Denver FIRST

The Denver Forensic Institute for Research, Service and Training (Denver FIRST)

Denver FIRST serves as a regional hub for expertise in forensic mental health. We foster community and university partnerships through a host of research, service and training opportunities. Current projects and partnerships include work with adults and juveniles involved with the criminal justice system. Areas of particular expertise include forensic mental health evaluations, outpatient competency restoration, immigration/asylum issues and forensic neuropsychology.

Our policy and advocacy work focuses on improving forensic mental health systems, ensuring standards for professionals and evaluations, and advocating for legislative reform for marginalized persons. Our accomplished faculty hosts a wide range of forensic psychology expertise. By engaging in research, clinical services and training, we aim to improve forensic mental health practices locally and globally.

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Our Team

Our Services

Our expertise and experience empower us to provide forensic mental health services throughout Colorado. We lead the way in developing and implementing cutting-edge, evidence-based practices. Services offered include:

  • Outpatient competency restoration
  • Forensic assessment and evaluation
  • Animal cruelty and animal abuse evaluations
  • Immigration-related evaluations and interventions
  • Neuropsychological screening and assessment
  • Brain Injuries Screening Program

Other Services


Our research interests are broad, but center mostly on the applications of evidence-based practices. Faculty serve in various capacities for national research initiatives as journal editors, journal reviewers, and conference reviewers, and have also authored books and produced other scholarly work outside the traditional academic journal review process. Current projects include:

  • Assessing the reliability, validity and quality of forensic mental health evaluations
  • Training and certification of forensic mental health evaluators
  • Improving decision-making in forensic evaluations
  • Supervision and care of persons acquitted by legal insanity
  • Exploring the effectiveness of outpatient and jail-based competency restoration interventions
  • Evaluating attitudes toward violence risk in mentally ill offenders from relevant disciplines (mental health, judiciary, law enforcement, corrections)
  • Examining the effectiveness of screenings and interventions for incarcerated populations with potential traumatic brain injuries


We're a leading source for forensic mental health training, offering various training sessions, workshops and consultations for forensic evaluators and professionals. Our interactive, cutting-edge trainings are tailored to the needs of each individual client. Recent trainings and presentations include:

  • Mental health issues in immigration proceedings (Colorado Bar Association / Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network)
  • Forensic mental health: A review of competency, legal sanity, and violence risk (Federal Public Defense Counsel)
  • The College Gateway Program: A model community re-entry program (Colorado Community Development Association)

We also provide consultation on the certification of forensic evaluators.

Postdoctoral Fellowship

We offer a postdoctoral fellowship in forensic psychology. The fellowship runs though the academic year (early September through late August) and provides opportunities for practice, research and teaching. Fellows have the opportunity to network with mental health professionals, administrators, judicial personnel, correctional personnel and other justice system professionals around Colorado. The didactic portion of the fellowship is integrated with the forensic psychology fellowship at the Colorado Mental Health Institute - Pueblo and the University of Colorado's forensic psychiatry fellowship program. 

The 2024-2025 application is open.

Our 2023-24 Fellows

Katherine Hanniball and Katherine Sterling

  • Katherine Hanniball, PhD
    Katherine Hanniball

    Dr. Katherine Hanniball is one of the 2023-2024 Postdoctoral Fellows in Forensic Psychology at Denver FIRST. She completed her predoctoral internship at the Washington State Office of Forensic Mental Health Services and received her Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her doctoral research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and she was the recipient of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Award. Dr. Hanniball has treatment and evaluation experience in a variety of clinical settings, including inpatient, community-based, correctional, and private practice contexts. Her current responsibilities during the fellowship year include the forensic evaluation services, clinical supervision of students, teaching graduate coursework, and ongoing research projects. She maintains research interests in forensic related topics, including psychopathy and personality dysfunction, forensic risk assessment, and trauma.

