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Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System

As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2016), one in four adult Americans experienced mental health issues at least once in their lifetime. People with unattended mental health needs are at a higher risk of victimization as well as deviant behavior. The CDCs (2016) states that nine out of ten prisoners in the United States have poor mental health, and two out of five individuals serving community sentences are mental patients. What these people often need is professional help whose success is contingent on effective communication. This essay discusses how communication with someone who has a mental health problem might be impacted by being in a criminal justice environment.

Some factors facilitate and factors that impede communication for mental patients in a criminal justice environment. To identify them, the Association of Chief Police Officers (2014) ran a series of interviews with the target demographic cohort. It was revealed that individuals felt more at ease if they felt that the guardians of law and order had an established presence in their community. Surveyed participants reported positive experiences when police officers and other employees demonstrated a strong desire to help others, protect them, and prevent the recurrence of incidents. In many cases, these skills were acquired through professional training. Another significant factor was the support of friends, family, and other professionals, which reportedly facilitated communication.

Conversely, some environmental conditions and circumstances complicate the communication between mental health patients and criminal justice system employees. Firstly, in American society, there is still a stigma against mental health. Having a mental health condition is seen as shameful and something to be concealed at all costs. For this reason, as emphasized by the Association of Chief Police Officers (2014), many people are reluctant to reveal that they are mentally unwell. They choose not to do it largely because of their previous experience. They know that they are unlikely to be met with empathy and understanding. Besides, it is not uncommon to have one’s experience or eyewitness evidence dismissed on the grounds of mental illness.

Some other obstacles to effective communication are rather universal. The Association of Chief Police Officers (2014) reports that some participants are unhappy with how the police were collecting evidence, pursuing perpetrators, and investigating a crime. Common complaints refer to delayed responses and the perceived lack of or inadequate action. Besides, the situation is often aggravated by how insulated and detached from each other, the elements of the criminal justice system are. Surely, inadequate action and insufficient collaboration occur regardless of a person’s mental status. However, the latter may be a contributing factor since it may diminish the seriousness of his or her claims.

Many of the people who have to interact with the criminal justice system suffer from mental conditions. This observation can be attributed to the overall high prevalence of mental disease in American society as well as the vulnerability of mental patients. Individuals with mental health issues do not always experience adequate treatment in a criminal justice setting. They report a lack of empathy and understanding, which makes them reluctant to reveal their status. Allegedly, because of the mental health stigma, criminal justice employees are not as willing to work hard on their cases. Conversely, friendliness, mental health awareness, previous training, and non-discrimination significantly facilitated communication.


Association of Chief Police Officers. (2014). Police and mental health.  Web.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). National survey of prison health care: Selected findings. Web.