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Discerning Bias in Forensic Psychological Reports in Insanity Cases

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This project began as an attempt to develop systematic, measurable indicators of bias in written forensic mental health evaluations focused on the issue of insanity. Although forensic clinicians observed in this study did vary systematically in their report-writing behaviors on

This project began as an attempt to develop systematic, measurable indicators of bias in written forensic mental health evaluations focused on the issue of insanity. Although forensic clinicians observed in this study did vary systematically in their report-writing behaviors on several of the indicators of interest, the data are most useful in demonstrating how and why bias is hard to ferret out. Naturalistic data was used in this project (i.e., 122 real forensic insanity reports), which in some ways is a strength. However, given the nature of bias and the problem of inferring whether a particular judgment is biased, naturalistic data also made arriving at conclusions about bias difficult. This paper describes the nature of bias – including why it is a special problem in insanity evaluations – and why it is hard to study and document. It details the efforts made in an attempt to find systematic indicators of potential bias, and how this effort was successful in part but also how and why it failed. The lessons these efforts yield for future research are described. We close with a discussion of the limitations of this study and future directions for work in this area.

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2018-04-19

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Validity, Inter-Rater Reliability, and Measures of Adaptive Behavior: Concerns Regarding the Probative Versus Prejudicial Value

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The question as to whether the assessment of adaptive behavior (AB) for evaluations of intellectual disability (ID) in the community meet the level of rigor necessary for admissibility in legal cases is addressed. Adaptive behavior measures have made their way

The question as to whether the assessment of adaptive behavior (AB) for evaluations of intellectual disability (ID) in the community meet the level of rigor necessary for admissibility in legal cases is addressed. Adaptive behavior measures have made their way into the forensic domain where scientific evidence is put under great scrutiny. Assessment of ID in capital murder proceedings has garnished a lot of attention, but assessments of ID in adult populations also occur with some frequency in the context of other criminal proceedings (e.g., competence to stand trial; competence to waive Miranda rights), as well as eligibility for social security disability, social security insurance, Medicaid/Medicare, government housing, and post-secondary transition services. As will be demonstrated, markedly disparate findings between raters can occur on measures of AB even when the assessment is conducted in accordance with standard procedures (i.e., the person was assessed in a community setting, in real time, with multiple appropriate raters, when the person was younger than 18 years of age) and similar disparities can be found in the context of the unorthodox and untested retrospective assessment used in capital proceedings. With full recognition that some level of disparity is to be expected, the level of disparity that can arise when these measures are administered retrospectively calls into question the validity of the results and consequently, their probative value.

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2018-02-01

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Identifying the Forensic Psychologist Role

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Since its debut over a century ago, forensic psychology has matured into a formally recognized specialty area of psychology with its own set of ethical guidelines; however, a consensual definition of forensic psychology remains elusive. After describing the field’s historical

Since its debut over a century ago, forensic psychology has matured into a formally recognized specialty area of psychology with its own set of ethical guidelines; however, a consensual definition of forensic psychology remains elusive. After describing the field’s historical and current struggles to define itself, two ethical issues are discussed that are especially applicable to psychology in legal contexts. The first is the critical differences between serving in therapeutic versus forensic roles and the associated ethical obligation to refrain from serving in both roles in the same case. Despite the terminology used in the literature, treatment in forensic contexts can be ethically appropriate. This chapter considers the current state of the literature regarding treatment in forensic contexts and suggests that this is likely to be an area of future growth for the field. The second ethical issue discussed in this chapter is the insidious effect of the adversarial process on psychologists’ objectivity in forensic contexts, termed “forensic identification” or “adversarial allegiance.” The forensic ethical guidelines affirm the primacy of this issue in forensic contexts, as evidenced by addressing it in the first two published guidelines. However, field and experimental evidence suggest psychologists have a challenging (if not impossible) task in avoiding partiality in adversarial forensic contexts. The chapter ends by briefly considering the methods psychologist might use in an effort to reduce partiality and by recognizing more research is needed to identify what else psychologists can do to strive to uphold the ethical guidelines in this regard.

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2017

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Research in Criminal Psychology

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“Criminal psychology” is a broad field that overlaps with several subareas of psychology, including correctional (applications to prison settings) and forensic (applications in courtroom settings) psychology. A widely used umbrella term, “psychology-law,” also reflects the interdisciplinary commitment of researchers in

“Criminal psychology” is a broad field that overlaps with several subareas of psychology, including correctional (applications to prison settings) and forensic (applications in courtroom settings) psychology. A widely used umbrella term, “psychology-law,” also reflects the interdisciplinary commitment of researchers in criminal psychology, who draw from many traditional domains of psychology, including clinical (e.g., assessment, treatment), social (how people and contexts influence us), cognitive (how we think and make decisions), developmental (how we grow and change), and neuropsychology (the biological basis of behavior). This chapter – covering research in criminal psychology – emphasizes the shared reliance on scientific methods characteristic of modern psychology.

