August 28, 2010

"Islamophobia" prompting rise in hate crimes?

Chinese animation video seen worldwide

You have heard the hoopla over banning a mosque near "Ground Zero" in New York City. And the buzz about the startling level of American ignorance over President Obama's religion (a Pew poll showed about one in five Americans think he is Muslim). Now, a Chinese animated news video links these macro stories with the stabbing of a New York cab driver, making the case for a rise in anti-Muslim violence in the USA. Michael Enright (pictured at right), a film student, allegedly stabbed the cabbie out of anti-Muslim bias. Enright's journals will undoubtedly be used in court as evidence of the biased motivation necessary for a hate crime conviction. Ironically, given his own actions, he allegedly wrote that Muslims were "filthy murderers without a conscience." For a glimpse at international opinion, this 90-second video clip from Next Media Animation in Taiwan is worth checking out:

Related blog post:

Judge may block hater from misusing courts: First Amendment and fair use doctrine at issue (March 8, 2008)

August 26, 2010

Report: Sexual abuse rampant in U.S. prisons

I will never forget "Sean," a young man I treated in prison. When he first arrived after a minor theft conviction, the 19-year-old was assigned a cell with an older convict who saw him as fresh meat. When Sean reported being raped, he was moved to a segregation housing unit for safety. Solitary housing was like torture for this active young man. After months without stimulation, he tried to hang himself. He was punished by being transferred to a harsher prison.

Sean came to mind when I saw the report released today from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reporting epidemic levels of sexual abuse of prisoners across the United States. At least 88,500 prison and jail inmates were abused last year, many repeatedly. Several facts in the report, mandatory under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, are worth highlighting:
  • Guards commit much of the abuse
  • Women prisoners are more at risk from other prisoners, while men are most at risk from guards
  • Gay, transgender, and effeminate prisoners are at heightened risk, as are prisoners with histories of sexual abuse
  • Much of the abuse happens on the first day

The news comes as no surprise to the folks at Just Detention International, an organization dedicated to ending sexual abuse behind bars. They receive dozens of letters a week from prisoners who are being sexually abused.
  • William in Texas wrote that he would misbehave to get locked in the hole just to get away from the guard who was sexually abusing him. He has tried to kill himself, and fears telling his longtime girlfriend.
  • James, a gay prisoner in Michigan, has been raped more than 20 times by numerous prisoners. "Do you know what it's like to see their faces each day? Seeing the look they give me? Knowing that they smile and laugh,” he wrote.
A call for research and action by psychology

Just ahead of the report's release, two psychologists published an article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law calling for more attention to the problem. "To date, psychology has been largely silent on the issue of prison rape," wrote Tess Neal and Carl Clements of the University of Alabama.

In their article, "Prison Rape and Psychological Sequelae: A Call for Research," Neal and Clements call for research into the "rape subculture" that makes sexual victimization more prevalent in American prisons than elsewhere in the world:
It appears that prison rape in the United States is a much more serious problem than it is in other countries. This fact calls for comparative analysis of systems to look for correlates of victimization rates. What is it about the U.S. prison system that exacerbates the problem of prison rape? Some would argue that inordinately high incarceration rates, and policies that capture more persons with mental disorders is part of the systemic problem. Can these conditions be reversed?
They go on to discuss the "serious and long-lasting" effects of prison rape, "with potentially devastating physiological, social, and psychological components":
Many rapes are violent, bloody, and physically traumatic to victims. Gang rapes are often characterized by extreme abuse and may be particularly traumatic. In addition, the threat and reality of contracting HIV/AIDS has added a new dimension of physical and psychological terror for victims. Loss of social status in the prison facility, labeling, stigmatization, and further victimization are other potential consequences for victims…. The postrape symptoms of prison rape survivors may be even more complex and pervasive than those of other types of sexual assaults based on the fact that many victims are repeatedly assaulted, experience negative social reactions from the prison community, including many staff, and may be perceived as homosexual. The humiliation and perceived loss of one's masculinity, as well as the extensive victim blaming found in prisons could perpetuate the negative psychological effects, possibly increasing the risk of developing PTSD.
The role of expert witnesses

