Purpose of the Program
Forensic assessments involve psychological evaluations that help fact-finder answer legal questions. The results of the forensic assessments, for example, may help the court determine the level of responsibility, appropriateness for transfer to criminal court, classification as a sexually violent predator, or risk level. Forensic assessment for kids happens at the different legal processes, including the initial contact with the legal system until the end of the sentence (Bartol & Bartol, 2018). A forensic assessment needs the legal system’s knowledge and an understanding of the relevant legal standards in the evaluator’s jurisdiction of practice. There should be an understanding of the recent psychological literature, familiarity with the relevant recommendations and guidelines, integrity, impartiality, and control over personal biases. Juvenile forensic assessments have massive influence, including management dispositions and labels that massively affect the kids’ long-term development (Bartol & Bartol, 2018). Forensic assessment results may also influence sex offenders or detention registrations in a secure facility.
The effectiveness of psychological assessments depends on the jurisdiction that they are applied. Risk assessments are common among juvenile offenders since there is a more significant concern on whether the child will re-offend. According to Hoge (2012), psychological assessments are vital when evaluating juvenile offenders throughout the states in a trial. The juvenile justice system is a poorly funded network of institutions, residences, and courts of questionable effectiveness (Grisso, 2019). Youth are often denied due process and serve longer sentences than their adult counterparts for the same offenses. When granted due process, youth faces greater legal accountability, including an elevated likelihood of having cases tried in the criminal justice system and harsher punishments. The program aims to shift back towards the rehabilitative model and ensure that mental health professionals in the juvenile justice proceedings remain comprehensive and consistent with presenting developmentally informed data on the youth’s rehabilitation needs and history to the court. According to Grisso (2019), the training in adolescent and child mental health on the juvenile assessment varies significantly, and the resources facilitating the training in juvenile justice assessment are required. Psychologists should be trained to enable them to make meaningful contributions that are used and understood by juvenile justice professionals.
Juvenile justice centers have become an unfortunate stop for young offenders who require mental health care. Reports stipulate that 70% of the youth in detention centers meet the criteria for mental health disorders. Mental health providers have opportunities to educate and improve both policy and practice. This research explores a program that focuses on a developmental perspective, multifaceted assessment, and evidence-based practice when working with young offenders. The paper offers insights on the intersection between juvenile justice and mental health practice, including sentencing issues, special populations, ethical issues, pharmacological and educational interventions, and family involvement. The research provides guidelines to change detention culture and prevent detention facilities from being utilized to place troubled children. The paper addresses the practice, ethical, and legal considerations related to assessing children in different forensic contexts.
The onset of the U.S. juvenile justice system is typically dated in 1899, but considerations for criminal culpability of kids extend back to the beginning of the 19th century (Woolard, Vidal, & Fountain, 2015). British Common Law articulated that children below seven years can’t decipher between wrong and good thus cannot commit a crime. When comparing to the contemporary standards, seven years as the benchmark age is relatively young, but no questions were asked on reducing the punishment. Any kid between seven and 14 years was considered rebuttable, but kids above 14 years were viewed as capable of committing a crime. Kids between 7 and 14 years that would get charged, tried, and convicted would experience the full sanction of the law if they seemed to understand the difference between good and evil (Woolard, Vidal, & Fountain, 2015). Kids as young as seven would be sentenced to death for committing crimes.
The nineteenth-century led to adjustments in how juveniles are treated in the U.S. The Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency started a house in New York in 1825, aiming to address the foundations of juvenile criminality mainly through moral education (Delcea et al., 2019). The house existed throughout the U.S by the mid of 19th century. The beginning of the second industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century made academics and social reformers advocate for children’s protection from exploitation. Age-related structures started to appear, and the most significant one happened in1899. In about 25 years, most states had juvenile courts aiming to continue the parens patriae doctrine that offers authority for states to intervene and protect adolescents and kids, act on their behalf and offer them treatment and care, so they become prosocial worthy members of society (Delcea et al., 2019). The purpose was to help as much, hurt as little, and focus on building character and contributing citizens instead of useless criminals. Typically, the state was helping itself and the kid because doing good for the kid is also good for the state. The juvenile courts weren’t punitive; thus, procedural protections present in adult criminal courts weren’t needed. The juvenile court had no adversary elements since the state’s responsibility was to protect the child offender. The focus was on rehabilitation rather than punishment; therefore, the disposition was created for the juvenile and not the offense.
