APLS 2019 Presidential Address by Dr. Kevin Douglas

Dr. Kevin Douglas presented his Presidential address–Accomplishments and Aspirations: The Role of Psychology and Law in Fostering Public Good–at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society in Portland, Oregon this March.

American Psychology-Law Society Presidential Address

About Dr. Kevin Douglas

Dr. Kevin Douglas received his law degree (LL.B.) in 2000 from the University of British Columbia, and his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in clinical (forensic) psychology from Simon Fraser University. He spent three years on faculty at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and has been on faculty at Simon Fraser University since 2004. He currently is Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University. He is also a Guest Professor of Applied Criminology at Mid-Sweden University, and a Senior Research Advisor at the University of Oslo. He received a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Career Scholar Award (2005-2010), and was the recipient of the Saleem Shah Award for Early Career Excellence in Psychology and Law (2005), awarded jointly by the American Psychology-Law Society and the American Academy of Forensic Psychology. Dr. Douglas has authored over 150 journal articles, books, or book chapters. He has given over 150 invited presentations or workshops across 12 countries. His research and professional activities include violence risk assessment and management, the association between various mental and personality disorders (i.e., psychosis; psychopathy) and violence, and dynamic (changeable, treatment-relevant) risk factors, in both youth and adults. He is co-author of the Historical-Clinical-Risk Management-20 (HCR-20) violence risk assessment measure, which has been translated into 20 languages and is the most broadly used violence risk assessment measure around the world (roughly 35 countries) in correctional, forensic, and psychiatric settings. Its purpose is to help guide decisions about violence potential and how to reduce it. Dr. Douglas is lead author on the latest (third) revision of the HCR-20, published in 2013. His work has been funded, to the amount of approximately $5,000,000, by the National Science Foundation in the US, and, in Canada, by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Canadian Institutes.

AAFP Distinguished Contributions Award Address by Dr. Stephen Hart

Dr. Stephen Hart was awarded the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Distinguish Contributions Award at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society in Portland, Oregon this March. His award address was entitled, Beyond Validity: The Quest for Justice in Violence Risk Assessment.

American Psychology-Law Society Address

About Dr. Stephen Hart

Dr. Stephen D. Hart obtained BA, MA, and PhD degrees in psychology at the University of British Columbia. He has been on faculty in the Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University since 1990, and has held the rank of Professor since 2001. He also has been a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway since 2000. His expertise is in the field of clinical-forensic psychology, with a special focus on the assessment of violence risk and psychopathic personality disorder. He has co-authored more than 215 books, chapters, and articles. He has served as editor of two scientific journals; a member of the editorial board of six journals; and ad hoc reviewer for more than 30 journals. He served as executive committee member of several professional organizations, including President of the American Psychology-Law Society and the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services. He has received various distinctions for his professional work, including the Career Achievement Award from the Society of Clinical Psychology, the Saleem Shah Award for Early Career Research Excellence in Psychology and Law from the American Psychology-Law Society and the American Academy of Forensic Psychology, and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals. In Canada, he has been qualified to give expert testimony before various courts, tribunals, and review boards, including the provincial courts of British Columbia and Ontario; the superior courts of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario; Federal Court; and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

Targeting Implicit Criminal Cognition in Policies and Intervention Programs

Criminal cognition outside of conscious awareness or conscious control may be a cognitive marker for criminal behavior. 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 | 2018, Vol. 42, No. 6, 507-519

Implicit Self-Criminal Cognition and Its Relation to Criminal Behavior

Authors

Luis M. Rivera, Rutgers University—Newark
Bonita M. Veysey, Rutgers University—Newark

Abstract

Three studies adopted implicit social cognition theory and methodology to understand criminal cognition outside of conscious awareness or control, specifically by testing whether individual differences in implicit associations between the self and the group criminals are related to criminal behavior. A Single Category Implicit Association Test measured self-criminal associations across 3 adult samples—2 from Newark, New Jersey, a high-crime United States city, and an adult national sample from the United States. Then, all participants reported their criminal behavior in 2 cross-sectional design studies and 1 longitudinal design study. Consistent with an additive model of implicit and explicit cognition, studies generally demonstrated that strong implicit self-criminal associations increased the odds of committing a criminal act, even after accounting for explicit self-criminal cognition, past criminal behavior, and/or criminal-related demographics. This research suggests that implicit self-criminal associations serve as a cognitive marker for criminal behavior. Furthermore, the present research calls into question criminal justice policies and practices that assume that criminal behavior is exclusively driven by criminal intent.

Keywords

criminal identity, implicit social cognition, criminal justice system

Summary of the Research

“The size of the correctional population in the United States is staggering. In 2013, nearly 6.9 million or approximately 1 in 35 adults were under correctional supervision, including 4.75 million on probation or parole and 2.22 million in prison or local jail on any given day. These millions and all others formerly under supervision represent individuals in the criminal justice system. Factors ranging from social structural at the macro level to genetic at the micro level have been proposed to understand criminal acts. Within the range of explanatory factors, the psychological construct of criminal identity is thought to be one of the drivers of criminal behavior, and the shedding or replacement of a criminal identity is believed to be necessary for long-term desistance. Although
qualitative studies in the criminology literature describe how criminals think about their identity with other criminals and criminal related characteristics, these investigations are limited to criminals’ ability to introspect about and willingness to self-report their criminal cognition. Relying on introspection is limiting because individuals may not be fully aware of the potential impact of committing a criminal act on their self-concept. Equally important, relying on the willingness to self-report may be problematic because being a criminal is generally stigmatized in the United States and thus individuals who commit a criminal act may be motivated to minimize or distance themselves from a stigmatized group like criminals” (p. 507-508).

“Given the previous limitations, the present research adopts implicit social cognition theory and methodology to better understand criminal cognition and its link to criminal behavior. Applying the research on implicit self and identity cognitive processes to the present research, an implicit criminal identity is the association between the mental representations of the self-concept and of criminality that exists outside of conscious awareness or control. Because criminal as an identity is stigmatized, self-criminal cognitive associations linked to criminal behavior may be more difficult to capture if researchers rely only on introspection and willingness to self-report; thus, self-criminal associations that operate implicitly may be a more valid and stronger cognitive marker of criminal behavior than explicit self-criminal associations. The present research is the first test, to our knowledge, of the relation between implicit self-criminal associations and criminal behavior above and beyond any role of explicit self-criminal associations (and after accounting for criminality-related demographics)” (p. 508).

“A single-category [implicit association test] IAT measured speeded associations between the self and criminality across two samples of adults from Newark, New Jersey, a high-crime U.S. city (Studies 1 and 3), and one sample of adults from across the U.S. (Study 2). In Study 1, individuals with strong implicit self-criminal associations were more likely to engage in criminal behavior than those with weak (or no) implicit self-criminal associations. Study 2 replicated these results with a national and more diverse sample in terms of demographics and exposure to criminality in their neighborhoods. Finally, Study 3 extended these studies by employing a longitudinal design and demonstrating that implicit self-criminal associations predicted criminal behavior over a 7–20-month follow-up period. Moreover, and consistent with a prediction of a behavior additive model, across the three studies the relation between implicit self-criminal associations and criminal behavior held after controlling for demographic variables of age, gender, ethnic-racial identification, and socioeconomic status, as well as explicit criminal cognition variables. Most impressive was that across all studies SC-IAT-measured implicit self-criminal associations were the strongest and most consistent predictor of criminal behavior relative to the measures of explicit self-criminal cognition and criminal-related demographic variables” (p. 515).

“The present data have implications for criminology’s approach to understanding the relation between criminal identity and criminal behavior. Criminology research relies on individuals’ ability to introspect about and their willingness to self-report their criminal cognition. Introspection is limited to the extent to which individuals are aware of the potential impact of criminality on their self-concept. Moreover, relying on the motivation to self-report is problematic because criminality is stigmatized in most societies and, therefore, individuals may be motivated to minimize or even deny any criminality thoughts. In our studies, we went to great lengths to promote sincere responses on self-report measures by insuring the protection and confidentiality of our participants’ identity, collecting data directly using a computer-based platform, and by providing participants with privacy during data collection (in Studies 1 and 3; the extent of privacy for Study 2 participants is unknown). Under these conditions, individual differences in participants’ explicit self-criminal associations only covaried with criminal behavior in one of three of our studies. However, SCIAT-measured implicit self-criminal cognition outperformed self-reported explicit criminal cognition when predicting criminal behavior in Study 1 and was the only criminal cognition predictor in Studies 2 and 3. This may be the case because the SC-IAT is an indirect measure of social cognition and therefore relatively effective in bypassing both introspection and willingness when assessing the mental representation of the self as criminal. The extent to which the SC-IAT captures the basic cognitive association between the self and the group criminals outside of conscious awareness or control, we would expect it to exhibit superior predictive validity. Our findings are consistent with this rationale” (p. 515).

“As noted previously, individual differences in explicit self-criminal cognition was associated with criminal behavior in only one of three present studies. In addition to the limitations of self-reported criminal cognition measures, another plausible reason for this inconsistent finding is the nature of the samples across the different studies. The relation was evident in Study 1, which recruited participants from Newark, New Jersey, a city with one of the highest crime rates in the United States and is often ranked as one of the country’s most dangerous cities. Given its high-crime profile, its citizens are frequently exposed to crime directly in their immediate neighborhoods and indirectly via local media coverage, which in turn can have a potent role in shaping criminal-related cognition and behavior. This would be consistent with the criminology basic hypothesis that community-level factors are a source of offending. By comparison, the relation was not evident in Study 2, which recruited participants from communities that varied considerably in crime rates, suggesting that many participants had low direct and indirect exposure to crime in their neighborhoods. (We caution to speculate on Study 3 because, as noted below, the sample size was relatively small.) However, this explanation is speculative and the present research design and data are unable to test a cause-and-effect hypothesis. Regardless, from our perspective, the inconsistent relation between explicit self-criminal cognition and criminal behavior across three studies speaks to the importance of considering the role of implicit self-criminal cognition. Indeed, all studies in the present research consistently show that individual differences in implicit self-criminal associations explain which participants committed a criminal behavior” (p. 515).

Translating Research into Practice

“Much of the current thinking on effective interventions for desistance and crime reduction focuses on changing aspects of individuals’ lives (including cognitions and identities), opportunities, and contexts, in particular the “turning points” that change the trajectory of an individual’s life from a criminal pattern to a prosocial one (i.e., a desistance process). Most relevant to the present research are intervention programs that focus on human agency because they rely on an individual’s willpower to desist from criminal behavior. However, self-control efforts can fail when other factors are competing for cognitive resources. Indeed, offenders who are reentering society are faced with staggering challenges such as the constant attempts to distance themselves from the stigma of criminality, obtaining employment and housing opportunities, and achieving and maintaining good physical and mental health” (p. 516).

“Our research suggests that one alternative way to reduce criminal behavior recidivism is to attenuate implicit self-criminal associations. A robust line of social psychological research demonstrates that reminding individuals of important and positive parts of their lives can set off a host of psychological and behavioral benefits. Consistent with self-affirmation theory, individuals have numerous sources of self-worth such as values and traits tied to their personal and group identities. When self-image is threatened by behavior in one domain, an individual may draw from an alternative source of self-worth to restore the integrity of their overall self-concept and well-being. In the case of justice-involved individuals, a self-affirmation can be operationalized by providing them with as many opportunities to build, strengthen, and maintain values and characteristics unrelated to criminality. For example, Rivera and Veysey (2015) suggest that enhancing relationships with important others such as friends, parents, siblings, and children may be one important value for justice-involved individuals to focus on when seeking a successful transformation. If self-affirmation strategies are incorporated into community and correctional programs, they have the potential to attenuate implicit self-criminal cognition and help increase the chances of a successful transformation to a prosocial citizen” (p. 516).

