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Section 1:The Need for Screening

This section provides an overview on why and how routine screening of individuals' risks, needs, and strengths is an essential component of an effective jail transition intervention strategy. Remember that screens are not used to diagnose an individual's risk or needs, but only to identify the individual for further assessment.

We start with the five Ws (who, what where, when, and why) and one H (how) to help us with our understanding.

Who do you screen?

Universal screening is a key element of the TJC model. This means that everyone entering your facility, regardless of length of stay or conviction status, is screened for risk to reoffend, pretrial release, health, and behavioral concerns that might affect transition to the community. These screens help to identify:

  • Detainees who can be safely released to the community pending court, either on their own recognizance or under pretrial supervision, if it is available.
  • People jailed who need to receive more comprehensive services and a full assessment with a risk and needs assessment tool.

What do you screen them for?

Physical health, behavioral health, risk of drug or alcohol withdrawal, and suicide risk screens are probably administered to every new arrestee arriving at your facility. In addition, the TJC model recommends a quick risk-to-reoffend and pretrial release screens. These screens allow you to group the arrestees into low, medium, and high risk and needs categories.

  • The risk-to-reoffend screen allows you to group the arrestees into low, medium, and high risk and needs categories.
  • The pretrial release screen will help identify the risk of failure to appear and danger to the community during the adjudication period.

A TJC Triage Matrix goal is to identify low-risk offenders and assign them to minimal intervention to prevent the inefficient expenditure of time and resources on extensive assessment and programming, and to separate low-risk individuals from their higher risk counterparts.

Include the following items in screening to evaluate risk within the jail and in the community:

  • Physical health
  • Infectious diseases
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health
  • Suicide risk
  • Need for medication
  • Disabilities
  • Criminal history
  • Current offense
  • Risk to reoffend
  • Pretrial release

In Section 3, we discuss a number of valid, short, and easily administered screens available to identify an incarcerated person for further assessment.

Where do you screen them?

Screening should be done at intake during central booking or soon after.

When do you screen them?

Screening takes place early on. Here are some key times when administering screens is most common:

On arrival at the jail

  • A brief health screen to “determine if arrestee can be admitted to the jail based on any medical needs (e.g., risk of drug or alcohol withdrawal; acute medical needs) that must be addressed at a medical facility.”1

During the booking process

  • A brief screen(s) to identify physical, behavioral health, risk of drug or alcohol withdrawal, and suicide risk.
  • A brief screen to classify arrestees into low, medium, and high risk-to-reoffend categories.

Before the first court appearance

  • A brief pretrial release screen to classify arrestees into low, medium, and high risk of flight and re-arrest.

Why do you screen?

Screening is normally the first opportunity to quickly capture basic information about a person's risk and needs and is used to determine if a fuller assessment is warranted. Screening also offers information important to jail classification, pretrial release, and, at the evaluation stage, for comparison of groups, programs, and/or interventions.

In short, effective screening practices help jail administrators and professionals throughout the local system of criminal justice first understand who is in the jail and why. Screening information can then be used to facilitate discussion about what general system practices might be utilized to insure the most effective and efficient use of system resources and the best long-term public safety outcomes.

How do you screen them?

A system of valid and reliable screens requires the following steps:

  1. Develop or select validated screening instruments.
  2. Create a structure to apply the screening tools to all jail entrants.
  3. Train staff to apply the screening tools.
  4. Apply the screening tools to all jail entrants.
  5. Analyze the information to flag those who need further assessment.

Now that you understand the five Ws and one H of screening, you will want to take the time to conduct a case flow analysis of your present screening process to understand fully the reasons you perform screening and what you will do with the information obtained. A Screening and Assessment Case Flow Process template is available in Section 1 of Module 8: Tailored Transition Interventions.

1 Mark D. Martin and Thomas A. Rosazza, Resource Guide for Jail Administrators (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 2004), p. 141.

Let's Review

Let's revisit what we have learned so far in the Screening and Assessment module. Please select the phrase that correctly completes the following sentence.

Universal screening should be administered to


In this section you learned that it is important to conduct universal health, risk to reoffend, and pretrial release screens of all arrestees entering your facility. A comprehensive risk/needs assessment can then be administered to individuals who score in the medium or high range on screening instruments.