Academic journal article Social Work

Issues in Serving the Forensic Client

Academic journal article Social Work

Issues in Serving the Forensic Client

Article excerpt

Interest in the role played by the criminal justice system in the lives of people with serious mental illness has persisted in the era of deinstitutionalization (Lamb & Grant 1982, 1983; Pogrebin & Poole, 1987; Sadoff, 1978; Steadman, Monohan, Duffee, Hartstone, & Robbins, 1984). A phenomenon called "transinstitutionalization" by some observers describes the movement of people from state hospitals to nursing homes and also to jails (Johnson, 1990). Holcomb and Ahr (1988) asserted that the criminal justice system has replaced the state hospital as an agent of social control for younger, volatile people with serious mental illness. Studies that have emerged from this interest have focused on the proportions of people with mental illness who are jailed (Kiesler et al., 1983; Levine, Lezak, & Goldman, 1986); the proportion of the jailed population who have a mental illness (Lamb & Grant, 1982, 1983; Solomon, Draine, Marcenko, & Meyerson, 1992; Teplin, 1990); the decision to arrest (Teplin, 1984a, 1984b); and issues related to the interaction of mental health services, homelessness, and the criminal justice system (Benda, 1991; Fischer, 1988; Goldmeier, Wise, & Wright, 1986; Snow, Baker, & Anderson, 1989). Much of this research has focused on building knowledge concerning the social environment of people with serious mental illness, specifically relating to the interaction of these people with the criminal justice system.

With the exception of incidental findings in studies on other topics, such as arrest rates of seriously mentally ill adults in inpatient settings, in community mental health settings, or among homeless people, little has been effectively studied about the interaction of the mental health and criminal justice systems or the impact on the individuals who interact with both systems. For example, Carroll and Lurigio (1984) were unable to locate any studies that indicated the frequency of use of mental health services by probation and parole officers.

The proportion of people with serious mental illness who have been arrested at least once has been growing (Brennan, Gedrich, Jacoby, Tardy, & Tyson, 1986; Mulvey, Blumstein, & Cohen, 1986 ). An analysis of three recent study samples of adults with serious mental illness found that a remarkably consistent 42 percent to 52 percent of these individuals were arrested at least once (McFarland, Faulkner, Bloom, Hallaux, & Bray, 1989; Solomon & Draine, 1993; Solomon & Marcenko, 1991). Because of this growth in the experience of criminal detention, some have concluded that jails provide, by default, primary care to many people with mental disabilities (Briar, 1983; Morrissey & Levine, 1987; Shenson, Dubler, & Michaels, 1990). It may be an error, however, to conceptualize jail services as being apart from community mental health services.

Jail is intended to be a transitory experience. A significant proportion of people who are arrested spend less than 48 hours in jail at the time of their arrest (Steadman, McCarty, & Morrissey, 1989). The remainder stay significantly longer. Because they often lack bail, temporary placements, orsocial support networks that canfacilitate quick release, people with mental illness tend to be inthis second group of detainees (Belcher, 1988; Goldmeier et al., 1986; Steadman et al., 1989). But because jail, as differentiated from prison, serves a transitional purpose in the classification and processing of detainees through the criminal justice system, releases from jail depend on a number of unpredictable factors, such as judicial decisions, jail crowding conditions, and the efficiency of logistical operations such as transportation to court.

The jail population has grown exponentially in the last 12 years, and court interventions to improve jail conditions and establish and maintain humane health and mental health care have also increased (Steadman et al. …

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