“Finally, an implication of the present research for criminal justice policies and practices is that it calls into question the extent to which criminal behavior is linked to consciously known or intended criminal cognition. An individual may actively disavow criminal cognition, but it can still be linked to criminal behavior outside of conscious awareness and control. Criminal justice policies and practices should consider the insights of implicit social cognition theory and evidence as applied to criminal identities and behavior by pondering two basic questions. First, do criminal justice policies and practices consider the constraints of intention, awareness, and control on criminal cognition and behavior? Most recently, legal scholarship and judicial opinions have deliberated over the impact of implicit social cognition research on the law, in particular, challenges to the prevailing assumptions underlying criminal intent (what implicit social cognition theory refers to as motivational control). This leads to the second question: how do current criminal justice policies and practices consider the possibility that offenders behave criminally without their conscious awareness or control? This issue has direct implications for the practice of exclusively relying on offenders’ self-assessments. Revisiting criminal justice policy and practices with these two questions in mind may yield objectives that can potentially improve the criminal justice system in general and address one of its often-forgotten objectives, to rehabilitate offenders” (p. 516).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The present research was partly based on the fundamental hypothesis in psychology and criminology that individuals who commit a criminal act should yield a mental association between their self-concept and criminality, and that self-criminal associations should serve to promote and maintain future criminal acts. This hypothesized bidirectional relation, however, still raises the question whether self-criminal cognition is the antecedent to or consequence of criminal behavior. To the extent that self-criminal associations underlie a criminal identity, which in theory should drive criminal identity-based behaviors, they may be a precursor to engaging in criminal acts. The data in Study 3 were longitudinal and provide some preliminary evidence for this hypothesis, but they should be interpreted with caution because the data are correlational and the sample size was relatively small. Future research using longitudinal studies with larger samples and that follow individuals over time are necessary to unequivocally support the assumptions underlying past and present identity and behavior research” (p. 515-516).

“As an alternative, engaging in criminal behavior can lead to self-criminal cognition, which is consistent with the social psychological research on the role of behavior shaping beliefs. Some individuals engage in criminal behaviors because of situational factors (e.g., response to physical threats from an offender, thrill seeking) or simply because of “bad luck” (being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”). According to implicit social cognition theory, one or a combination of these experiences can lead to the association between the mental representations of the self and the category criminal outside of conscious awareness and conscious control, a process underlying an implicit criminal identity. From this perspective, committing a criminal act is the antecedent to developing an implicit criminal identity” (p. 516).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

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.

Stop treating me like a child: Youths’ perceptions of just treatment in adult and juvenile courts

Although youth adjudicated in adult court felt more justly treated that youth adjudicated in juvenile court, the findings should be interpreted as supporting necessary procedural justice adjustments to the juvenile court settings, as transfers to adult court have been linked to worse outcomes. 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 | 2018, Vol. 24, No. 4, 418–429

The impact of waiver to adult court on youths’ perceptions of procedural justice

Authors

Suzanne O. Kaasa, Westat, Rockville, Maryland
Joseph R. Tatar II, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Madison, Wisconsin
Amy Dezember, George Mason University
Elizabeth Cauffman, University of California–Irvine

Abstract

The current study examined perceptions of fair treatment in a past court experience among a sample of incarcerated youth (n = 364). Perceptions were compared for youth whose cases were processed through juvenile (n = 261) versus adult court (n = 103) systems. In general, youth who were adjudicated in adult court felt more justly treated by legal authorities than youth adjudicated in juvenile court. Specifically, youth in adult court rated judges as only marginally more just than youth in juvenile court, but rated their defense attorney’s treatment as significantly more just. Youth rated the prosecutor’s treatment as relatively unjust regardless of where their case was handled. Differences in perceptions of procedural justice were also observed based on prior arrest history and race, with White youth and first-time offenders perceiving the process to be more just. Our findings should not be used as support for the increased transfer of youth into adult court, as other studies have demonstrated these youth tend to have worse outcomes. However, our findings do suggest that improvements should be made to increase elements of procedural justice in juvenile court settings.

Keywords

procedural justice, waiver to adult court, juvenile court, juvenile justice, juvenile transfer

Summary of the Research

“Youth who commit serious offenses face two distinct paths in the justice system. Although the juvenile justice system handles the majority of cases involving minors, all states have enacted mechanisms for trying certain youth as adults in criminal court. […] Minors may be tried as adults in criminal court through four separate processes. In nearly all states, judges may authorize the transfer of cases that meet certain criteria from juvenile to criminal court, a decision referred to as judicial waivers. Some states allow prosecutorial waivers, where prosecutors may file charges against youth in criminal court without the need for judicial approval. A majority of states have also enacted statutory exclusion laws that mandate certain types of cases involving youth must be filed in criminal court. Finally, some states have set the age of criminal responsibility to less than 18 years, meaning individuals as young as 16 or 17 are excluded from the juvenile justice system simply because of their age. […] Statutory exclusion laws and juvenile justice systems that exclude youth 16 or 17 years old are designed to ensure uniform treatment of all youth who fit certain criteria, while judicial and prosecutorial waivers allow for individual circumstances to affect the transfer decision. In effect, both methods attempt to achieve fair treatment (among other goals) through opposite methods. The first method is meant to enhance fairness through standardization while the second is meant to enhance fairness by taking individual characteristics of the defendant and crime into account. However, it is unclear if the method of transfer impacts a juvenile’s perceptions of procedural justice, which in turn could potentially impact other outcomes.” (pp. 418–419)

“As a plethora of literature shows, perceptions of fair treatment are extremely important to the justice system. […] Research has demonstrated that individuals who believe they are unfairly treated by the justice system display worse outcomes than those who believe they were treated fairly, even when the individuals have similar negative distributive outcomes (e.g., were found guilty of a crime). Perceptions of unjust treatment increase feelings of anger, sadness, and depression, while perceptions of just treatment increase positive feelings such as happiness and satisfaction. Increased feelings of depression and anger because of perceived unjust treatment may exacerbate already high levels of internalizing and externalizing mental health disorders in justice-involved populations. Perceptions of procedural justice are also are linked with attitudes toward the legitimacy of authorities and rules. Finally, perceptions of injustice also influence behavior. Rule breaking and offending tend to be higher among individuals after a perceived unfair experience with the legal system.” (p. 419)

“Individuals perceive a process as fair if they: (a) are given a say or are actively involved, (b) are treated with respect, (c) feel the authority can be trusted to act in a fair and ethical manner, and (d) believe the authority is unbiased in his or her decision-making. […] Certain background characteristics of individuals are associated with higher perceptions of unjust treatment, including ethnicity or race and previous contact with the justice system. Whites have reported more positive perceptions of their personal treatment by legal authorities than Latino and Black youth. These perceptions are likely because of real disparities in treatment and outcomes with research indicating that minority offenders are more likely to be arrested, face greater odds of being charged and prosecuted, and are sentenced more harshly than their White counterparts. […] There is some evidence that individuals with more convictions perceive personal contacts as less just. […] Minorities and individuals with greater justice system experience view legal authorities as less just in their general dealings with the public and expect them to be less just during future personal contacts. There is even evidence that experiences in one legal context can impact perceptions in other situations.” (p. 419)

“Because of the serious negative implications that perceptions of unjust treatment have on individuals’ emotions, attitudes, and behaviors, it is crucial that different aspects of the justice system are evaluated based on their procedural justice. One unexplored area is the difference in perceptions of fair treatment that youth experience in juvenile versus adult criminal justice systems. This is an important topic for several reasons. First, because of the fact that youth are cognitively and psychosocially immature, early experiences with the justice system may substantially impact their future development. […] Second, while juvenile waivers have decreased since their peak in the mid-1990s, transfer laws and mechanisms have become more common and more far-reaching, allowing for offenders to bypass the juvenile court altogether. In recent years, the pendulum has swung back with some states amending their transfer laws to keep more youth within the juvenile court system. […] There is some support for the idea that the rehabilitative and less-adversarial nature of juvenile court would enhance youth’s perceptions of fair treatment, as compared with the adult criminal court. Youth in criminal court generally have worse outcomes than youth tried for similar offenses in the juvenile system. […] Research indicates that waivers stigmatize transferred youth by signaling increased culpability, dangerousness, and incorrigibility to adult court judges. […] Experiencing the juvenile penalty in adult criminal court may result in transferred youth having increased perceptions of unfair treatment. Finally, transfer may result in a harsher experience of incarceration when juveniles that have been waived to the adult system are housed in adult correctional facilities.” (p. 419–420)

“It is also likely that many features of juvenile court decrease perceptions of procedural justice. Because the juvenile court was originally based on the parens patriae ideal of the state acting in the best interests of youth, established procedural safeguards mandated for adult defendants were deemed unnecessary. In practice, this lack of safeguards led to serious instances of injustice and, over time, many procedural protections have been granted to youth in the juvenile system. […] Youth charged in the juvenile justice system enjoy some, but not all, of the procedural protections guaranteed in criminal court. Youth who are charged as adults, on the other hand, enjoy all of the same procedural protections as their older counterparts. Therefore, it is possible that these youth experience their treatment by the justice system as more fair than youth tried as juveniles.” (p. 420)

“In addition to procedural disparities, there have also been numerous studies examining the role of criminal justice actors in the juvenile justice system and the transfer process. Studies have shown that, in addition to legal factors, juvenile court judges take their own attitudes about the offender and their beliefs about transfer effectiveness into consideration when making waiver decisions. […] Further, studies looking at defense attorneys have indicated that juvenile courts often receive fewer resources than criminal courts, and are viewed as less desirable and prestigious work environments than criminal courts.” (p. 420)

“The current study examined perceptions of fair treatment in a past court experience among a sample of incarcerated youth. Perceptions were compared for youth whose cases were processed through the juvenile versus adult court systems. Individual differences in youth characteristics related to perceptions of procedural justice were also examined. Finally, the perceived fairness of specific aspects of court treatment were compared for youth in juvenile versus adult systems.” (p. 421)

“The sample was comprised of 364 adolescent male offenders between the ages of 14 and 17 (M = 16.42, SD = .80, Median = 17), incarcerated at a secure juvenile facility in southern California. Of these youth, 261 were processed through juvenile court and 103 were processed through adult court. The ethnic and racial representation of the sample was consistent with incarcerated youth in similar juvenile justice facilities in California at the time data was collected: 53.6% Latino, 29.1% Black, 6.0% White, and 11.3% of primarily biracial origin. Seventy percent of the sample was adjudicated on a violent committing offense, 12% with a property offense, 7% with a public order offense, 3.5% each with a weapon or drug charge, and 5% with an unclassified crime. At the time of the data collection period, California’s upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction was 17 years. […] Perceived fairness of a youth’s last court appearance was assessed using an expanded version of the Fairness Assessment in Response to Court Experiences scale (FAIRCE).” (pp. 421–422)

