Politics and social justice in forensic psychology

Forensic Psychology (3rd edition), published by Wiley, edited by David A. Crighton & Graham J. Towl; reviewed by Sophie Ellis.

The third edition of Crighton and Towl’s forensic psychology textbook is a welcome update. The editors can claim considerable authority. Both have been Chief Psychologist for the Prison Service and have considerable experience in forensic mental health and academia. Of 40 chapters, 18 are new, and many have been substantially updated. New topics include rape trials; forensic psychology in mental health and social care; arts, education and sport in criminal justice; sexual violence at universities; terrorism; online sexual abuse; intimate partner abuse; bullying in prisons; fire setting; and trauma-informed care.  

The book is an excellent and accessible introduction and desk reference. Assessment chapters serve as best-practice guides for practitioner psychologists. ‘Evidence-base’ chapters include neurobiology; prevention; psychosocial factors and desistance.

The authorship is not restricted to forensic psychologists – a welcome redress to the silos created by psychology’s training and regulatory structure. Clinical psychologist Peter Kinderman gives a helpful overview of issues with diagnosis and drug treatment. Orla Lynch gives the strongest overview I have read on terrorism, recognising that not all forensic topics can be addressed by psychological expertise. 

Beyond its scholarly and practical utility, what singles out this volume is the praiseworthy effort to tackle forensic psychology’s relationship to state institutions. Crighton and Towl argue that forensic psychology is politicised in its topics, methods, and entanglement with state interests. They charge forensic psychologists with neglecting the political implications of their work, and lay out a remedy, which reads like a manifesto for a more socially just approach. Everyone considering joining or already in the profession should read the chapter on the politics of forensic psychology with interest and concern. 

There is some variation in whether authors stick to an overview or to their ‘pet’ approach. Some useful chapters from the previous edition were dropped, but the overall quality is high. Forensic psychology teams might wish to purchase a copy to support best practice and stimulate critical thinking about the future, which may require us to confront psychology’s uneasy relationship with punishment.

- Reviewed by Sophie Ellis, PhD researcher, University of Cambridge

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