Periodically the U. S. Department of Justice – Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) – updates its intake and screening process to address the safety and protocol for specialty groups. For example, in 2009, the BOP reiterates its scope and purpose of the intake and screening process as being expressly for the safety, security, and health of the inmate. In 2017, a similar update was released regarding the subgroup of inmates with disabilities while again reiterating its scope and purpose of identifying, tracking, and providing proper services. The correctional system intends to screen, identify specific risks, and to place inmates in appropriate cell blocks with adequate assistance to address various mental, emotional, and physical concerns.
The American Bar Association (2018) has published the standards for the criminal justice arena since 1985, updating as needed. The general principle governing these standards is that a prisoner is to retain the rights of a free citizen. In 2010, this general principle and the following standards were revised and expanded to address the dynamics of a volatile system. It is of note that a lack of resources was no excuse for not providing treatment or safe conditions, the lack of which would be a violation of a prisoner’s constitutional rights (23-1.1(i)). One such standard revision that stands out is Standard 23-2.1 which explicitly calls for timely intakes conducted by specially trained professionals, from which follow-through responsiveness to any concerns or irregularities is to be done without delay ((c)). The National Commission on Correctional Health Care (n.d.) reflects the literature and contemporary concerns by reiterating needed exploration of suicidal concerns; the prison setting often exacerbates symptomology because of life-changing events occurring rapidly. Intake history, observation, and delving into drug and alcohol concerns can enable recommendations for appropriate placement and treatment and in doing so, minimize suicide risks. Risk factors such as previous suicidal history, observation of current behavior that may suggest depression, disorganization, or signs of self-mutilation are but a few of the signs a well-trained evaluator would be able to look for and identify. These gathered pieces of evidence would allow for early intervention in preventing most suicides.
Rivlin, Ferris, Marzano, Fazel, and Hawton (2013) crafted a study to develop a typology of the suicidal inmate in light of the staggering statistics suggesting that “suicide is a leading cause of death” (p. 335). In so doing, five subgroups of the suicidal typology emerged: 1) prisoner unable to cope, 2) psychotic symptomology, 3) instrumental in that there was no intent to cause harm, 4) an unexpected action on the prisoner’s part, and 5) withdrawal from drugs. The author’s purpose for the study and their conclusion substantiated the hope that such a well-defined typology along with further validation would “assist suicide prevention initiatives in prisons…by informing the assessment and formulation of suicide risk” (p. 335, 345).
As with any aspirational guidelines as mentioned at the outset, latitude, integrity, resources, and personalities come into play creating a myriad of responses, interventions, and service levels. This variance causes me to wonder how a forensic practitioner can wield practical efforts due to political pressures, resource scarcity, and the demands of a capricious prison population. Regardless of what entices the forensic professional to the correctional setting and in spite of the vacillating pressures, it is incumbent on the forensic practitioner to do more than merely aspire to do right by individuals served. James (2018) submitted an analysis report to members of Congress which highlighted the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model and suggested that this model “has become the dominant paradigm in risk and needs assessment” (Summary). James indicates further that the RNR is evidence-based where research has suggested a correlation with the RNR, proper placement, and lower recidivism (p. 8). He cautioned against bias, racial and otherwise, in employing any assessment model, articulating a plan whereby bias can be reduced (e.g., validating assessment model through a third party, proper administration of the assessment, and developing a plan if discovered bias is inherent in the model or its administration).
It is evident that assessment needs to take place and recommendations in spite of personal bias needs to be proffered. Then we as forensic practitioners must step back in full confidence of our efforts to assess, to properly categorize risk levels, and to recommend interventions as required. It is a bigger bureaucracy that impedes or expedites interventions.
American Bar Association. (2018). Standards on treatment of prisoners. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/criminal_justice/publications/criminal_justice_section_archive/crimjust_standards_treatmentprisoners/#23-1.1
James, N. (2018). Risk and needs assessment in the federal prison system. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44087.pdf
National Commission of Correctional Health Care. (n.d.). Receiving screening. Retrieved from https://www.ncchc.org/spotlight-on-the-standards-25-1
Rivlin, A., Ferris, R., Marzano, L., Fazel, S., & Hawton, K. (2013). A typology of male prisoners making near-lethal suicide attempts. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 34(5), 335-347. Retrieved from https://web-b-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=2f5911eb-c27c-49a6-a03d-074c1ec1c15e%40sessionmgr120
United States Department of Justice. (2009). Intake screening [memo]. Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved from https://prisonologyx.com/files/9214/1514/8514/BOP_Intake_Screening.pdf
United States Department of Justice. (2017). Management of inmates with disabilities [memo]. Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved from https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5200_005.pdf