Forensic psychology is interaction of the practice or study of psychology and law They apply psychological theory and skills for understanding legal and criminal justice. Read more here to find out further.

Why do we require prisons? Even in the case of a nation facing a tremendous land crisis, prisons would surely find a place within the country’s geographical boundaries. So it is quite obvious that prisons are of utmost strategic importance to any government of the world. The major purposes of prisons are ‘retribution’ which means the act of punishing for any kind of wrongdoing, ‘incapacitation’ or in other words the act of making someone unfit to act in a certain manner, ‘deterrence’i.e. prevention of something by adopting any punishment as a threat and ‘rehabilitation’ which involves activities or processes that can transform a criminal into a law-abiding citizen. But most people think of prisons as nothing more than facilities where criminals are incarcerated and deprived of their freedoms while serving a sentence for a crime and more often than not rehabilitation, the most important purpose of prisons is overlooked.

“Punishment makes men hard and cold, concentrates, sharpens the feeling of alienation, and strengthens the power of resistance”

So now after getting a hint of as to what are the purposes being solved by the prisons all over the world, we need to prioritise between its functions i.e. whether to go for punishment or rehabilitation of the prisoners.


The battle of words in this traditional debate has continued for years with each side highlighting its pros and other side’s cons. The rehabilitation of prisoners is focused on reforming the offenders’ character to not re-offend and takes place both inside the prison and often even after the offender is released. During the period of their detention, the prisoners are provided with ample opportunity to rediscover themselves by participating in programs such as drug abuse, anger management, cognitive skills development and other positive programs.

The ones in favour of punishment for criminals denounce rehabilitation programs in prisons by arguing that the prisons are often overcrowded which diluted the basic purpose of such programs and moreover provide the prisoners with an opportunity to carry out violent acts towards other offenders. Also, it has been observed that instructors designated for such programs are too places in a sort of danger and hence against the public interest. Another obstacle in the pursue of rehabilitating offenders is that majority of this community suffer from social and psychological problems and a person with such traits cannot be dynamic enough to initiate such a massive change in his personality.

So the idea that the prisoners are not to rehabilitated but rather punished seems to be in the interest of the society at large in the short run but if society wants its betterment in the long run then each and every criminal has to be turned into a responsible and hardworking citizen of the world.  


Now that we have studied the significance and scope of rehabilitation of prisoners, let’s understand something called ‘Forensic Psychology’ that has laid the way forward for prison rehabilitation.

Forensic psychology is a special field of study that combines the study of psychology and law.

Forensic psychologists are commonly found working in prisons, jails, rehabilitation centres, police departments, law firms, schools, government agencies, or in private practice, to name a few. Forensic psychology is concerned with intermediate level of understanding of the legal principles, particularly with regard to expert witness testimony and the specific content area of concern, as well as relevant jurisdictional considerations in order to facilitate interaction with judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals.

Forensic psychologists currently are the most sought-after people when it comes to rehabilitation of prisoners or people in general as they use scientific therapies and treatments to explore how one’s mind works and then evaluate the situation accordingly to make a decision. They then explain them and give enrich knowledge to help people pick better yet smarter choices in their daily lives. In fact, forensic psychology is multidimensional as it not only helps in understanding the situations but also enables to identify the problem causing roots for quick healing and helping people have a brand new vision to their life.


•    Risk Need Model – Efforts to improve responses to persons with mental illness involved with the criminal justice system have traditionally focused on providing mental health services under court supervision. However, a new policy has emerged that focuses on providing correctional treatment services consistent with the risk-need-responsivity model to reduce recidivism. The model is used in criminology to develop recommendations for how prisoners should be assessed based on the risk they present and what they need, and what kinds of environments they should be placed.

•    Good Lives Model – Over the past decade, the Good Lives Model of Offender Rehabilitation (GLM) has been systematically developed by Tony Ward and colleagues, and has been adopted by many different jurisdictions both locally and internationally. The crux of the Good Lives Model revolves around human rights and it starts from the assumption that while offenders have obligations to respect other peoples' entitlements to well being and freedom, they are also entitled to the same considerations in return to complete the Barter.

