Decision-Making in Post-acquittal Hospital Release: How Do Forensic Evaluators Make Their Decisions?
W. Neil Gowensmith Ph.D., Amanda E. Bryant M.A. and Michael J. Vitacco Ph.D.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law
A large number of individuals are acquitted of criminal charges after being found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” Most of these individuals are hospitalized and later seek hospital discharge under a court-ordered provision called conditional release (“CR”). Courts rely on opinions from forensic evaluators to determine acquittees’ readiness for CR. However, how evaluators make these decisions are unknown. Eighty-nine CR readiness evaluators from nine states were surveyed to understand which factors evaluators prioritize and to understand evaluators’ assessment methodologies and their beliefs about the CR process itself. Little uniformity was found among evaluators on any aspect of the decision-making process. Evaluators utilized a wide variety of methodologies when making their decisions on readiness for CR. Moreover, evaluators’ conceptualizations of the CR process itself varied widely. The results highlight the difficulty and confusion evaluators face when conducting CR readiness evaluations, and demonstrate the need for enhanced training, statutory guidance, and standardized evaluation protocols for these evaluations.