Applying Psychological Theories To Handling Mentally Ill Inmates Psychology Essay

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Crimes that are committed by a particular offender can be explained through a psychological theory. These theories have stages and principals that assist in determining why some criminals commit these crimes and why some offenders are more prone to violent acts. In cases where criminals have been convicted, there are treatments that have been provided for inmates so that they do not harm themselves or others. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a method of treatment that has been used against inmates who have suffered from severe depression and other aliments for many years. Electroconvulsive therapy is the treatment method that will be discussed in this manuscript and the effect it has on mentally ill inmates.

Most inmates have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness and this has presented many challenges for law enforcement as well as other inmates. With this knowledge, officers and other inmates need to know how to react and treat these individuals who suffer from a mental illness. The different types of treatments available for inmates suffering with certain types of ailments, such as depression, need to be explained to staff professionals so they can better assist these individual�s in becoming productive in society upon release (if possible). Also, how effective the treatments can be when tested on certain types of offenders. There are many journals and statistical data that confirm that criminals who suffer from a mental illness will be more likely to commit crime and eventually become repeat offenders after they have been released from prison.

Psychological theory and profiling have developed an outline that has assisted with understanding certain types of criminals and the types of behavior that coincide with crime causation. The outline is later reviewed and inmates are being examined to test the theory and how it applies to managing mentally ill inmates. Potter, Rudorfer, & Manji (1991) stated that in some cases, the first line of treatment for mental disorders are the use of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic methods, but the method tends to take too much time or the inmate cannot withstand the medications that have to be taken. This manuscript will discuss the psychological theory and how it applies to mentally ill inmates and how electroconvulsive therapy treatment has been successful within the inmate populations.

Literature Review

For this manuscript to discuss the psychological theory and foundation of criminal behavior, several definitions were needed. The definition of psychology theory and profiling was provided by Schmalleger (2006). The definitions for electroconvulsive therapy and depression were retrieved from Merriam-Webster Online dictionary (Electroshock Therapy, 2010) and the Word Web for depression (Depression, 2010). The profiles of known criminal, discussed by Innes (2003) demonstrate how psychological theories played a crucial part in catching some of the most notorious offenders and how the Freud era was the landmark behind the first developmental stages of understanding the criminal�s unconscious mind (Rieff, 1991).

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) will be discussed in this manuscript. ECT was performed in the late 1930�s and has been used as some form of treatment for decades. The treatment was meant for individuals who suffered from mental illness and eventually this treatment began to spark some interest in the criminal justice system. The ECT treatment was for the clinically depressed and later began to be performed on inmates who showed signs of depression. Even though Sackeim et al (2007) discuss the effects ECT has in the community and how some forms of ECT can have negative responses; Scott (2005) produced a handbook on how ECT still is the primary course of treatment for people with a severe form of depression.

ECT has demonstrated to be an effective way to treat depression. The practice and training in different countries will illustrate just how this treatment has assisted mentally ill patients (Saatcioglu & Tomruk, 2008). Some researchers believe the quality of life has been improved by the usage of ECT (Anonymous, 2006) and that the treatment being performed on inmates has provided officers� with a better understanding of antisocial behavior and the different personalities some inmates processes, especially when dealing with women inmates (Chapman, Specht, & Cellucci, 2005). Also, how women view females who commit crime and the theories that have some women question the comparison of male and female delinquency (Cullen, & Agnew, 2006).

As stated above, there are some negative responses that are associated with electroconvulsive therapy and individuals have concerns because this treatment can affect the memory. With that being said, Lisanby, Maddox, Prudic, Devanand, & Sackeim (2000) have stated that the memory loss is likely to be of an impersonal nature rather than a personal one. Rappoport, M., J., Mamdani, M., & Herrmann, N. (2006) discuss ECT and how it has performed over the years in older adults and how this treatment is better for older participants than younger ones.


Principles of Psychological Theories

There are several principles of psychological theories that are utilized in order to profile criminals. The theories assumptions are: (1) The individual is the primary unit of analysis, (2) Personality is the major motivational element within individuals because it is the seat of drives and the source of motives, (3) Crimes result from abnormal, dysfunctional, or inappropriate mental process within the personality, (4) Criminal behavior, although condemned by the social group, may be purposeful for the individual insofar as it addresses certain felt needs. Behavior can be judged �inappropriate� only when measured against external criteria purporting to establish normality, (5) Normality is generally defined by social consensus that is, what the majority of people in any social group agree is �real,� appropriate, or typical, and (6) Defective, or abnormal, mental processes may have a variety of causes, including a diseased mind, inappropriate learning or improper conditioning, the emulation of inappropriate role models, and adjustment to inner conflicts (Schmalleger, 2006).

These principles are an introduction to the beginning stages of psychological theories, which are conditioning and personality disturbances and disease of the mind. The early stages gave insight on what behavior types to look for when encountering certain offenders, such as a Psychopath. A criminal associated with this type of behavior is recognized by their inability to be social among their peers. This inability to be a part of a group setting and connect with different people is what separates a psychopath and a normal human being. However, the word psychopath has been renamed because professionals felt that it would be more appropriate to focus on a criminals� behavior and not their personality traits (Schmalleger, 2006).

