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The Ethical Treatment of Special Needs Offenders


Over the last several years, the imprisonment rate in the United States has been increased rapidly. Moreover, the number of people with mental illnesses grew respectively (Beach, 2016). A tremendous number of people who found themselves locked up turned out to be young black men without education (Ulmer & Bradley, 2017). By the 2000s, imprisonment became usual practice for the majority of them. However, it continues to affect the criminal justice system and causes disparities between races. One of the major problems that special needs offenders face is racial discrimination in psychiatry (Beach, 2016). It is also important to remember that lawbreakers may be mistreated by means of racial issues. Concerning the offenders with special needs, this paper will explore how people of racial minorities are treated in the criminal justice system, as the connection of special needs and ethnic aspects may provoke mistreatment.

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It is also significant to define who special needs offenders are. These are people with special requirements due to the condition of their physical or mental health. Before their imprisonment, it is crucial to give the right diagnosis for proper treatment. However, sometimes they can be deprived of the chance to have their issues solved because of the unequipped service. People do not understand how to deal with special needs offenders, so the lawbreakers may not be prepared to get out of jail and continue a normal life. Such offenders with mental or other disorders demand special attention in prison because they are more vulnerable to external factors than lawbreakers, which do not suffer any kind of psychical diseases. That is why both ethical and professional treatments should be correct.

Probation and its Effect

Mass probation evoked mass imprisonment. Instead of closing cases from jail, there is a probation imposition, which extended the “net of social control” (Ulmer & Bradley, 2017, p. 1). Probation tends to be the most popular form of social post-prison control. Besides, it usually includes special conditions, for instance, the probationer must not leave the country, drink alcohol and use drugs, interact with certain people, and so on. Besides these requirements, people on probation are labeled with condemnation. This complicates life for probationers, as they cannot find a job, receive governmental support, and move to another country. Additively, it probably becomes impossible to establish trustful relationships with other people within the society. Furthermore, the negative impact on probationers’ lives is caused by mistreatment, including discrimination, which they receive from the “employees and others” (Ulmer & Bradley, 2017, p. 47).

Moreover, probation is considered a harsh retributive measure, because it constrains private life completely, does not provide any social support, and makes people think about the forthcoming imprisonment. Interestingly, the local probation chief in Texas reported that he would choose the prison if he was given a choice between the jail and the probation. This proves the cruelty of probation remedies in the criminal justice system. Concerning racial differentiation on probation, it becomes evident that the process is more likely to be disastrous for Black people, especially young men (Ulmer & Bradley, 2017). The discrimination they face happens even in “encounter groups” by their counselors (Kerrison, 2018, p. 4). The possible mistreatment of Black offenders with mental issues may aggravate the situation even more; besides the conditions required for them, they do not receive proper support on probation and after it.

Race Disparities

Nowadays, the question of inequality on probation remains open. The researchers try to understand whether the mistreatment of offenders on probation mostly happens due to racial prejudices. Although the crimes happen worldwide and offenders turn out to belong to absolutely different races, assumptions concerning racial minorities’ peril continue to exist and affect them. It is a significant factor that in the United States, the Human Rights Act points that individuals with mental health issues must be treated adequately and equally, regardless of race and nationality. Nevertheless, some findings show that the prejudices of ethnicity led offenders to more harsh circumstances. For instance, in the criminal justice system, physical appearance and race play a huge role in treatment and attitude towards offenders.

It is essential to mention that people of different ethnicity do not always commit more severe crimes than, for example, white people, but they are associated with performing more offenses. Black people, in most cases, will be sent to prison more likely than White offenders. In addition, Black folks are perceived to be more threatening in appearance than Whites. The example with the judge demonstrates how strong people’s prejudices about ethnicity can be. The article states that the magistrate tends to make decisions “associating white with good and black with bad” (Kimchi, 2017, p. 33). Therefore, this is connected to racial stereotypes.

