Applying Forensic Psychology to Jamaica: Part I

Jamaica has mothered many wounds, now scars in her soul she wears as jewellery. These pieces are direct results of the numerous conflicts and traumas in her past, that were left with her like gifts under a Christmas tree. From Columbus’ “discovery” which left a sea of blood and numberless Taino bodies decorating the land — to the colonial giants such as Spain and Britain reimagining her into “civilization”, which resulted in slavery and so much more bloodshed, pain and despair. One of Jamaica’s scars is crimes she’s had to witness for centuries, and boy oh boy…does it show.

Caribbean Psychology has sought to uncover the mysteries of the Afro-Caribbean national’s cognitive processes, by looking at history. It has discovered that slavery has left us with a plethora of ills: social, economic, psychological, spiritual — you name it. This article comes at a time when our government continues to lengthen State of Emergencies (SoE) and Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO), in inner-city communities that are riddled with crime.

So, with crime and violence being a prominent issue in Jamaica, could Forensic Psychology be the cure or just another band-aid?

What is Forensic Psychology?

Forensic Psychology (FP) can be defined as the psychological discipline where the general understandings of Psychology are applied and subsequently intertwined with law enforcement and legal proceedings, (Canter, 2010 & Hickling et al., 2013). As such, FP has several domains. Some of which are: offenders’ competency to stand trial, jury selection, psychological tests and evaluation through forensic instruments, assessing the risk of violence, forensic verdicts for mentally ill defendants who are not guilty because of insanity, expert testimony and maximum-security forensic hospitals, (Arrigo & Shipley, 2005).

Unfortunately, Jamaica’s universities mostly offer master and doctorate degrees in Clinical and Counselling psychology. This is good as we need more professionals skilled in counselling and psychotherapy. The closest degree offered is the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean’s (UCC) BSc. in Criminology & Criminal Justice, which offers core courses in FP such as an introductory course and advanced course titled ‘Forensic Psychology: Child Abuse & the Law.’

Areas of Application

Some areas that Jamaica’s legal system could benefit from Forensic Psychology are: (1) trial competencies of the mentally ill, (2) the use of force by our police and soldiers, (3) offender profiling, (4) victim-offender mediation and (5) offender labelling. I will discuss this topic in two parts, with this article discussing the first two (2) listed areas and the next tackling the latter three (3).

Trial Competency for the Mentally Ill

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) released their quarterly report earlier this year, in which they highlighted the death of an inmate who had been continuously “detained at pleasure”, until he was deemed fit to plea in court, (INDECOM, 2020). This inmate was Mr. Noel Chambers, an elderly man who had been detained for a whopping forty (40) years without a conviction.

Jamaica’s laws re mental health and plea competency, state that those afflicted with mental illness must be evaluated by a psychologist prior to their trial. The role of the professional here is the ascertain the competency of the defendant concerning their plea. Put simply, if they suffer from an illness of the mind, can they offer an effective plea? When the defendant is found guilty without it being tied to their mental illness, they are found “guilty, but insane” (Hickling et al., 2013; p. 324). The law is specific in what is required of the forensic psychologist who gives expert witness. However, if Jamaica has no forensic psychologist nor thorough record-keeping as seen with the case of Mr. Noel Chambers and the hundreds of other inmates like him, how and when can these individuals be given their day in court?

Although we have clinical psychologists who could very well provide evaluations for these inmates, it is safe to say that their plates are full. With the stigma wrapped around therapy and counselling being slowly stripped away, more and more Jamaicans are engaging these services. Therefore, this gap is to be filled by forensic psychologists, and only them. With their clinical and legal proceedings expertise, the courts are better suited with their expert witnesses instead of anyone else’s.

Use of Force

Security forces such as police and soldiers utilizing excess force is nothing new in Jamaica, nor around the world as seen by the countless riots and protests sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement this year. One case that has become yet another more tragic story, is the death of Susan Bogle, by the hands of a Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) soldier on May 27, 2020, (Williams & Hyman, 2020). The reports indicate that Ms. Bogle was fast-asleep during the soldiers’ late-night operations, when they came into her house and fatally shot her in the chest. Jamaican outcry followed suit, where people wanted to know why she had to die.

Concepts of police force began in British common law which was the ‘fleeing felon’ law which stipulated that a police officer could use deadly force in ‘split-second’ or ‘life or death’ situations to either save their life or the lives of innocent civilians (Arrigo & Shipley, 2005). Although Jamaica has its more than fair share of ‘nearby bushes’ criminal escapes where too much legal force has been or could have been used, the main issue with the police force in Jamaica, is the ultra vires application of force; this is colloquially known as ‘police brutality’ (Arrigo & Shipley, 2005).

FP’s application here is greatly needed. When police officers are faced with dangerous situations as mentioned before, a mental process occurs in which they assess the danger and proceed with whatever course of action they deem fit. According to Arrigo & Shipley (2005), this mental process has been researched and simplified into a four-stage model. They assert that “the model consists of the Anticipation Phase, Entry and Initial Contact Phase, Information Exchange, and Final Phase. Each phase describes the emotional as well as the environmental details as they unravel in a potentially violent situation” (p. 287).

It is more than safe to assume that a model similar to this, is discussed or explored in law enforcement training academies worldwide. Even if the model explored is as simple as “when a gun is pointed at you, what do you do?” this in itself is sufficient space for a forensic psychologist to contribute expertise to enrich the training. The professional can ‘balance out’ what seems to be an insensitive training of men and women in law enforcement. On top of this, our front-line JCF and JDF workers are overwhelmed with the daily stress they experience on the job. Consequently, this is seen in their interactions with the civilians under their protection. Therefore, it only makes sense that this life-or-death decision model is laced with a bias that is enforced by group dynamics. These group dynamics in mention belong to members of law enforcement themselves. After all, if the people that you are being forced to protect, harbour ill will towards you—would you protect them to the best of your abilities? Forensic Psychology’s application here is nothing but concrete.

What do you think about Forensic Psychology’s application so far? Do you believe that these applications could resolve these issues? Please comment below! In Part II, I discuss offender profiling, victim-offender mediation and offender labelling.

References

Arrigo, B. A., & Shipley, S. L. (2005). Introduction to Forensic Psychology, Issues and Controversies in Crime and Justice (2nd ed.). Birmingham, NY: Elsevier Academic Press.

Canter, D. (2010). Forensic Psychology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Hickling, F. W., Matthies, B. K., Morgan, K., & Gibson, R. C. (2013). Perspectives in Caribbean Psychology. London & Philadelphia, United Kingdom & United States of America: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Independent Commission of Investigations. (2020). Detained at pleasure: Institutionalized human rights breaches. Kingston: Indecom Quarterly. Retrieved from https://www.indecom.gov.jm/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/The-INDECOM-Quarterly-January-March-Q1-2020-Final.pdf

Williams, A., & Hyman, D. (2020, May 28). JDF Under Fire-Disabled Woman Killed in August Town, Complaints To INDECOM Soar. Retrieved from Jamaica Gleaner: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20200528/jdf-under-fire-disabled-woman-killed-august-town-complaints-indecom

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