Conference Coverage

Mental illness and the criminal justice system: Reducing the risks



– The overrepresentation of people with serious mental illness (SMI) in the criminal justice system has led to creation of a resource from the Judges’ and Psychiatrists’ Leadership Initiative (JPLI) aimed at helping psychiatry and law enforcement address the problem.

Gavel and stethoscope belchonock/Thinkstock

The resource, “Supporting People with Serious Mental Illnesses and Reducing Their Risk of Contact with the Criminal Justice System: A Primer for Psychiatrists,” released last year, was designed to provide psychiatrists with specific knowledge and tools, according to Michael Champion, MD, forensic chief at the Hawaii State Department of Health, Adult Mental Health Division, Honolulu, and a member of the JPLI executive leadership team.

In developing the primer, the JPLI, which was created about 10 years ago by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation in partnership with the Council of State Governments Justice Center in response to the growing problem of such overrepresentation, sought to teach psychiatrists about what the criminal justice literature has dubbed “criminogenic risk” and to explore strategies to address those risks in community treatment settings, Dr. Champion said at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

Dr. Michael K. Champion

“The fact is that one in three Americans has a criminal record, and people with serious mental illness and criminal justice involvement are frequently part of our patient population – particularly in the public mental health sector,” Dr. Champion said. “Part of the challenge is that psychiatrists ... aren’t typically trained in these principles ... so the JPLI saw that this as an area that we could try to make some traction in and try to make a difference.”

The JPLI’s goals in publishing this resource are to reduce the risk of patient involvement in the criminal justice system, and to improve clinical and recovery outcomes by educating community psychiatrists about Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) principles. The JPLI also seeks to provide strategies for collaborating with criminal justice partners, incorporating criminal justice history into screening and assessment, and integrating criminogenic risk needs of patients into comprehensive treatment plans, Dr. Champion said.


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