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Forensic psychologist: Job description

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Forensic psychologists play a critical role in the assessment of offenders and the provision of support and training for other staff. They also work with victims. Research is a further element of their work, as is presenting evidence in court and advising parole boards and mental health tribunals.

Using expertise based on psychological theory and research, forensic psychologists work closely with other professionals and agencies both in the assessment and treatment of individuals and in the development of institutional policy and working practices.

Most forensic psychologists work within the Prison Service, although they are also employed in a range of other settings, including probation services, the National Health Service (NHS) and private hospitals, the police, social services and higher education institutions.

Typical work activities

Forensic psychology is often perceived as concerning criminal investigation and profiling. Although this is one very minor aspect of forensic psychology, it is not a core role. The work of forensic psychologists mainly relates to the assessment and treatment of criminal behaviour. Forensic psychologists work not only with prisoners and offenders but also with other professionals involved in the judicial and penal systems, and with victims of crime.

The core part of working with offenders focuses on therapy in forensic settings where tasks typically involve:

  • carrying out one-to-one assessments, often to assess the risk of reoffending (e.g. for lifers being released into the community or sex offenders after a treatment programme) or of suicide, self-harm or other high-risk behaviour;
  • developing, implementing and reviewing appropriate offender treatment and rehabilitation programmes, including anger management, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, and social and cognitive skills training;
  • undertaking research projects to evaluate the contribution of specific service elements, policy initiatives or group programme developments, e.g. exploring probation 'drop-out' rates, investigating the impact of bullying in the prison environment, or evaluating the effectiveness of an anger management group programme;
  • undertaking statistical analysis for forensic client profiling;
  • preparing risk assessment and other formal written reports;
  • delivering training to support forensic staff in areas such as stress management, or training on how to cope with understanding bullying and techniques for crisis (hostage) negotiation;
  • attending court and providing expert witness testimony;
  • advising parole boards and mental health tribunals;
  • liaising with and providing consultancy to hospital staff, prison officers, the police, social workers, probation officers, representatives of the judicial and legal systems and university staff;
  • contributing to policy and strategy development to ensure continuous service improvement;
  • training and mentoring psychological assistants or trainee forensic psychologists;
  • management and administration.

Forensic psychologists may also be involved in:

  • working with victims of crime and the general public in relation to their fear around crime;
  • conducting applied research;
  • designing and delivering training;
  • organisational consultancy.
Written by AGCAS editors
August 2012

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