Mental Health and the Justice System

The fact that individuals with mental health problems are significantly overrepresented in the justice system is a significant concern for public policy and practice. Psychology research examining mental health and risk for criminal offending can be broadly categorized into 2 approaches that have remained either independent of one another or in apparent conflict: the first based in clinical literature and focused on associations with psychopathology, and the second focused on forensic rehabilitation (e.g., represented in the Risk-Need-Responsivity literature). Although the policy and practice goals associated with these literatures are not synonymous, they overlap in critical respects. The lack of dialogue between the 2 approaches impoverishes both and contributes to misunderstanding that undermines effective policymaking and practice. To facilitate interpretation of these 2 approaches, a new article in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law critically examines research into mental health issues in justice-involved adults and youth  in terms of differing goals, implicit assumptions, intended scope of the literature, and key terminology (especially definitions of “mental health” problems and of “risk”). These differences are clarified to identify areas of congruence as well as outstanding conflicts. Suggestions are presented for future research at the nexus of these 2 approaches, which would serve the goal of developing evidence-informed policy and practice to reduce recidivism and improve mental health functioning in individuals with mental health problems who are involved in the justice system.

For the abstract.


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