Under the 1994 U.S. Supreme Court case of Farmer v. Brennan, prison administrations are liable when they practice "deliberate indifference" to prison rape. Neal and Clements discuss how expert psychological testimony may be useful in such civil litigation, the authors explain, both to explain the psychological sequelae experienced by prisoners and to discuss the environments that foster prison rape. Further research is also needed into the legal atmosphere surrounding such litigation, they note:
Courtroom dynamics in these atypical cases (e.g., when a male prison rape survivor is a plaintiff filing suit against prison officials) need to be examined. Public biases should be identified so that they can be countered with informative testimony to dispel them. Investigations using the diagnosis of PTSD in these circumstances should be initiated to learn more about how jurors respond to the traumatic aspects of prison rape victimization. As research uncovers more accurate descriptions of the psychological sequelae of such victimization, researchers should examine how jurors respond to these new descriptions in a courtroom setting
The full report by BJS statisticians Allen J. Beck and Paige M Harrison is HERE; selected highlights and a press release are HERE. Correspondence concerning the Psychology, Public Policy, and Law should go to Tess Neal of the University of Alabama.

Related blog posts:

August 25, 2010

Forensic update: Malingering and incompetency

New response style measure hitting the market

Randy Otto and colleagues are as busy as beavers these days. I just blogged about Dr. Otto's new violence risk assessment text; now he and colleagues Jeffrey Musick and Christina Sherrod are releasing the Inventory of Legal Knowledge, a brief measure of response style for defendants undergoing adjudicative competence evaluations.

The 61-item, true-false test is orally administered and takes about 15 minutes. Questions are phrased in simple language and concern the legal process. It's highly portable for in-custody settings. And at $129 for the complete kit it's not a bad deal, considering PAR's normally hefty pricing. (You can order it now, but it won't actually release until mid-September.)

The theoretical basis is the same as for the Test of Memory Malingering and other measures of malingering; one suspects dissimulation when scores are either significantly lower than chance or significantly lower than attained by relevant normative groups.

A validation study has been published online in advance of the print edition of Assessment. The study, by the test authors, is titled: “Convergent validity of a screening measure designed to identify defendants feigning knowledge deficits related to competence to stand trial.” Here is the Abstract:
Because some defendants undergoing evaluation of their competence to stand trial may feign limitations in their ability to understand and participate in the legal process, assessment of their response style is critical. Preliminary research indicates that the Inventory of Legal Knowledge (ILK) has some potential to identify persons feigning competence related impairments. This study examined the convergent validity of the ILK using a sample of criminal defendants who, while undergoing competency evaluations, were administered the ILK and other response style measures. Moderate correlations between the ILK and these other tools provided some support for the ILK as a measure of response style.
More information is HERE.

Online review of updated SIRS malingering test

Richard Rogers' widely utilized Structured Inventory of Reported Symptoms (SIRS) has just been updated with a second edition, and forensic psychologist Steve Rubenzer of Houston, Texas (where "we don't only sing, but we dance just as good as we walk") has a critical review in the Open Access Journal of Forensic Psychology. The abstract:
The Structured Inventory of Reported Symptoms-2 (SIRS-2) contains significant changes designed to prevent false-positive and false-negative classification errors. While the SIRS-2 has many laudatory features, the manual contains some erroneous and questionable statistics and arguments, and authors sometimes stray from the best practices advocated by the first author. The SIRS-2 is a strong choice for assessing feigned psychosis and severe psychopathology. However, evidence for its value in assessing many other conditions, particularly somatic complaints and feigned cognitive impairment, is quite limited.
The full review is online HERE.

