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Co-Occurring Disorders in Criminal Justice Settings

Ensuring High Quality Screening and Assessment in Criminal Justice Settings

Criminal justice agencies can ensure a high quality process for the screening and assessment of co-occurring disorders. Following are three key steps agencies can take:

  • Implementing integrated screening and assessment protocols across criminal justice settings in a community.
  • Conducting the process over an extended period.
  • Taking steps to engage the individual in the process.

Integrated screening and coordination across agencies help the process.

The coordination of screening and assessment for co-occurring disorders across community criminal justice settings is important, since these agencies (e.g., courts, jails) have their own screening procedures. When criminal justice agencies conduct independent screening and assessment, they risk duplicating efforts and hindering continuity of care.

Integrated screening and assessment is aided by a shared management information system. This allows authorized personnel from each agency to add information and view data relevant to an agency's mission. Community behavioral health providers are important partners to criminal justice agencies in fulfilling this mission. Not all criminal justice agencies will use an integrated protocol to plan treatments, but accurate information can aid other agency efforts. In addition, court personnel, prosecutors, or the defense bar may use the knowledge to direct defendants toward specialized programs instead of traditional criminal case processing.

Extra time can produce better assessments.

Extending the assessment period is important given that many individuals may be under the influence of alcohol or substances when they enter a criminal justice setting. Others may be in an abstinence period. Urgent behavioral health needs (e.g., self-injurious behavior, detoxification) may also need to be resolved before undertaking an assessment.

An extended assessment period is not possible for some people in criminal justice settings, such as pretrial inmates in jails. In other situations, more information is very helpful. For example, parole agencies may need to rely on historical information about alcohol and substance use for people transitioning from prison to the community. The extended period helps officials conduct reassessments, review records and talk to key stakeholders (e.g., family members, probation officer), and understand changes in symptom interaction.

Engaging the individual is a key step.

High quality screening and assessment requires engaging the individual. Steps include:

  • Explaining the purpose of the process.
  • Describing the limits of confidentiality.
  • Establishing a setting where an individual feels safe.
  • Developing a rapport that is professional, empathic, and non-judgmental.
  • Employing memory aids, such as the calendar method for recalling mental health symptoms and substance use.

Remember these key points about effective assessments.

Criminal justice agencies that screen for co-occurring disorders can enhance their efforts by:

  • Integrating their protocols across multiple agencies.
  • Extending the assessment period.
  • Engaging the individual in the screening and assessment process.

Resources and Links

  • This guide provides an overview of the systemic and clinical challenges in screening and assessment of persons with co-occurring disorders involved in the criminal justice system. Screening and assessment practices and instruments are reviewed to help guide administrators, agencies, case managers, and other staff in developing and operating effective programs for justice-involved people with co-occurring disorders.

  • This monograph provides guidelines for screening and assessment, triage, treatment planning, and more for people with substance use and co-occurring mental disorders under supervision by various criminal justice agencies, including jails, prisons, pretrial and diversion services, and community corrections.

  • A guide on motivational interviewing for probation and parole officers. This guide reviews motivational interviewing for probation and parole officers. In addition to reviewing the principles of motivational interviewing, the guide offers implementation strategies and practical tips.