“Our findings provide insight into these three points. In general, youth who were adjudicated in adult court felt more justly treated by legal authorities than youth adjudicated in juvenile court, even controlling for race and prior arrest disparities among these two groups. Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that these findings are driven by certain legal authorities rather than others. Youth in adult court rated judges as only marginally more just than youth in juvenile court, but rated their defense attorney’s treatment as significantly more just. Youth in both juvenile and adult courts rated the prosecutor’s treatment as relatively unjust compared with their ratings of the judge and defense attorney. This is not surprising given the prosecutor’s role and likely explains the lack of difference between these two groups for this particular legal authority. […] These findings have important implications for improving how the juvenile justice system functions. Over time, the juvenile justice system has incorporated many, but not all, of the procedural safeguards that are hallmarks of the adult criminal justice system.” (p. 424)

“Some research conducted on the behaviors and attitudes of these legal actors suggest that the less adversarial orientation of the juvenile justice system has produced a distinct legal culture from that of criminal court. These cultural influences have in some cases led to differences in role expectations between the two courts that may affect how youth perceive their treatment by legal authorities. […] A de-emphasis on the adversarial process may result in defense attorneys creating a less rigorous defense for youth, and the feeling among youth that their attorney is working for the court rather than working for them. This discouragement of the adversarial process appears to stem from the stated emphasis in juvenile court on dual goals of rehabilitation and punishment of juvenile offenders.” (p. 424)

“Although research is this area is lacking, some authors suggest that the greater emphasis on rehabilitation in juvenile court has led to role conflicts for legal actors. […] One survey of court workers (including judicial and nonjudicial staff) found that judges were expected to be neutral fact-finders during adjudication, but to switch orientations during detention and disposition stages and focus on the best interests of youth by matching their unique needs to available rehabilitative resources. In fact, over half of these workers declared that youth’s rehabilitation should be the judge’s top priority. […] Judicial role conflict may be apparent to youth in juvenile court when they observe judges departing from their objective fact-finder role; thus, leading to lower perceptions of fair treatment.” (p. 424)

“Role conflict has also been found with attorneys. […] Research suggests that the greatest differences in court roles are experienced by defense attorneys. Professional standards and ethical guidelines obligate defense attorneys to follow the stated preference of their clients and offer the most rigorous defense possible. However, the nonadversarial culture of juvenile courts and procedural differences that reflect a parens patriae orientation present a potential conflict of interest for defense attorneys when the youth they represent may benefit from rehabilitative services if adjudicated delinquent. […] Research suggests that youth in juvenile court were dissatisfied with their representation. Altogether, it is possible that differences in legal authorities’ experience, resources, and perceived roles could significantly lower levels of perceived just treatment by youth in juvenile court than those in criminal court.” (pp. 424–425)

“Results from the analyses indicated that youth who had been arrested before felt they had been treated more unfairly than those who had no previous arrest history by the judge and felt marginally more unfair treatment by the prosecutor, but not their defense attorney. […] our findings provide a more nuanced examination of this issue, and suggest that experience with the justice system affects perceptions of some court authorities more than others. One limitation of our findings is that we examine the association of prior arrests on perceptions of just treatment rather than prior adjudications. It is possible that many of the youth in our sample were diverted or did not have charges filed for prior arrests and, therefore, did not have much contact with a defense attorney.” (p. 425)

“Our findings also revealed differences in perceptions of just treatment by race; White youth felt more justly treated by the prosecutor and the defense attorney and marginally more justly treated by the judge than minority youth. This finding adds to a body of literature that shows minorities report perceptions of unjust treatment by a variety of different legal authorities at greater rates than Whites. […] These perceptions are likely because of real disparities in treatment and outcomes, with research indicating that minority offenders are more likely to be arrested, face greater odds of being charged and prosecuted, and are sentenced more harshly than their White counterparts.” (p. 425)

Translating Research into Practice

“Our findings should not be used as support for the increased transfer of youth into adult court, as other studies have demonstrated these youth tend to have worse outcomes. However, our findings do suggest that improvements should be made to increase elements of procedural justice within juvenile court settings.” (p. 426)

System processes and procedures: “The twin goals of juvenile court are to provide accountability for youth offenders while supporting rehabilitation. […] One element that appears to distinguish procedures in juvenile versus adult court is the de-emphasis on the adversarial process and more cooperative relationships between judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys in the juvenile system. Juvenile courts may need to consider how these relationships are perceived by youth as they interact with these legal authorities separately and together in the courtroom setting. Appearance of collusion between one’s own defense attorney and the prosecutor may be especially harmful to perceptions of just treatment. Youth may benefit from more formalized separation between these legal authorities during the legal process. In addition, more formal procedural protections afforded in adult criminal courts such as the right to a jury trial could establish additional procedural protections. Members of the public who serve as jurors may be less likely to experience role conflict and, therefore, be more likely than judges to be objective fact-finders and follow the legally mandated “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof in juvenile courts. […] These system-level changes can be enacted in ways that preserve the juvenile court’s dual goals. Increased procedural protections would likely result in increased perceptions of just treatment, which in turn would likely increase youth receptiveness to rehabilitation.” (p. 426)

Racial and ethnic disparities: “Given the importance of neutral treatment to procedural justice, it is imperative that court systems actively promote equal treatment of youth regardless of background. As disparities can arise from unconscious behaviors and unintended consequences, they require conscious and sustained efforts to address. Courts should implement training on these issues for all legal authorities that interact with youth. In addition, courts should make a conscious effort to ensure that their hiring and promotion practices result in staff who reflect similar demographics as the communities they represent.” (p. 426)

Judges: “Increasing formal procedural protections for youth may help address the issue of judicial role conflict in juvenile justice systems. However, additional attention may need to be paid to how judges consider youth prior criminal history during the court process. […] Although prior criminal history may be an appropriate factor to inform justice decisions, judges should be careful to ensure they continue to treat all youth with the same respect, voice, neutrality, and fairness regardless of their background. It is especially important that judges retain their impartiality given the lack of jury trials in many jurisdictions. Courts may benefit from judicial training on how to incorporate prior history into decision making without reducing perceptions of procedural justice.” (p. 426)

Prosecutors: “Our findings showed that youth in both juvenile and adult criminal court rated prosecutor behavior as relatively unjust compared with judges and defense attorneys. […] However, prosecutors in juvenile court must also grapple with role conflict issues. Additional training on these issues may benefit prosecutors as well.” (p. 426)

Defense attorneys: “The main difference between perceptions of procedural justice among youth in juvenile versus adult criminal courts was treatment by their own defense attorneys. Juvenile defense counsel training should include guidance related to managing role conflict and methods for engaging youth more in the process so that they feel they have a meaningful voice in proceedings. […] Providing sufficient resources to support a rigorous defense and high-quality defense attorneys would also promote procedural justice by counteracting systemic barriers created by the perception that juvenile court is as a low-stakes training ground for attorneys.” (pp. 426–427)

Community-based services: “In addition to training, one crucial way to reduce perceptions of role conflict is to reduce the reliance on justice systems to address mental health and other service needs. […] Although rehabilitation is a goal of the juvenile justice system, best practices are to divert low-risk youth from the justice system rather than divert high-need (but low risk) youth into the system. Jurisdictions should assess the level and type of community-based services to ensure they are sufficient and available to youth to avoid overreliance on justice-system services.” (p. 427)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“As with all studies, our findings do have limitations given the data collected. First, our sample included only males. […] justice-involved female youth are an important and understudied population, and it is possible that their experiences in adult court may differ from their male counterparts. Future research should examine the potential for differential impacts of juvenile transfers on male and female youth. In addition, our entire sample was limited to one secure facility in Southern California. […] additional research should be conducted to investigate the effects of juvenile transfers on perceptions of procedural justice in diverse locations. Our study also shares a common limitation in the procedural justice literature, that we measure only perceptions of just treatment rather than observations of behavior. While it is important that additional research include more observation of courtroom interactions, it is also important to note that perceptions have a real and direct impact on emotional and behavioral outcomes.” (p. 425)

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

 

Authored by Kseniya Katsman

Kseniya Katsman is a Master’s student in Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her interests include forensic application of dialectical behavior therapy, cultural competence in forensic assessment, and risk assessment, specifically suicide risk. She plans to continue her education and pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Ward Climate? Research Shows: Still No Operationalized Definition

Ward climate is often used to refer to the material, social, and emotional conditions of a unit that influence the mood, behavior, and self-concept of the individuals involved. This study sought to examine the psychometric properties of the EssenCES and the GCI-r, two self-report questionnaires that assess ward climate, and the overlap between these two instruments in three high security forensic psychiatric facilities. Good internal consistency was found for all subscales of both instruments, and analyses indicated that the instruments measure related concepts. 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| 2018, Vol. 17, No. 3, 247-255

Ward Climate in a High-Secure Forensic Psychiatric Setting: Comparing Two Instruments

Authors

Meike Godelieve de Vries, Division Diagnostics Research and Education, Forensic Psychiatric Centre Pompestichting, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Inti Angelo Brazil, Division Diagnostics Research and Education, Forensic Psychiatric Centre Pompestichting, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Collaborative Antwerp Psychiatric Research Institute, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium; Centre for Psychology, Behaviour, & Achievement, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, UK
Peer van der Helm, Hogeschool Leiden, Youth Expert Centre, Leiden University of Profressional Sciences, Leiden, The Netherlands
Robbert-Jan Verkes, Division Diagnostics Research and Education, Forensic Psychiatric Centre Pompestichting, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Department of Criminal Law, Law School, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Radboud University Medical Centre, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Berend Hendrik Bulten, Division Diagnostics Research and Education, Forensic Psychiatric Centre Pompestichting, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Behavioural Science Institute (BSI), Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Abstract

The psychometric properties and associations between the Essen Climate Evaluation Schema (EssenCES) and the Group Climate Instrument-revised (GCI-r) were examined. These self-report questionnaires assessing ward climate were filled out by 123 male patients, residing in 3 high-secure forensic psychiatric facilities. Good internal consistency was found for all subscales of both instruments. The original factor structure was confirmed for the EssenCES, but not for the GCI-r. Bivariate correlation analyses indicated that the instruments measure related concepts. The results of this study call for further development and validation and for finding common grounds in the definition and operationalization of ward climate.

Keywords

EssenCES, GCI-r, ward climate, self-report measures, psychometric properties

Summary of the Research

“it has long been recognized that ward climate or atmosphere plays an important role in the efficacy of treatment in psychiatric hospitals…Ward climate or social climate is often used as a term to refer to the material, social, and emotional conditions of a particular unit and the interaction between such factors, which may influence the mood, behavior and self-concept of the people involved…Having an optimal ward climate has been described as a prerequisite for fostering program responsivity and enhancing treatment readiness. There is a growing body of research on ward climate, demonstrating that positive ward climate often co-occurs with positive organizational and therapeutic outcomes in inpatient forensic psychiatric care. For instance, the quality of ward climate is found to be related to motivation to engage in treatment, coping, and therapeutic alliance, staff and patient satisfaction, self-reported aggression and aggressive incidents, and recidivism…” (p.247).

“…Nowadays, relatively short questionnaires are preferred and used to monitor and compare ward climate and to guide clinical practice. One example of this type of instrument is the Essen Climate Evaluation Schema (EssenCES)…The EssenCES was developed for use in forensic psychiatric units. The EssenCES is also available for correctional and prison settings…The psychometric quality of the EssenCES in correctional settings and forensic psychiatric hospitals has been studied and supported several times. However, additional research on its suitability is required for specialized settings such as female units, facilities for juvenile offenders, and forensic facilities for individuals with learning disabilities. The EssenCES measures three aspects of ward climate, namely ‘Therapeutic Hold,’ referring to the extent to which the unit is perceived as supportive of patients’ therapeutic needs; ‘Experienced Safety,’ representing freedom from the threat of aggression and violence; and ‘Patient Cohesion and Mutual Support…,’ indicating the extent to which characteristics of a therapeutic community are approximated on a unit” (p.248).