Overview: Feigning adjudicative incompetence

And, there's more! Sherif Soliman and Phillip J. Resnick have an overview of accepted methods for detecting feigning in competency evaluations, including specific instruments and their limitations, forthcoming from in an upcoming issue of Behavioral Sciences & the Law that is now online in advance of the print edition. The abstract:
Competence to stand trial (adjudicative competence) is the most requested forensic psychiatric evaluation, with an estimated 60,000 referrals annually. The challenge of detecting feigned incompetence has not been systematically studied until the past decade. Estimates of feigned adjudicative incompetence vary from 8 to 21%. This article reviews techniques for detecting malingered psychosis and malingered cognitive impairment during competence evaluations. Specific techniques for assessing feigned adjudicative incompetence and estimating the malingerer's genuine abilities are discussed. A stepwise approach to suspected feigned adjudicative incompetence is proffered.
Since this manuscript was already in press when the new ILK and the revised SIRS-2 were released, these instruments are not reviewed. In addition to a basic overview of instruments, however, Soliman and Resnick also describe a structured approach. As the authors point out, "Unlike many other evaluations, the assessment of adjudicative competence does not end with the determination that the defendant is malingering." Even with an uncooperative individual, the evaluator must make an effort to determine the subject's genuine capabilities.

Correspondence about that article should go to Dr. Soliman, Senior Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

August 23, 2010

Handbook of Violence Risk Assessment

Best practices for violence risk assessment change from second to second. So, publishing a sourcebook on the topic is a bit like trying to capture and hold a hummingbird. Still, the authorship and range of content may make the Handbook of Violence Risk Assessment an authoritative resource for at least a minute or two -- and then they can publish a second edition.

The volume's first editor, Randy Otto, is a respected forensic psychology scholar. An award-winning professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida, he is past president of both the American Psychology-Law Society and the American Board of Forensic Psychology. He also chairs the Committee to Revise the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology (which, by the way, has yet a new draft coming out next month), and he is a co-author of the third edition of the widely consulted text, Psychological Evaluations for the Courts. Co-editor Kevin Douglas is a former colleague of Otto's at the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy.

The book begins with an overview chapter by respected forensic scholar Kirk Heilbrun. Remaining chapters -- most written by leading practitioners and instrument developers -- review specific instruments for assessing both adult and juvenile risk for violence, including sexual violence. Tools reviewed include:
  • EARL-20B and EARL-21G
  • Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory
  • Violence Risk Scale
  • HCR-20
  • Classification of Violence Risk
  • Level of Service Inventory
  • Spousal Assault Risk Assessment Guide
  • Static-99
  • SVR-20 / RSVP
I am impressed with what I have read so far. John Monahan wrote the chapter on the Classification of Violence Risk. David DeMatteo, John Edens, and Allison Hart have a nice chapter on the utility -- and limitations -- of using psychopathy measures to address violence risk. And Stephen Hart and Douglas Boer provide an up-to-the-minute summary of reliability and validity studies on the SVR-20 and a parallel instrument sex offender risk instrument, the Risk for Sexual Violence Protocol (RSVP), which I predict may overtake the Static-99 at some point, given the latter's instability and atheoretical basis.

My Amazon review is HERE.

August 20, 2010

Blast from the past: "Sex offender myths"

Amidst all the hysteria over sex offending these days, stumbling across this list from 1955 gave me an eerie sense of deja vu. The author, a prominent sociologist, wrote his list of 11 "popular myths about the sex offender" during the zenith of the last sex panic, the Sexual Psychopath Era of the 1930s-1950s. Here are his myths*:

