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BOP Raises Hackles With Ad Using Prisoners’ Mental Illness As Selling Point to Recruit Psychologists

By Jo Ellen Nott

In advertising for staff psychologists which appeared on Facebook in April 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) played a new trump card: the prevalence of mental illness among federal prisoners. But, no doubt because prisoners have historically been subjected to unethical experimentation by researchers, Facebook users found the ad offensive, disturbed by the distortion of prisoners’ mental illness as a job benefit for those needed to treat them.

The ad, featuring the photo of a BOP psychologist based in Atlanta, prompts its target audience to open any page in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, claiming any disorder found there will also be found in a BOP prison.

“The clinical diversity you find at the Federal Bureau of Prisons is far beyond private practice,” the ad promises. “See for yourself. Join us.”

The ad also suggests that the variety of disorders BOP staffers are called on to treat would augment a psychologist’s clinical experience resume. It lists positions for staff psychologist, forensic psychologist, chief psychologist and drug program coordinator.

Social media reactions were generally critical of the BOP’s recruitment effort. As one commenter wrote, “Weird! I wonder if early mental health intervention would be more [appropriate] than warehousing people when they do something wrong without regard for helping them get better.”

A Twitter user said the ad was “maybe the worst” because it used the high number of prisoners in the BOP with mental illness as a recruitment tool. Other reactions expressed concern that some research psychologists might be tempted to view the variety of disorders found in BOP institutions as an ideal place to unethically experiment with treatments.

BOP came out in defense of the ad, insisting its market research showed that working with patients with such varied mental health diagnoses was a draw for potential candidates. The agency went on to say working with prisoners is a valuable opportunity because prison psychologists frequently provide the first mental-health intervention a prisoner has ever had.

A 2017 report by BOP’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, showed that about 37% of people incarcerated in the U.S. have a history of mental health issues. Yet Prison Policy Initiative research found that 66% of federal prisoners reported not receiving any mental health care while incarcerated.

Additional source: The Guardian

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