WHAT IS A “FORENSIC EVALUATION CENTER”
The word “forensic” is derived from the Greek word forum and indicates public speaking.
Forensic Evaluation Centers provide competency and criminal responsibility evaluations to the common pleas courts, and clinical opinion about the least restrictive setting for someone found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) and committed for treatment in lieu of incarceration. We also opine on “Second Opinion” evaluations regarding the release from hospitalization of a person previously found NGRI and residing in the state psychiatric hospitals. Other evaluative services may include clinical opinions impacting sentencing, drug dependency evaluations, and risk of violence and recidivism, for example.
Ohio’s Forensic Centers are united in their mission, providing quality evaluation services to the courts, but differ in structure. There are three basic administrative systems: the court clinic, operated by the court itself; the independent, private, non-profit agency that contracts with a mental health board to provide such services; and the forensic center that functions as a program division of a larger community mental health agency.
Depending on the structure of the forensic center and the availability of time and resources, in addition to the evaluations performed for the Common Pleas courts, forensic centers provide evaluations to other court systems (municipal, juvenile, domestic relations, adult parole authority, probate and federal) on a contractual basis.
Several forensic centers provide treatment services to court-involved individuals as well as participate in research projects. The certified forensic centers are also involved in monitoring of clients found NGRI who have been released from the hospital to community treatment; providing supervised internship and training to students from local institutions of higher learning; and lastly, educational programs in forensic mental health issues to the courts and mental health community within their local areas.
The Association of Ohio Forensic Centers Directors maintains ten Community Forensic Centers located all over Ohio, designed to serve primarily the Ohio Courts of Common Pleas (criminal division of adult court). Divided among Ohio’s 88 counties, the ten centers receive funding from the state of Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services, Office of Criminal Justice and Forensic Services and work with their local Mental Health and Recovery Boards to support all of the court systems and their affiliates within their designated regions.
Prior to the creation of the Forensic Center model, the state of Ohio was sending every defendant, whose competence or mental state was being questioned, to the state mental hospital to await a mental health evaluation. This was creating a backlog in the courts and was very expensive to maintain. So, the idea of creating outpatient centers all over the state became the reality, saving the state of Ohio and the local courts significant time and money. The creation of the forensic centers was codified in the Ohio Revised Code (5122-32-01) and the standards for each type of service were also mandated by state law (for example: Competency to Stand Trial) .
The creation of these centers led to the creation of the Association of Ohio Forensic Evaluation Centers, an unincorporated association, which is responsible for the ongoing training of the professionals and supervision of the services provided by the agencies. This association provides annual training for forensic mental health professionals, quality assurance standards for the centers, and expertise with regard to questions from the courts and legislators regarding professional practices and evidence-based standards for the practice of forensic evaluations.
Who are the professionals?
The Legal Examiners are mental health trained professionals: psychiatrists (MD), and psychologists (Ph.D./Psy.D) who are experts in conducting mental health evaluations for court related questions, specifically: Mental State at the Time of the Charged Offense, also known as Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI); Competency to Stand Trial, and Post NGRI related evaluations. All legal examiners must be licensed in Ohio in either psychiatry or psychology and complete 15 hours of continuing education focused on forensic issues, every two years, but also they are held to professional quality standards by the Forensic Center Directors Association, monitored by each center’s director. Post-conviction evaluations can be conducted by independently licensed social workers and counselors (MSW or M.Ed.) with specialized training in forensic assessment.
Forensic Monitors and Forensic Hospitals
Every county also has an identified Forensic Monitor. This individual may or may not be affiliated with a Forensic Center. They too are mostly mental health professionals, but do not necessarily come under the purview of the county Forensic Center and are not monitored by the Forensic Directors.
Each county has an identified state hospital where defendants who are incompetent to stand trial and NGRI acquittees will be treated. These regional psychiatric hospitals also employ psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals trained in forensic mental health services.