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Preventing Disaster Through Screening and Assessment
Dr. Kathryn Seifert, Trauma and Violence Expert Dr. Kathryn Seifert, Trauma and Violence Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Baltimore, MD
Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Recently we have seen two convicted murderers, Richard Matt and David Sweat, escape prison with the help of two prison employees, Gene Palmer and Joyce Mitchell. Twelve more employees at Clinton Correctional Facility have subsequently been placed on administrative leave as a review of the prison is carried out following the escape. It leads us to ask the question, how does this happen?

Dylan Oliphant/U.S.A.

Source: Dylan Oliphant/U.S.A.

There are other examples where instances of violence, which should have been prevented by simple safeguards being enacted, have shocked the world. Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who locked the pilot out of the cockpit mid-flight and flew the plane into the Swiss Alps killing all 150 people on board. Police officers have been arrested, charged, or forced to resign as a result of heavy-handed tactics or excessive use of force on persons they were taking into or had in custody. Officers at Abu Ghraib prison used brutal humiliation tactics on inmates detained at the facility. Bradley Manning, now recognized as Chelsea Manning, had trouble fitting in with the military and was diagnosed as having a gender identity disorder. Manning released top-secret documents to Wikileaks and is currently servicing a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth. Staying with the military, there is a growing number of suicides among soldiers deployed multiple times to war zones which needs to be addressed. Recently, a police officer resigned after being shown in a viral video breaking up a pool party of teenagers using excessive force and going so far as to draw his weapon, it later emerged that the officer had just come from answering two suicide calls.  All of these incidents are incidents, which did not need to occur and could have been prevented. We can provide solutions to improve our system.

More psychological screening of applicants for jobs in correctional facilities, the military, airlines, and police departments should be the way of the future. In positions where people are responsible for the lives of others the standard we hold them to should be higher when it comes to their mental health. There are people that should not be in a position of authority over others, have access to top secret documents, be in war zones, fly planes, or be the engineers of trains. The research is very clear. No one can determine a person’s risk to other people through interview alone.  A thorough evaluation that includes a valid and reliable risk assessment is needed. This risk assessment is needed not just to determine offenders or to use in our criminal justice system but we need it to be a central policy and form part of the health screening procedures in sensitive jobs where those undertaking these roles have a duty of care to others. Immediate counseling and clearance is needed for the men and women working in sensitive jobs where they can experience Acute Stress and PTSD. This should be standard in the military, police department, correctional field, for airline pilots, and others in sensitive positions. 

There have been a lot of discussions taking place over the last number of months on how we can best prevent tragedies like the Germanwings disaster and a common answer is that we cannot. I fundamentally disagree with this. While some believe that screening for people in these sensitive jobs should be increased so we can root out those with problems I don’t necessarily feel that it is a question of rooting them out. We do not need to take people out of jobs forever. Appropriate interventions need to be available and screening increased, yes, but following on from successful interventions we can allow most people to return to their jobs and be more effective than they ever were. You may say leaving these people in their jobs is a risky decision, and how do we know if they are cured? The answer is that there needs to be ongoing and periodic assessments for any behavioral health issues and an increase in the skills that are needed to avoid violence such as social support, staying in treatment, problem solving, and anger management. The burden of proof must lie squarely with the individual and if they wish to return to their position after the intervention processes have concluded they must be able to prove that they are fit to return to their roles. Sticking our collective heads in the sand and avoiding the assessment and treatment conversation leaves a group of our population vulnerable to horrific outcomes without us ever trying to help. Now that is crazy.

Written by: Dr. Kathryn Seifert

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Dr. Kathryn Seifert is a leading voice internationally in the areas of violence, mental health, criminal justice and addictions. The CEO of Eastern Shore Psychological Services (ESPS), Dr. Seifert specializes in the assessment and treatment of individuals who are at risk for violence and/or suffering from attachment disorders. 

She has frequently appeared on national networks to discuss violence and mental health, appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN, the Huffington Post Live, Discovery ID, Fox News, and CBC in Canada. Dr. Seifert has written two books on the subject; the first, How Children Become (Acanthus Publishing 2006), was awarded the 2007 IPPY (Independent Book Publishers Award) bronze medal in the Psychology/Mental Health Category, and her second book, Youth Violence: Theory, Prevention, and Intervention (Springer Publishing 2011), is frequently utilized in the professional community and in courses and training sessions. 

As an expert contributor for Psychology Today, Dr. Seifert's blog, "Stop the Cycle," has amassed over 150,000 views in the last two years. 

Dr. Seifert has lectured in Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, and across the United States. Past conferences and events include Maryland Psychological Association Annual Conference, Pennsylvania's NAMI Cherry Blossom Charity Ball, and the Conference on the Federal Response to Reducing Gun Violence, which took place following the Sandy Hook tragedy and was headlined by Vice President Joe Biden. 

She is currently finalizing her upcoming book, Failure to Attach: The Why Behind Terrorists and Mass Murderers, which will be published later this year.

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