Criminal psychology, also referred to as criminological psychology, is the study of the wills, thoughts, intentions and reactions of criminals and all that partakes in the criminal behavior.
It is related to the field of criminal anthropology. The study goes deeply into what makes someone commit a crime, but also the reactions after the crime, on the run or in court. Criminal psychologists are often called up as witnesses in court cases to help the jury understand the mind of the criminal. Some types of Psychiatry also deal with aspects of criminal behavior.
Psychology's role in the legal system
Psychiatrists and psychologists are licensed professionals that can assess both mental and physical states. Profilers look for patterns in behavior to typify the individual(s) behind a crime. A group effort attempts to answer the most common psychological questions: If there is a risk of a sexual predator re-offending if put back in society; if an offender is competent to stand trial; whether or not an offender was sane/insane at the time of the offense.
The question of competency to stand trial is a question of an offender’s current state of mind. This assesses the offender’s ability to understand the charges against them, the possible outcomes of being convicted/acquitted of these charges and their ability to assist their attorney with their defense. The question of sanity/insanity or criminal responsibility is an assessment of the offenders state of mind at the time of the crime. This refers to their ability to understand right from wrong and what is against the law. The insanity defense is rarely used, as it is very difficult to prove. If declared insane, an offender is committed to a secure hospital facility for much longer than they would have served in prison—theoretically, that is.
The four roles of criminal psychologists
In 1981, one of the fathers of UK's criminal psychology – Professor Lionel Haward described four ways, that psychologist may perform upon being professionally involved in criminal proceedings. These are the following:
Clinical: In this situation the psychologist is involved in assessment of individual in order to provide a clinical judgment. The psychologist can use assessment tools, interview or psychometric tool in order to aid in his/her assessment. These assessments can help police or other competitive organs determine how to process the individual in question. For example, help finding out whether he/she is capable to stand trial or whether the individual has mental illness which means, that he/she is unable to understand the proceedings.
Experimental: In this case the task of psychologist is to perform a research in order to inform a case. This can involve executing experimental tests for the purposes of illustrating a point or providing further information to courts. This may involve false memory, eyewitness credibility experiments and such. For example, this way questions similar to “how likely would a witness see an object in 100 meters?” will be answered.
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