Date of Graduation

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Anthropology

Advisor

Joann D'Alisera

Committee Member

Ram Natarajan

Second Committee Member

Lucas Delezene

Keywords

Criminal Justice System, Cultural and Psychology, Deinstitutionalization, Mental Health, Mental Health Reform, Stigma and Mental Health

Abstract

The criminal justice system was created to identify, incarcerate, and rehabilitate men and women that have broken the law. However, over two million people with mental illnesses are placed into jails every year. The lack of proper psychological evaluation and diagnosis coupled with misunderstood evidence and economic hardship has produced a system that treats these men and women as criminals rather than someone suffering from an illness. When an individual with mental health issues comes into contact with the criminal justice system they are often improperly evaluated by first responders, wrongfully convicted, and inappropriately sentenced. The lack of proper psychological evaluation and diagnosis, coupled with misunderstood evidence and economic hardship, has produced a system that treats these men and women as criminals rather than individuals suffering from illness. The criminal justice systems, and its designated officials, are typically undereducated in the implications and cognitive processes of someone who has a mental illness. They are not trained to understand that, due to a medical condition, the “criminal” may have an altered perception of rules and social norms that does not fit within the typical guidelines of the system. This study explores the impact of this system on mentally ill offenders, the interpretation by both the defendant and the prosecution of the crimes committed, and the decisions behind sentencing the individual. It will look at how, if convicted, the penal system treats the mentally ill population and how/why recidivism rates are so high for these offenders. Due to gaps in knowledge on the part of those involved in the prosecution and possible conviction of said offenders, they frequently do not receive proper representation and treatment. If convicted, many of these individuals are seldom provided mental health care evaluations and are isolated from both staff and other prisoners, which causes them to become more distressed and symptomatic within the system.

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