As the field of forensic psychology grows, so does the popularity of this specialty area at graduate training programs throughout the country. Most students opinion of the field of forensic psychology is affected very strongly by popular media portrayals in television and movies. Many people believe forensic psychologists to work with dangerous criminals, testifying in court, working to catch criminals and delving into harrowing crime scenes. While these are some of the roles that a forensic psychologist might play a large number of these professionals work within the prison system as inmate counselors and therapists.
Forensic psychologists that work directly with inmates can play an important role a number of areas. Some of these include:
- Reduction of recidivism – One of the main goals for any inmate therapist is to try to help their clients understand what landed them in the system and how they can avoid being sent back upon their release. A common theme for many individuals with a record is recidivism, or committing another crime upon release. There are many theories as to why this occurs, but it is the inmate counselor’s jobs to help break the cycle.
- Improving inmates quality of life – These therapists will also work with clients to help improve their quality of life when they are released. In some cases this includes helping the client earn a high school or even college degree while incarcerated. For others this might include identifying those people and places that must be avoided to maintain a higher standard of living.
- Battling addiction – Many inmates find themselves prosecuted on charges as a result of substance abuse disorders. It might be due to the possession of the substance or a crime that happened as a result of using the substance. Regardless, many prisons have separate wings for those individuals who are dealing with substance abuse issues. Inmate counselors can use traditional strategies for battling substance abuse disorders to individuals in prison who have a diagnosable problem with drugs or alcohol.
- Treating long-term mental illness – Another reason a striking number of individuals wind up in the prison system is due to a long term mental health issue that has caused suffering in the person. Diagnoses such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Schizophrenia, Severe Depression, Personality Disorders and a range of others can cause risky behavior that can lead to incarceration in extreme circumstances. By using therapeutic techniques, the inmate counselor can work with the client to help get them properly medicated and begin to use therapy techniques to deal with the symptoms of the mental illness.
Inmate counselors and therapist are an important part of the team within most prisons and youth detention centers. They work with other professionals in the prison to help inmates get the mental health services they need to create a better life for themselves upon release.