Screening for severe mental disorder in jails - The development of the referral decision scale

Linda A. Teplin*, James Swartz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Despite the demonstrated prevalence of severe mental disorder among jail detainees and the legal mandate to provide mental health services, most jails do not have the resources to incorporate traditional, time-consuming psychological assessment techniques into their routine intake process. As a result, a number of mentally ill jail detainees remain undetected and untreated. This study outlines the development of the "Referral Decision Scale" (RDS), which detects persons who have a high probability of having a severe mental disorder so that they can be given a complete diagnostic evaluation. The 14-item RDS was statistically derived using discriminant analysis from data collected via the NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule on 728 randomly selected male jail detainees and then validated on 1,149 prison inmates. The final validated version of the RDS had an overall sensitivity of 0.791, specificity of 0.987, and positive and negative predictive value of 0.791 and 0.013, respectively. Since these statistics far exceed current detection rates, the RDS is likely to facilitate the diversion of mentally ill detainees in situations where it is impractical to administer psychological examinations to all incoming inmates. Training requirements for the RDS and directions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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