Professional Standards’ Citations in Law and the Behavioral Sciences: Implications for Policy and Practice

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Standards developed by professional organizations reflect positions that emerge through a lengthy and rigorous process. They attempt to operationalize best practice, and hence should be useful in guiding policy and practice in law and behavioral health. However, the extent of such influence is difficult to judge. In the current study, citation counts for 4 sets of professional standards (the American Bar Association [ABA] Juvenile Justice Standards; ABA and Institute of Judicial Administration [IJA], 1981; the ABA Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards; ABA, 1986/1989; the American Psychological Association [APA] Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct; APA, 1992, 2002; and the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists/Psychology [SGFP]; APA, 2013; Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991) were obtained using behavioral science and legal databases. Results suggest that none of these standards exert more than a modest effect on the published behavioral science literature, and the legal standards in particular are cited rarely. This is unfortunate, given the potential value of such standards in promoting more uniform and high-quality practice and better-informed policy. Greater exposure of professional standards to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers through various mechanisms is recommended to increase their exposure and potential impact. Future research might provide evidence on the relationship between citation count in the case law and scholarly literatures and impact on policy and practice.

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