Why data about capacity to proceed is important
Neil Gowensmith is a professor of forensic psychology at University of Denver, who has written widely on competency restoration. He is the court-appointed expert overseeing Colorado’s efforts to reduce wait times, and is assisting California, Nevada and Washington to comply with court-mandated time frames.
Q: WFAE and FRONTLINE tried to gather data on the time inmates wait for restoration. Why, in your view, is data important.
A: As states seek to mitigate the “competency crisis,” good data must be a substantial part of the solution. Good data allows states to anticipate demand, identify effective components of a system, and track competency-related outcomes. Unfortunately, most state data systems lack the necessary detail, making improvement difficult.
Q: In North Carolina it’s been hard to get data on how long those found incapable to proceed (ITP) wait to get a hospital bed. Are there any states which do it better?
A: Some certainly do (e.g., Virginia, Colorado), but we acknowledge that some state data systems are strong precisely because the state was sued for slow or inadequate competency services, and were forced to change. Even states with the strong systems rarely publish their data widely, making it difficult to spot promising practices or compare state systems.
Q: One of the problems we hear about, but also don’t track, is the time it takes just to get a psychological evaluation of competency. We’ve heard of people who wait many months for an evaluation. Is that common?
A: Most states have timeframes for the completion of the competency evaluations specified in statute or policy, though they may not always meet those timelines. However, the time until evaluation should be one of the easiest data points to track, particularly if evaluations are managed by a central state office. Of course, when evaluations are handled by individual jurisdictions using private evaluators (versus a centralized state system) it is more difficult to track the data.
Q: Why is the lack of data a problem in terms of policy?
Without data, states cannot anticipate future demand for competency evaluation or restoration, understand what components of restoration are effective (or ineffective), or evaluate outcomes of evaluation or restoration services.
This story is part of a collaboration with FRONTLINE, the PBS series, through its Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.