ABA in Conjunction with Forensic Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has been used in conjunction with other forensic behavior analysis techniques for years with positive results. It has proven to be an effective tool for helping analysts predict and manage criminal behavior, giving it the potential to actually save and transform lives. ABA methodology is flexible and consistent, which allows it to function as a framework for addressing all kinds of behavioral issues. Its value to law enforcement investigations and criminal rehabilitation efforts make it an essential tool for any forensic psychologist. Research shows that successful application of applied forensic behavior analysis can lead to lower recidivism rates in convicts and a higher success rate in apprehending criminal suspects.

Related resource: Top 25 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

Focusing Behavior Analysis on Criminal Issues

On a fundamental level, there is little difference between a forensic behavior analyst and any other kind of behavior analyst aside from a narrower demographic focus. Forensics has a limited scope compared to the field overall, but the specialized knowledge and skills gained from practice create the opportunity for an in-depth and meaningful exploration of serious issues. A narrower professional focus can also open the door to new career opportunities for psychologists by allowing them to build substantial niche experience and ability. This specialization also offers qualified behavior analysts the opportunity to explore a broader variety of work settings compared to their peers in clinical or research environments.

Applications of Core ABA Principles

Antecedent, behavior, and consequence are the so-called “ABCs” of ABA. These basic principles are just as relevant in forensics as they are for social conditioning. An antecedent is the trigger of unwanted behavior, which is usually a crime in the case of forensic investigations. Behavior describes the undesirable action, while consequence is the reaction or “reward” that reinforces the action. All three of these concepts are critical to understanding the criminal mentality, which is the first step to prevention and rehabilitation. Psychologists can apply these concepts at almost any level, ranging from individual therapy to institutional design.

Suspect Profiling for Investigations

Even though criminal profilers have been glorified and fictionalized across the media, there is a real need for behavior analysts who can create accurate psychological profiles of criminals. This skill is particularly useful in identifying behaviors across multiple cases, like those related to serial abductions, thefts or assaults. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains several units dedicated to behavioral analysis who specifically investigate potential serial crimes, according to the FBI. These analysts examine all available evidence to look for insights into the individual’s actions to establish a connection or motivation to help law enforcement officials identify a suspect.

Criminal and Mental Health Rehabilitation

Crime prevention may be one of the most important responsibilities of a forensic behavior analyst, but helping convicts seek rehabilitation can be just as beneficial. Drug addiction is linked to a significant portion of incarcerations, so helping people escape from this downward cycle can be a life-saving accomplishment. Therapists routinely apply ABA techniques in sessions with patients to help reshape unhealthy behaviors, providing the individual with practical tools for reinforcing positive change in the long-term.

Applying ABA on an Institutional Level

Even though applied behavior analysis is typically centered around individual therapy, the concepts can also be adapted for general use. Psychologists have successfully implemented token economies in various communal environments, including incarceration facilities. One study published by the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis found that implementation of token economies produced positive results in various prison environments, despite some potential setbacks and challenges. Adapting the institutional process to incorporate ABA methods shows promise as a way to consistently improve prisoner behavior and possibly reduce the rate of recidivism.

Working as a Forensic Behavior Analyst

All psychologists who work with patients face personal and professional challenges that can push them to their limits, but this is a particularly serious issue in some forensic analysis jobs. Agents and investigators studying serial crimes are exposed to graphic and distressing situations, as well as the stress that comes from working to protect future victims. Despite these challenges, forensic behavior analysts can derive a great deal of satisfaction and accomplishment from their jobs. Most careers in the field are in criminal rehabilitation and investigation environments, but there are plenty of different opportunities for exploration and advancement for qualified ABA practitioners.

Education and Career Preparation

Students who want to focus their behavioral studies on forensics can start taking courses during their undergraduate program. Graduate and doctoral degrees usually offer an even greater degree of flexibility and specialization, which gives students the opportunity to delve into the specific issues that interest them. Active ABA psychologists can also transition their career into forensics through continuing education and by expanding their professional experience.

It’s also a good idea for prospective professionals to investigate career opportunities and requirements for application, as some positions are quite competitive. People who want to work for law enforcement agencies may also have to participate in other educational programs, like the FBI Academy for federal agents. Some jobs, like special agents, also require a certain degree of physical fitness and proven ability to perform complex tasks in a stressful environment.

Additional Information and Resources

All students and professionals should also research professional organizations for certification and further education, including the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) or National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC). These organizations are a prime source for networking opportunities and the latest updates in the field overall. There are numerous benefits to membership for some organizations and most offer extensive information resources to public visitors and members alike.

The techniques associated with ABA are among the most consistent and effective means of managing human behavior currently available to psychologists. They may not be enough to completely prevent or remediate criminal behavior, but they have proven to be an invaluable asset in both law enforcement and convict therapy. There’s no doubt that applied behavior analysis can play a pivotal role in almost any practical application of forensic behavior analysis.