  • Katherine Sterling, PhD
    Katherine Sterling

    Dr. Katherine Sterling is one of the 2023-2024 Postdoctoral Fellows in Forensic Psychology at Denver FIRST. She graduated from Pacific University in Hillsboro, Oregon and completed a predoctoral internship at the Center for Behavioral Medicine in Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. Sterling has conducted treatment and evaluations in both inpatient and outpatient settings, including community mental health clinics and state hospitals. Her current responsibilities include forensic evaluations, research projects, teaching graduate coursework, and supervision of students. Her research interests include personality pathology, complex trauma, delusional disorder, juvenile justice topics, and competency restoration treatment.

Our Previous Fellows

Each of our fellows passed the EPPP during their fellowship years and had no problems obtaining their psychology licenses in Colorado or other states shortly after completing their fellowships.

  • Josh Francis, PhD
    Josh Francis

    Ph.D., Sam Houston State University, 2022

    Dr. Francis was the 2022-2023 Denver FIRST Postdoctoral Fellow in Forensic Psychology. He graduated from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas and completed a predoctoral internship at the Center for Behavioral Medicine in Kansas City, Missouri. He has treatment and evaluation experience in a variety of clinical settings, including inpatient, community-based, and correctional contexts. He currently serves as a Visiting Teaching Assistant Professor in DU’s MAFP program, and he conducts forensic evaluations in the community as an affiliate of Denver FIRST. Dr. Francis maintains research interests in forensic related topics, including competency restoration outcomes, issues in forensic assessment, trauma, sensation seeking behavior, and personality.

  • Cassandra Bailey, PhD
    Cassandra Bailey

    PhD, Sam Houston State University, 2021
    Our 2021-2022 fellow, Dr. Bailey, is now employed as an Assistant Professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She has established a private practice conducting forensic evaluations and works as an affiliate of Denver FIRST. She continues to research topics related to forensic psychology, immigration, Latinx mental health disparities, and psychometrics of Spanish-language psychological assessment measures.

  • Katelyn Hernandez, PsyD
    Katelyn Hernandez

    Postdoctoral Fellow, Denver FIRST
    Nova Southeastern University

    Dr. Hernandez was the 2020-2021 Postdoctoral Fellow in Forensic Psychology at Denver FIRST, where she primarily completed forensic evaluations, supervised, and taught. She graduated from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL and completed her predoctoral internship at Eastern Virginia Medical School/Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, VA. She previously worked in a variety of forensic settings, including correctional facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and outpatient diversion. Her primary clinical interests/career goals are in the areas of criminal and civil forensic evaluations, complex trauma, teaching, and supervising. She is particularly passionate about the impact of childhood adversity and trauma on adult functioning, specifically as it relates to criminal behavior and systemic change in reducing violence.

  • Jennifer McMahon, PhD
    Jen McMahon

    PhD, John Jay College, 2019

    Our 2019-20 fellow, Dr. McMahon, is employed as a forensic psychologist and lead clinical of the Jail Based Competency Evaluation and Restoration Program for the State of Colorado. She also teaches as adjunct faculty and works as an affiliate of Denver FIRST.

  • Kate McCallum, PhD
    Kate McCallum

    PhD, Sam Houston State University, 2018

    Our 2018-19 fellow, Dr. McCallum, is now employed as a forensic psychologist at a local Denver correctional facility. She also has a successful private practice conducting forensic evaluations, and she also works as an affiliate of Denver First.

  • Karen Grabowski, PhD
    Karen Grabowski

    PhD, Texas Tech University, 2017

    Our 2017-18 fellow, Dr. Grabowski, is employed as a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Masters of Forensic Psychology Program and is an affiliate of Denver First. She also has a private practice and is a Director of Training and Programs Consultant at the Colorado Forensic Services Division.

  • Lauren Best, PsyD
    Lauren Best

    PsyD, Pacific University, 2016

    Our 2016-17 fellow, Dr. Best, operates a successful private practice andis also employed part-time as a forensic evaluator at a state hospital in Oregon.