July 9, 2010

Correctional ethics: New guidelines; licensing complaints

New correctional psychology standards published

As most of you know, the largest mental health institutions in the Land of the Free are not hospitals, but penal institutions: Riker's Island in New York, Cook County Jail in Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Jail. The USA incarcerates the largest proportion of its population of any country on the planet, and at least 15 percent of those 2 million or more people have serious mental illnesses. Unfortunately, many correctional systems lack resources to meet the constitutionally mandated needs of mentally ill individuals in their custody.

For you folks in correctional psychology, Criminal Justice and Behavior has just published a special issue containing the newly revised standards for psychologists working in jails, prisons, and other correctional facilities and agencies. This is only the second revision of the standards since their initial publication by the International Association for Forensic and Correctional Psychology (IACFP) in 1980. They are the result of more than a year's effort by a revision committee chaired by Richard Althouse, Ph.D., president of the IACFP.

Guantanamo psychologists face ethics charges

The timing of these new guidelines is serendipitous. Earlier this week, the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability and Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic filed state licensing board complaints against two former Guantanamo psychologists. The aim of the complaints, filed in New York and Ohio, is to force investigations into the psychologists’ roles in the torture of prisoners.

The Ohio complaint alleges that Larry C. James, now dean of Wright State University's School of Professional Psychology, headed a special unit called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, known as "Biscuit," that advised the military on how to break down prisoners and participated in the controversial interrogations at Guantánamo. The New York complaint is against psychologist John Leso, Dr. James's predecessor on the special team.

APA revises ethics standards

In the wake of the Guantanamo abuses, the American Psychological Association has revised its Ethics Standards to clarify that compliance with the law is no excuse for unethical behavior.

Specifically, language has been added to Standards 1.02 and 1.03 ("Conflicts Between Ethics and Law, Regulations, or Other Governing Legal Authority" and "Conflicts Between Ethics and Organizational Demands") stating that the standards may "under no circumstances … be used to justify or defend violating human rights." In addition, a clause allowing psychologists to behave unethically in order to "adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority" has been struck out.

Related resources:
  • The new correctional standards are available HERE for free for a limited time.
  • Mother Jones and Democracy Now have in-depth coverage of the Guantanamo complaints, with links to additional background materials.
  • The Ohio complaint against psychologist Larry James is HERE. Local coverage of that case, in the Dayton Daily News, is HERE.

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