Criminal Justice Approaches to Mental Health Assignment Example

Assignment: Criminal Justice Approaches to Mental Health

There is a thin line between mental and behavioral problems. The incarceration of the mentally ill in the United States has increased at a high rate leaving individuals that are in jail or prison without the medical attention that is needed leaving them unstable emotionally. There is no definite way to determine where mental illness stems from so much of the diagnosis is observed by a doctor also told by the patients that are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

There are several kinds of mental illnesses that are mainly recorded by the action of a person into stages of the disorder like mood disorder, psychotic disorder, and anxiety disorder to name a few. When thinking of mental illness, you must understand the symptoms and the reaction from them because they cause a person not to act in a way that is considered normal. When a person is having a mood disorder problem it will mostly affect the sufferers’ attitude and behavior which distorts their judgment severely.

Take the case study 2 from the resource the mother had to call the police because the son attacked her after stating that he needed to get a job. Due to his depression state of mind, it caused his action to become violent which he had to be restrained by the officers. This did not make him a criminal because the police had to be called it was the only way the mother sort out help to control the situation which could go one of two ways.

If he does not want to press charges and son calms down and leaves without a hassle it will be fine. If the son gets out of control with the officers, this will cause him to be arrested and treated like a criminal when he is only having a psychotic break and needs medical attention. There is another mental illness that is more severe like schizophrenia which is the “most chronic and disabling of all mental illnesses. Sufferers grow out of touch with reality and become unable to separate real from unreal experiences. Other symptoms may involve social isolation or withdrawal. In some cases, unusual speech, thinking, or behavior may precede or follow the psychotic symptoms.

Persons suffering from auditory hallucinations hear voices and noises that are not heard by others.” (Saral, T 2019) When in that state of mind, it may cause them to commit a crime because of their mental incapacity where they will end up in jail instead of a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. People like that they are deemed criminals just by their acts and their mental health state is not overly examined. Those that are criminals commit crimes because they feel above the law and will never get caught.

In order to understand how the criminal justice system has typically or traditionally addressed an offender who has committed a crime due to mental health issues, we must first know how it began. When mental illness was discovered in a person, they were placed in an asylum which was also used as prisons or locked up and used for entertainment so that people could laugh at them. After noticing how people were placed in disgraceful conditions alone with being beaten and treated poorly until they were obedient in 1841, Dorothea Dix started her Asylum Movement in Massachusetts.

With her findings she went to the legislature of Massachusetts and funds were then set aside to expand the mental hospital in Worcester. “In addition to the problems in asylums, prisons were filled to overflowing with everyone who gave offense to society from committing murder to spitting on the street.”( Through her continued efforts, Dorothea went on leading the asylum movement which also quickened the movement in other states.

According to the study “Mentally Ill Inmates: Financial Impacts and Opportunities for the Future” by Nancy A. DeFerrari, the number of beds for mentally ill individuals has decreased significantly in the last 30 or so years. ( DeFerrari) Since passing the Community Mental Health Act (CHMA) in 1963 the number of beds or space in mental hospitals went from “ 500,000 to 55,000” and now in the 21’s century, it is down, even more, leaving many without adequate care. ( Vogel, M., Stephens, K. D., & Siebels, D. (2014) While trying to deinstitutionalize the population in mental institution due to lack of funding prison became full and they started giving the inmates with mental illness a drug called Thorazine between the 1950s and the early 1960s that worked for some and made others worse this is still a tradition that is used today.

With the vast increase of young and older persons with mental illness in the community, it has caused a huge impact on all levels of the criminal justice system. In reference to our Case Study 1 where the offender had a mental break down and attacked the bystander on the train platform, this was an example of the lack of continues treatment. “Alternatively, police officers, who are not trained mental health professionals, may not recognize the symptoms of mental illness, thus explaining the greater tendency to use arrest rather than referral to community services, particularly for minor offenses.