“A second example of a relatively short questionnaire developed to monitor ward climate is the Group Climate Instrument revised (CGI-r) derived from the Prison Group Climate Inventory (PGCI)…The PGCI was developed to measure group climate in youth prisons and secure residential treatment facilities…The GCI-r assesses four dimensions of ward climate, namely ‘Support…;’’ ‘Growth,’ reflecting facilitation of learning and preparation for a meaningful life both within and outside the closed facility; ‘Atmosphere…;’ and ‘Repression,’ which measures a negative side of ward climate encompassing perceptions of strictness and control, unfair rules and boredom, and lack of flexibility on the ward…it has yet to be determined whether and to what extent these two instruments diverge or overlap in the aspects of ward climate that they intend to measure. The main goal of the present study was to examine the psychometric properties of the EssenCES and the CGI-r, and the overlap between the instruments, in a Dutch high-secure forensic psychiatric setting” (p.248).

“A strong positive relationship was expected between the Therapeutic Hold scale of the EssenCES and the Support scale of the GCI-r, because both factors represent the quality of the relationship between patients and staff members in terms of responsiveness to patients’ needs. The Atmosphere scale of the GCI-r seems to assess elements of both the Experienced Safety and Patient Cohesion scale of the EssenCES, therefore a positive association between these scales was expected. A negative relationship was expected between the Repression scale of the GCI-r and the Therapeutic Hold scale of the EssenCES, as repression measures among other things unfair, repressive behavior by staff members. Because repression is the only aspect aimed at a negative side of ward climate, negative relationships between the Repression scale of the GCI-r and all other scales…were expected” (p.248-249).

“Bivariate correlation analyses showed that the GCI-r and the EssenCES were strongly related. As expected, a strong positive relationship was found between the Support scale of the GCI-r and the EssenCES’ Therapeutic Hold scale. Also, a strong positive relationship between the Atmosphere scale of the GCI-r and the Experienced Safety and Patient Cohesion scales of the EssenCES was found. However, it should be noted that strong correlations were found between the Atmosphere scale of the GCI-r and all the other scales (both of the EssenCES and GCI-r)…In line with our expectations, the Repression scale of the CGI-r showed strong negative relationships with all other scales (both of the EssenCES and CGI-r). The highest correlation was with the Therapeutic Hold scale of the EssenCES and the lowest with the Patient Cohesion scale of the EssenCES. This finding supports the notion that the Repression scale measures a concept reflecting the negative transactional processes (structure, power, coercion) between staff members and patients in a closed setting” (p.252).

“Our expectation that the Growth scale of the GCI-r would show relatively low correlations with the sub-scales of the EssenCES was not supported. The Growth scale of the GCI-r was strongly related to the Therapeutic Hold scale of the EssenCES. It is plausible that focusing on facilitation of learning and preparation for a meaningful life both within and outside the closed facility is an important element of therapeutic holding” (p.252)

Translating Research into Practice

“Our findings illustrate the importance of considering how instruments may differ in the definition and operationalization of ward climate. Hence, instruments used in clinical practice seem to differ in the aspects of ward climate they aim to measure and the amount of empirical support that they do so in a valid way. Nursing staff and management within the high-secure forensic setting could use the knowledge derived from this and other studies in their choices related to monitoring ward climate…The EssenCES will invite individuals to evaluate topics like safety, support, and cohesion on a group level (while taking other group members into account in their evaluation). Furthermore, the EssenCES can be used to measure how ward climate is perceived by both staff members and patients. Taking the perception of both staff and patients into account when monitoring ward climate is important, as their general perception of ward climate may differ” (p.253).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“A critical note is that although both the EssenCES and the CGI-r are relatively easy to use in clinical practice, both instruments draw a simplified picture of ward climate. There are studies advocating a more in-depth definition and operationalization of ward climate. Alongside routine monitoring using short self-report measures, it has been recommended that more detailed information should be gathered by using more lengthy questionnaires, by means of focus groups, or through individual interviews with patients and staff” (p.253).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

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 is a second year Masters student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.

The impact of gender and views of sexualization on sexual harassment judgments

Allowing people to consider information about how others view sexual objectification could reduce the influence of gender and attitudes toward sexualization on judgments of sexual harassment. 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 | 2018, Vol. 42, No. 6, 545-557

The Objective Prong in Sexual Harassment: What Is the Standard?

Authors

Richard L. Wiener, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Trace C. Vardsveen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Abstract

In Title VII sexual harassment jurisprudence, U.S. courts use a 2-prong subjective-objective test to determine the viability of a sexual harassment claim: The complainant must show that the employer’s conduct was unwelcome and sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment because of the complainant’s sex from both the complainant’s perspective (subjective prong) and a reasonable person’s perspective (objective prong). This online study used a diverse national sample (361 MTurk Community Members) to investigate whether people apply the objective prong in a uniform manner, as the law assumes, or show predictable differences. Participants read a vignette about a female interviewee’s allegations of sexual harassment following from severe, mild, or no sexual objectification by a male interviewer during a job interview. The interviewee claimed that she was either harassed or not by the interviewer during the interaction, as well as claiming to enjoy or reject sexualization. Participants made judgments about whether the interviewer’s behavior was sexually harassing from the interviewee’s and a reasonable person’s perspective. Overall, participants’ sex and enjoyment of sexualization moderated their judgments of sexual harassment when considering the situation from both points of view, demonstrating that there is no convergence on a unified standard for evaluating whether specific behavior is sexually harassing. Drawing comparisons to obscenity law, we argue that the use of data to form social fact evidence may help decision makers in hostile work environment cases to apply a more uniform understanding of what is hostile and abusive.

Keywords

sexual harassment, objectification, discrimination, hostile work environment

Summary of the Research

“Hostile work environment sexual harassment law prohibits one worker from subjecting another to an abusive environment provided that the complainant perceives the environment as hostile (i.e., the subjective prong of the test) and a reasonable person in a ‘similar environment under essentially like or similar circumstances’ would also find the working conditions to be hostile or abusive (i.e., the objective prong of the test). The current article argues that the objective prong is susceptible to individual difference factors in a manner similar to the community standard test in federal obscenity law. Obscenity law requires a judgment of whether the objectionable materials appeal to the prurient interest or are patently offensive from the perspective of the community exposed to those materials” (p. 545).

“The purpose of the current study was to examine more closely how evaluators with second hand information about the transpiring events, that is, predictors, respond to experiencer claims that they were the victims of harassment. We wondered whether predictor’s gender and measured ESS [Enjoyment of Sexualization Scale] scores were moderators of their harassment judgments. Treating participants as reasonable persons and asking them to evaluate the environment that the target experienced under essentially like or similar circumstances allowed us to examine the way in which predictors make objective prong judgments, including the role of individual differences. Participants read vignettes that described the Wiener et al. (2013) lab interview in which a male interviewer did or did not sexually objectify a female job candidate, who either did or did not complain that she was harassed. The objectification was either severe, that is, longer in duration or mild, shorter in duration. Finally, we included as a speculative factor a statement expressing whether the experiencer did or did not enjoy being sexualized to test whether the predictor’s own enjoyment of sexualization was as important as the experiencer’s reported enjoyment of sexualization” (p. 547).

“The central question was, how does ‘a reasonable person in a similar environment under essentially like or similar circumstances’ to the experiencer, determine whether the situation described in our vignette was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile environment? If ordinary people rely upon a unified national community standard, that is, one that does not change with differences in predictor sensitivities toward sexual objectification, then the answer should depend on the level of sexual objectification that the target experiences, whether the target complained about harassment, and perhaps whether the target normally enjoys sexualization. It should not depend upon individual differences among the predictors. We predicted that harassment judgments would be the strongest under severe objectification conditions when the experencer complained of the harassing behavior, as well as when she did not enjoy sexualization. These judgments should be the weakest in the no objectification control condition, when the experiencer does not complain of harassment and when she enjoys sexualization. Thus, a unified community standard would predict main effects of objectification and possibly two-way interactions between that factor and target complaints of harassment, as well as two-way interactions between objectification and target enjoyment of sexualization, factors that depict the objective events in our vignette” (p. 547).

“However, to the extent that individual differences such as gender of the participant and the participant’s own enjoyment of sexualization interact with the severity of objectification, there is evidence that any national community standard breaks down with differences in evaluator sensitivities. If that is the case, then similar to obscenity judgments under federal law, hostile work environment judgments may benefit from empirical evidence demonstrating whether or not a reasonable person would find the complained after behavior harassing. Such evidence could help systematize the community standard. In summary, we posit two opposing hypotheses: Hypothesis 1 (unified national community standard exists) was that there would be main effects on harassment judgments for level of severity of sexual objectification and, perhaps, two-way interactions between objectification and the interviewer’s claim of harassment, as well as her self-reported enjoyment of sexualization. The opposing Hypothesis 2 (no unified national standard exists) predicted that the effect of severity of objectification would emerge, but only some of the time depending upon the participant’s gender and measured enjoyment of sexualization. That is, participant gender and enjoyment of sexualization would trigger predictable sensitivities, such that women would be more sensitive to milder forms of objectification, as would evaluators who did not enjoy sexualization” (p. 547).

“The manipulation of sexual objectification had the intended impact on judgments of interviewer unprofessionalism with participants in the severe objectification condition finding the interviewee to be most unprofessional, followed by those in the mild objectification condition, and then the no objectification control condition. Most interestingly, the difference between the severe and mild condition was significant for men but not for women, suggesting that women found any occurrence of objectification unprofessional while men differentiated according to objectification severity. There are a number of potential reasons why the manipulation behaved differently for men than for women, including greater ability to detect objectification in women, greater sensitivity to the male interviewer’s conduct in men, and gender differences in standards of professional conduct. Although the current data does not allow a complete explanation of these differences, future experimental studies that vary objectification severity in more nuanced ways (e.g., manipulating the content of the comments, using a fuller range of gaze times and manipulating the interviewer’s nonverbal behavior) will be important to understand gender differences in perceived objectification. Finally, the manipulation of the interviewee’s claim was also successful in that participants who read that the interviewee complained that she was harassed rated the interviewer more negatively than did those who read about an interviewee that did not complain” (p. 554).

“With regard to participants’ inferences about the subjective prong of the severe or pervasive test, participants taking the interviewee’s perspective found more evidence of subjective harassment in the severe objectification condition, less in the mild condition and the least in the no objectification condition. However, several factors qualified this finding. First, men discriminated between mild and severe harassment when determining if the interviewee experienced harassment whereas women did not; instead they found any objectification harassing as compared to no objectification. But most interesting was that the participants’ enjoyment of sexualization did not predict their reactions to mild objectification but did predict their reactions to severe objectification. Those who read about severe objectification were less likely to find that the interviewee had experienced legal harassment as their enjoyment of sexualization increased. Furthermore, participants who read that the interviewee claimed that she was harassed found more evidence of subjective harassment than did those who learned that the interviewee did not claim harassment. Nonetheless, the fact that the participants’ own enjoyment of sexualization moderated their evaluations of severe objectification, but that the interviewee’s report of sexualization did not moderate participants’ evaluations of either severe or mild sexual objectification is somewhat disturbing, given that Kimble et al. (2016) found that those experiencers’ responses to actual objectification depended upon the experiencers’ own enjoyment of sexualization. Unbiased predictors ought to consider the experiencer’s level of sexualization enjoyment and not their own, when judging objectification. Thus, although we did not design our experiment to find bias in inferences of subjective harassment, these results suggest that such bias occurred in our participants’ judgments. In other words, when evaluating the subjective prong by determining whether the interviewee experienced harassment, the evaluators should have been more influenced by the interviewee’s enjoyment of sexualization, rather than their own” (p. 554).

