of individuals in that situation as either moral agents or moral patients. By definition, a moral agent has the capacity to perform morally good or bad actions, whereas a moral patient has the capacity to be on the receiving end of such actions. The conceptual dichotomy between agency and patiency is governed by the principle of “moral typecasting”: The more we see someone as a moral agent, the less we see them as a moral patient, and vice versa. In other words, moral agency and moral patiency are antithetical roles, and moral actors tend to be cast in one role to the exclusion of the other, even across contexts. For example, casting the perpetrator of a transgression as a victim of harm tends to have the effect of making them seem less blameworthy.” (p. 2)

“In the present context, the significance of TDM as an account of moral cognition is largely because of the fact that it generates clear predictions about how etiological information will influence the way people think about criminal behavior. According to the theory, we should expect that criminal offenders with a mental dis- order that predisposes them to violent antisocial behavior will be judged more negatively when the disorder is described as having a genetic origin than when it is described as environmentally caused, as in the case of childhood abuse or accident. The basis of this prediction is as follows. When the disorder has an environmental origin, there is a preexisting person who has suffered harm; hence, the perception of their moral patiency should be heightened, and the perception of their moral agency attenuated, by the addition of etiological information. When the disorder has a genetic origin, by contrast, there is no preexisting person to whom harm has been done (because no person exists before the determination of their genetic profile), so the perception of their moral agency should be unaffected by the receipt of information about the cause of their pathology. In other words, offenders whose disorder arises from environmental causes should be seen as less blameworthy than offenders whose disorder is caused by bad genes, because the former will be seen as victims but the latter will not. Moreover, genetic explanations of psychopathology, insofar as they do not implicate personal harm or victimhood, should not affect the perception of moral agency.” (p. 2)

“Results from the two studies presented here show that ordinary judgments of blame, punishment, and other aspects of moral agency are sensitive to information about the etiology of psychological impairments in criminal offenders. In line with the Theory of Dyadic Morality, offenders whose psychopathology was because of environmental causes were seen as less deserving of moral sanction than those whose pathology was genetic in origin; indeed, offenders whose pathology was genetic were judged no less negatively than offenders whose pathology was given no etiological explanation at all. These findings are consistent with prior studies finding no mitigation effect for genetic causal stories on judgments of blame and punishment. However, our results contrast with some previous research on whether evidence of suffering childhood abuse mitigates judgments of blame and punishment. We predicted that evidence of childhood abuse would produce greater mitigation in our studies because our vignettes, unlike those used in earlier research, included details about the abuse suffered. This prediction was borne out by our results.” (p. 7)

Translating Research into Practice

“The principle of moral typecasting says that the more we see someone as a moral patient (e.g., a victim), the less we see them as a moral agent (e.g., a villain), and conversely. Applied to the legal context, the principle suggests that criminal offenders will be judged less negatively when they are perceived as victims of harm relative to offenders who are not so perceived. Accordingly, it predicts that an agent whose criminal behavior is linked to psychopathology will be judged more negatively when the pathology is genetic rather than environmental in origin, because only in the environmental case will the agent be perceived as a victim of harm. This prediction was borne out by the results of Study 1. In two hypothetical crime scenarios, an offender with a brain disorder was perceived as more deserving of blame and punishment when the etiology of his disorder was genetic rather than environmental.” (p. 5)

“[O]ur findings are relevant to the practice of law, particularly in capital cases. It is important not to exaggerate the practical significance of the results reported here, however, especially given the fact that our participants were recruited from MTurk, and MTurk workers as a group are not perfectly representative of the communities from which jurors are drawn. That said, our research does suggest […] one way to escape blame is to be a victim, evidence of environmental etiology may be effective for the defense when the etiology of the disorder underlying the defendant’s wrongdoing implicates victimhood. Evidence of genetic etiology is a different story. Because genetic behavioral evidence is unlikely to reduce judgments of blame and responsibility, time and resources should be directed toward other strategies, especially if genetic behavioral evidence suggests future dangerousness.” (p. 9)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

Our findings in Study 2 about the effect of specifying a neural mechanism for an offender’s disorder also suggest further avenues for research. Attributing a neural basis to the disorder had only a small mitigating effect on judgments of moral responsibility and no effect on judgments of blame or punishment. This result contrasts to some extent with work by Greene and Cahill (2012), who found that psychiatric diagnostic evidence coupled with evidence from neuro- psychological tests and neuroimaging produced greater mitigating effects with respect to punishment than psychiatric diagnostic evidence alone, at least in cases in which the defendant presented a high risk for future dangerousness. Against this background, further investigation into the effect of neuroscientific evidence on judgments of blame and punishment is warranted. A natural extension of our project, for example, would be to add to the design of Study 2 an additional level of the mechanistic factor that included neuroimaging evidence.

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add! To read the full article, click here.

Authored by Kenny Gonzalez

Kenny Gonzalez is currently a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. His main research interest include forensic assessment, specifically violence risk. In the future, Kenny hopes to obtain a Phd in clinical forensic psychology and pursue a career in academia and practice.