Mississippi State Hospital Conducts Forensic Screening Evaluator Training

In an effort to make pre-trial competence evaluations more readily available, Mississippi State Hospital’s Forensic Services staff conducted a training program designed to increase the number of qualified evaluators available to courts to perform jail-based services.

Dr. Amanda Gugliano, Dr. Stephanie Howard, Dr. Reb McMichael, Dr. Thomas Recore and MSH Court Liaison Philip Gaines led the program, entitled “Community-Based Forensic Screening Evaluations of Competence to Stand Trial,” on the MSH campus from Aug. 28-30.

Twenty-one licensed psychologists and psychiatrists attended the free program. The training included:

  • An overview of the criminal legal system and relevant mental health law.
  • An introduction to clinical, legal and ethical aspects of conducting competence to stand trial evaluations.
  • Special issues and/or common pitfalls in forensic evaluations of competence to stand trial.
  • Essential components of a forensic report.
  • How to prepare for and offer expert testimony as a forensic evaluator.

The program offered 15 hours of continuing education credit for psychologists, and all of the participants received a certificate of completion. The training is not a formal certification to conduct forensic evaluations.

“Those who completed the program can say they have training in this area if this is something they want to pursue,” Gugliano said. “With this training, we wanted to provide a foundation to people who are interested in making themselves available for this service. This training gave them information about what is entailed in the process.”

Gugliano said feedback from participants was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I found the training informative and fun,” said Dr. Louis Masur III, a clinical psychologist from Tupelo. “The mix of presenters and their styles made learning easy.  . . . Much of what was said was confirming for me, but I learned many new skills and techniques.”

“The program was very well organized and thorough and the presenters were very knowledgeable, professional, and certainly considered experts in the field of forensic psychology and psychiatry,” said Dr. Sandy F. Adams, a licensed psychologist in Jackson.

There is a backlog of defendants in the Mississippi court system awaiting pre-trial competence evaluation, and there are few licensed psychologists and psychiatrists trained to perform them. MSH has a lengthy waiting list for pre-trial evaluation and restoration services. A larger pool of evaluators providing community-based services could help alleviate the backlog.