“Even though neither the complainant’s own claim of harassment nor her espoused level of enjoyment of sexualization influenced the reasonable person judgments, the objectification effects support Hypothesis 1, suggesting that a unified national standard exists but that reasonable others make that judgment without considering the claims of the target regarding the experience of harassment or her rejection of sexualization. Had we stopped here, this would be the conclusion for the objective prong. However, we found that sex of the participant moderated this effect such that the pattern just discussed described the judgments that reasonable women made but not those of reasonable men. In fact, the men did not show an overall significant difference in legal harassment across the three objectification conditions. This is true even though men were more nuanced than were women when they evaluated the unprofessionalism inherent in sexual objectification. Thus, these data show that sex of the evaluator splinters any unified national standard for sexual harassment, supporting Hypothesis 2” (p. 554).

“Further support for Hypothesis 2, that a unified standard does not naturally exist, comes from the moderating influence of participants’ enjoyment of sexualization on their interpretation of sexual objectification. Although participants found the mild and severe objectification harassing compared to the no objectification controls, the differences deteriorated as participant enjoyment of sexualization increased and finally disappeared at the highest levels of ESS. In the severe condition, those who scored low on the ESS found significant objectification effects on legal harassment but the effect of objectification steadily decreased as scores increased on the ESS. In fact, participants scoring at the 90th ESS percentile, did not find severe objectification harassing as compared to no objectification. A similar pattern, but with slower convergence, emerged in the mild objectification condition, but this time ESS did not moderate those in the objectification condition, but instead moderated those in the control, no objectification condition. Together these findings challenge the existence of a unified standard, which not only breaks down by gender, but further splinters depending upon whether participants do or do not enjoy sexualization. Clearly, these findings draw into question the existence of a unified agreement of the effects of sexual objectification among predictors who ultimately serve as jurors, EEOC officers, and perhaps even judges” (p. 554).

Translating Research into Practice

“Taken together, our findings support Hypothesis 2 and demonstrate specific ways in which sex of the evaluator and enjoyment of sexualization limit the uniformity of a standard for evaluating alleged sexual misconduct. When the courts faced a similar problem for criminal obscenity, that is, when they found the community standard for establishing a prurient interest in sex and a patently offensive view of sex varied according to the sensitivities of the members of the national community, they allowed jurors to hear empirical evidence that assisted them in identifying the community standard as illustrated above in People v. Nelson (1980). Similarly, the current data point to the need for social fact evidence in sexual harassment law. Here, social facts refer to a specialized type of adjudicated fact, that is, facts the jury hears that describe the parties, their activities, their properties or their businesses, which social scientists collect by applying scientific methodologies specific to the issues in a particular case to try and prove some issue in the case. Here, social fact data would be similar to those in obscenity cases that help the trier of fact determine a national community standard, a standard that the ninth circuit already requires in obscenity law when questionable materials are distributed across the Internet” (p. 555-556).

“What would these social facts look like in a sexual harassment case? They would be a collection of judgments about sexual harassment for the specific conduct complained about in a particular case. If the case were about severe sexual objectification, the data would look very much like the results in the current study. That is, an expert would present to the jurors the overall judgment of harassment across levels of objectification as well as the differences that occur as a function of sex and enjoyment of sexualization. The goal would be to assist triers of fact to reach a consensus despite their own individual differences, so that they did not rely on the views of either oversensitive or undersensitive individuals, who very well could be members of the jury. If a case were about other forms of potential harassment, such as name calling, uninvited acts of touching, unreciprocated sexual attention or some combination, then the relevant research would use those circumstances to present judgments made by men and women under varying conditions. As is the case with all social fact data, the jury would retain the final judgment, but under a Daubert or even a Frye admissibility regime, social fact data showing how reasonable people make harassment judgments would need to be relevant, reliable, and helpful to the triers of fact by assisting them to formulate an objective decision that is in compliance with the sufficiently severe or pervasive test. We think the current study makes the need for these types of data clear” (p. 556).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Analysis of objective harassment judgments from the reasonable person perspective (i.e., the objective prong) showed main effects of objectification such that there were higher ratings of objective harassment in both of the objectification conditions as compared to the control, no objectification condition. And yet, these same participants failed to incorporate the interviewee’s claim of whether she was harassed as they interpreted the objectification information. While a single finding does not necessarily point to a policy implication, our results do suggest that predictors may not weigh the experiencers’ perspectives when evaluating objectification. Instead, they seem to rely more on themselves as reference points when forecasting the impact of objectification severity. If this finding replicates, it suggests that predictors (e.g., human resource officials, EEOC officers and jurors) may overestimate the importance of sexual objectification when forecasting the effects of that conduct as they judge harassment. Additional research on this issue will help us understand the impact of sexual objectification when people make harassment judgments” (p. 554-555).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

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.

When innocent confess: Modern potential jurors’ attitude toward false confessions

Modern potential jurors are more aware of the false confession phenomenon, with media promoting knowledge about interrogation and confession process. 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 | 2018, Vol. 24, No. 3, 430–448

A survey of potential jurors’ perceptions of interrogations and confessions

Authors

Amelia Mindthoff, Florida International University
Jacqueline R. Evans, Florida International University
Gissel Perez, Florida International University
Skye A. Woestehoff, George Mason University
Alma P. Olaguez, University of California, Irvine
J. Zoe Klemfuss, University of California, Irvine
Christopher J. Normile, Central Michigan University
Kyle C. Scherr, Central Michigan University
Marianna E. Carlucci, Loyola University Maryland
Rolando N. Carol, Auburn University at Montgomery
Christian A. Meissner, Iowa State University
Stephen W. Michael, Whitman College
Melissa B. Russano, Roger Williams University
Eric L. Stocks, University of Texas at Tyler
Jonathan P. Vallano, University of Pittsburg at Greensburg
William Douglas Woody, University of Northern Colorado

Abstract

Confessions represent one of the most influential types of evidence, and research has shown that mock jurors often fail to dismiss unreliable confession evidence. However, recent studies suggest that jurors might believe in the false confession phenomenon more than they once did. One possible reason for this could be increased publicity regarding false confession cases. To assess this possibility, we administered an extensive online survey to a sample of potential jurors in the United States from 11 universities and Amazon Mechanical Turk. Perceptions of confession behaviors (as related to others and oneself), Miranda waivers, interrogation methods, dispositional risk factors, and confession admissibility and evidentiary weight were assessed, in addition to respondents’ self-reported crime-media activity and familiarity with disputed confession cases. Respondents’ perceptions were generally consistent with empirical research findings. Respondents believed suspects do not understand their Miranda rights; gauged interrogation tactics usage relatively accurately; viewed psychologically coercive tactics as coercive and more likely to result in false, rather than true, confessions; and recognized that confessions elicited via coercive measures should be inadmissible as evidence in court. However, respondents’ perceptions did not align with research on interrogation length, and respondents did not fully appreciate the risk youth poses in interrogations. Moreover, being familiar with disputed confession cases resulted in more negative views of interrogations and confessions. Overall, potential jurors are seemingly more cognizant of false confessions and the tactics that elicit them than in the past, and evidence suggests that media outlets can be used to promote interrogation and confession knowledge.

Keywords

Interrogation, confession, juror, Miranda rights

Summary of the Research

“Of 125 known false confession cases, 37 cases were presented at trial (note: the remaining cases did not make it to trial for various reasons such as dismissals or guilty pleas). Consequently, 81% of these 37 cases resulted in a wrongful conviction, meaning 30 innocent people were wrongfully sentenced to serve time in prison on the basis of a confession that was factually false. […] In these cases, all of the safeguards intended to either prevent false confessions in the first place or to minimize their influence failed. Past research indicates that false confessions result from various situational and dispositional risk factors, and despite demonstrations of false confessions in case studies, people have historically found it difficult to believe that innocent suspects would confess to crimes they did not commit. However, recent experimental studies indicate that potential jurors’ confession knowledge may have improved. Assessing these possibly shifting beliefs is the primary goal of the present study, in which we gathered current data regarding lay knowledge of a broad range of interrogations and confessions topics and assessed potential predictors of this knowledge (e.g., familiarity with actual disputed confession cases).” (p. 431)

“Even before questioning begins, innocent suspects encounter risk, as they are more likely than guilty suspects to waive their Miranda rights and undergo police questioning. This is presumably due to innocent suspects’ naïve belief that “the power of their own innocence [will] set them free.” Although this innocence-waiving association is generally accepted in the field, jurors’ perceptions of these Miranda-related decisions have not been extensively examined.” (p. 431)

“Once inside the interrogation room, innocent suspects are at risk of falsely confessing because of the accusatory and psychologically coercive nature of the tactics typically used in U.S. interrogations—a risk that jurors might not fully appreciate. Psychologically coercive tactics minimize suspects’ perception of their freedom of choice and can increase the likelihood of false confessions, and such tactics are more likely to be used when investigators believe a suspect is guilty. […] Fortunately, jurors appear in-tune with the coercive nature of such tactics; however, this is undermined by findings that demonstrate that jurors do not believe that these coercive tactics are likely to result in false confessions. Additionally, dispositional risk factors that enhance susceptibility to coercive techniques can further increase the likelihood that suspects falsely confess, with juveniles emerging as a particularly vulnerable population. Other dispositional risk factors include low IQ, cognitive or developmental disabilities, and mental illness. Generally, jurors appear to understand that such risk factors have the propensity to result in false confessions.” (p. 431)

“Once a confession is elicited, interrogators may mold the postadmission narrative into a script that fits their knowledge of the crime and the existing evidence. […] Furthermore, confessions can be legitimized via corroboration inflation, as other evidence (e.g., forensic and eyewitness evidence) can become biased by the presence of a confession, subsequently appearing to substantiate false confessions. Such inflation can influence jurors’ perceptions of confession evidence, as potential jurors have been shown to perceive high-pressure interrogations as less coercive when evidence corroborated the confession. Overall, research on jurors’ perceptions of interrogations and confessions has indicated that confessions are extremely powerful pieces of evidence that increase the likelihood of conviction. […] While potential jurors do acknowledge that false confessions can sometimes occur, they generally agree that a confession is a strong indicator of a person’s guilt and that people who confess are probably guilty. These beliefs may be driven by the fundamental attribution error, whereby people are more likely to attribute others’ behaviors to dispositional factors (e.g., the suspect’s internal feelings of guilt) at the expense of considering the influence of situational factors (e.g., psychologically coercive interrogation methods).” (pp. 431–432)

“Recent studies examining mock jurors’ perceptions of confession evidence have suggested that jurors might be more cognizant of false confessions than they once were. […] Although these findings are promising, they conflict with the majority of past research on mock juror evaluations of confession evidence and with other recent studies. […] Given these conflicts in the literature, potential jurors’ perceptions of interrogations and confessions should be reassessed to clarify their core understanding of interrogation and confession phenomenon, which can help to better interpret experimental findings.” (p. 432)

“Jurors’ knowledge may have improved as a function of exposure to high-profile disputed confession cases. […] [The] media-exposure hypothesis is also consistent with the availability heuristic, which posits that people tend to determine the probability of events based on how easily applicable instances come to mind. Jurors exposed to greater amounts of crime-related media should more readily accept that some interrogation methods are coercive and believe that false confessions exist because cases supporting this belief should more easily come to mind.” (p. 432)