  1. That tens of thousands of homosexual sex offenders stalk the land.
  2. That the victims of sex attack are 'ruined for life.'
  3. That sex offenders are usually recidivists.
  4. That the minor sex offenders, if unchecked, progress to more serious types of crime.
  5. That it is possible to predict the danger of serious crimes by sexual deviance.
  6. That 'sex psychopathy' or sex deviation is a clinical entity.
  7. That these individuals are lustful and oversexed.
  8. That reasonably effective treatment methods to cure deviant sex offenders are known and employed.
  9. That the sex control laws passed recently are getting at the brutal and vicious sex criminal and should be adopted generally to wipe out sex crime.
  10. That civil adjudication of the sexual deviant in indeterminate commitment to a mental hospital is similar to our handling of the insane and therefore human liberties and due process are not involved.
  11. That the sex problem can be solved merely by passing a new law on it.
As a wise poet and philosopher wrote way back when, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Kind of depressing that many in the sex offender civil commitment industry seem oblivious to 20th century history, in which an almost identical approach was vigorously pursued, only to be abandoned as an abysmal failure.

*Paul W. Tappan was a prominent sociology professor at New York University, an attorney, and a consultant to the New Jersey Commission on the Habitual Sex Offender. He published widely on criminology and corrections topics during the 1940s-1960s. "Some myths about the sex offender" was published in the June 1955 issue of Federal Probation. Robert Sadoff, a Temple University psychiatrist, republished them in a 1966 article, "Psychiatric views of the Sexual Psychopath statutes."

August 16, 2010

APA Dispatch II: Whither juvenile forensics?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling this May in Graham v. Florida, restricting life without parole sentences for juveniles, relied in part upon scientific evidence from developmental psychology and neuroscience. In ruling that juveniles are categorically different from adults, the high court was assisted by amicus briefs from the American Psychological Association and other professional organizations including the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers.

The APA's position, which the Supreme Court also validated in its 2005 ruling in Roper v. Simmons outlawing the death penalty for juveniles, is that juveniles' diminished culpability is based on three basic differences from adults:
  1. Immaturity: Juveniles are more impulsive and less likely to reason judiciously about risk
  2. Vulnerability: They are more likely to be influenced by peer pressure
  3. Changeability: They are still developing, and are more amenable to rehabilitation than adults
At this week's APA convention, the American Psychology-Law Society (Division 41) hosted a cutting-edge track on juvenile justice. The dynamic sessions raised intriguing issues about how the growing acceptance of adolescent immaturity and difference will affect forensic practice in the juvenile justice system.

Bryan Stevenson: "Huge implications" of Graham case

In an eloquent presentation, NYU law professor Bryan A. Stevenson, founder of Alabama's Equal Justice Initiative, expressed optimism that Graham and the twin case of Sullivan v. Florida, in which he was counsel, signal that the tide is turning away from the punitive Superpredator hysteria of the 1980s. He encouraged the APA to continue its public policy advocacy by bringing legal attention to the impacts of trauma, violence, and neglect on youngsters.

Hopefully, the capacity crowd of psychologists will attend to the implications of Stevenson’s other take-home messages: Mass incarceration has radically changed American society, creating a class of "new untouchables." And the victims of this sea change are overwhelmingly poor and minority. Indeed, he asserted, wealth -- not criminal culpability -- largely drives criminal sentencing. In Louisiana, for example, of the juveniles serving life without parole for crimes other than homicide at the time of the Graham decision, 94 percent are African American. Most are incarcerated for rape, with 71 percent of the victims being white.

Tom Grisso: "Forensic examiners beware"

Forensic psychology guru Tom Grisso sounded a more cautionary note about Graham's implications. The high court's adoption of a categorical approach to juveniles is at odds with the discretionary, individualized method at the core of forensic assessment, he pointed out.

Grisso demonstrated his point through a mock cross-examination. On the stand, the mock expert conceded that the research of Laurence Steinberg, Elizabeth Cauffman, and others on adolescent immaturity is now widely accepted in the field, as shown by Supreme Court's rulings in Graham and Roper. Next, Grisso produced a New York Times op-ed co-authored by Steinberg, reiterating Roper's conclusion that psychologists "are unable to distinguish between the young person whose crime reflects transient immaturity and the rare juvenile offender who may deserve the harsh sentence of life without parole." In the script, the expert was left speechless and incapable of defending her individualized opinions about risk.