The attitude towards child offenders and juvenile court gradually shifted over the 60 years into skepticism and ultimately cynicism. The training and competence of clinicians selected to treat troubled children and the sufficiency of science educating the kids were lacking. The question of whether juveniles indeed lacked criminal responsibility was re-visited. Multiple cases were brought into the Supreme Court of the U.S. between the 1960s and 1970s, shifting the mission and complexion of the juvenile court (Woolard, Vidal, & Fountain, 2015). The case of Morris Kent, who was 16 years old in 1966, revealed that waiving a child to adult court needed the child to receive fundamental due process rights provided to adults, including effective counsel help, a hearing, and a statement of reasons. Concerns arose that a child in a Juvenile court gets the worst deal because he doesn’t receive protection offered to adults of regenerative and concerned care for kids. Multiple cases have raised concerns of juvenile courts, including questions on limiting the constitutional rights for kids and the competence of children in exercising their rights (Delcea et al., 2019). Other concerns include minors lacking due process privileges, including the right to cross-examination and confrontation and privilege against incriminating oneself.
In the 1990s, there was a massive shift in the juvenile justice system, including more effortless transfer of minors to adult courts and harsher and longer sentences. The need to protect minor defendants became clear. The Roper v. Simmons case in 2005 led to the abolishment of the death penalty for minors stating that offenders who commit capital crimes before 18 years were cruel, unconstitutional, and unusual punishment. The disparities between adult and juvenile offenders are well understood in risking a child to get the death penalty regardless of inadequate culpability. Justice Kennedy identified significant areas where juveniles can be differentiated from adults, including the minors’ lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility leading to ill-considered and rash decisions and actions. Kennedy stipulated that minors are susceptible to adverse influences and external pressures such as peer pressure. Ultimately, he said that the minor’s character isn’t sufficiently developed like that of adults, thus having a higher potential for rehabilitation.
Forensic evaluators must remain objective, nonpartisan, and objective, contrary to clinical assessments that involve being empathic and supportive. Forensic evaluators utilize collateral data as additional sources of information when developing a psycho-legal opinion. Psycho-legal involves situations where legal constructs and mental health interact, i.e., a psychological assessment focuses on the legal issue (Gudjonsson & Haward, 2016). The court often orders forensic examinations; thus, examinees often can’t refuse to participate. Minor examinees should have the evaluation process, and limits of confidentiality explained to them in proper detail. The examiner should explain the difference between clinical and forensic assessments and clarify how the information gotten from the assessment will be utilized (Grigorenko, 2012).
The program proposes assessments that consider the cognitive and bio-physical development in juvenile offender populations. Adolescence leads to multiple changes in human development, including emotional, physical, sexual, social, and neurocognitive development. According to Grigorenko (2012), the minors’ central nervous system is still developing, and the structural development leads to psychological growth. Minors process information mainly through the amygdala and mildly through the prefrontal cortex than adults. The hormonal changes cause risk-taking behaviors, sexual arousal, emotional liability, and intensity shifts. Adolescents are vulnerable to high-risk actions and impulsivity, thus characterized as being prone to impaired decision-making. A comprehensive forensic assessment must be included based on the relationship between developmental maturation and childhood abuse (Gudjonsson & Haward, 2016). Developmental maturity might be derailed by family dysfunction and other factors such as mental illness, learning deficits, and poverty. Adverse childhood experiences increase minors’ chances of being involved in the kids’ welfare system. Research indicates that Caucasian males and Hispanic females with cases in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems are more likely to re-offend than those only involved in the juvenile justice system. Studies reveal that exposure to uncontrollable stress affects the prefrontal cortex’s cognitive functioning undermining control abilities. The sophistication-maturity evaluation must consider the inconstant life of the minor that have experienced maltreatment (Grigorenko, 2012). A developmentally-focused understanding of trauma must guide forensic assessments.
