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The identification of mental disorders in the criminal justice system : report to the Criminology Research Council


Although mental illness is widely recognised as a problem in modern society, it presents particular challenges for the criminal justice system. Research has shown that offenders have higher rates of mental illness than the general community. The Criminology Research Council commissioned a study to assess the level of screening and the instruments used across the jurisdictions by criminal justice agencies. Based on interviews and relevant documentation, the researchers found that, although assessment occurs in all jurisdictions and sectors, there is little consistency in the way offenders are assessed. As a result, the paper argues for a thorough, nationwide system of screening of all accused offenders taken into police custody, to identify those who require a comprehensive mental health assessment. Such assessments need to be repeated as an offender moves through the various stages of the criminal justice system. For there to be an effective and efficient response to mental illness, the authors recommend not only that assessments be shared between criminal justice agencies but also that there be ongoing dialogue between mental health and justice agencies. However, little will be achieved unless courts, police, and parole authorities are given training and resources to better meet the needs of the mentally ill. A more fundamental issue is why over-representation of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system occurs, and the authors call for further research on this key threshold issue.

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