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Discontinuity of Care in the Criminal Justice System

The media and much of the general community believe that crime and mental illnesses are related to each other because of the numerous cases of crimes committed by the mentally ill, as well as the big number of imprisoned mentally ill persons. For example, such cases as Andrea Yates in 2001, the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting, and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012 demonstrate that mental illnesses and crime are interrelated (Schug & Fradella, 2015, p. 1). However, the problem is that many mental hospitals and clinics were closed, and their patients were placed in prisons and jails instead. For example, the largest psychiatric facility in the United States holds only 3,000 people, which is not enough for all patients (Schug & Fradella, 2015, p. 3). As a result, the media and the general public began to believe that mentally ill individuals commit crimes more often than other people.

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Nevertheless, this information is not factual, and those with mental illnesses may commit the same crime as those without any illnesses. Thus, according to Schug and Fradella (2015), no more than 3% of violent crimes are committed by mentally ill individuals (p. 3). Moreover, the prevalence of such people in prisons is about 16%-30% (Schug & Fradella, 2015, p. 4). The authors argue that mental diseases or disorders have a small impact on violent tendencies. The main reasons for a crime are usually different stressors, family violence, peers, and substance abuse (Schug & Fradella, 2015). However, the media relates crime to mental illnesses to make the news about crime more representative and sensational. As a result, the public has a wrong understanding of mental illnesses and associates mentally ill people with violence.

The criminal justice system encounters different issues from the correctional system. The lack of mental health providers and law enforcement officers who can recognize a mental illness before a person’s arrest is the first challenge the correctional system encounters. The shortage of mental health professionals prevents mentally ill persons from access to early intervention services. If law enforcement involved mental health training and crisis intervention teams in their practice, it would be easier to determine the symptoms of a mentally ill person.

The second issue is believing that a psychological disorder is either present or absent. For this reason, mentally ill persons will be perceived as sick chronically, even if their mental conditions exist on a continuum with normal behavior (Schug & Fradella, 2015, p. 30). In addition, mental illnesses are not easy to diagnose, and this issue is another challenge for the law enforcement system. If an individual is diagnosed with a psychological disorder, they will have a chance of diversion from imprisonment. Still, people with mental illnesses often cannot access mental health courts and diversion programs due to the shortage of such courts and programs and other reasons.

Moreover, the stigma related to mental health illnesses is closely associated with the stigma around the criminal justice system. A lack of safe-bed programs and community support is another issue encountered by law enforcement. Finally, health, mental health, corrections, and social services do not interact properly, and the lack of coordination between them leads to discontinuity of care in the criminal justice system. One can see that law enforcement faces many issues and challenges related to mental illnesses.


Schug, R. A., & Fradella, H. F. (2015). Mental illness and crime. Sage.

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