Answering specific psycho-legal questions in the juvenile offender population is massively complex and is not comparable to adult evaluations. Sophistication-maturity is a central consideration in assessing minors involved with the legal system. Research reveals that information on sophistication-maturity provided by forensic examiners may be helpful and reliable (Grisso, 2019). The measurement influences decisions to transfer minors to criminal court. Adolescents are less responsible, less temperate, and more myopic than adults. Dramatic changes happened between 16 and 19 years concerning temperance and perspective. It is until 19 years that responsible decision-making and maturity in judgment start to stabilize. Youth experience sophistication-maturity due to deficits in cognitive abilities, autonomy, and emotional regulation skills (Grigorenko, 2012). Examples include clarity in priorities and values, emotional regulation challenges, resisting peer pressure, and delaying gratification. Research shows that minors aren’t adequately developed in cognition and emotion to understand the nature of the offenses thus shouldn’t be held entirely accountable for their crimes. Assessments of sophistication-maturity will consider any long-term cognitive deficits, developmental delays, and not attaining developmental milestones. The prime considerations for maturity and sophistication will include moral development, emotional and cognitive intelligence, decision-making skills, and premeditation.
Organization of the Program
The program utilizes conventional psychological tests in forensic assessments with additional considerations, including a desirable standardization degree. Standardization issues with the standardization group will be the basis for the individual test score to be compared. The standardization group will be representative and large enough to make a comparison. The more distinct the individual is from the standardization group, the less valuable the test will be for assessment. Standardization is also related to administrative procedures, interpretation, and scoring of the results. The Wechsler intelligence scales and different forms of MMPI are examples of standardized tests. The Wechsler intelligence scale is an incredibly adequate standardized test for forensic assessments. The tests have child, and adult versions stipulating the test’s scoring, results in interpretation, and administration conditions. The test will have applicability limits with the forensic population. Another consideration for the psychological test in forensic evaluation will involve validity and reliability, and the forensic evaluator will consider the test’s reliability before applying it in the assessment process. The range of reliability is based on the variable being measured. The test must attain a sufficient level of reliability (Cook et al., 2016). The lower the test’s reliability, the lower the validity limit of the element being measured. Valid tests are those that examine the construct they were built to examine. The conventional psychological test will be limited to psycho-legal questions. The forensic evaluator will utilize the psychological test related to the legal issue. According to Cook et al. (2016), relevancy can be assessed by directly measuring the legal issue in the forensic construct or by measuring the psychological elements within the legal standard. The program will be implemented by national and state governments and ensure that they provide a standardized test for children offenders. The program will be rolled out in phases throughout the states in approximately five years. The initial phase will occur in the first year. Data will be collected on the effectiveness of the adjusted program for forensic evaluations of juvenile offenders in the U.S. Trained forensic evaluators will oversee the process to ensure that it is implemented as planned adheres to the changes in the tests.
Forensic psychiatric assessments of minor offenders are challenging since the effect of the psychiatric diagnosis on the legal outcome is massive. The program addresses concerns on the limited pro-social emotions specifier for behavior and minors who aim to interact in self-preservation by having an indifferent demeanor. Children may learn that behaving callously is adaptive in certain surroundings and adopt that style when engaging with the forensic evaluator. The conduct may be self-defeating in the mental health assessments and juvenile court proceedings. It is vital to examine the authenticity of data and look past the child’s superficial demeanor when performing the assessment. An example is whereby extroversion is conducive to healthy relationships and social competence but can lead to adverse outcomes, including antisocial behavior and callousness. The evaluator will present constructive findings by addressing the kid’s strengths and emphasizing each datum. The evaluator should provide a balanced presentation of the information. The evaluator will look for collateral information, including observations, documents, test results, and interviews. They will identify patterns in data that exist across all sources. The practice elevates the potential of properly diagnosing juveniles depending on past diagnoses and assessments. The psychological assessments will be informed by the strength of reproducibility and evidence of the studies.
The implementation requires an appreciation of the environment in which the interventions happen and the weaknesses and strengths of each kid. Discussion of the dynamics will be encouraged, particularly when summarizing research on the relationship between conduct disorder and prenatal development. The juvenile justice mental health assessment requires appropriate supervision and training (Hoge, 2012). Clinical child psychologists and developmental psychologists may train in forensic psychology to horn the necessary skills. Residents in psychiatry and child must finish the state-mandated training in an approved psychiatry program in the U.S. The assessment report will be limited to forensically relevant information as recommended by Hoge (2012). Mental disorders will be restricted to externalizing disorders since other mental disorders like trauma and stress disorders, anxiety disorders and depression, and psychotic spectrum disorders, when not properly identified and treated, cause the evaluator to misdiagnose the minor and make poorly informed recommendations about clinical interventions to the court.
