Ethics for Forensic Psychology, Uncategorized

Case Study: Parole Assessment for Violent Sexual Predator

“Inmate X has a long history of violent behavior, which has resulted in his current imprisonment. While incarcerated, he has been a model prisoner. Inmate X has now been scheduled for a parole board hearing. Upon reviewing Inmate X’s central file, the warden believes that the inmate is still a dangerous individual who should not be granted parole despite his record of no institutional infractions. Accordingly, the warden requests that Dr. R evaluate Inmate X using psychological tests. The warden would like information about the inmate’s personality relating to his continued threat to public safety, and he would like this evaluation to be performed without the inmate being informed of its purpose because he believes Inmate X might otherwise refuse to participate in the evaluation” (Weinberger & Sreenivasan, 1994, pg. 164).



The Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology advises practitioners to inform clients of the nature and parameters of possible services including the objective of the examination and who will have access to the information attained, as well as limitations of privacy and confidentiality (American Psychology-Law Society, 2011).  Although the inmate has a history of violent behavior, the incarceration period is void of infarctions potentiating future violations implying all rights of the individual remain intact.  According to Weinberger and Sreenivasan, exceptions to informed consent exist when extenuating emergency circumstances may arise such as the potential compromise of others or self-safety (1994).  It is unethical for a psychologist to act on an insinuation of the warden when the behaviors appear to be null.  The cornerstone of psychology is informed consent and confidentiality (Weinberger & Sreenivasan, 1994).  Breaking either, jeopardizes professional identity and the interpersonal relationship of client and provider and therefore, both must be protected through adherence to ethical codes and guidelines (Weinberger & Sreenivasan, 1994).

The warden’s request for a “covert” examination should not be cvilatarried out.  The warden is asking the professional to perform an analysis based on an inclination with a lack of current evidence substantiating the cause of an emergency based evaluation.  Despite the history, no validating circumstance warrants a breach of confidentiality in respects to the examination.  Although argument can be made about the safety of the general public upon release of the inmate and the “sabotage” of the examination if the prisoner is informed of the reasons for the evaluation (Weinberger & Sreenivasan, 1994), there must be justifiable cause for the completion of the examination when void of informed consent.  The vignette leads one to believe the warden is attempting to sabotage early release of the inmate based on history, not actual real-time life events that implicate a necessity to deny parole.

Non-APA Member

As a member of the APA, professionals are mandated to comply with the Code of Conduct outlined by the APA and failure to so do may result in professional sanctions, legal issues, and reporting to other state boards of the infarction (American Psychological Association).  A professional who is not a member of the APA should not perform the “covert” examination, despite the request and insinuation of the warden.  As a professional in the mental health field, one has the duty to uphold moral and ethical practices to avoid reduced justification of the intentions of the area of mental health.  Acting on a connotation implies a low level of value or respect for humankind in general, but in this vignette, for criminal offenders who hold potential for rehabilitation.  It is essential the professional conduct the examination to establish possible behavior for the future.  However, equally imperative is attaining consent for the evaluation, eliciting informed consent, and explaining the parameters of the assessment as the inmate has the right to justified evaluations.  Performing the evaluation would prove a biased outcome lacking empirically supported risk assessment measures compromising the standard of practice for violence risk assessment in the community negating validity and reliability (Board of Parole Hearings’ Revised Final Statement of Reasons 15 Ccr §2240, 2011).

Multicultural / Diversity Issues

Forensic Psychologists should utilize care when interpreting examination results.  In addition to considering the purpose of the assessment, various test factors that may affect judgment or accuracy must be considered (American Psychology-Law Society, 2011).  Test factors may include cultural, situational, linguistic, and personal factors in addition to cognitive ability (American Psychology-Law Society, 2011).  Despite indifferences that may occur in individuals raised in a single parent or adoptive home, race, ethnicity or gender affiliations, Ethical Codes are standards set to ensure fair and equal treatment for anyone receiving services (American Psychological Association).  The interpretations and perceptions of the assessments may differ among the diverse cultures, but professional standards do not change.  Understanding an inmate’s history and culture may lead to understanding the underlying cause of the criminal behavior and the beliefs and ideas one holds, but those factors should not cause the abandonment or adaptation of ethicality.  Considering the background of the inmate should be utilized solely for the purpose of identifying changes in behavior that may indicate risk for the future or prove rehabilitation success.



American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Ethical principles of psychologists and
code of conduct including 2010 amendments
. Retrieved from http://www.apa.

American Psychology-Law Society. (2011). Specialty guidelines for forensic
. Retrieved from

Board Of Parole Hearings’ Revised Final Statement Of Reasons 15 Ccr §2240. (2011). Retrieved from

Weinberger, L. E., & Sreenivasan, S. (1994). Ethical and professional conflicts in correctional psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 25(2), 161-167. Retrieved from


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