It is critical to recognize that the criminal justice system was not established and is not equipped to provide comprehensive mental health treatment.”( Vogel, M., Stephens, K. D., & Siebels, D. (2014) When the officers got there and retrieved more information, they learned that the offender has had previous arrests, suffers from bipolar disorder, and refuses to take medication when prescribed. Because there are many patients that do not follow their treatment program, they have a current turn around to be detained in jail and prisons.

Mental illness is one of the many problems that will never go away. As our population gets bigger by the day and more people are being diagnosed with mental illnesses every hour. With this being true, they are continuing to shut down mental health facilities, decrease funding, and leaving these people to their own. Now with the contemporary criminal justice system offender who commits a crime due to a mental health issue many different programs and new training for officers have been put into place. The first stage in a legal system involves detectives or the law enforcers who investigate a crime. When gathering information required to investigate the events of crime protective measures issued by the judicial officer have been put into place protects the police officers against harm during the investigative process.

There has become a partner with the Law Enforcement and Mobile crisis units (MCU). “MCUs are one form of formal links between law enforcement and psychiatric services that allow officers to make decisions involving PMI that direct them to the treatment and/or resources they need. MCUs have been heralded as an effective way for law enforcement to partner with community mental health entities to provide more appropriate and effective interventions to PMI.” (Lord and Bjerregaard) For example in Case Study 3 where the sixteen-year-old student was overheard saying that he was going to shoot up the school and the principal because he felt like he was being looked at as a loser as well as feeling like he was not liked anymore. Gun violence has become huge in the nation alone with school shootings.

With having a high rate of shootings, the government has passed a law even with threat charges that will be pressed against the defendant. Not all gun shootings are the result of a person having a mental illness some or premediated due to anger and others are a spur of the moment thinking. Law enforcement officials must take all threats against schools seriously. Making violent threats of this nature is a felony in almost all states in the USA. When this accrues the responding officers must first secure the area to make sure there are no guns or anything that can cause harm to anyone, call the MCU and interviewing the bystanders that heard or seen where the defendant made the threat.

Most people that are processed through the criminal justice system have a right to be innocent until proven guilty in a legal court and this solely depends on the criminal justice system because it is to protect the rights and freedoms of the people. It is considered a second-degree felony to threaten a mass shooting or commit an act of terrorism. When it is carried out or announced in such a way another person can see the threats. This felony comes with penalties that include up to 15 years in prison and or a maximum fine of $10,000. After the arrest, the judge at the arraignment hearing proceeds to determine if the accused is part of a crime.

Then the pretrial stage follows subsequently where the judge reads the charges to the accused and informs him of their rights. The next step is the preliminary hearing, the judge seeks to know if there is enough evidence to set up a strong case against the accused. The Criminal Justice System (CJS) consists of legal facts that include investigative, pretrial, arrest, trial, sentence and correctional system with each step exhibiting its own functions.

While the United States has a high rate of mentally ill people incarcerated without proper care there is still some evidence with links between mental illness and criminal behavior. “Certain disorders, particularly those that manifest externally or are accompanied by delusions, seem to increase the risk of criminal behavior. Research suggests that risk factors identified in the criminological literature play an important role in the relationship between mental illness and offending. Broader environmental characteristics, particularly neighborhood and community factors, have also been shown to influence the association between mental illness and criminal behavior.” (Vogel 2014)


Lord, V. B., & Bjerregaard, B. (2014). Helping Persons with Mental Illness: Partnerships between Police and Mobile Crisis Units. Victims & Offenders, 9(4), 455–474.

(n.d.). Retrieved from (n.d.). Prison and asylum reform []. Retrieved from

Saral, T. B. (2019). Mental illness and crime. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Vogel, M., Stephens, K. D., & Siebels, D. (2014). Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System. Sociology Compass, 8(6), 627–638.

Vogel, M. (2014). Mental Illness and Criminal Behavior. Sociology Compass, 8(4), 337–346.

Also see: Criminal Justice Exam

Last Updated on December 21, 2020