Knowledge Brief: Does Mental Health Screening Fulfill Its Promise?

As many as two-thirds of youths in pre-trial detention exhibit behaviors serious enough to qualify them for a mental disorder. Under the stress of detention, these youths can act out in ways that are harmful to themselves, to other youths around them, and to detention center staff. In this study, researchers implemented a validated screening procedure (MAYSI-2) that allows staff to identify a youth who is in crisis and may need immediate attention. But would staff in fact use the tool to get youths the help they need? Findings indicate that inmost centers staff did increase their efforts to obtain services and to take suicide precautions where needed. In addition, when services were not available, the ability to identify youths was sometimes helpful in finding or creating the needed services. Screening did not reduce the number of disruptive incidents; that may require additional training.