Prison psychology, as the name implies, deals with the psychology of inmates within the prison system. This is a separate branch of specialization within the field of psychology because of the host of different issues a life of incarceration brings. Michael Decaire, in his article entitled “Ethical Concerns Within the Practice of Correctional Psychology”, wrote: “The correctional psychologist’s primary mission is to assist in offender rehabilitation and reintegration. Additionally, the psychologist enhances staff and inmate safety by promoting a healthy institutional environment”.
This branch of psychology has experienced continued growth as a profession because of the ever-increasing prison population in the United States. Because of the type of clients these psychologists work with, as well as the environment they work in, this profession brings many additional risks. The population they work with can range from minor offenders to extremely violent offenders and diagnosed psychopaths and sociopaths who have known nothing but a life of crime and have little respect for human life. As stated in the above quote, the main goals of a forensic psychologist is to aid in rehabilitating inmates when possible to prepare them for re-entering the world outside of barbed wire and institutionalization, both of which can be very challenging tasks, especially when an inmate has been incarcerated for a very long time. But before an inmate can be prepared for life outside of prison, a forensic psychologist must determine their likelihood of returning to their previous life of crime, as well measure their ability to deal with the pressure of life back in mainstream society. What are the chances they’ll re-offend? Can they truly deal with life outside of prison? The pressure to stay clean and sober (if applicable), maintain a steady job, deal with paying bills, and generally staying on the right side of the law can all be monumental challenges for an inmate who is used to the routine of incarceration, where they know they’ll get three hot meals every day, their laundry is done for them, they have a prison job to go to, and less ability to obtain drugs than on the “outside”.
While being a prison psychologist certainly brings its fair share of challenges and unknowns, it also has the potential to be an extremely fascinating and gratifying position because it can give inmates a second chance at living a life on the right side of the law.
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