Critical Issues - Quality of Care in Correctional Settings

From Psychiatry, Vol. 171, 412-416, 1997

Needs assessment for mentally disordered offenders and others requiring similar services Theoretical issues and a methodological framework*

Andrea Cohen and Nigel Eastman

Background: The government has highlighted the service needs of mentally disordered offenders (MDOs) and has introduced policies which have driven MDO needs assessment.

Method: Based on a literature review and a national survey of agencies likely to be conducting needs assessment, the paper reviews government policy regarding MDO needs assessment and examines the particular problems of conducting needs assessment for MDOs.

Results: A methodological framework for MDO needs assessment is presented, and different needs assessment approaches are discussed. The methodological and practical limitations of conducting MDO needs assessment are emphasised, as is the role of subjective judgement in both research design and interpretation.

Conclusions: Needs assessment is value-laden. Also, no single needs assessment approach can address all the issues of importance to purchasers and providers. Substituting the term 'perspectives on need' for the term needs assessment would help to reflect the lack of a single 'truth' about need and emphasise the role of subjective political judgement in designing and interpreting research on 'need'.

* This paper summarizes a research review which was commissioned and funded by South West Thames Regional Health Authority. It also draws upon the authors' experience from participation in and leading of needs assessment projects conducted within the NHS and funded by SouthWest Thames Regional Health Authority and related purchasing authorities. An expanded version of the review is in preparation for publication by Gaskell.

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