Forensic Psychology: An Overview
Forensic psychology—like many specialties in psychology—is difficult to define precisely. As John Brigham (1999) writes, if you ask a group of psychologists who interact with the legal system in some capacity, “Are you a forensic psychologist?” many will say yes, some will say no, and a majority will probably admit they really do not know. Referring to his own testimony in court, Brigham notes that, when asked the question, Forensic Psychology ❖ 7
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his most accurate current response would be, “Well, it depends.” As Brigham points out, the professional literature on the subject adopts one of two prominent definitions. Some of the literature defines forensic psychology broadly as the research and application of psychological knowledge to the legal system, whereas some of it prefers a more narrow definition, limiting forensic psychology to the application and practice of psychology as it pertains to the legal system.We (Bartol & Bartol, 1987) offer the following definition: “We view forensic psychology broadly, as both (1) the research endeavor that examines aspects of human behavior directly related to the legal process . . . and (2) the professional practice of psychology within, or in consultation with, a legal system that embraces both civil and criminal law” (p. 3). Ronald Roesch (cited in Brigham, 1999) suggests a narrow definition:“Most psychologists define the area more narrowly to refer to clinical psychologists who are engaged in clinical practice within the legal system” (p. 279). This definition may be too restrictive because it seems to imply a specialty called “forensic clinical psychology.” Furthermore, it excludes— among others—clinicians who offer counseling services to inmates and perform other corrections-related tasks. The broad definition, on the other hand, includes not only clinicians (also called practitioners) but also social, developmental, counseling, cognitive, experimental, industrial-organizational, and school psychologists—some but not all of whom are clinicians. The common link is their contribution to the legal system and its many components. We recognize, however, that only a small proportion of their work may be relevant in this context.
In this text,we will continue to adopt a broad definition of forensic psychology but will focus primarily on forensic practice and what psychologists working in the field actually do. That is, we emphasize the professional application of psychological knowledge, concepts, and principles to civil and criminal justice systems. It should be 8 ❖ INTRODUCTION
IN FOCUS 1.1 Activities of the 50 Largest Forensic Crime Labs The 50 largest publicly funded forensic crime
laboratories in the United States—which are
geographically all across the country but not
located in every state—employ more than
4,300 full-time employees. Many of the labs
claim to be significantly underfunded and
understaffed. A majority of the employees
(56%) are employed as analyst/examiners, followed
by technical support personnel (15%),
managerial personnel (12%), and clerical support
(8%). Most of the analysts/examiners are
engaged in the analysis of controlled substances
(39%), toxicology (22%), and latent
prints (11%). Listed below are the activities
engaged in by most large forensic laboratories.
Analysis of controlled substances
Latent prints analysis
Crime scene analysis
Examination of questioned documents
Investigation of computer crimes
Source: Hickman (2004).
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understood, however, that this application must be based on solid research; thus, the research prong of our original definition (Bartol & Bartol, 1987) has not disappeared. The practice of forensic psychology, as it will be treated here, includes investigations, studies,...
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