“The present study aimed to examine potential jurors’ perceptions of interrogations and confessions more generally in order to offer researchers and practitioners better (and updated) insight on potential jurors’ core knowledge of these topics. […] Furthermore, the present study sought to enhance the generalizability of results by systematically recruiting a large sample from across the United States. […] In light of recent findings, we expected to see a shift in knowledge as compared with past surveys. Additionally, we hypothesized that those familiar with popularized disputed confession cases would express different views regarding interrogations and confessions (e.g., belief that false confessions occur, that false evidence ploys are coercive), as compared with those unfamiliar with disputed confession cases.” (p. 432)

“A total of 968 participants completed the study. The student subsample (n = 768) was collected from 11 university sites, with at least one site representing each of the U.S. Census Bureau defined regions. […] The community member subsample (n = 200) was collected via Mechanical Turk (MTurk), and participants earned $1 for participation. […] The final student subsample included 648 participants and the final community member subsample included 177 participants, for an overall sample size of 825 participants. […] Participants completed the survey online via Qualtrics. After consenting to participate, respondents were asked questions regarding six topics: general perceptions of confessions (as related to others and oneself), Miranda waivers, perceptions of interrogation methods (including frequency of police use, coerciveness, and relation to true and false confessions), perceptions of the relationship between dispositional risk factors and false confessions, admissibility of confessions and weight of evidence in verdict decisions, and personal characteristics (e.g., crime media engagement and familiarity with disputed confession cases) and demographics.” (pp. 432–433)

“It appears that potential jurors continue to view confessions as relatively strong indicators of guilt; however, potential jurors seem to be more accepting than they once were of claims that suspects might falsely confess. […] Despite these shifts, people still generally believe that they themselves are relatively unlikely to falsely confess. Specifically, respondents indicated that others were more likely to falsely confess in general, and for various specific reasons, than they themselves were. […] The current data do not speak to the basis for this difference, but it could be rooted in the fundamental attribution error and people’s belief that they are immune to the negative effects of coercive interrogations.” (p. 442)

“To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to comprehensively examine potential jurors’ perceptions of suspects’ interactions with Miranda waivers. […] In the current study, potential jurors typically believed that suspects do not understand their Miranda rights, were generally aware that police are likely to use manipulative tactics to get suspects to waive their rights, and believed that innocent suspects are generally more likely than guilty suspects to waive their rights. All three ideas have been supported by past research showing that people typically do not have a working understanding of their Miranda rights, police sometimes use manipulative tactics to get suspects to waive their rights, and innocents are more likely than guilty individuals to waive their rights. Yet, it remains unclear what, if any, influence such juror knowledge would have during a trial.” (pp. 442–443)

“Potential jurors believed that confrontation with true evidence is highly likely to be used by police officers during interrogations. […] Additionally, potential jurors accurately gauged the extent to which threat/use of harm and false evidence ploys are used, offering these the lowest and second lowest use ratings, respectively. […] Contemporary potential jurors appear to have a better sense of what methods police actually do use.” (p. 443)

“One concerning finding is how long potential jurors think an interrogation should last. Respondents indicated that interrogations generally last more than eight hours, and that this amount of time is needed in order to elicit a confession. […] it is possible that some jurors might not question a confession’s reliability if it resulted from a prolonged interrogation. This can be detrimental when jurors make decisions about a confession’s reliability, especially considering that over 80% of interrogations in a proven false confession sample exceeded six hours.” (p. 443)

“Participants offered the highest coerciveness ratings for confrontation with false evidence, threat/use of harm, and, critically, evidence bluffs and promises of leniency. […] Our sample of potential jurors perceived the coercive nature of evidence bluffs as not different to that of false evidence confrontation. This perception is consistent with experimental evidence demonstrating that bluffs result in false confessions at a rate that does not differ from explicit false evidence ploys and that mock jurors do not differentiate between these tactics. Additionally, respondents reported the two least coercive methods to be true evidence confrontation and rapport building.” (p. 443)

“Overall, false evidence confrontation, evidence bluffs, rejecting denials, and threat/use of physical harm were perceived as more likely to lead to false confessions than to true confessions, thus hinting at potential jurors’ ability to recognize the detrimental impact of these tactics on confession diagnosticity. […] It is reassuring that potential jurors are able to recognize that such methods create an elevated risk for false confessions. However, these findings do not align with existing research that suggests that jurors might not be able to apply this knowledge when determining a confession’s reliability. […] The “jury’s still out” on whether potential jurors can effectively apply this improved knowledge.” (pp. 443–444)

“Of further interest, the present results revealed that true evidence confrontation and rapport building were deemed to likely elicit true, rather than false, confessions. […] It seems that contemporary jurors harbor beliefs similar to those held by researchers, who recommend that psychologically coercive interrogation tactics be replaced with strategic and information-gathering methods that elicit more comprehensive suspect reports and diagnostic confession evidence. In conclusion, it is possible that potential jurors have the ability to recognize when interrogation methods result in a more reliable or a less reliable confession, and as such, they might be able to make better decisions in light of confession evidence.” (p. 444)

“Respondents generally recognized the risk for false confession created by all nine of the dispositional factors noted. […] Having a mental illness received the highest mean score. […] Being under the influence of alcohol, under the influence of illegal drugs, and under the influence of prescription drugs, all factors that have not been examined in past jury-confession research, were also rated as strong contributors to false confessions. […] Additionally, having a low IQ, a poor memory of the time of the crime, and being sleep deprived were perceived as contributors to false confessions, which is consistent with past research on contributing factors. Adolescence was viewed as one of the lowest contributors to false confessions. This is disconcerting, given that the developmental phase of adolescence renders teens more prone to falsely confessing and that teens are overrepresented in known false confession samples. […] Overall, it seems that a considerable proportion of potential jurors do not recognize the full extent to which age is a risk factor for false confession.” (p. 444)

“Potential jurors in our sample perceived that they would place more weight on DNA and forensic evidence than they would on confession evidence when reaching a verdict. Eyewitness identification evidence similarly outweighed confession evidence, but only in relation to oral and retracted confessions, not written confessions (which itself outweighed oral and retracted confessions). Additionally, when asked whether confessions elicited using different interrogation methods should be admissible in court, potential jurors tended to report that confessions elicited using confrontation with true evidence and rapport building should be admissible. Conversely, they tended to believe that disputed confessions elicited by more overtly coercive methods (i.e., rejection of denials, evidence bluffs, implicit promises of leniency, threats, lies about the evidence, physical harm, lack of Miranda rights reading, and denial of food or an attorney) should not be admissible. As such, respondents seem to partially understand the law, given that confessions elicited using rapport building and confrontation with true evidence are indeed admissible, and confessions elicited from some coercive tactics are likely inadmissible (e.g., physical harm; but others are generally admissible, like those elicited using false evidence ploys). […] These findings are comforting, considering that coerced (and hence, unreliable) confessions can ultimately be presented as evidence at trial, and judges might not be fully aware that false confessions have led to wrongful convictions or of the detrimental effects of coercive interrogation methods on confession reliability. […] Given the present findings, there is hope that potential jurors can recognize the “circumstances” that can result in coerced, and possibly false, confessions, and thus place less weight on those confessions.” (p. 444)

“General crime-related media behavior did not emerge as a strong correlate for interrogation and confession perceptions. However, as hypothesized, we found that potential jurors familiar with a specific disputed/false confession case (e.g., Central Park Five) perceived several tactics as more coercive and more likely to result in false confessions relative to participants not familiar with such a case. Most importantly, compared with nonfamiliar respondents, familiar respondents were more pessimistic about interrogations and confession evidence on a host of measures (e.g., less likely to perceive confessions as indicators of guilt, more likely to believe that innocent people in general might falsely confess). Nonetheless, it is important to remember that these findings are correlational as it is possible that either familiarity informs beliefs or beliefs influence media engagement behaviors (e.g., disputed confession media viewing). Overall, these findings can be explained by the availability heuristic, as potential jurors who know about false confession cases might think that such instances occur more often than do potential jurors who do not, leaving them more open to the possibility that a given confession is false. Thus, knowledge of disputed/false confession cases should be considered as a covariate in the development of future mock juror confession studies, especially since such knowledge appears to be prevalent.” (p. 445)

“Although there were some differences between the subsamples […], the more striking finding was the extent of the agreement between students and community members. […] Findings derived from student samples are largely generalizable to potential juror populations, making participant recruitment easier for future studies, and suggesting that we can be more confident when basing policy decisions on research employing student samples.” (p. 445)

Translating Research into Practice

“Overall, our results suggest that contemporary jurors are aware that Miranda waivers may be uninformed or the result of manipulation. To the extent that triers-of-fact are able to appreciate these factors and weigh them accordingly, policy reform should mandate the video recording of Miranda administrations that could be presented and evaluated in court. However, it is also possible that jurors, despite being aware of reasons innocents would waive their rights (e.g., respondents reported that innocents may waive their rights to appear not guilty to police and triers-of-fact), would draw negative inferences when a suspect remained silent or otherwise invoked his rights. […] Hence, a policy reform to better protect innocent suspects may be to reestablish the initial precedent of the Miranda ruling and not allow any negative inferences to be used against suspects who remain silent and invoke their rights.” (pp. 445–446)

“Regarding false confessions, relative to potential jurors of the past, contemporary potential jurors generally appear to be more accepting of the possibility that false confessions can occur. Furthermore, they seem to possess insight as to the coercive nature of certain interrogation methods and the propensity of these methods to result in less diagnostic confessions. These updated findings should be considered in the development of future research hypotheses, as it seems that researchers should no longer assume that jurors automatically presume guilt in the presence of a confession.” (p. 446)

“In addition, our potential jurors’ belief that coercive tactics can result in false confessions and should not be admissible in court paves the way for possible policy change. […] It is possible that jurors will be less likely to rely on confession evidence that was elicited using such tactics. This phenomenon can be detrimental to police and prosecutors, as it can result in an increase in acquittals. Thus, prosecutorial legal players should consider ceasing the use of especially detrimental tactics (i.e., nondiagnostic interrogation techniques) and instead proactively implement evidence-based interrogation trainings for police officers.” (p. 446)

“Furthermore, our findings have implications for policies regarding juvenile interrogations. As previously mentioned, juveniles are typically treated similarly to adult suspects in interrogative contexts, despite being at greater risk for falsely confessing. This is particularly problematic because, as indicated by the present findings that potential jurors do not fully comprehend the detrimental impact youth can have on confession behaviors, jurors may not be effective safeguards against negative impacts of juvenile false confessions. […] Policies at the interrogation-level should be assessed and modified to help protect juvenile suspects.” (p. 446)

“Last, even though potential jurors are generally more knowledgeable than they once were, their knowledge is still far from perfect. […] Our finding that media regarding false confession cases may influence potential jurors’ perceptions of interrogations and confessions indicates that expert researchers could use media outlets as a way to promote better understanding of how the coercive nature of certain interrogation methods can result in false confessions. It is further important that researchers take on this task in order to ensure that the information presented in such outlets is accurate and empirically supported. By engaging in public awareness, researchers might eventually influence policy regarding coercive interrogation methods and confession admissibility from the bottom-up. Ultimately, this promotion of knowledge may reduce wrongful convictions stemming from false confessions.” (p. 446)