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2017

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The Cognitive and Social Psychological Bases of Bias in Forensic Mental Health Judgments

Description

This chapter integrates from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology the basic science of bias in human judgment as relevant to judgments and decisions by forensic mental health professionals. Forensic mental health professionals help courts make decisions in cases

This chapter integrates from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology the basic science of bias in human judgment as relevant to judgments and decisions by forensic mental health professionals. Forensic mental health professionals help courts make decisions in cases when some question of psychology pertains to the legal issue, such as in insanity cases, child custody hearings, and psychological injuries in civil suits. The legal system itself and many people involved, such as jurors, assume mental health experts are “objective” and untainted by bias. However, basic psychological science from several branches of the discipline suggest the law’s assumption about experts’ protection from bias is wrong. Indeed, several empirical studies now show clear evidence of (unintentional) bias in forensic mental health experts’ judgments and decisions. In this chapter, we explain the science of how and why human judgments are susceptible to various kinds of bias. We describe dual-process theories from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology that can help explain these biases. We review the empirical evidence to date specifically about cognitive and social psychological biases in forensic mental health judgments, weaving in related literature about biases in other types of expert judgment, with hypotheses about how forensic experts are likely affected by these biases. We close with a discussion of directions for future research and practice.

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2017-04-30

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Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils: A Framework for Considering the Ethics of Competence for Execution Evaluations

Description

Prisoners sentenced to death must be competent for execution before they can actually be executed (Ford v. Wainwright, 1986). The decision for many mental health professionals whether to conduct competence for execution evaluations may be fraught with complex ethical issues.

Prisoners sentenced to death must be competent for execution before they can actually be executed (Ford v. Wainwright, 1986). The decision for many mental health professionals whether to conduct competence for execution evaluations may be fraught with complex ethical issues. Mental health professionals who do not personally support capital punishment may have a particularly difficult decision to make in this regard but should seriously consider the consequences of their decisions. This article applies Bush, Connell, and Denney’s (2006) eight-step ethical decision-making model to the ethicality of deciding to or abstaining from conducting competence for execution evaluations. This article does not propose what decisions an individual evaluator should make regarding this work, but rather presents a systematic guide for mental health professionals (particularly those who do not support capital punishment) to consider.

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2010

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Mitigation Evaluations: A Survey of Current Practices

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This study examined the scope and components of mitigation assessments in a first effort to develop some guidelines for conducting mitigation evaluations. Using the Mitigation Evaluations Survey (MES) we developed for this research, we surveyed 266 psychologists about the characteristics

This study examined the scope and components of mitigation assessments in a first effort to develop some guidelines for conducting mitigation evaluations. Using the Mitigation Evaluations Survey (MES) we developed for this research, we surveyed 266 psychologists about the characteristics and content of mitigation evaluations. A high percentage of participants endorsed each of the 14 content areas presented in the MES as essential or recommended for inclusion in mitigation evaluations. However, when the participants were given a hypothetical open-ended referral question regarding a mitigation evaluation, fewer participants included all 14 content areas in their responses. This discrepancy as well as information regarding the qualifications and expertise of the participants is discussed.

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2011

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Refusing and Withdrawing From Forensic Evaluations

Description

Aside from an article by Gutheil, Bursztajn, Hilliard, and Brodsky (2004), scant literature exists regarding why forensic mental health professionals refuse or withdraw from cases. The current study collected descriptive information about the reasons mental health experts decline or withdraw

Aside from an article by Gutheil, Bursztajn, Hilliard, and Brodsky (2004), scant literature exists regarding why forensic mental health professionals refuse or withdraw from cases. The current study collected descriptive information about the reasons mental health experts decline or withdraw from forensic assessments, both early and late in the legal process. In response to an online survey, 29 practicing forensic psychologists and psychiatrists presented examples of case withdrawal from their professional experiences. Their major reasons included ethical issues or conflicts, payment difficulties, and interpersonal or procedural problems with retaining counsel or evaluees. The results indicate that there are compelling personal and professional reasons that prompt forensic mental health experts to withdraw from or turn down cases.

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Date Created
2013

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Not Just Welfare Over Justice: Ethics in Forensic Consultation.

Description

The ethics of forensic professionalism is often couched in terms of competing individual and societal values. Indeed, the welfare of individuals is often secondary to the requirements of society, especially given the public nature of courts of law, forensic hospitals,

The ethics of forensic professionalism is often couched in terms of competing individual and societal values. Indeed, the welfare of individuals is often secondary to the requirements of society, especially given the public nature of courts of law, forensic hospitals, jails, and prisons. We explore the weaknesses of this dichotomous approach to forensic ethics, offering an analysis of Psychology's historical narrative especially relevant to the national security and correctional settings. We contend that a richer, more robust ethical analysis is available if practitioners consider the multiple perspectives in the forensic encounter, and acknowledge the multiple influences of personal, professional, and social values. The setting, context, or role is not sufficient to determine the ethics of forensic practice.

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2013-12-28

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The Cognitive Underpinnings of Bias in Forensic Mental Health Evaluations.

Description

We integrate multiple domains of psychological science to identify, better understand, and manage the effects of subtle but powerful biases in forensic mental health assessment. This topic is ripe for discussion, as research evidence that challenges our objectivity and credibility

We integrate multiple domains of psychological science to identify, better understand, and manage the effects of subtle but powerful biases in forensic mental health assessment. This topic is ripe for discussion, as research evidence that challenges our objectivity and credibility garners increased attention both within and outside of psychology. We begin by defining bias and provide rich examples from the judgment and decision making literature as they might apply to forensic assessment tasks. The cognitive biases we review can help us explain common problems in interpretation and judgment that confront forensic examiners. This leads us to ask (and attempt to answer) how we might use what we know about bias in forensic clinicians’ judgment to reduce its negative effects.

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2014-05