Forensic clinicians may face challenging conditions when conducting evaluations in the correctional setting. By working together to ensure adequate testing conditions, attorneys and forensic experts can address some of these challenges.
It is incumbent on the forensic clinician to consider how examination results can be affected by various factors that are especially relevant to forensic contexts and make every effort to maximize the validity of the results. Applicable ethical and specialty practice guidelines emphasize the importance of efforts to complete testing in settings that provide adequate comfort, safety and privacy — an obvious challenge in correctional environments.
When visiting a facility, the expert should review facility rules and regulations to ensure compliance. The expert should check beforehand that any items required for accurate testing can be accessed during the contact visit and that the environment will make accurate testing possible. Prior to the visit, the expert should send the defense attorney a list of the conditions/items needed to conduct testing and ask him/her to request written approval from the facility in advance of the visit.
Some items/conditions that may be necessary and should be discussed prior to the visit include:
- Testing materials (make special note if tests are spiral bound, have staples, or require extra equipment like blocks, stopwatch, etc.)
- Laptop with access to power outlet
- Table/desk with two chairs, ideally placed on opposite sides of table
- Notebooks, writing utensils
- Least restrictive environment reasonable
- Defendant whose hand use is not restricted by handcuffs or belly chains
- Test conditions that are reasonably quiet/free of distractions and have reasonable expectations for privacy (i.e., not it in large visiting room or in earshot of other inmates)
- Other: _______________________
The expert should bring a copy of that written approval on the day of the visit, along with their personal/professional identification and court orders/authorization to conduct the evaluation.
If the expert is not given adequate access during the visit, the expert should alert the facility staff of their needs to facilitate the proper accommodations to extent feasible. If conditions are not optimal, the expert should use discretion in proceeding with interview and testing that can ethically be accomplished under those conditions and make explicit any limits of testing when communicating their findings. The expert should then make arrangements to complete remaining testing at a future visit with the proper conditions in place. The expert must notify the defendant’s attorney if the visit conditions restrict their ability to conduct accurate testing.
Where the contact visit will be with an inmate at Central Prison in a potentially capital case at the trial level, capital appeal, or capital post-conviction case, counsel should see the IDS Policy on authorization of expert contact visits.
Thank you to Maureen Reardon Ph.D., ABPP, for her assistance with this post.