Criminal Justice Psychology in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Introduction to the Special Feature

By Polaschek, Devon L. L. | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Criminal Justice Psychology in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Introduction to the Special Feature


Polaschek, Devon L. L., New Zealand Journal of Psychology


Criminal justice psychology is a thriving subspecialty within both clinical and forensic psychology in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Its history goes back more than 50 years and is inextricably linked to the development of psychology as a profession. The most stable influence on the development of both practice and research has been the former Department of Justice, which began a professional psychology service in the 1960s. Academically, criminal justice psychology had a much later formal start--in the 1980s, and today most Universities offer graduate papers in this area. Much criminal justice psychology research is disseminated only in internal reports and student theses. This Special Feature issue of the New Zealand Journal of Psychology demonstrates the current diversity of criminal justice psychology research.

Criminal justice psychology is a young sub-discipline within applied psychology, and not easily defined. In recent years forensic psychology has become the popular term for a raft of practice areas where psychology intersects with the law. Indeed forensic simply means "the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2003); thus forensic psychology encompasses professional activities as diverse as gathering information from maltreated children, to establishing whether someone has the cognitive capacity to make a valid will, and advising juries about human memory issues. In some countries, such as the United States, the majority of forensic research and practice focuses on the legal system, and particularly, on activities linked to the operation of the civil and criminal courts. Although New Zealand's forensic psychologists work in these contexts (Taylor & Polaschek, 1996), New Zealand has a long tradition of applying psychology not only to legal issues within the criminal justice system, but also to issues relating to sentence administration, in particular, New Zealand psychologists have taken an interest in crime, offenders, and the operation of the correctional system: the government system responsible for administering criminal sentencing. The intent of this special issue is to draw attention to this work.

The history of criminal justice psychology in Aotearoa is closely linked to the Department of Corrections Psychological Service, probably New Zealand's largest employer of psychologists. The former Department of Justice has employed psychologists for more than half a century, although at first they were affiliated to individual prisons, and did not gather into a cohesive service with a strong professional identity until the late 1960s (Riley and Rush, 2000). Since that time, the Psychological Service has steadily developed both its research base and its practice expertise. In many ways, as Riley and Rush argued, the Service is a rare exemplar of the scientist-practitioner model at work inside an organization. The achievement is all the greater because it is a large organization, often caught up in public controversy because of the nature of its responsibilities, an organization in which psychologists are a very small minority, and subject to the competing agendas of other services. Much of the initial credit for the vision of this research-and-practice focus, and the programmatic research that now supports the Service belongs to Harry Love who directed the Service for more than a decade, until the mid-1990s. Since his retirement, under the management of Christina Rush and now David Riley, a substantial body of research has been built up "in-house", much of it directed at answering fundamental questions about Corrections' functions. International access to this research has improved since the mid-1990s when the Service begun to publish some significant reports (e.g., Bakker, Hudson, Wales, & Riley, 1998).

Independent of employment by the Department of Corrections (or Justice), other well-known psychologists have carried out criminal justice psychological research over the years. …

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