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Screening & Assessment

Screening for behavioral health disorders should be a priority throughout points of contact within a community, including by pediatricians, teachers, and emergency room practitioners. Early identification of mental health issues and trauma can help individuals more effectively manage their mental health issues and create appropriate treatment plans.

More specific screening and assessment are also critical once an individual has contact with the justice system in order to ensure the system’s treatment and supervision responses are tailored to the individual’s criminogenic risks and needs. All individuals coming into jail should be screened for mental health and substance use disorders using an evidence-based tool validated for the population that is screened. Then, if indicated by the screening instrument, an appropriate assessment should follow..

Learn More About Screening for Substance Abuse Disorders

Substance use disorders are associated with worse criminal justice outcomes and therefore require special and dynamic treatment strategies. Once in custody, valid and reliable screening tools should be used to identify substance use disorders to provide detention partners with an informed picture of treatment and custody needs. These tools are typically less than a dozen items, can be administered by non-clinicians, and are often in the public domain and free. Many screening tools also now implicitly recognize the reality that mental health needs co-occur with substance use disorders. An excellent treatise on why and how to effectively use screening and assessment in a justice context is SAMHSA'S Screening and Assessment of Co-Occurring Disorders in the Justice System.

Examples of brief SUD screens include;

Learn More About Screening for Mental Health Disorders

Using valid and reliable mental health screening instruments both out of custody and at jail intake can identify new treatment needs (or initial treatment needs) pending pre-trial release. Screening and assessment information can also be provided directly to the court to facilitate more appropriate and tailored pre-trial orders, referral to an appropriate treatment court, and in-court responses to individuals. Common mental health screens include:

The two most prevalent correctional or jail-specific mental health screens are:

Screening for trauma is important both to identify appropriate treatment interventions and to avoid re-traumatizing the person. Widely validated and used tools include:

Other resources:

Learn More About Pretrial Risk Assessments

Pretrial release decisions are particularly impactful on arrestees with behavioral health needs. Incarceration, even for a short period of time can have disproportionately negative consequences for this population. Pretrial release without incarceration also represents an important opportunity for connecting people with behavioral health needs to services.

Pretrial risk assessments can inform these pretrial release decisions. Numerous assessment tools exist. One validated and publicly available assessment is the Public Safety Assessment tool, released by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2017. The Public Safety Assessment tool uses nine factors to assess the risk of a defendant to fail to appear as required or to commit a new offense before trial.

Learn More About Criminogenic Risk and Needs Screening and Assessment Tools

Risk and needs screening and assessment at all stages of the criminal justice process is a universally accepted evidence-based practice. Screens and assessments can be accomplished using a variety of tools, but all of these tools should be validated for the target population and for predictive soundness before use. This process should occur at jail booking, as a prerequisite for court treatment program placement, upon commencement of criminal justice related behavioral health treatment, prior to sentencing, and an ongoing basis to assess treatment progress in reducing criminogenic risk. Common risk and risk/need screens and assessment instruments include:

Resources related to evaluating and selecting risk/need instruments:

The effectiveness of behavioral health interventions also depends on identifying other factors that may need to be assessed and addressed, such as suicide risk and trauma history. The evidence based tools that should be used to screen and assess these factors are discussed in the SAMHSA screening and assessment document listed above.