Assessment builds on information collected during the screening process and contributes to jail leaders’ and staff’s ability to maintain the safety and well-being of those in their custody, as well as staff and visitors. Assessment is more comprehensive than screening and allows the jail to more closely examine the risks and needs identified during the screening to determine the appropriate course of action for each person. As with screening, assessment is a critical process for jail leaders that often leads to better outcomes for individuals who enter the jail.
Assessment is an in-depth process involving a comprehensive examination conducted by a qualified mental health professional. Assessment is not a one-time event, but rather a process that should continue throughout the at-risk person's period of incarceration.
An assessment should be performed on individuals who are determined to be at risk based on the results of their initial screening.
A comprehensive assessment determines which treatments, programs, and/or services may be necessary and appropriate to reduce the risk of death or harm. The assessment is done to identify specific condition(s) that require attention from jail leaders and staff.
The assessment should occur within a private area.
For individuals whose screening results indicate that an assessment(s) is necessary, the assessment(s) should be conducted as soon as possible after the intake process. Assessments may also occur at any point during the person’s incarceration based on their current needs.
Reassessment occurs based on individual circumstances. Reasons to reassess a person in custody include the following:
Assessments inform decisions about programming, housing, and treatment in jail and transitional care upon release. Assessments are used to identify and address concerns related to a person's physical health, mental health, substance use, or risk of suicide that jeopardize their safety and well-being. Assessments may also determine if additional, more specialized assessments are required.
Three key reasons to perform an assessment include the following:
The following steps should be taken to ensure a valid and reliable system is in place for performing assessments:
Assessment instruments take significantly longer to administer than screening instruments. A common mistake is to compel the incarcerated person to complete an assessment on paper alone with little or no assistance from the staff. Rather, more reliable, accurate information is gathered through an interactive assessment process undertaken by trained and committed staff who are active listeners. The process should identify staff who have the interest and capability to complete these assessment instruments as they were designed must be identified.
Measures and methods should be implemented by jail leaders to ensure that screenings and assessments are completed as warranted, and that quality information is obtained via these processes. Such quality assurance practices range from simple process measures to more comprehensive quality and outcome evaluations. For example, a simple evaluation of daily process reports should ensure that all people entering the jail receive the appropriate screening. At the same time, more comprehensive practices should include interrater reliability checks conducted by trained supervisors to maintain standards that ensure instrument outcomes are the same or similar regardless of who performs the assessment.