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Psychology, Public Policy, and Law - Vol 23, Iss 4

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Psychology, Public Policy, and Law Psychology, Public Policy, and Law focuses on the links between psychology as a science and public policy and law.
Copyright 2017 American Psychological Association
  • Psycho-legal researchers’ impact on policies and legal practices: Past and future.
    The year 2017 marks the 125th anniversary of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) founding. Like many other APA journals, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law is marking this occasion by publishing a Special Issue highlighting significant contributions by legal and psychological scholars to the development of policy and law while outlining fruitful directions for future research. The articles that follow are focused on topics about which psychology has made substantial contributions to policy and/or law, as well as on topics where psychological scientists and legal scholars have so far failed to shape policy and practice, despite solid relevant research. Each article in this issue is best characterized as a forward-looking piece that both reviews the important research that has been conducted and helps frame the agenda for future policy/practice-focused research. The authors have been urged to use past research as a spring. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • The psychological science of racial bias and policing.
    What can the social psychology of racial bias teach us about the potential for racial bias in policing? Because social psychological research is mostly laboratory based and rarely includes police officers, direct generalizability is limited. However, social psychology has identified robust risk factors that make individuals more likely to engage in disparate treatment—even without overt prejudice. This article maps these situational risk factors to common experiences in modern patrol policing. Specifically, we identify the following situations common to patrol policing as risk factors that make bias more likely to result in discrimination: discretion, novice status, crime focus, cognitive demand, and identity threats. Where possible, we also review studies that include officers, and take place in policing-relevant contexts. With the map provided in this article, we exhort psychologists to translate previous laboratory findings to field settings to advance the practice of democratic policing and expand the science of bias. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Adolescent brain science and juvenile justice policymaking.
    The American legal system’s thinking about the criminal culpability of juveniles has been radically transformed over the past 12 years, largely as a result of the introduction of developmental science into the United States Supreme Court’s deliberations about the appropriate sentencing of adolescents who have been convicted of the most serious crimes. The author examines the role that developmental science, and, especially, developmental neuroscience, has played in this policy transformation. After a brief overview of the Court’s rulings in 4 landmark cases decided between 2005 and 2016, he summarizes the relevant psychological and neurobiological evidence that likely guided the Court’s rulings. The author concludes with suggestions for future research and policy analysis, including (a) the study of developmental differences between adolescents and adults that have implications for their differential treatment under criminal law, with a particular focus on the neural underpinnings of these differences; (b) the study of the impact of variations in juvenile justice policy and practice on outcomes other than recidivism; and (c) the study of the financial costs and benefits of juvenile justice policy alternatives. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • The case for double-blind lineup administration.
    Many have recommended that lineups be conducted by administrators who do not know which lineup member is the suspect (i.e., a double-blind administration). Single-blind lineup administration, in which the administrator knows which lineup member is the suspect, increases the rate at which witnesses identify suspects, increasing the likelihood that both innocent and guilty suspects are identified. Although the increase in correct identifications of the guilty may appear desirable, in fact, this increase in correct identifications is the result of impermissible suggestion on the part of the administrator. In addition to these effects on witness choices, single-blind administration influences witness confidence through an administrator’s feedback to witnesses about their choices, reducing the correlation between witness confidence and accuracy. Finally, single-blind administration influences police reports of the witness’s identification behavior, with the same witness behavior resulting in different outcomes for suspects depending upon whether the administrator knew which lineup member was the suspect. Administrators who know which lineup member is the suspect in an identification procedure emit behaviors that increase the likelihood that witnesses will choose the suspect, primarily by causing witnesses who would have chosen a filler (known innocent member of the lineup who is not the suspect) to choose the suspect. To avoid impermissible suggestion, photo arrays and lineups should be administered using double-blind procedures. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Developing an evidence-based perspective on interrogation: A review of the U.S. government’s high-value detainee interrogation group research program.
