UBC Okanagan's forensic psych group tackles tough community issues

Graduate students and faculty at UBC Okanagan have joined forces to form a Forensic Psychology Scholar Group that aims to deliver high-quality, practical education and research to the community.

The Forensic Psychology Scholar Group deals with issues at the intersection of psychology and the law, delving into topics such as psychopathy, deception detection, sex offending, juvenile offending, eyewitness memory, jury decision-making, factors leading to recidivism (offenders who reoffend), offender treatment, and the psychological effects of crime on victims.

“The group provides a network for research collaboration and aims to distribute knowledge to the community that helps the public form evidence-based opinions about crime and the justice system,” says Julia Shaw, a PhD student working with faculty on forensic psychology research.

Shaw, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Simon Fraser University and a master’s degree from the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, chose to pursue her PhD at UBC Okanagan under the guidance of psychology professor Stephen Porter, because of the university’s increasing reputation for its psychology and law research.

“UBC Okanagan is establishing a hub for forensic psychology and there are some really good people here who are very well-known and respected in the field,” says Shaw. “This group will further enhance the learning experience for students, as it encourages research collaboration and practical application.”

This summer, Shaw will be working with the John Howard Society of the Central and South Okanagan – a non-profit organization that focuses on crime prevention, rehabilitation, reintegration and social justice – to evaluate their new offender reintegration program.

“I’ll be spending about six months looking at the reintegration program trying to answer the question: is the program working the way the John Howard Society intends it to work in preventing re-offence?”

Master’s students Tara Carpenter and Erin Hutton have partnered on multiple research initiatives with Youth Forensic Psychiatric Services, a specialized mental health service within the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and are currently assisting the organization with an evaluation of their Violent Offender Treatment Program.

Other graduate student members of the Forensic Psychology Group are Andrea Bennett, in her second year of graduate studies  focusing on the roles that pedophilia and psychopathy play in developing distorted beliefs and attitudes in sex offenders, and PhD student Leanne ten Brinke, whose main area of interest is deception detection and how facial expressions can be analyzed to reveal false emotions.

Upcoming planned activities for the group include a website and monthly newsletter to distribute throughout the local legal community highlighting new research findings and events relating to forensic psychology.

Faculty members of the Forensic Psychology Group include psychology professors Stephen Porter, Michael Woodworth, Jan Cioe, Paul Davies, Brian O’Connor and Zach Walsh.