By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
This page provides resources regarding the ethics of often mandated and unavoidable multiple relationships in prisons, jails, correction and detention facilities.
Like the military, correctional settings are very unique environments for psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and other mental health practitioners. Some have described it as practicing in a foreign country with its own language, customs, and rules. When it comes to dual or multiple relationships, there are two main areas where correctional settings, such as prisons, jails, and other detention facilities, require special understanding and special attention.
Treated/Therapist vs. Expert/Evaluator: In certain correctional and forensic settings, clinicians or treating psychologists are expected and/or mandated to serve also as court appointed evaluators and testify in court as experts. At times, forensic psychologists are required to provide reports regarding their psychotherapy patients’ competency or fitness to stand trial, and may also be mandated to provide sanity reports. While forensic dual relationships of treater-experts is generally frowned upon (see articles on Forensic Dual Relationships), correctional settings are unique as such dual relationships may not be avoided as the courts or the facilities’ regulations may mandate it.
Multiple Loyalties and Primary Responsibility for Safety: In prisons, jail, and detention settings, treaters or clinicians have a primary loyalty and legal responsibility to the institutions and concerns with security. For example, a clinician, in these settings, who hears about an escape plan must report it to the correctional staff. Similarly, a clinician who is aware of potential violence or harm in the correctional environment must repot this as well. The concerns with security and safety is above clinicians’ or treaters’ loyalty or responsibility to the welfare of their prisoner patients. Another dual role within forensic and correctional fields has been described as dissonance – experienced by practitioners – when attempting to adhere to the conflicting roles and conflicting ethical requirements associated with client well-being and community protection and safety.
Multiple Roles of Mental Health Practitioners and Prison Staff: In some prisons, jail, and detention settings, mental health professional are also considered as law enforcement officers. That means that in addition to the clinical role as mental health practitioners the additional law enforcement or deputy role may entail shakedowns, which may consists of patting down inmates and confiscating counterband from prisoners who may also be one’s clinical patients. Similarly, mental health practitioners in prisons or jails may be involved in situations where they have to intervene in fights and assaults by or on their patients. Reporting infractions by their patients to the warden may also be required of clinicians in prisons or jails settings. Needless to say that such mandatory and unavoidable multiple relationships in prisons and jails often present very delicate and highly complex situations for mental health practitioners.
- Broomfield, K. (2008). Challenges Psychologists Encounter Working in a Correctional Setting, MA Thesis at Campus Alberta
- Cervantes, A. N. & Hanson, A. (2013). Dual Agency and Ethics Conflicts in Correctional Practice: Sources and Solutions. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 41:1:72-78
- Elliott, W. N. (2002). Managing offender resistance to counseling: The 3 R’s. Federal Probation, 66, 172-178.
- Greenberg, A. & Daniel W. Shuman, D. (1997). Irreconcilable Conflict Between Therapeutic and Forensic Roles. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 28, 50-57.
- Haag, A. M. (2006). Ethical Dilemmas Faced by Correctional Psychologists in Canada, Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33/1, 93-109.
- Scott, N. A. (1985). Counseling prisoners: Ethical issues, dilemmas, and cautions. I, 64(4), 272-273.
- Sheila (2012). Correctional Psychology – Ethics and Dual Roles (Blog)
- Ward, T. (2013). The dual relationship problem in Correctional and forensic practice, Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18, 92-100.
- Ward, T. (2014). The dual relationship problem in forensic and correctional practice: Community protection or offender welfare? Legal and Criminological Psychology, 19/1,35–39.
- Ward, T., Gannon,T. A. & Clare-Ann Fortune, C (2015). Restorative Justice–Informed Moral Acquaintance: Resolving the Dual Role Problem in Correctional and Forensic Practice. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42/1: pp. 45-57.
- Ward, A. S. & Ward, T., (2017). The Complexities of Dual Relationships in Forensic and Correctional Practice: Safety vs. Care. In Zur, O. (Ed.) Multiple Relationships in Psychotherapy and Counseling: Unavoidable, Common and Mandatory Dual Relations in Therapy. New York: Routledge.
- Zur, O. (2014). Multiple Relationships in Police Psychology & Law Enforcement: Resources
- Zur, O. (2014). Forensic Dual or Multiple Relationships: Treating Psychotherapists as Experts