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Laurie Westlake


Mental health professionals (MHPs) evaluate juveniles' competency to stand trial (JAC) for the courts more than any other psychological issue, but little research has been done about JAC. Only 2 previous studies have examined assessment procedures and tools used by MHPs to evaluate JAC. This quantitative nonexperimental study examined ratings by 44 MHPs in Wisconsin and Illinois for the importance of considering 6 different research-based factors linked to lifespan developmental theory and the usefulness of 3 assessment tools that have all been recommended previously by professional best practice guidelines to evaluate JAC. This study examined 2 levels of an independent variable, type of court, and how this affected ratings for importance of factors and usefulness of tools. When ratings were compared using paired t tests, the developmental factor that pertains to understanding court proceedings and working with one's attorney achieved statistical significance as more important for juvenile court than for adult court. Repeated measures ANOVA evaluated differences in ratings within groups for juvenile and adult court. The cognitive developmental factor was rated as statistically more important than other developmental factors for adult court. The results imply that, MHPs consider cognitive development and ability to understand and discuss court proceedings as critical to consider during JAC. Regarding ratings for usefulness of tools, there was not a statistically significant difference between the ratings for the 3 tools either between groups or within groups. These results could contribute to positive social change by increasing consistency in how JAC is evaluated and as a result, juveniles could be treated more fairly and in an equitable way during court proceedings.

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