Grisso said forensic psychologists must be aware of this debate, and think about how to answer such questions in court. The outlook for prediction is not as bleak as the APA's advocacy efforts might suggest, he asserted, as experts do have a reliable basis on which to give probability estimates, especially about more short-term risk.

Good news for juveniles with a sex crime

A panel of juvenile sex offender experts was more upbeat about the implications of the scientific research on adolescent difference. As with general criminality, they said, research has not identified methods to accurately predict which juveniles will reoffend sexually. Indeed, none of the factors that predict sex offender recidivism in adults (multiple victims, male victims, young child victims, personality disorder, sexual deviance, etc.) predict recidivism for juveniles.

But this inability to differentiate is not bad news, because what we can say is that the overwhelming majority -- 93 percent -- of juveniles who have committed a sex crime will not reoffend sexually as adults.

An audience member who works in the civil commitment industry expressed incredulity at the cumulative research, saying many of the men in his civil detention facility began their offending careers in their teens.

That may be true, responded researcher Michael Caldwell. But the directionality cannot be reversed. All NBA stars may have played basketball in the ninth grade. But we cannot predict by watching a group of ninth-graders play basketball which, if any, of the players will become basketball superstars.

(A summary of the presentation, "Juvenile Offenders are Ineligible for Civil Commitment as Sexually Violent Predators," is online HERE; it contains a slough of good references. The PowerPoint presentation is HERE.)

Judges launch crusade to save children of color

The most optimistic presentation I attended was a symposium of family court judges who are at the forefront of a movement to reduce the vastly disproportionate representation of minority children in the child welfare system, from which many graduate to juvenile delinquency and adult criminal courts.

The remarkable Hon. Katherine Lucero of San Jose, California said she became active in this movement when she realized she was serving as part of the vast "cradle-to-prison pipeline," processing children who would end up poor, homeless, drug addicted, illiterate, pregnant at a young age, delinquent, and -- ultimately -- incarcerated. When she looked out at her courtroom filled with children of color, her training that justice is blind was cognitively dissonant, making her feel like she was living "in a delusion."

The equally inspiring Hon. Nan Waller of Portland, Oregon said the movement challenges the basic historical tenet of the child welfare system, which promotes removal from families -- so-called "child rescue" -- rather than family strengthening. Most of the mothers who lose their children are suffering from severe trauma that they medicate with drugs. Rather than "cookie-cutter" quick-fixes, including automatic referrals for psychological evaluations and parenting classes, these women need support and help obtaining even basic resources such as housing, transportation, and health care, the judges said.

Assisted by a research and advocacy project of the National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges, these and other judges are using a combination of model courts, wraparound services, community interventions, training in implicit race bias at all levels of the system, and other creative methods to reduce the number of children who are placed in foster care. Already, their data show they are having an impact in their respective communities.

Alarming call for preventive detention of children

In the discussion period following their presentation, the judges said they are turning away from ordering psychological reports except when a parent has a genuine, severe mental disorder. They gave two reasons for this. First, psychological evaluations are costly. Second, and more important, the judges do not find it helpful to "slap" pathologizing psychiatric labels on parents. They expressed curiosity as to whether and how we in the field of psychology are working to address the effects of poverty and racism in the populations we serve.

Sadly, the honest answer is that many forensic practitioners and scholars are not adequately addressing the impact of larger social forces -- poverty, race, trauma -- on the people we evaluate, treat, and/or study. Perhaps the sparse attendance at the judges' presentation as compared with other seminars in the forensic juvenile justice track is an indicator of this neglect.

