October 19, 2003November 23, 2003Meeting Report

November 7, 2003

Dr. Selmer Wathney
Forensic Psychology in the California Youth Authority

Dr. Selmer Wathney has had a 29-year career as a Supervising Psychologist with the California Youth Authority (CYA) from which he plans to retire in the next year. He spoke on the nature of the current ward population in the CYA, with emphasis on those with mental health problems. He also mentioned that the California Department of Corrections is the largest mental health care provider in the State.

Dr Wathney stated that the CYA had 10,000+ wards in 1997 but has only 4,000+ today. This is attributed to the fact that counties are now required to pay the total cost of a juvenile’s commitment to the CYA for minor crimes. This means that those now committed are much more likely than before to be violent and/or seriously disturbed. The need for mental health treatment has not been reduced by the smaller size of the inmate population. As a matter of fact, the percentage of wards requiring mental health treatment has increased, as well as the numbers. The inmates range in age from 13 to 25. If one is over 18 when first incarcerated, he (usually a he) will be sent to the Department of Corrections. CYA wards are usually released at age 25, but can be given successive 2-year extensions (via Civil Code 1800) if they can be shown (by civil, not criminal rules) to be dangerous and to have a mental disorder that can be treated. A cognitive-behavioral approach is used in treatment.

Dr Wathney spoke at length about the Hare Psychopathy test and its use in evaluating whether someone is likely to re-offend. Its use is almost a requirement if the State desires to gain a 2-year civil commitment for additional mental health treatment. A low score is good (except in the case of child molesters) and indicates that the person is probably not a psychopath. Psychopaths and sex offenders are not good choices for rehabilitation. He further provided a handout delineating Key Indicators of Violence Potential, Protective/Resilience Factors, and other information used in predicting youth violence and violence prevention. It is interesting that although run of the mill offenders come mainly from lower socio-economic backgrounds, psychopaths come from any economic level. There is evidence that their brains may be wired differently. He recommended the book, "Without Conscience," by Robert Hare, Ph.D.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, HAGSA Recorder,
and Beverly Church, Program Committee Member

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