An Administrative Judge contracted my services to
evaluate the psychological assessment process used in his court system. The
aims were to examine the goals and review the program, its methodology and
staffing to determine how it could be approved in accordance with standard
regulations and procedures in the field. Recommendations should include the
number of cases that Psychological Evaluators (PEs) could perform daily, an
analysis of the content of reports, and what recommendations it should provide
to judges prior to sentencing alleged offenders (AO) and, if necessary, after
commitment. The unabridged report is 43 pages.
Data for the evaluation was gathered through multiple
sources within and without the Court, including PEs, Probation Officers (PO),
Judges, vendors of forensic materials, and researchers.
Ideally, preliminary information for a psychological
evaluation should consist of social and criminal backgrounds for an assessment
strategy. The Evaluator conducts a clinical interview and can implement any or
all of the following: intellectual, personality, and projective testing.
Written reports should contain mental status, test results, data
interpretations, DSM-IV –TR diagnoses and treatment recommendations.
Conclusions reached in an evaluation are only as valid as the assessment
process which is a function of the validity of the testing and other
Statistics & Court Structure
Information was gathered from National and State reports
compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Uniform Crime
Reporting Program. The overall organizational structure of the Court system
was mapped; this was made up of the director, management and staff,
supplementary services, clerical and medical units (including psychology),
record room, probation, court liaison officers, and the judiciary.
Statistics on psychological evaluations between January
1997 and December 1999 showed that the total number set appointments were
12,182; those kept were 7,241. Forty percent of the appointments were not
completed due to cancellations, no shows, lack of transportation, etc.
Psychological Evaluators’ View
Of 2,500 evaluations performed annually, 20% required
in-depth studies. PEs were unlicensed psychologists who had performed
services for at least eight years. Licensing was not an ethical issue as the
federal government utilized unlicensed personnel, but could be a legal issue
as these individuals operated without licensed supervision and only under a
Evaluators viewed the director as aligned with clerical
staff. Secretaries scheduled and informed Evaluators how many evaluations
they would perform, creating confusion and stress, as PEs could not structure
their workday. Additional assignments often came from judges and POs.
There was difficulty getting time approved for
continuing education. PEs complained that non-professional staff did not
understand their needs, that they were disrespected in the department and felt
isolated throughout the court. They reported a lack of in-service training
and questioned departmental and court priorities.
Preliminary social information was to be provided by
POs, but the quality was uneven; at times, none was received, forcing PEs to
rely on the AO’s report. POs’ assessment forms were often incomplete and did
not ask the PEs specific questions. Evaluators felt distance from judges from
whom they should get feedback.
Evaluations were triaged. Time spent with the AO ranged
from 45 minutes to 2 hours. In contrast, the Arizona Supreme Court (2003)
allows 1 to 2 hours for interviewing and a report alone. Evaluators were
expected to perform three assessments per day. Typically, the AO was given a
brief interview and mental status, sometimes the Slosson Intelligence Test,
the House-Tree-Person Drawing Test, the Bender Gestalt, Wide Range Achievement
Test and another projective drawing test. PEs said there was little time for
anything else. Selected Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale Subtests were given
at times. The Rogers Criminal Responsibility Assessment Scales, a respected
approach to evaluating criminal responsibility, was available but rarely given
due to the time required.
PEs wanted clinical directorship under a licensed
psychologist, control over scheduling, departmental professionalization,
improved intradepartmental communication, in-service training (Arthur,
Bennett, Edens & Bell, 2003), better background and social histories,
increased communication among psychology and other divisions, specific
questions from POs and judges, increased involvement of court liaison
officers, recognition of their limits in performing screening evaluations,
provision of background records well before testing, general staff meetings,
reduction of evaluations to two per day, and a stepped system for evaluations.
Conclusions and Recommendations
My evaluation found confusion over questions to be
answered and the responsibility for preliminary information. Without
comprehensive and accurate information, appropriate decisions regarding
charging, and plea agreements are difficult for criminal justice
professionals, as are decisions regarding disposition and service referrals
which must be made by judges, service providers and policymakers impacting
such issues as AO’s understanding of Miranda Rights (Miranda v. Arizona, 384
U.S. 436, 1966) and competency to stand trial (Dusky v. United States, 362 US
402, 1960; Heilbrun & Collins, 1997, Lewis, Simcox, David, 2002, Melton,
Petrila, Poythress, & Slobogin, 1997).
Psychological services are a necessary and integral part
of the court system. However, the Psychology Department has not been fully
integrated into, upgraded, or kept abreast of current, empirically-based
measures according to Daubert standards (Boccicciani, & Brodsky, 1999; Daubert
v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 1993; Dixon, L. & Gill, B., 2002; Grisso,
1986; Lally, 2003).
Demands to perform 3-4 evaluations per day is excessive
and PEs are not provided with sufficient staff, tools, education, supervision
or preliminary data to adequately perform their duties. Using unlicensed
individuals lacking in continuing education indicates that the court system
has not kept abreast of the increased education and training criteria of the
profession. Although unlicensed personnel are used in civil service
situations, continued operation without supervision of a licensed professional
may be considered inappropriate.
One consideration to resolving this problem has been
outsourcing. Considering the need for all forensic divisions to work
harmoniously and share information at the same site, displacing this
responsibility outside of the courthouse does not appear to be an adequate
I suggested the formation of a screening unit for AOs
entering the system that would enable the gathering of demographic and
background information earlier in the legal process. Demographic and other
data would be entered into the AO’s database preliminary to evaluation. This
would be given to the PE who could then screen. Using computerized screenings,
a multi-tiered approach could be used to identify AOs in need of in-depth
evaluations or required multicultural or gender considerations and
appointments would be scheduled.
Of substantial significance was the lack of psychiatric
services available to meet diagnostic, treatment and referral needs.
At the time of my research, PEs performed with
insufficient input, time, materials and support. In the absence of clinical
supervision, a methodology evolved to meet court needs. This did not
comprehensively or accurately address contemporary assessment standards.
Testing emphasized projectives to conserve time; objective testing was
minimized due to time constraints and lack of computers, screening programs,
and support staff. Too much information was sought too broadly within too
short a period of time. As a result, reports were produced under pressure,
were global and court questions—when supplied--may not have been answerable
considering these conditions.
Proffered recommendations would establish a multi-tiered
evaluation approach starting with a fundamental, comprehensive screening
(including risk assessment, substance abuse, collateral interviews,
psychosocial history), branching out as needed towards more comprehensive,
selective evaluations. Use of more clerical support and computers in this
process was inevitable. This would decrease time, scoring and provide
empirical, interpretative reports.
Computerized practice manager programs enable
psychologists to better plan their day and week, offering menus for mental
status examinations and interviews as well as DSM- IV-TR classifications. The
data stemming from computerization would be highly valuable in assessing the
effectiveness of the screening process and the need for full assessments
resulting in a process that could more efficiently address current deficits.
Arizona Supreme Court (2003). Administrative Office of
the Courts. Contract Year 2004 – 2005. Service Specifications:
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Dixon, L. & Gill, B. (2002). Changes in the standards
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