Indeed, at a more well-attended session came a chilling proposal at the polar opposite extreme: To establish a system to preventively detain dangerous juveniles. Raising this "public safety" proposal was attorney Christopher Slobogin, a co-author of the forensic psychology stalwart Psychological Evaluations for the Courts. It will formally air in a book, Juveniles at Risk: A Plea for Preventive Justice, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. Slobogin has good intentions, I am sure; he believes such a model will treat juveniles more fairly and help stem the erosion of the separate juvenile justice system.

But the proposal has potentially far-reaching unintended consequences. It myopically ignores what the family court judges and attorney Stevenson are so painfully aware of: The differential treatment of poor and minority children. It is hard to accurately predict juvenile risk, and actuarial risk prediction tools are especially inaccurate when applied to juveniles. This is just the type of nebulous decision-making situation in which implicit (unconscious) biases are most salient, research shows. Forensic psychological evaluations would provide a scientific veneer, masking racial and class biases in deciding who is labeled as dangerous and who is not.

Rather than locking up kids for crimes they have not (yet) committed, we should be working to give young victims of trauma and abuse -- and their families -- the practical resources and tools they need to lead productive lives. Let's hope the field of psychology and public policymakers heed the pleas of the judges and attorneys in the trenches who are fighting to save kids before they get sucked into the "cradle-to-prison pipeline" in the first place.

August 15, 2010

APA Dispatch I: Science and public policy

I had intended to limit my dispatches from the American Psychological Association convention in San Diego to forensic highlights. But I would be remiss if I didn't touch on the big news from psychological science and public policy. Anyway, it's all related to forensics.

Conference theme: Ending marriage discrimination

A public policy highlight of the convention was its theme of opposing marriage laws that discriminate against gay men and lesbians. Walking into the futuristic convention hall, one was greeted by a life-sized hologram of the APA's CEO, Norman B. Anderson, speaking of the scientific advocacy role in this area of the APA, which at 152,000 members is the world's largest psychological organization and devotes a good share of its $115 million annual budget to advocacy. Kiosks gave attendees a chance to don large lapel pins supporting marriage equality, or send a message to their legislator calling for an end to the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

The theme, planned months ago, could not have been more timely, especially given the conference's location. Just as the convention got underway yesterday, Judge Vaughan Walker lifted the stay on gay marriages in California following his earlier ruling that marriage discrimination was unconstitutional. Many of the key expert witnesses who presented scientific evidence at that trial were featured speakers at the convention: Gregory Herek of UC Davis on sexual orientation and stigma (introduced by APA President Carol Goodheart), Anne Peplau of UCLA on same-sex relationships, and Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia summarizing the empirical research regarding the emotional health of children raised in lesbian and gay families.

The APA leadership seems delighted to be on the correct side of history this time, especially after the lengthy debacle over psychologists' role in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo.

Memory: How the brain reconstructs reality

Meanwhile, memory research was on the cutting edge of the psychological science presented at the convention. I had the great fortune to hear preeminent scholar Daniel Schacter present some of the very latest findings.

We already know that retrieving a memory is nothing like opening a file on your computer. In calling up a memory, the brain -- specifically the hippocampus -- grabs a bunch of bits and pieces stored here and there around the brain, and reintegrates them to suit the current situational demand. This is adaptive. It allows us to use our accumulated experience to respond flexibly to an ever-changing environment. But it comes at a cost of errors and distortions, which Schacter has summarized beautifully in The Seven Sins of Memory (which all forensic practitioners should read).

In his talk, Schacter illustrated with the case of "John Doe 2," the composite creation of a faulty memory who was the subject of a massive FBI manhunt after the Oklahoma City bombing. As it turned out, John Doe 2 (despite lingering conspiracy theories to the controversy) was most probably an Army private who had nothing whatsoever to do with McVeigh; he happened to have been at the auto body shop where McVeigh rented his van, but a full day later.

The advent of neuroimaging technology has enabled this memory research to advance at a rapid pace. (The hippocampus even has its own journal now, named after itself!) In their most recent work, Schacter and his colleagues are localizing the precise hippocampal sites that activate when various tasks are being performed. Distinct patterns of hippocampal activity are visible on fMRI when someone is storing initial memories, retrieving those memories, and imagining future possibilities.