When the psychology of a criminal is being reviewed, another type of theory also comes into play. The Psychiatric theory is the combination of the early stages of psychological theory, which are stated above. This theory visualizes the offender�s drive to commit a crime and the personality behavior that is hidden far in his mind. Sigmund Freud is possibly the best psychiatric mind known to date and his analysis of criminal behavior is legend. Freud believed that the personality of a criminal is made up of three components, which include the id, the ego, and the superego.

Rieff (1991), Innes (2003), and Schmalleger (2006) describe the stages as, the id being the fixation or pleasure principle and this is basically reaching maxim satisfactory needs in the shortest amount of time. The ego is the conscious or reality component that focus on to commit the crimes and receive the highest pleasure point without being punished latter. Lastly, the superego is the most important because it is the moral standards to right and wrong. For a more definitive perspective of psychological and psychiatric theories, see Appendix A.

Depression in the Prison System

The Word Web gave a great definition of Depression and it is �a mental state characterized by a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and a despondent lack of activity� (Depression, 2010). They have been studies and surveys done to show that there is a percentage of inmates in prison that suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. With these studies and surveys performed, women have been shown to be improving on their criminal activity and catching up with their male counterparts. An Anonymous publication (2006) produced an article that stated girls are at a higher risk for drug abuse than boys and would in turn put women at a higher risk for depression.

In another study, women inmates were examined to see just how depressed they were and if this depression would lead to more severe mental illnesses. Inmates, who are suffering from depression, also show signs of hopelessness, severe mood disorders, and suicidal tendencies (Chapman, Specht, & Cellucci, 2005). Studies have shown a link between inmate�s suicide attempts and their childhood upbringing. Studies identified that any form of childhood abuse, i.e. physical, mental, or emotional, is a strong factor in inmates trying to commit suicide. When an inmate is depressed, most of them feel that there is no reason to continue to live and they want to do anything that will make that feeling go away. For feminist, a mother�s absence or liberation causes the daughter�s crime (Cullen, & Agnew, 2006). The problem with this statement is that there is no evidence to suggest that women who excel in the workforce have participated in the increase of women�s crime. Statistics have shown that there really has been no change in women�s prison percentile rate.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is defined by Merriam-Webster Online as �the treatment of mental disorder and especially depression by the application of electric current to the head of a usually anesthetized patient that induces unconsciousness and convulsive seizures in the brain� (Electroshock Therapy, 2010). ECT has been in existence since the late 1930�s and has shown success when demonstrated on the mentally ill, properly. The treatment of ECT was administered to patients or inmates that should symptoms of bipolar affective disorder, manic episodes, with or without psychotic tendencies, schizophrenia, severe depression, with or without psychotic symptoms, and others (Saatcioglu, & Tomruk, 2008).

During a session of ECT, a patient is given a dose of a general anesthetic and a muscle relaxer. The combination of the two medications allows the patient body to sleep and the muscles to relax while the electric shock is passed to the body. Oxygen is also given to the patient throughout the duration of the ECT session. During the session, while the patient is still under the induction of sleep, there is a small electric current that is passed through the patient�s brain from two pads placed on both sides of the head or scalp, sending an impulse to the brain. More sessions after the first treatment need to be administered in order to receive the most possible effects of ECT (Salford Community Health Council, 1998; Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1995).

There have been studies performed on ECT for over a decade and subjects from all age groups have participated in electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). However, the best group equipped to handle this treatment are individuals that are older than 65 years of age because older subjects have had an introduction of antidepressants that purportedly are safer and better tolerated in the elderly (Rapoport, et al, 2006).

Side Effects

With the success of any treatment, there are side effects that come along with the study. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) has two main side effects that are produced when participating in the sessions. There are cognitive effects that occur and some memory loss. The degree of short and long term amnesia is related to the dense retrograde amnesia extending back several years (Sackeim et al, 2007). Knowing this, Lisanby et al, (2000) research had been done to study the extent of the memory loss and cognitive effects and have come to the conclusion that the memory affected is more likely to be of an impersonal nature rather than personal. Some researchers also suggest that a high dose of unilateral ECT may be as effective as bilateral (given on average every third week) placement and produces fewer cognitive side-effects (Scott, 2005).


Psychological theories can assist in solving the personality types of offenders and their criminal behavior. With the principal theories and the introduction in to psychiatry, criminals will have to produce more inventive ways to mask their disorders. With the disorders that are diagnosed, such as depression, treatment for the mentally ill will also assist with understanding criminal behavior. With the use of ECT for mentally ill inmates, it may reduce the amount of offender�s who return to prison and minimize the amount of offender�s who suffer from severe depression. In cases like suicide and other violent crimes, ECT may be the most astute choice of treatments. Research has proven that ECT treats inmates with depression and other disorders faster than the required or typical drug treatments in the prison system. After being treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), it will be easier for inmates to proceed with future sessions in order to keep their ailments controlled while under confinement.