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Although we sought to collect data from jury-eligible participants, it is possible that some of our respondents were not jury-eligible. Specifically, our eligibility exclusions were not comprehensive […]. Thus, caution must be exercised when generalizing the present results to all potential jurors, and future research could benefit from collecting data from potential jurors at courthouses who are serving jury duty. Furthermore, generalizability concerns are commonly expressed when data is collected via MTurk. […] Additionally, we only assessed perceptions of general interrogation technique categories rather than individual tactics (e.g., we assessed true evidence confrontation, which can refer to a number of specific tactics such as early evidence disclosure or presenting crime scene photos). […] It would be interesting for future research to assess potential jurors’ perceptions of individual interrogation tactics. Future research could also assess jurors’ perceptions of the cumulative effect of multiple tactics employed at once; for example, jurors’ perceptions of an interrogation during which rapport building is used in conjunction with false evidence presentation.” (p. 445)

“Last, it is important to note that our results do not necessarily attest to jurors’ sensitivity or skepticism regarding confession evidence. […] It is possible that media surrounding disputed confession cases, while increasing prospective jurors’ knowledge of false confessions, simply could be making jurors skeptical of confession evidence. Future research should address this question.” (p. 445)

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Authored by Kseniya Katsman

Kseniya Katsman is a Master’s student in Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her interests include forensic application of dialectical behavior therapy, cultural competence in forensic assessment, and risk assessment, specifically suicide risk. She plans to continue her education and pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Caution!: Underdiagnosis of Substance Use Disorders in Forensic Populations Overlooks Criminogenic Treatment Need

Research suggests that co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) is prevalent among adults with psychiatric illness. To help determine how widespread co-occurring disorders (CD) are internationally, we compared current clinical diagnoses recorded in the clinical record with clinical evidence gathered during forensic assessments in an inpatient forensic facility in Ontario, Canada. The majority of the sub-sample (61%) met criteria for CD, but only 19% were diagnosed as such. Underdiagnosing SUD has a potential impact on understanding substance use as a criminogenic treatment need in forensic mental health. 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 | 2018, Vol. 2018, No. 17, 145-153

Co-Occurring Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders in Canadian Forensic Inpatients: Underdiagnosis and Implications for Treatment Planning

Authors

N. Zoe Hilton, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada; Waypoint Research Institute, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada
Shari A. McKee, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada; Waypoint Research Institute, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada
Elke Ham, Waypoint Research Institute, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada
Michelle Green, Correctional Services of Canada, Beaver Creek Institution, Gravehurst, Ontario, Canada
Lauren Wright, Waypoint Research Institute, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada

Abstract

Research suggests that co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) is prevalent among adults with psychiatric illness. Studies with forensic patients in Australia indicate that co-occurring disorders (CD) are underdiagnosed. To help determine how widespread CD underdiagnosis is in forensic populations internationally, we compared current diagnoses recorded in the clinical record with clinical evidence gathered during forensic assessment meeting DSM-IV criteria for SUD, in a Canadian sample of 638 male forensic inpatients. Among 491 with a major mental illness diagnosis, most (61%) met criteria for CD but only 19% were diagnosed as such. CD was associated with longer hospitalization, and with greater evidence of criminal history, antisociality, and risk of violent recidivism, regardless of how CD was defined. Identifying CD based on documented evidence, though, allowed for slightly greater detection of group differences. Underdiagnosing SUD has a potential impact on understanding substance use as a criminogenic treatment need in forensic mental health.

Keywords

Substance use, forensic inpatients, diagnosis, criminogenic needs

Summary of the Research

“The term co-occurring disorders (CD) is used to describe the presence of both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a psychiatric illness…Having both a mental disorder and SUD is associated with the poorest mental health status and greatest prevalence of unmet mental health needs in the Canadian population. Among psychiatric patients in Canada, the United States, and Australian, substance use increases hospitalization risk, readmission, and is associated with longer length of stay…The goal of the present study was to estimate presence of CD in a sample of forensic inpatients, and to identify the rate at which SUD is formally diagnosed” (p.145).

“In Canada’s forensic services, particularly those providing court-ordered psychiatric assessments, the presence of a major mental illness has important legal implications and may affect whether a person is fit to stand trial or is eligible for a plea of ‘not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.’ Accurate assessment of other disorders, however, is also important in forensic practice because both recovery from mental illness and the reduction of criminal offending are important goals of intervention…In the present study, we aimed to replicate findings reported by Ogloff et al. (2004, 2015) in a Canadian sample of male forensic inpatients, based on an analysis of clinical documentation rather than conducting a clinical assessment of diagnoses ourselves for the purpose of the study” (p.146).

“We studied the presence of SUD and CD among forensic inpatients according to the current diagnosis recorded in the medical record following formal court-ordered assessment by forensic psychiatrists working with a multidisciplinary clinical team (‘current diagnosis’). Then, as a comparison, we used a standard coding form to quantify the clinical evidence gathered and documented on the medical record during this assessment in order to determine whether the DSM-IV criteria for SUD were met (‘documented evidence’). Previous research reporting that SUD is underdiagnosed among forensic patients…led us to expect that the proportion of patients with a current diagnosis of CD would be significantly lower than the proportion meeting the documented evidence criteria (Hypothesis 1)” (p.146).

“A second goal of this study was to examine the implications for forensic treatment planning, by testing the association of CD with hospital length of stay and with criminal history and recidivism risk…we expected that CD would be positively associated with length of stay in the forensic hospital (Hypothesis 2). Based on previous research indicating that forensic patients with CD had more serious and frequent offending histories than those with mental illness alone, we expected that CD would be positively associated with violent and nonviolent criminal histories, past antisociality, and a history-based measure of criminal recidivism risk (Hypothesis 3). We explored differences in Hypotheses 2 and 3 as a function of whether CD was identified by current diagnosis or documented evidence, to help elucidate the effect of under-diagnosis, if any, on understanding the profile of forensic patients with CD. The present sample was drawn from a longitudinal study of 638 men admitted to a secure forensic assessment program in the Province of Ontario, Canada, from January 2009 to December 2012” (p.146).

“A total of 491 patients had a current diagnosis of a major mental illness (i.e., psychotic or mood disorders) and the reported results were based on this sub-sample. Current diagnosis resulted in only 95 (19%) patients being identified as having both a major mental illness and a co-occurring SUD. Documented evidence resulted in an additional 205 patients being identified, for a total of 300 (61%) with CD by either definition. That is, two-thirds of patients with CD based on the DSM-IV criteria for SUD had not been diagnosed with SUD. The proportion of patients identified with CD was significantly lower using current diagnosis alone…than using documented evidence…consistent with Hypothesis 1” (p. 149).

“The mean length of stay was 152 days (SD = 261). Using either the current diagnosis or documented evidence, patients with CD stayed longer in the forensic hospital. The mean length of stay for patients without a current diagnosis of SUD was 130 days…compared with a current diagnosis of CD, M = 293…Controlling for year of admission, CD was associated with a longer length of stay…consistent with Hypothesis 2. Using documented evidence, the mean length of stay for patients without CD was 122 days…compared with patients with CD, M = 184…Controlling for year of admission, documented evidence of SUD was associated with a longer length of stay…Thus, the hypothesis that CD would be associated with longer stay was supported, whether using current diagnosis or documented evidence of CD” (p.149).

“Most patients in the total sample had prior criminal charges for nonviolent offenses (382, 60%) and half (322, 50%) had prior violent charges…First…we observed no significant differences in CLCH [Cormier-Lang Criminal History] scores between groups defined using the current diagnosis. Using documented evidence, there were differences in CLCH violent history between the CD group…and group without CD…but not for nonviolent criminal history…Second, we observed a significant overall effect of CD on criminality measures when using the current diagnosis…The CD group had higher APD [Antisocial Personality Disorder] total scores…than the no-CD group” (p.149).

Translating Research into Practice

“…Interventions targeting problematic substance use have been shown to reduce risk of reoffending in a CD population, and are associated with a general reduction in criminal behavior. Furthermore, planning for the provision of such treatment services would be aided by accurate estimates of SUD in a patient population. Once SUD is suspected, comprehensive screening and assessment of substance use is recommended, including the type of substances used, as each may have different criminogenic and treatment implications. The present study also supports calls for further development and evaluation of substance use treatment programs for forensic patients, particularly the need for integrated treatment for CD” (p.150).

“Formal diagnosis is often a needed first step to assessing appropriate clinical care, and the present study indicates that forensic assessment professionals are well positioned to make a formal diagnosis of CD, given that the necessary clinical evidence is often already gathered and documented during the assessment process. Therefore, we encourage forensic clinicians to assess substance use, and record diagnoses of SUD, regardless of the instant question before the court (e.g., criminal responsibility, competence to stand trial)…The presence of a SUD diagnosis would highlight the need for treatment and remind all practitioners involved with a patient to target this key criminogenic factor” (p.151).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“…Discovering that missed diagnoses of SUD occur even when clinical information indicating the presence of diagnostic criteria is documented on the medical record suggests a systematic problem. That is, underdiagnosis is not entirely attributable to failure to collect adequate information. Instead, it could be related to the way forensic assessment is conducted, whereby practitioners focus on specific disorders in order to answer particular legal questions…The present study raises the possibility that this problem begins with sub-optimal assessment and diagnosis…It is hoped that these diagnoses will inform care planning, result in integrated treatment of mental illness and addiction problems, and lead to improved mental health outcomes and reduced recidivism” (p.152).

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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.

Two Early Intervention Targets for Juvenile Recidivism: Prior Victimization and Substance Use

Prior victimization significantly predicted whether a youth had future contact with the juvenile or adult criminal justice system, even while considering other factors, such as risk level and youth characteristics. 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 | 2018, Vol. 42, No. 6, 558-569

The Impact of Victimization and Mental Health Symptoms on Recidivism for Early System-Involved Juvenile Offenders

Authors

Lindsey E. Wylie, University of Nebraska Omaha
Katrina A. Rufino, University of Houston–Downtown and The Menninger Clinic, Baylor College of Medicine

Abstract

Although research has linked mental health symptoms and prior victimization to recidivism for youth on probation or in detention, little attention has been given to these risk factors for early system-involved youth. We conducted a survival/hazard model to estimate the impact of official records of abuse/neglect, crime victimization, and mental health issues (mood, anxiety, disruptive, and substance use disorders) on recidivism in a sample of 2,792 youth in a large Midwestern diversion program. Results indicated that youth with official records of abuse/neglect, person crime victimization, and property crime victimization were more likely to recidivate sooner than those without these victimization experiences (hazard ratio: 1.37, 1.42, and 1.52, respectively). Findings from the present study also demonstrated that substance use disorder was the only mental health cluster that predicted quicker time to recidivism. As one of the earliest points of entry into the juvenile justice system, diversion programs are in a unique position to address trauma from multiple types of victimization and adapt diversion programming to be responsive to each juvenile’s mental health needs.

Keywords

juvenile recidivism, juvenile diversion, mental health, victimization

Summary of the Research

“In 2016, there were approximately 856,130 juvenile arrests in the United States—many for nonviolent offenses such as larceny–theft, other assaults, drug abuse violations, liquor law violations, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and curfew/loitering. As such, the juvenile justice system is often tasked with how to address youth who commit less serious offenses. One approach is to divert them away from formal juvenile justice system involvement through diversion programs. As the gateway to the juvenile justice system, diversion programs are in a unique position to address the needs of early system-involved youth, including needs related to victimization and mental health symptoms, to reduce future involvement in the juvenile or adult criminal justice system” (p. 558).

