Using a Forensic Psychologist in the Juvenile Justice System

We are often asked by parents, attorneys, and other professionals how our forensic psychologists can be utilized in juvenile justice. We highlighted several types of services we provide below:

Psychological Evaluations assess a youth’s general psychological functioning via interviews, record reviews, collateral contacts, and measures of personality and behavioral functioning. Psychological evaluations can be beneficial when there are concerns of mental illness, trauma, or long histories of mental health issues. Diagnostic clarification further assists with guiding mental health treatment (e.g., psychotherapy, psychiatry, skills groups, etc.) and determining if other services (occupational therapy, community organizations, etc.) are needed.

Dispositional Evaluations are like psychological evaluations in they assess the youth’s emotional and psychological functioning with the same methodology. However, the purpose of dispositional evaluations is to assist the judge with adjudicative decisions. For example, the psychologist may recommend inpatient treatment, residential facilities, or probation as possible dispositions based on the youth’s mental health history, past criminal records, and behavior in detention (if applicable). Dispositional evaluations often utilize cognitive testing via intellectual and aptitude testing to determine placement settings such as residential treatment.

Risk Assessments evaluate a youth’s risk for future violence. Often psychologists are contacted by school districts to complete a risk assessment of a youth. Assessments and interviews are conducted to determine if the youth is at imminent, high, moderate, low, or no risk for violence. The psychologist will conduct interviews, review documents, and assess protective/risk factors via testing to determine the youth’s current risk level. Recommendations are often made for mental health services, community resources, and safety plans for managing future risk.

Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations are used when there is question of whether the youth can participate in legal proceedings related to their offense and have a rational understanding of legal proceedings. The youth’s knowledge and comprehension of legal proceedings is assessed. Intellectual testing may be included if concerns are raised regarding the defendant’s cognitive functioning. Concerns of malingering can also be assessed if it is suspected the client is deliberately and intentionally misrepresenting their court knowledge or mental illness.

Forensic Consultants can be retained by a party for document review to address any concerns, discrepancies or assessment issues from a previously administered psychological evaluation of the youth. This information can be informative to the attorney as he or she prepares their case. Expert Testimony is provided by a forensic psychologist with highly specified training who can give expert opinions in the courtroom. The forensic psychologist must be qualified by the judge to provide expert opinions. Topics of expert testimony include developmental psychology, clinical psychology, the impact of trauma, malingering, and forensic evaluations. Another possibility is for a forensic psychologist to explain how a history of neglect as evidenced by multiple reports to Child Protective Services can impact the youth’s development and emotional functioning.

Overall, the forensic psychologist adds depth to a case by speaking to the youth’s emotional and behavioral functioning in the context of the legal system.