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Section 4: The Logistics of Screening and Assessment

In this section, you will learn the importance of a well-designed physical and staffing environment to facilitate the screening and assessment process. There are two main questions to ask:

  1. How well suited is your jail's intake and release area for efficiently screening and assessing a larger number of people on a daily basis?
  2. Has your staff been properly trained in your agency's screens and assessments?

The following are recommendations to ensure proper screening and assessment of your population.


Many older jails were not built to provide intake and release functions in privacy; however, this does not mean that improvements cannot be made.1 Information collection that might involve sensitive information – such as doing medical screens, risk screens, and assessments - should be conducted in a semi-private area where inmates feel comfortable discussing such information about themselves. This will increase the truthfulness of their information and the validity of the information for housing and programming needs.


The intake and release areas or other areas should be designated with an appropriate number of case/discharge planners and interview rooms or cubicles to maximize the efficiency of working with the population. Often, facilities without specific space designed for reentry services use consultation areas designed for professional visits with lawyers and social workers or specially designed stations within a receiving/discharge area.

Training Staff

In many jails, custodial, medical, mental health, and programming staff are all involved in some way in screening and assessing individuals, and all should participate in training. Universal participation also helps cement staff commitment to the TJC model. The level of training required is directly related to the type of assessment instrument being used.

Full assessments, for example, take significantly longer to complete than screening instruments. The most common mistake among staff is to have the incarcerated person complete an assessment with little or no assistance from the staff. Such an approach is not responsive to the individual. The best information is gathered through an interactive assessment process undertaken by trained and committed staff who are active listeners. Staff must be identified who have the interest and capability to complete these assessments as they were designed.

Most of the screens we have mentioned were designed to require minimal training. Full assessment work will require more extensive training to ensure that your staff is maximizing the effectiveness of the instrument. Therefore, an agency must ensure that it has the resources available to provide full initial training to designated staff. Train-the-trainer modules are available for most assessments, which will allow staff on-site to train others as the need arises.

Measures and methods should be implemented for quality assurance to ensure that quality information is obtained and that screening and assessment are completed as prescribed. These practices range from simple process measures to more comprehensive quality and outcome evaluations.  For example, simple evaluation of daily process reports should insure that all people entering the jail receive the appropriate screening, while more comprehensive practices should include inter-rater reliability checks conducted by trained supervisors to maintain standards that insure instrument outcomes are the same or similar regardless of who performs the assessment.

Agencies already working with the jail population—such as drug and alcohol treatment providers—may be able to offer your staff interview and assessment training. However, prior to entering into such an arrangement, it is important to insure that these providers are utilizing evidence-based assessments and curricula. Motivational interviewing training may be useful for developing staff assessment capacities while maximizing valid responses.

At a minimum, screening and assessment training should cover the following areas:

  • Understanding the prevalent risk and needs within the population.
  • Techniques for building dialogue and soliciting valid responses during the assessment process.
  • Adhering to confidentiality requirements when recording the information.
  • Instructions on administering specific screens and assessments.
  • Techniques used to monitor and assess whether the screen and assessments are being properly conducted.
  • Strategies to offer remediation to staff who need additional training.

Field notes from Sullivan County, New Hampshire

The Sullivan County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee decided to move toward reentry services in designing a new facility. The new 72-bed facility will have two intensive treatment units, a work release center, and an aftercare center. The booking practices allow for more effective screening and assessment, and the facility has a small interview room. The transition process begins at booking. Planning for this facility took more than three years, and the building opened in June 2010. It allows the county to provide for assessment and treatment of offenders following a continuum that includes post-release services upon returning to the community.

For more Information

  1. Carey, Mark. 2010. Continuous Quality Improvement – Coaching Packet.
  2. Flannes, Steven. Working Effectively with the Angry, Critical Client: Real World Solutions to Help You Get the Job Done.
  3. Hampton-Newport News Criminal Justice Agency. 2005. Motivational Interviewing: An Introduction.

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

Let's Review

Let's revisit what we have learned so far in the Screening and Assessment module. Please select the correct phrase to complete the following sentence.

Assessment tools are most effective when they are


In this section, you learned that it is important that all staff completing screening and assessment tools have training that encompasses an understanding of the prevalent risks and needs of jail populations, active listening skills, confidentiality, and tool-specific information. The tools should be administered in an environment that respects the individual's privacy.