    Interrogation practices in the United States have been roundly criticized both for their accusatorial ethos, at times leading to false confessions by the innocent, and for a history of applying physical and psychological coercion in law enforcement, military, and intelligence contexts. Despite decades of psychological research demonstrating the failures of such approaches and despite recent positive advances in countries such as the United Kingdom moving to an information-gathering framework, little change has occurred in the training or practice of U.S. interrogation professionals over the past 50 years. This article describes recent historical events that have led to the development of the first unclassified, government-funded research program on the science of interviewing and interrogation. Since 2010, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) research program has identified effective approaches for developing cooperation and rapport, eliciting information, challenging inconsistencies by presenting evidence or information strategically, and assessing credibility using cognitive cues and strategic questioning tactics. The program has also examined the influence of culture and language, and has facilitated the translation of research from the laboratory to the field. In this context, we review the significant contributions of psychologists to understanding and developing ethical, legal, and effective interrogation practices, and we describe important future directions for research on investigative interviewing and interrogation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Understanding guilty pleas through the lens of social science.
    The adjudication of crime by guilty plea has been on the rise globally for at least the last 30 years. Few countries, however, have accepted pleas to the degree of the United States, whose highest court recently acknowledged a criminal justice system near-synonymous with a “system of pleas, not a system of trials” (Lafler v. Cooper, 2012, p. 3). The present article provides an overview of this justice system wherein many pleas are bargained between the defense and prosecution. Our purpose here is twofold: first to review psychological and other social scientific research on the theoretical and practical reasons underlying the process of pleading guilty, and second, to identify research questions and methods that have yet to be, but need to be, asked and conducted in relation to guilty pleas. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Cross-examination: A defense.
    Some researchers criticize the practice of cross-examining child witnesses. A few critics go so far as to suggest that cross-examination undermines the search for truth. This essay takes issue with critics of cross-examination, and argues that, in the adversary system of justice, cross-examination serves vital functions. While the essay defends cross-examination, it acknowledges 2 important matters: First, developmentally inappropriate questions can undermine children’s accuracy, and developmentally inappropriate questions abound in court. Second, cross-examination can undermine the accuracy of children’s truthful testimony. A law is proposed to curtail developmentally improper questioning. The argument is made that the harm of occasional inaccuracy caused by cross-examination is outweighed by the benefit of cross-examination. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • The history and future of prison psychology.
    Prisons are the quintessential government institution, with almost complete control over the lives of the people compelled to spend time in them. Depending on how they are run and what services they provide, they have the potential to change people’s paths in life for the better or the worse, or indeed to leave people untouched. Furthermore, an enormous number of people spend time in prisons, particularly in the United States, so that the impact of imprisonment has serious consequences for society. In this article, we reflect on some of the major influences that psychology has had on prisons and imprisonment. We consider the importance of the scientist-practitioner model and the extent to which psychological evidence has permeated prison policy. We illustrate with four examples of how psychologists have contributed to understanding and influencing prisons: the Stanford Prison Experiment, the scientist-practitioner work of Hans Toch, the concepts of legitimacy and procedural justice, and the risk, needs, and responsivity principles of correctional rehabilitation. Looking to the future, we imagine how psychologically informed data science could expand its reach, and discuss ways in which prison psychologists could up our game in effectively communicating and embedding the findings of psychological science. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Promises and pitfalls of evidence-based policymaking: Observations from a nonpartisan legislative policy research institute.
    This article is concerned with evidence-based policymaking and the potential for research in psychology and other social science disciplines to contribute to this process. Policymaking is complex and incorporates many factors and voices. Rigorous empirical evidence is one potential factor in this process, but the degree to which it is built into, sought after, or accepted in policymaking varies considerably. From the vantage point of psychologists within a nonpartisan legislative policy research organization in the United States, we offer observations on building credibility, communicating effectively, and avoiding common pitfalls that researchers in psychology and other social science disciplines may encounter as they engage in this process. We also draw from our experiences in this setting to outline key features of research design and process that can enhance the policy relevance of research evidence. Finally, we highlight the field of early childhood education as one example of a long-term exchange between research and policy, briefly reviewing early work in this area before moving into recommendations for future directions to address policy-relevant questions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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  • Psychology and child protection: Promoting widespread improvement in practice.
    The contribution of psychology to knowledge on child protection is substantial. This article reviews this contribution and suggests opportunities for psychology to contribute more, choosing 3 selected areas: (a) interviewing children to assess child maltreatment, (b) the well-being of children involved with the child protection system, and (c) evidence-based practices to ameliorate the effects of child maltreatment among children involved with the child protection system. Across these areas, psychology has contributed both to the knowledge base and to available assessment and intervention methods. However, in each area, the effect on usual child protection practice has been limited. Psychology has an opportunity to broaden its contribution through research and systems intervention aimed at extending gains in these areas throughout the child protection field. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
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