“Developmental models of antisocial behavior propose that ‘delinquency is marked by a reliable developmental sequence of experiences,’ in which childhood experiences and social environment put children at risk for social maladjustment and criminal behavior. Specifically, studies find that experiences with victimization, broadly defined as maltreatment, adverse childhood experiences, and general crime victimization, are related to mental health issues and that both victimization and mental health issues are related to juvenile justice involvement. Although the association of victimization and mental health symptoms within juvenile justice populations are well-documented, especially within samples of serious juvenile offenders (e.g., adjudicated or incarcerated), fewer studies have examined these risk factors in a sample of early system-involved youth” (p. 558).

“The present study utilized a sample of early system-involved youth referred to a juvenile diversion program in a large Midwestern city. The purpose of this study was to examine reoffending for youth with reported experiences of victimization, as well as mental health symptoms at the time of diversion intake. Although research has examined the recidivism trajectory of youth at the deeper end of the juvenile justice system, fewer studies have linked victimization and mental health problems to recidivism in a sample of early system-involved youth. Juveniles in the diversion program are typically first-time offenders referred because of minor offenses (e.g., shoplifting, possession of marijuana, status offenses) and assessed as low to moderate risk. The present research contributes
to the larger body of literature by examining whether the association between victimization, mental health problems, and recidivism is similar for early system-involved youth to better inform diversion efforts. Furthermore, the present study extends prior research by including a broader measure of victimization that includes abuse/neglect, sexual assault, property crime, and person crimes that have been reported to law enforcement” (p. 560).

“In both the bivariate comparisons and multivariate model examining time to recidivism, abuse/neglect and person crime victimization were related to both discharge from diversion and recidivism (property offense victimization was only related to recidivism). It is unclear from this data whether victimization in these types of incidents directly relates to difficulties in completing diversion or future reoffending, or whether these rates are an artifact of exposure to system involvement because of victimization. Moreover, the relationship between being the victim of a person or property crime and recidivism, could be the product of delinquent peers or engaging in delinquent lifestyles” (p. 565).

“Our results demonstrate that two thirds of these early system-involved juveniles experience one or more mental health symptoms, with one in five reporting substance use or mood symptoms, one in three reporting anxiety symptoms, and almost half reporting disruptive disorder symptoms. In comparing these proportions to research using the same mental health assessment tool involving juveniles referred to probation and incarcerated juveniles, it appears that early system-involved juveniles may experience similar mental health symptoms as deeper end justice-involved juveniles. In examining the symptom clusters specifically, a higher proportion of our sample endorsed anxiety, mood, and disruptive symptoms, but fewer endorsed substance use symptoms when compared to McReynolds et al. (2010) and Wasserman et al. (2002). Even though this sample differed from these previous studies in specific proportions, across all studies, disruptive disorders are most common among justice-involved youth and mood disorders are least common. As such, there may be few differences between early justice-involved juveniles and later justice involved juveniles in terms of how mental health symptoms are presented” (p. 566).

“Furthermore, the results of the present study show the impact of victimization and mental health on early justice-involved youth. In support of the first hypothesis, juveniles with a history of victimization recidivated sooner than juveniles without a history of victimization. Although previous literature on mental health and recidivism in juvenile justice is mixed, the bivariate analyses and multivariate analyses demonstrated that participants endorsing substance use were more likely to recidivate, which is supported by previous research. The bivariate comparisons also found that those who endorsed the mood disorder symptoms were less likely to recidivate, which differs from studies that have not found a significant relationship between mood disorders and recidivism. One
possibility is the mood cluster acts as a protective factor against recidivism, as juveniles who are feeling depressed are less likely to engage in social activities with peers, where they would be more likely to encounter peer pressure or engage in risky shift behaviors. Furthermore, juveniles who are feeling depressed may be experiencing anhedonia and a lack of energy” (p. 566-567).

“As partially hypothesized, however, once the mental health clusters were included in the multivariate model with demographic variables, the modified risk level score, and victimization, only the substance use mental health cluster predicted time to recidivism, while the mood mental health clusters did not. Although substance use remained a significant predictor of time to recidivism even while controlling for criminogenic risk factors, youth in this sample with mental health issues did exhibit higher criminogenic risk and needs profiles as measured with the YLS/CMI compared with those without mental health issues as previous research has indicated” (p. 567)

Translating Research into Practice

“The results of the current study demonstrate the importance of addressing mental health concerns in juvenile diversion programs, which are one of the first points that youth may touch in the juvenile justice system. While research guided by the Risk-Needs- Responsivity model has generally found that only treating mental health issues is mostly ineffective, research has demonstrated that addressing mental health issues and criminogenic needs can be effective because it adheres to the responsivity principle. The data from this study demonstrate there is a relationship between mental health needs and discharge reason—namely, that youth endorsing substance use and disruptive disorders were less likely to successfully complete the diversion program. Perhaps by specifically attending to these mental health needs, diversion programs can adapt programming for youth with these issues, which may contribute to more positive outcomes such as successful completion of the program and reduced recidivism” (p. 567).

“Juvenile diversion programs embrace the mission of the juvenile justice system, namely that youth can be rehabilitated by linking them to services and that juveniles who commit less serious offenses should not be formally processed through ‘the system.’ This study provides preliminary evidence for some of the risk factors of juveniles most likely to recidivate after being connected to those services and diverted from the system. The three victimization type variables were the strongest predictors of recidivism, even while controlling for risk level and other juvenile characteristics. As such, programs should specifically focus on trauma informed programming that addresses the form of victimization a youth has experienced. Moreover, there is a need for early intervention tailored to the needs of abused, neglected, and victimized youths before they interact with the justice system or when they first enter the juvenile justice system. Early interventions should provide victimized youth with resources to increase resilience and teach positive and proactive coping strategies to minimize the effects that victimization may have on mental health functioning, and subsequent justice involvement” (p. 567-568).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Overall, the most frequent reported type of victimization was person crimes, followed by abuse/neglect and property offenses, with fewer reported incidents of sexual assault. We attempted to compare the rates of victimization in this sample to other studies, however because victimization has been operationalized in multiple ways, comparisons were not meaningful. Future research should compare whether early system-involved youth experience similar rates of victimization using official records and varying types of victimization to adjudicated and/or detained youth” (p. 565).

“Although previous research has consistently found various types of victimization do predict recidivism, better understanding how the types of victimization differ by sample characteristics and how different types of victimization impact recidivism warrants further investigation. The victimization variable was limited by using official law enforcement reports, which was likely an underestimation of victimization incidents in general. Official reports of victimization may also result in an underestimation of certain types of victimization that go unreported to law enforcement (e.g., child abuse/neglect, mutual assault). Future research may consider utilizing a range of victimization measures, including self-report data and official law enforcement records. Finally, although we know that victimization and mental health symptoms are related to recidivism, at least in bivariate comparisons, our data does not explain why these risk factors contribute to recidivism. Researchers may consider specifically testing theoretical frameworks aimed at measuring for the underlying relationships between victimization, mental illness, and reoffense” (p. 567).

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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.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy within the Risk Need Responsivity Framework Reduces Recidivism

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) exemplifies all the components of Cognitive-Behavioral programs that have been found to reduce recidivism rates. The results of the following literature review offer preliminary evidence that DBT has the potential to reduce recidivism in criminal justice systems if it is applied within a Risk-Need-Responsivity framework. 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 | 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, Department of Psychology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario Canada

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 behavioral therapy, DBT, offender rehabilitation, systematic literature review

Summary of the Research

“Prototypical programs designed to reduce recidivism in adolescent and adult forensic populations include Reasoning and Rehabilitation, Moral Reconation Therapy, and Aggression Replacement Training. These interventions focus on restructuring cognitions related to antisocial behavior…and introducing morally-based, pro-social ways of thinking and behaving…Meta-analytic findings from methodologically rigorous outcome studies on these (and other similar) interventions indicate that CBT programs are significantly more effective in reducing recidivism when they have additional program elements to standard CBT…and when they include higher numbers of sessions…While there is strong evidence for the continued success of these programs…researchers have also been cognizant of rapid developments in third-wave approaches, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)…DBT already includes several of the additional components of effective CBT programs…and it has shown its effectiveness among difficult-to-treat populations…Personality disorders and substance use disorders are specifically important to treat in forensic settings…as they are significantly associated with recidivism” (p.72-73).

“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…given the significant adaptations made to these programs, a quantitative review of current findings continues to be premature. As a result, a systematic qualitative review of DBT programs within forensic and correctional facilities is needed to determine whether the DBT programs currently in existence are being implemented within best practices for forensic rehabilitation, according to the RNR model, and whether there is any evidence that these programs are successful in reducing criminogenic needs, and subsequently, recidivism” (p.73-74).

“Alterations made to DBT programs within forensic settings included changes to the length of the program, the components of DBT used…and the materials presented during the skills training sessions…Arguably the most significant changes discussed in extant implementations of DBT within forensic settings pertained to the changes in skills training materials…For practical reasons, many implementations changed the wording of the skills manuals to have simpler language…less jargon…more gender neutral language…and more activities that apply to a custodial environment…Many implementations integrated crime review or crime cycle analysis components where participants would specifically discuss the factors that contributed to their past crimes…These additions to the DBT protocol were aimed at understanding what risk factors related to criminal behavior and how to ensure that crime is prevented in the future” (p.82).

“…The emotion regulation and distress tolerance modules also have theoretical support for targeting the criminogenic need, substance use. These modules specifically teach individuals to develop healthy patterns of reducing heightened emotionality and self-soothing, which may lower their propensity to use substances as a way of managing heightened emotions through self-medication…Reducing these needs may increase the chances that individuals will engage in prosocial activities, maintain employment, and seek further education, thus reducing the criminogenic needs lack of academic achievement and antisocial leisure activities…There is some evidence to suggest institutions are being sensitive to the gender-specific criminogenic needs of women in forensic populations, but not necessarily to those of men. The ‘responsivity’ principle of the RNR model asserts that rehabilitative programs should be tailored to the individuals’ learning styles, motivation, strengths, and abilities…The present literature on DBT programs within forensic settings suggests that programs are being adapted to better target criminogenic needs and are generally being delivered within an RNR framework” (p.88-89).

“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…were associated with reductions in institutional defiance and aggression more than programs did not adhere to the RNR framework” (p.90).

“…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 network” (p.90).

Translating Research into Practice

“…Thus, information on individuals’ risk level should be used to determine who participates in DBT, and to adapt programs to correspond with the varying needs of individuals with different risk levels…The present review of DBT programs within forensic settings demonstrates that forensic institutions and evaluating their programs. Organizations…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…These evaluations could also evaluate the theoretical ‘active ingredients’ or ‘mechanisms of change’ in forensic populations” (p.87-90).

“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 lead criminal justice policy into an ear of prison reform that has the unprecedented luxury of standing upon empirically supported approaches to offender rehabilitation” (p.91).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“While all existing studies on DBT in forensic settings focused on emotional dysregulation, it is important to note that Dr. Thomas Lynch and colleagues have recently proposed a new form of DBT called Radically Open DBT (RO-DBT) for emotional overregulation. These researchers have adapted the biosocial theory to suggest that gene-environment interactions causing heightened threat sensitivity and diminished reward sensitivity lead some individuals to view mistakes and intolerable and unwavering self-control as necessary…RO-DBT focuses on increasing emotional expression, increasing disinhibition, increasing interpersonal experiences (including healthy interpersonal conflict), and decreasing behaviors associated with perfectionism” (p.91)

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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 is a second year Masters student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.