Welcome back, readers! With the positive feedback from Part I, I was elated to finish our venture into Forensic Psychology and its unbeknownst applications to Jamaica’s legal system. For this post, I will discuss (1) offender-profiling, (2) offender labelling, and (3) victim-offender mediation.
If you haven’t read Part I of this two-part series, click here.
When people think of Forensic Psychology (FP), they often think of offender-profiling. Shows such as CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds and Law & Order, have reduced the lengthy and tumultuous crime-solving process, down to a thrilling one-hour episode. However, the process is much more than that.
(Salfati, 2008) defined the term as “…the process of linking [an] offenders’ actions…at a crime scene to their most likely characteristics…to help police investigators narrow down and prioritise a pool of most likely suspects…” (p. 3). In America, this was historically done by the FBI and police-force by themselves and it was in the latter (1990s), they began to solicit the help of psychologists and thus the discipline of FP was born (Canter, 2010). Forensic Psychologists can conduct this portion of the criminal investigation quite well. When one applies Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis to both crime-scene evidence and an existing criminal database—that includes but is not limited to past motives and convictions, physical appearances, and general background, it is evident that the results would drastically increase.
Jamaica’s socio-psycho-economic landscape gives birth to many inferences on crime-solving. However, is anyone putting ‘two and two together”? Hickling and others cited a (2004) report by Crime Stop JA, which asserted that most of our crimes go unsolved. Although this report is sixteen (16) years old, these statistics ring true today. This is evident in the numerous Statement of Emergencies (SOE) and Zone of Special Operations (ZOSO) initiatives employed by the government of Jamaica in various high-violence inner-city communities for the past three to four (3-4) years (Linton, 2019; McKay, 2018; Smith, 2020).
It can be said that Jamaica suffers from organized crime, where the crime bosses are intelligent sociopaths. Now, when we look at this observation plus the previously mentioned crime statistics, and our crime-focused initiatives—are our police officers able to match up to these bosses? Quite frankly, I think not. Although they can to an extent, as seen with the Vybez Kartel murder case, there is still a huge gap within their efficiency. A gap that can be closed by the forensic psychologist with their assistance with offender-profiling and some other areas such as suspect brainstorming, interviewing and witness assessment.
It is important to note however, that a part of offender-profiling, is getting answers from witnesses and civilians with pertinent information. In Jamaica’s communities and social circles—especially within the inner-cities—silence is a preciously traded commodity. Silence ensures longevity of life. But as we know, silence also kills. Therefore, the approach of these forensic psychologists would require cultural sensitivity to ensure some level of success.
Should you commit the grave sin of taking human life, you are deemed a murderer and you will be remembered as such till the day you die, and your tombstone carves your name and the earth’s soil entombs your body for eternity. Even after serving time, you are still called the thief, arsonist, murderer, etc. (Willis, 2018). This concept is known as labelling in Forensic/Correctional Psychology. Now, call it self-righteousness or just objective sense, but Jamaicans enjoy casting judgement upon those who commit crimes. That is, so long as these criminals are not adored celebrities (e.g., Vybez Kartel). Nevertheless, if the whole point of incarceration is to punish and rehabilitate, why focus on their past actions, as opposed to who they are now or who they could become? As such, the de-labelling movements in Forensic/Correctional Psychology are recent and are gaining momentum (Willis, 2018).
By working with social and educational psychologists as well as law enforcement, a forensic psychologist can help to change how offenders are perceived, by humanizing them as opposed to the prevalent demonization that they experience. Additionally, in the rehabilitation of those that have offended, the licensed professionals also have to unpack the harmful effects of labelling that have been forced upon them by society. Although Jamaica’s governments have tried to reform the prison rehabilitation programmes (Angus, 2014), there has been no mention of a de-labelling initiative of some sort. Therefore, a forensic psychologist can introduce this de-labelling concept to these programmes. To prevent re-offending and to give those who have offended a chance at societal reintegration, we must consider all options and approach the problem from all angles.
While self-motivation for personal change is the most important element to successful rehabilitation, society has to believe that these individuals can make this change too. Because in the end, if no-one believes that they can be a better person, why should they try?
