This summer’s posts feature students in the University of Utah’s Funding for Unpaid and Underpaid Student Internships (FUUSI) program.
By Kate Strong, Senior, Psychology and Pre-Business, University of Utah
In the Spring of 2023, I had one of the best college experiences available to me. I interned at the United States District Court – District of Utah. While all of the experiences at the district court were unforgettable, my interest was sparked the most by the specialty courts, more specifically by the mental health court.
During my time interning at the federal mental health court, also referred to as R.I.S.E Behavioral Health Court, I gained experience in managing caseloads, meeting with charged and felony-convicted individuals, teaching psychoeducational classes to the mental health court participants, and implementing evidence-based practices in our criminal justice system.
An In-Depth Look at the Criminal Justice System
In the District of Utah, mental health court takes place every Monday morning at 11:00AM. Before each session, the staff of the mental health court, which includes attorneys, mental health treatment providers, federal probation officers, and a magistrate judge, meets together. During this time, a written report is handed out and federal probation gives an update on all of the mental health court participants (the charged and convicted individuals). During this report, the court can collectively decide how to better support the participants, if needed. Because this is still court, the magistrate judge can decide if the participant needs to be sanctioned for any noncompliant behaviors based on probation’s weekly report. The participants then all come into court together and get a chance to talk individually with the magistrate judge about how their previous week was. During this time, the participant has the chance to verbally admit and take accountability for any noncompliance or reckless behavior from the previous week. The Court reinforces this behavior and may reduce a sanction if the participant admits and takes accountability. The participant is also given incentives if they have been reported going above and beyond in their previous week.
Creating Lasting Professional Impact at My Organization
The biggest project that was given to me during my time as an intern was to help revise and revamp the sanction program within the mental health court. This included coming up with new sanctions, ranking them by severity, adding duration to each sanction, and placing them into a document that was coherent and comprehensive to follow. Of course, all of the sanctions had to be evidence-based and ethical as well. It took a lot of revisions, as well as meeting with the Court and other psychologists every Monday, but before my internship ended, I had created a whole new program of sanctions and guidelines for how to administer them in court. To my knowledge, my sanction program is still being used in the District of Utah Federal Mental Health Court to this day.
New Insights into Criminal Justice, Career Path, and Life Goals
This was an amazing experience and I could not have done it without the help of so many resources in our criminal justice system. Through this experience, I have learned how organized our courts truly are and how well they operate on evidence-based practices. My respect for attorneys, judges, mental health treatment providers, and federal probation officers increased immensely. The most important lesson that I learned during my time in my internship was the true role of federal probation. Probation officers do not want to punish individuals. Probation officers want to provide individuals with the help and resources that they need in order to be a successful individual in society. I applaud all who work in our criminal justice system. I applaud their strength, courage and empathy.
I learned so much and I was even able to create a more clear life and career path for myself after this internship. I would like to thank everyone who helped me along this journey and I would encourage every student at the University of Utah to apply for an internship and, if needed, receive compensation for it through FUUSI!