The program’s implementation will require the standardization of the psychological assessments in the juvenile justice system across the U.S. states. The U.S has 51 separate juvenile justice systems with differing processes, standards, and laws, but the program focuses on implementing a holistic approach of the U.S. as a whole. All the forensic psychologists must be registered and regulated by the American Psychological Association (APA) before assisting the attorneys and judges in providing accurate forensic evaluations on the minor’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning (Pozzulo, Bennell, & Forth, 2021). The program will use treatments and instruments through forensic assessments designed for therapeutic remedy. When assisting courts with psycho-legal questions, the psychological assessments in a legal contact will address any clinical issues and factors relevant to the legal proceedings. The assessments must adhere to the forensic guidelines provided by the APA when performing juvenile forensic evaluations. The forensic psychologists will employ multiple assessments processes and methods which will be standard between states and be based on the objective circumstance of every individual case. The program utilizes the APA forensic assessment instruments as the preferred approach used when conducting the psychological assessments in a legal context since they are particularly made to handle legal issues (Pozzulo, Bennell, & Forth, 2021). The instruments consider relevant clinical questions to the offender. The assessments fall under the category of the conventional clinical instruments, including the Wechsler intelligence scales and MMPI-2 test. Additionally, the program will promote additional assessments for the minor offenders, including Parenting Stress Index, Personality Assessment Inventory, and Child Behavior Checklist.
The forensic psychological assessments will assist the attorneys and judges with useful information linked to the kid’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. The information will be particularly offered to enable the courts to answer and address the psycho-legal questions. The psycho-legal questions will be addressed throughout the juvenile legal proceedings, including transfer, competence, sanity, and dispositional evaluations. The transfer evaluations will depend on the assumption that most minor offenders can be easily rehabilitated. Only a small percentage of minors are at a high risk of reoffending and creating a threat to society. Forensic assessments will be designed to offer professional psychological insight on the potential of future risk of the minor, the mental capacity and maturity, and the capacity to be rehabilitated. The competence evaluation will have two approaches: the competency to stand trial and the competency to waive the right against self-incrimination. The forensic psychologist must consider all elements, including mental clarity, education level, IQ, environment, and behavioral experiences when evaluating the minor’s competency to stand trial (Salekin, 2015).
Ethical and Legal Concerns
Forensic evaluations are different from clinical assessments due to the distinctions in the informed consent and the use of information obtained from the assessment. The process doesn’t have the assurance of confidentiality. The pressure to assume an advocacy role while remaining subtle poses a massive ethical dilemma for forensic evaluators (Salekin, 2015). Forensic evaluation possesses limited contact, impartial stance, critical, and adversarial evaluative style that largely depends on corroborated and collateral information instead of assertions from the examinee. The content of the clinical forensic interview is more circumscribed since it narrowly emphasizes information relevant to psycho-legal questions being answered, such as mental condition during the offense and competency to stand trial. The test must consider multicultural factors throughout the evaluation process. Forensic evaluations often have human aspect considerations that aren’t normative and may be disturbing. Forensic assessments require massive clinical impartiality, for example, in cases with potential legal dispositions that differ from personal convictions diminishing the evaluators’ objectivity.
There is a need in the U.S to ensure that forensic assessments utilized in legal proceedings for minors are relevant to the subjective situations of every case and are fit to answer psycho-legal questions. Judges must focus on challenging and questioning the admissibility of psychological assessment tools utilized in court. Courts often struggle with utilizing the results because they are limited to evaluation and scrutiny of the validity of the assessments and the findings in court. The proposed program aims to shift the performance of psychological assessments for minor offenders. There is a wide range of psychological assessments available for forensic psychologists, but they need to ensure that the assessments aren’t exploited past their intended purpose and scope. The country should adopt standardized psychological tests to ensure that every juvenile offender receives similar considerations and assessments in the justice system. Juvenile offenders should be treated differently from adults but receive basic rights as they undergo the justice system. The program proposes making multiple considerations when performing psychological assessments for minor offenders.
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