Intriguingly, it turns out that the brain tasks involved in remembering are not so different from those involved in imagining the future, or imagining a fictional version of the past, for that matter. Which makes sense: Like recalling real events, imagining fictional scenarios first requires us to think about our past experiences, and then tweak them (consciously or unconsciously).

Australian study: Sharing distorts eyewitness memory

The fact that the very act of retrieving a memory causes it to be distorted (also the topic of a rather dry convention presentation by researcher Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain) explains a new finding by forensic psychology lecturer Helen Paterson of the University of Sydney in Australia. She found that sharing memories leads to contamination that cannot be reversed through providing corrective information.

Paterson's team showed participants one of two different versions of a video of a crime. After discussing the crime with each other, most participants reported seeing specific details that were not in the version they had watched. The researchers believe that discussions among co-witnesses are more likely to damage accurate recall for a crime than are other avenues of distorted information such as reading a news account or being asked leading questions by investigators.

Like the broader memory research of Schacter and others, Paterson's study, published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, has direct implications for witness reliability. Once a memory is distorted, the inaccuracies remain even when witnesses are told that the new information is wrong, as witnesses " find it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between genuine memories and false memories of an event," Paterson said.

The forensic implications of this line of memory research are rather mind-boggling, when you stop and think about it. Not only do we need to be extremely cautious about putting too much weight on someone's memory for an event but, as the accumulating research shows, we must be skeptical even if multiple people agree on the "facts."

Coming up in Part II: Whither juvenile forensics

August 12, 2010

Sexual sadism diagnosis not predictive

In another blow to the controverial sexual paraphilia diagnoses, a group of prominent researchers has found that the diagnosis of sexual sadism is not related to sex offender recidivism. Unlike some of the made-up paraphilias being used in court to justify civil commitment of sex offenders, sexual sadism is actually listed in the American Psychiatric Association's current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), and it is planned for inclusion in the upcoming fifth edition as well.

The longitudinal study followed almost 600 convicted sex offenders for up to 20 years. The researchers found that a sexual sadism diagnosis did not predict any type of recidivism. This was in contrast to sexual arousal to violence as measured phallometrically, which was associated with future violence, including sexual violence.

The study replicates and extends what the authors call "accumulating evidence of specific problems with the reliability of paraphilia diagnoses, including sexual sadism."
[O]ur results raise questions about the clinical utility of the DSM diagnosis of sexual sadism. This appears to be a problem for other paraphilia diagnoses as well [including pedophilia].
The findings are relevant to the upcoming fifth edition of the DSM, the authors note, because the proposed criteria for sexual sadism are "very similar" to the criteria in current and previous editions.

The study, "Comparing indicators of sexual sadism as predictors of recidivism among adult male sexual offenders," by Drew Kingston, Michael Seto, Philip Firestone, and John Bradford, appears in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

August 9, 2010

Can implicit religious bias affect jury verdicts?

Homaidan Al-Turki, a Saudi Arabian citizen pursuing his doctoral degree in Colorado, was on trial in Colorado for assaulting his housekeeper. As the jury was sworn in, one juror indicated he might believe a Muslim would more likely break the law under certain circumstances. Al-Turki's lawyer asked if he could probe further, but the judge said no. During the trial, the prosecutor showed the jury a mannequin dressed in "Muslim women’s clothing." Allusions were made to Osama bin Laden, Ramadan, and 9/11. The jury convicted and Al-Turki was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Al-Turki blamed his conviction on anti-Muslim sentiment, and the case sparked international controversy. But the conviction was upheld on appeal, and earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

What does psychology have to offer about the potential effect of jurors' religious bias on verdicts, and how implicit cues might activate such bias?

