Policy Change: The Need and Practical Application of the Forensic Psychology Interview in Conjunction with Arrest

man in dark cell reading a book


As Americans review past mental health issues in the United States along with the continual increase in not only the homeless population but also the recognition of mental health issues within prison confines, one must surmise that the problem remains much more significant than initially revealed.  The increase in the mentally ill prison populations alone […]

As Americans review past mental health issues in the United States along with the continual increase in not only the homeless population but also the recognition of mental health issues within prison confines, one must surmise that the problem remains much more significant than initially revealed.  The increase in the mentally ill prison populations alone suggests that an inherent need exists to readdress the entire criminal justice process to ensure the protection of the rights of all individuals involved in that process.  This need for change imposes a significant alteration of the existing policy relating to booking suspects into city and county jails. Approximately 64% of America’s inmates today suffer from at least one major mental health issue (apa.org, 2014).  Included in that percentage one will find that 20% of the mentally incarcerated stem from a homeless life before incarceration and a return to that homeless life following release from incarceration (csgjusticecenter.org, 2019).

Rise in Mentally Ill Homeless Population

During the 1960s, this country’s leaders determined that national mental institutions were no place for our mentally ill.  This thought process spread across the United States to the degree that federal and state mental institutions were either closing because of the lack of funding or the lack of patients, who were diverted to community-based treatment centers.

Unfortunately, many community-based treatment centers failed from the lack of proper funding and management, which led to forcing our mentally ill to become America’s new population of homeless citizens; forcing to fend for themselves as the criminal populations discovered uses for such easy prey.  State mental institution populations dwindled to approximately 25% of the previous national patient level of well over 500,000 by the 1980s. Funding for housing and caring for the homeless decreased by almost 50% by the 1990s (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018).

The HIV epidemic in the 1990s and early millennium seemingly spread across America, unhampered as officials struggled to develop cures as the increase in physical and mental health needs of the homeless and subsequent prison populations plagued our nation’s communities (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018).

Veteran homeless populations have continued to rise as well with the present population over 40,000 nationwide, which serves to increase the mental health challenges among our homeless significantly as veterans struggle with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and other mentally-challenging issues.

The Obama Administration launched a decree that homeless veterans would no longer be an issue before the end of his term as President of the United States.  Even before President Trump took office, the veteran population continued to rise as have suicides among our veterans; homeless or otherwise. Each of these issues continually influences the increase of the homeless populations throughout the U.S., which correlates with the increase in America’s incarcerated mentally ill inmate populations (Shane, 2017).

Law Enforcement Involvement with Mentally Ill/Mental Disorders

Mental health and family code laws provide specific guidelines that mandate parameters of the arrest and incarceration of alleged mentally ill offenders.  It remains the priority of all law enforcement and corrections officers, by policy, to possess the inherent knowledge that will empower proper procedures during any confrontation with any suspect who may be determined to suffer from any level of mental illness or mental disorder.  Many law enforcement agencies require officers to endure significant training to help officers develop an awareness of mental health and family code laws to the degree that patrol officers can determine the questionability of the mental state of the alleged offender before actuating the arrest (Tint, Ami, Palucka, Anna M., Bradley, Elspeth, Weiss, Jonathan A, & Lunsky, Yona, 2017).

This training is a significant burden to place on officers who, even with brief mental health training lack the proper, professional skill sets or assessment capabilities to ascertain the existence of mental health issues in an individual.  The decision to proceed with an arrest is based more on probable cause than a mental assessment since the officer’s primary duty is to bring peace and order to a given situation, immediately.  If that officer recognizes that the person may be suffering from an unknown level or type of mental disorder, he or she is typically required by policy to notify the local mental health facility of the arrest and ask for assistance with the offender (Tint et al., 2017).

If the offender is a known patient of a state mental facility or community mental health center, the facility may comply with a request to meet the officer at the jail to assess that person’s immediate mental health situation and to ensure he or she understands the charges filed.  If the alleged offender is not a regular or past patient of the mental health facility in the county, then a court order, depending on the jurisdiction, must follow the incarceration to determine the disposition of the incarcerated individual (Tint et al., 2017).

Application of Theories

The theory proposed by this author gains support from the Rational Choice Theory, the Biological Theories of Criminal Behavior, and Strain Theory.  Empirical evidence provides sufficient support toward recognizing various mental illnesses and mental disorders as precursors of criminal tendencies and actions from individuals who may or may not possess complete understanding and control of their mental issues to understand the crime they committed; much less the charges filed and the processes that await them in the criminal justice process.  The fact that a high percentage of mentally ill inmates exist in our jails and prisons today dictates the need to address this theory to ensure the safety, welfare, and rights of all individuals arrested for a crime in the United States (Tint et al., 2017).


Those who have mental illness and severe mental disorders such as ASD, epilepsy, and PTSD must have sufficient protection of their rights as American citizens during any criminal proceedings.  To ensure these rights are protected, the forensic psychologist should be included in all booking procedures in a city, county, state, and federal facility even though the offenders may be aware that they committed a crime. Awareness of why he or she committed a crime may deny identification; even to the offender.  Therefore, a presumption of guilt remains questionable as one considers the culpable mental states that require specific elements to develop probable cause for any crime.

APA.org. (2014). Incarceration nation: The United States leads the world in incarceration. A new report explores why and offers recommendations for fixing the system, American Psychological Association, retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/10/incarceration, October 2014, Vol 45, No. 9

CSGjusticecenter.org. (2019). NRRC Facts & Trends, National Reentry Resource Center, retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://csgjusticecenter.org/nrrc/facts-and-trends/.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Permanent Supportive Housing: Evaluating the Evidence for Improving Health Outcomes Among People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, retrieved February 23, 2019, from doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/25133.

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Categories: Corrections, Psychology