Treatment of Black Offenders with Special Needs

One more interesting fact that Black special needs offenders are less likely to receive rehabilitative support (Kimchi, 2017, p. 32). Moreover, young Black offenders tend to require more psychological support, and at the same time, they are provided with low-quality mental services (Baglivio et al., 2017). Prejudices that force people to perceive racial minorities as dangerous personas lead to uncontrollable imprisonment. However, even though the number of incarcerations of mentally ill offenders has been increased, doctors misinterpret the diagnoses; there were cases when doctors did not recognize the racial difference in the psychopathology of the person and gave a wrong diagnosis (Baglivio et al., 2017).

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What is more thrilling is that besides the prejudices implied on Black people, they find themselves behind bars two times more than whites (Ulmer & Bradley, 2017, p. 47). Therefore, it also leads to the cruel treatment which racial minorities have to suffer under supervision. For example, racial minorities are more likely to receive a technical violation. The mistreatment which they get is not limited by discrimination only, however, it becomes clear that offenders are physically abused by supervisors. Furhtermore, with the help of mechanisms that can control the risk rate, it has been decided that Black people are in the group of high risk in relation to the further crimes committed and explosion of aggressive behavior. However, because the results were shifted towards over-classification of racial minorities, the outcomes of the research were considered invalid.

Furthermore, judges tend to sentence Black people more severely than white offenders, as they intend to attribute ethnically different people such factors as a high level of recidivism and dangerousness (Kimchi, 2017, p. 32). Moreover, racial minorities have to perish misinterpretation of their mental illnesses. Black people are more likely to have bipolar disorder, which is mistakenly diagnosed as schizophrenia (Baglivio et al., 2017). It can lead to an erroneous opinion about the excessive menace of Black offenders.

Besides the fact that Black people are often diagnosed exaggeratively, there are suggestions about their further revocation. It means that the defendant caught by an officer in case of violating the conditions of probation will be rearrested and sent to the court (and later to the jail) again. For Black folks, the statistics are rather bothering; they are usually revoked twice more than white lawbreakers (Beach, 2016). They are assumed to have a higher risk of mental health violations in comparison to white people who are suggested to have no risk. Moreover, mental illnesses of Black people are considered to be much more disastrous than the same illnesses of white peers. There is no logical explanation for this fact; however, it is possible to think about racial prejudices once again.

In Kenya, there are harsh mistreatments of offenders with special needs. Primarily it manifests in the attitude of personnel towards them. For instance, there is a lack of communication between organs such as officers, police, and courts; it leads to misunderstanding of offenders’ information and delays treatment plans. In addition, there can be an insufficient number of narrowly focused staff who are trained specially for this kind of work. Due to a lack of knowledge about psychological health, offenders with mental diseases receive low-quality or wrong medical support. Moreover, they suffer from supervisors’ and officers’ physical force, as lawbreakers are mistakenly perceived as gross and lazy people. Probation officers tend to attribute Black citizens to negative internal characteristics (Baglivio et al., 2017).


To sum up, the treatment of special needs offenders of racial minorities differs from the conception of proper therapy. This maltreatment happens during all stages of imprisonment and has its effects even after. Lack of ethics of treatment toward offenders with mental features, unqualified medical service, mistreatment by officers, and existing discrimination by race worsen the tenure and curing of special needs offenders of racial minorities.


Baglivio, M.T., Wolff, K.T., Piquero, A.R., et al. (2017). Racial/ethnic disproportionality in psychiatric diagnoses and treatment in a sample of serious juvenile offenders. J Youth Adolescence 46, 1424–1451. Web.

Beach, L. R. (2016). Unlocking the Black box of Mental Health Court case processing: An event history analysis of extralegal characteristics & behavior on case revocation. [A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Arts]. The University of Washington.

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Kerrison, E. M. (2018). Exploring how prison-based drug rehabilitation programming shapes racial disparities in substance use disorder recovery. Social Science & Medicine, 199, 140–147. Web.

Kimchi, A. (2017). Investigating the assignment of probation conditions: Heterogeneity and the role of race and ethnicity. [Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Maryland, College Park, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts]. The University of Maryland.

Ulmer, J. T., & Bradley, M. S. (2017). Handbook on Punishment Decisions: Locations of disparity. (The ASC Division on Corrections & Sentencing Handbook Series) (1st ed.) Routledge.

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