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Screening prisoners for cognitive impairment – literature review

Grazia Catalano (Centre for Policy Futures (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) and at the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work (Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences), The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)
Jonathan Mason (Mind and Neuroscience Thompson Institute, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sunshine Coast, Australia)
Claire Elise Brolan (Centre for Policy Futures, University of Queensland - Saint Lucia Campus, Brisbane, Australia and Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (QCIDD), University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)
Siobhan Loughnan (Centre for Policy Futures, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)
David Harley (Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour

ISSN: 2050-8824

Article publication date: 8 July 2020

Issue publication date: 5 November 2020




The authors reviewed studies of validated tools to screen for cognitive impairment among prisoners. The purpose of this paper is to assist organisations in identifying cognitive impairment in correctional facilities.


A targeted literature review identified peer-reviewed articles on screening of adults in jails, prisons, police watch-houses, custody suites, rehabilitation facilities and forensic settings or community settings for offenders. Validation of screening tools in secure settings, psychometric properties and cultural discrimination is included in this review.


Eight screening tools are considered suitable for use in correctional settings. Two screening tools are recommended for cognitive impairment, one is recommended for adaptive functioning assessment and one is recommended for screening of brain injury. Two screening tools are noted to be subject to piloting and further development for use with First Nations people, and two screening tools for cognitive impairment are noted for positive consideration.

Research limitations/implications

Recommendations for screening tools are based on review only and evaluation was infeasible.

Practical implications

Short, reliable measures of cognitive ability for use in correctional facilities are needed. Such tools must be appropriate with respect to their purpose, feasible within the clinical capability of staff and sufficiently cheap to administer to allow widespread use.


Screening of prisoners for cognitive impairment allows early detection to facilitate rehabilitation and therapy. This research is at the systems level. Therefore, the authors do not purport to provide guidance for individual clinicians.



Catalano, G., Mason, J., Brolan, C.E., Loughnan, S. and Harley, D. (2020), "Screening prisoners for cognitive impairment – literature review", Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 201-210.



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