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Psychiatr Serv. 2005 Jul;56(7):816-22.

Validation of the brief jail mental health screen.

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Policy Research Associates, Inc., Delmar, New York 12054, USA. hsteadman@



Jails have a substantial legal obligation to provide health and mental health care for inmates; yet screening procedures across American jails are highly variable. Currently, no valid, practical, standardized tool is available. The study reported here sought to validate a revision of the Referral Decision Scale (RDS)--the Brief Jail Mental Health Screen (BJMHS)--which provides an even briefer and more practical tool for use in jails.


Valid BJMHS data were collected in four jails (two in Maryland and two in New York) from 10,330 detainees. A total of 357 detainees were also administered the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) for standardized clinical cross-validation: 125 detainees (74 men and 51 women) who were classified as referrals for further mental health assessment on the basis of BJMHS and 232 detainees (137 men and 95 women) who were not classified as referrals.


The BJMHS takes an average of 2.5 minutes to administer. It correctly classified 73.5 percent of males but only 61.6 percent of females on the basis of SCID diagnoses. Overall, the BJMHS identified 11.3 percent of screened detainees for further mental health assessment.


The BJMHS is a practical, efficient tool that jail correction officers can give male detainees on intake screening. However, the screen has an unacceptably high false-negative rate for female detainees.

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