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Mentally Ill Offenders in the Criminal Justice System: An Analysis and Prescription

January 01, 2002
This report examines why so many people with mental illness are caught up in the criminal justice system and the effects this has on them and on the system. We also offer recommendations for changes in services, policies and practices to be implemented at each stage of the justice system.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that 283,800 individuals with mental illnesses were confined in U.S. jails and prisons in 1998.

Overall, 16% of all inmates self-reported current mental illness or an overnight stay in a mental hospital, and an additional 14% had received other mental health services in the past. Almost one quarter of incarcerated women were identified as mentally ill. Of the ten million adults booked into local jails each year, approximately 700,000 have active symptoms of serious mental illness, and most of those have co-occurring substance abuse disorders.

Significant as these numbers are, many mental health experts believe they understate the problem due to under-reporting by people who might not want to disclose the information or are unaware of their illness. Clearly, the “criminalization” of people with mental illnesses is a phenomenon affecting many thousands of individuals and their families, as well as those who work within law enforcement, the courts and corrections systems, and mental health and substance abuse service providers.

This report examines why so many people with mental illness are caught up in the criminal justice system and the effects this has on them and on the system. We also offer recommendations for changes in services, policies and practices to be implemented at each stage of the justice system – from first police contact through release from prison – to promote better outcomes both for individuals and the community as a whole. These include program models currently being implemented in various jurisdictions. The recommendations are focused on limiting the number of mentally ill people who are brought into the criminal justice system while providing better treatment and links between prison and community services for those who are incarcerated. In short, to offer a better way than reliance upon the institutions of punishment to address mental health problems.

To report the report, download the PDF below.

 
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