The literal meaning of therapeutic jurisprudence is healing of a disease through a theory or philosophy of law. In practice, it is a legal framework that actively promotes therapeutic objectives by balancing justice principles and therapeutic principles. The normative stance of therapeutic jurisprudence is that it aims to maximize the overarching aims of the law and that therapeutic effects are desirable and should generally be the aim of the law, and that anti-therapeutic effects are undesirable and should be avoided or minimized by the law.

Now that we have understood offender rehabilitation in terms of both psychological and legal theory, the significance of forensic psychologists in the field of prisoner or offender rehabilitation can be better let out.


It has been observed that focus on offender rehabilitation within the legal context is lacking in psychological practice and therefore forensic psychology has a role to play by becoming a therapeutic agent that is more accustomed to the law and legal context. Forensic psychologists make use of their psychological theory and insights to understand the functioning of the legal and criminal justice system. Autonomy is one of the core values of the law and the same must be applied to cater to the offender rights. The good lives model is concerned with autonomy, defined as the ability to function independently as a unified, integrated being, to form one’s own values and beliefs, and to make decisions. A normative assumption of social sciences is that the law is a great promoter of human rights. Therefore, considering legal theory might assist offender rehabilitation. Also, forensic psychologists are well versed with legal as well as a psychological phenomenon and hence the apt personnel to enhance community protection by balancing community rights and offender rights.

Today everything is science and has some well-defined principles to guide the process. Such is the case when it comes to forensic psychologists involved in offender rehabilitation.


The following principles are proposed in order to guide forensic psychologists in the assessment of risks, the treatment of need and the management of readiness.

  • Recognize Normative Values – Rehabilitation begins with judgements regarding risk, need, readiness and understanding of a pro-social life. The two goals of rehabilitation have to meet are the management of risk through control and meet the social needs through care. In this pursue the therapeutic effects of the law are to be maximized and non-therapeutic effects of the law shall be minimized. So clearly we are witnessing an intersection of law and psychology and this is where forensic psychology comes handy.
  • Respect Human Rights‘Rehabilitation is humanistic’. The psychologist must be totally convinced about the significance of freedom and well being for the offender to function autonomously with dignity. Well being even in the case of offenders must not be curtailed and the least restrictive alternative must be stressed upon.
  • Assess Risk – The likely risk of re-offending and the factors that may reduce the risk of re-offending must be identified. The intensity of services actually depends upon the degree of risk of re-offending. Higher the risk of re-offending, higher should the intensity of rehabilitation services.
  • Treat NeedRehabilitation carried out by forensic psychologists must be individualistic and address the offenders’ strengths, weaknesses, preferences and also the environment within which he was moulded into what he is in order to better understand his psychological needs.
  • Manage Readiness – Rehabilitation should be in such that it maximizes the homogeneity between individual and contextual factors. Rehabilitation should be delivered by appropriately competent psychologists who can provide the requisite skills, knowledge, and care for the successful transformation of an offender to a responsible citizen.
  • Ensure Autonomy - Rehabilitation will be more effective if the offender can assess the costs and benefits of treatment, can accept or refuse treatment, and is treatment ready. The process of transformation must be such that it brings the prisoner in front of the law and asking that how can he live his differently.
  • Create Multi-agency ApproachesRehabilitation is a multidisciplinary venture where the relationship between law and psychology is cooperative rather than individualistic. Forensic Psychologists need to partner equally with police personnel and health professionals.


The basic conclusion is the fact that everyone deserves the respect that a normal human gets, be it a prisoner or a social activist. No one is a criminal by choice. It is the environment, people and the situations that turn an individual into an offender. Everyone deserves at least one chance to become what he is not and rehabilitation is that one chance. From a human rights perspective, offender rehabilitation should last no longer than an ordinary prison sentence, treatment should balance offender rights and community right, and treatment should be of the required quality and intensity to reduce risk.

The optimum proportion of law and psychology required for offender rehabilitation can be worked out only by skilled forensic psychologists as they are the ones who have complete knowledge of law and psychology.

Today there is an acute shortage of skilled and responsible human resource and if prisoners are turned into one then it will surely change the history and future of the world.