This month's Judicial Notebook, a regular column in the Monitor magazine published by the American Psychological Association, addresses this timely issue. Note authors Marc Pearce and Samantha Schwartz of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
Research indicates that information associating Muslims with negative attributes (such as terrorism) can create implicit biases that are difficult to detect with explicit measures… [T]he prosecution’s use of negative associations during a trial might foster an implicit bias against a Muslim defendant.
The full column is online HERE.

Related blog post:

August 5, 2010

The CSI Effect: An infographic

Pierce Martin of the new site, Forensic Science, just sent me this cool infographic he made about the CSI Effect, which relates to my recent post, "To catch a liar: Don't watch Fox-TV." Enjoy.

The CSI EffectSource: Forensic Science

Websites worth checking out

  • Psychology and Crime News is B-A-C-K! Emma B. was hosting this excellent source of news and information in the United Kindom back when I began blogging in 2007. She went on hiatus for a while, so I am happy to see she is back on the Web, even if in a somewhat abbreviated form. (She recommends you follow her on Twitter.) She's got especially strong resources in the area of lie deception research. Check her out (HERE). Welcome back, Emma!
  • Sex offender laws are becoming so out of proportion in terms of their financial cost and the number of people they are ensnaring, including teens and even children, that calls for reason are mounting. Among the more interesting sites of this counter-movement is Citizens for Change, which is jam-packed with news stories, links, and other resources. I recommend that anyone working in the sex offender field give it a look-see (HERE).
  • Finally, as I've mentioned before, if you want to keep up with psychological science and be entertained at the same time, Mind Hacks is the place to go. Psychologist Vaughan Bell's weekly "spike activity" columns give comprehensive lists of new research, while his in-depth daily reports provide eclectic perspectives on select news (e.g., new research on the "booty call" and the "poker face").

August 3, 2010

Two forensic posts at University of Surrey

The Department of Psychology at the University of Surrey, one of the top research and teaching sites in the UK, has two openings for psychologists with active research in forensic psychology, crime and law:

Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology:
The successful applicant will teach at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels and will also develop the forensic psychology research program.
Lecturer in Social Psychology, Crime, and Law:
The department is looking for a social psychologist with active research projects and expertise in crime and law.
Click on the above links or contact Peter Hegarty, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of the Psychology Department, for more information.

August 2, 2010

Global alarm mounts: "Will anyone be normal?"

What do some of the world's top mental health experts have in common with best-selling British author Sir Terry Pratchett, the former prime ministers of Australia and Norway, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s son, memoirist Mark Vonnegut? All are issuing calls of alarm over the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association's upcoming diagnostic manual, in a special issue of the Journal of Mental Health.

Due to their important public policy implications, the Journal is making the lineup of commentaries available to the public for free. In a press release, the Journal points out that the previous DSM revision led to a wave of false "epidemics" of such conditions as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autistic disorder, childhood bipolar disorders, and that the new edition may lead to more of the same.

"The publication of the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is one of the most highly anticipated events in the mental health field," explains Managing Editor Daniel Falatko. "This is the first major rewrite of DSM in 16 years and history has warned us that even small changes to this manual can have extraordinary repercussions in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues."

The theme running throughout the special issue is widespread fears in the psychiatric community that the expansion of diagnostic guidelines will allow everyone to qualify for psychiatric disorders, which in turn will lead to greater prescription of psychiatric drugs, many of which have unpleasant and dangerous side effects.

At a joint briefing, mental health experts expressed particular fear over the proposed "psychosis risk syndrome" diagnosis, which could falsely label young people who may only have a small risk of developing an illness.

"It’s a bit like telling 10 people with a common cold that they are 'at risk for pneumonia syndrome' when only one is likely to get the disorder," said Dr. Til Wykes of the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London.

The free articles, some by psychiatric patients, include:
Related news articles:
I have blogged extensively about the controversies surrounding the DSM-5. These prior blog posts can be conveniently accessed HERE.

Hat tip: Jane