Here are a series of suggested answers for the Forensic topic questions in AQA A Level Psychology Paper 3 (Section D) in June 2018.
Question 38: (6 marks)
One strength of the atavistic form explanation is that it changed the focus from offenders being viewed as wicked and weak-minded towards a more scientific explanation. For this reason Lombroso is sometimes seen as the ‘father of modern criminology’.
However, Lombroso’s work was poorly controlled as he did not compare his criminal sample with a control group. Therefore, the atavistic features that he found to be linked to crime (e.g. narrow sloping brow, strong prominent jaw), may be just as prevalent in the non-criminal population. A further issue is that some of the facial and cranial features that he identified as being linked to crime could have been influenced by factors such as poverty or a poor diet. Both of these issues question the validity of Lombroso’s theory.
Lombroso has also been criticised for scientific racisms as many of the features that he claimed to be linked to crime (e.g. curly hair and dark skin) are most likely to be found in those of African descent. Also he described criminals as being ‘uncivilised, primitive and savage’ and these ideas would have appeared to support the eugenic movement that was very prominent at that time. For that reason it can be viewed as socially sensitive research.
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Question 39: (16 marks)
Behaviour modification programmes make use of behavioural principles in order to attempt to rehabilitate offenders. This involves making changes to their behaviour through operant conditioning, often using a token economy. Good behaviour is rewarded with tokens (secondary reinforcers) that can be traded for desirable privileges (primary reinforcers) and bad behaviour is discouraged through removing the tokens. This is what the guards are referring to when they say ‘give him points for TV time when he behaves well’. It should also help them to understand the ‘link between behaviour and consequences’.
Token economies are easy to implement and there is no need for specialist professionals, making them cost-effective. There is also research showing the use of token economies to be effective within the institution. However, the effectiveness of the programme depends on prison staff showing a consistent approach and evidence has shown that any benefits are lost if staff are not consistent due to lack of appropriate training or staff turnover. There is also a lot of evidence to show that the effectiveness of token economies is often short term. For example, Cohen and Filipcjak found that a group of young male offenders who had experienced a token economy within an institution were less likely to have reoffended 1 – 2 years later compared to a control group of offenders. However, when followed up 3 years after release, the recidivism rates were the same for both groups, suggesting that the impact of token economies reduces over time.
Anger management programmes are cognitive-behavioural in nature and designed to help people learn how to control their anger in order to prevent re-offending. The first phase of such a programme involves helping the offender to identify situations which trigger their anger, as in the suggestion of ‘get him to talk about what makes him angry’. The therapist will also challenge any irrational interpretations. The second phase is skills acquisition, referred to in the table as ‘teach him how to calm himself down’. This could include relaxation, meditation or assertiveness training. The third phase is application practice and this is where the offenders are able to role-play and practice their skills with the therapist who will provide positive reinforcement when they are successful.
There is evidence to support the effectiveness of anger management programmes. For example, Ireland compared a sample of 50 prisoners who completed an anger management course with a control group consisted of 37 prisoners who were assessed but did not complete the course. The results showed that all who had completed the programme showed a decrease in self-reported anger, as well as lower levels of anger being reported by the prison officers. However, despite this there is very little evidence that it reduces recidivism in the long-term. This could be because the role-play does not reflect all the possible triggers that might exist in real-life situations. It could also be because there is not a straightforward relationship between anger and offending, as one study found very little difference in levels of anger between offenders classed as violent and those classed as non-violent. In addition many crimes, such as burglary or fraud are not motivated by anger so anger-management would not help to prevent this type of crime.
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