Crimes of various magnitudes are committed in Jamaica. From petty theft to armed robberies, to gruesome murders and sexual assaults—Jamaica has it all. Well, except for serial killings; we leave that to the US. Harsh penalties are oftentimes wished for these wrong-doers, and while this is sensical, I must ask—is there any healing or betterment involved in this process? Yes, in some cases those convicted are sentenced and do serve their time, but what happens to the victim? Does this retribution provide healing?
Can victim-offender mediation give healing and provide growth to victims (as well as the offenders themselves)? As stated by (Arrigo & Shipley, 2005, p. 198) “Mediation programs for victims and offenders offer the victim an opportunity to play a role in determining the offender’s punishment, to explain to the offender the impact the crime had upon the party harmed and give the victim closure after being violated.” This means that a sexual assault survivor can voice their pain and this discussion consequently affects the sentencing of their assaulter. This phenomenon is nothing short of empowering. Jamaicans can be self-righteous at times, which immediately eliminates the chances for the offender to speak on why they offended. A forensic psychologist’s assessment in this scenario provides valuable information that can be used in the prevention of similar crimes. Additionally, this professional can also be the one to guide the mediation process along, by utilizing their psychological and even clinical skills as FP holds a close relationship to Clinical Psychology (Canter, 2010).
Another benefit to victim-offender mediation is that the offender gets a chance to speak as well. Now, I am by no means saying that we should not condemn the actions of the offender; however, just as the offender is given the ‘right to a fair trial’, they should be given the right to explain themselves on why they committed the crime. There could be underlying personal problems, or there exists a mental illness. When we focus too much on the victim and not on the offender, we ignore the reasons why they offended, how we can prevent re-offending and give rehabilitation to these individuals, (Arrigo & Shipley 2005). Nevertheless, the implementation of these initiatives in Jamaica is not an easy one. The cultural backlash would be tremendous! Because rationally, why should the victim hear what the offender has to say? They have harmed the victim and deserve punishment.
However, it is when we triumph over these restrictive thoughts and feelings, are we capable of achieving growth and change. As such, a forensic psychologist would be able to spearhead such initiatives. This professional, however, needs to be wary of the cultural norms as the initiative has to be culturally sensitive to yield results.
It is fair to state that this two-part article has scratched more than just the surface of how Jamaica’s criminal justice system and legal procedures could be reformed with the introduction and application of Forensic Psychology. However, there are still other aspects that FP can be applied such as the policing of juvenile gangs, the treatment of sex-offenders, societies’ reaction to these sex-offenders, and prison violence. This is not to say that these listed areas are not as important as the ones I discussed. However, one step at a time, for small steps become big ones and quintessentially, such is the approach of this article.
By improving current offender-profiling and the police’s use of force, whilst also introducing victim-offender mediation and taking a look at the negative effects of labelling, there may be hope for Jamaica’s criminal justice system and legal proceedings yet. Also, how would we get a forensic psychologist? The University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC), which is located in Kingston, offers a bachelor’s degree in Criminology, which is the closest thing to a Forensic Psychology degree. Although Criminology and Forensic Psychology are similar, there are distinct differences between them, surrounding their main areas of study, (Canter, 2010).
Therefore, will we import a professional from abroad? Or do we hope that one of our young minds—like myself—pursues this field abroad and returns with the well-needed skills to push reform? We’ll just have to see.
Readers, thanks for reading this two-part series! Please to share your comments and thoughts below on this topic, as well as any suggestions for future academic posts.
Stay safe and continue to look after yourselves and each other.
Angus, G. L. (2014, May 15). Prison Rehabilitation Programme to be Improved. Retrieved from Jamaica Information Service: https://jis.gov.jm/prison-rehabilitation-programme-improved/
Canter, D. (2010). Forensic Psychology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Salfati, C. G. (2008). Offender profiling: Psychological and methodological issues of testing for behavioural consistency. Issues in Forensic Psychology(8), 68-81.
Willis, G. M. (2018, January 8). Why call someone by what we don’t want them to be? The ethics of labeling in forensic/correctional psychology. Psychology, Crime & Law, 24(7), 727-743. doi:10.1080/1068316X.2017.1421640