Masters Thesis

The Impact of community mental health funding levels on the percent of prison population with mental health diagnoses

This work examines whether an increase in community or evidence-based mental health services for persons with a history of both mental illness and criminal justice system involvement would reduce the incarceration rate of this population. If such a correlation exists, significant savings in both systems is possible. This work is important to guide policymakers in making prudent investment of public dollars while achieving cost-effective and highly desired societal outcomes; not to mention the improved individual quality of life outcomes that might also result. A brief history of the mental health and criminal justice systems is provided in order to highlight the intertwining history and functioning of these systems. The literature review discusses the theoretical understanding of mental illness, deviance and criminality, legal standards of diminished capacity and the capacity to knowingly violate the law. The prevalence of mental illness and criminal behavior is provided as context for the demographics of persons with a history of both. The availability of mental health services within the state correctional system is discussed as well as diversion from the correctional system at time of arrest, prior to booking, before adjudication and at post-release, including several evidence-based best practices programs. Previous research has identified several personal attributes, societal characteristics and other factors that may influence the incarceration of persons with mental illness. Among these potential factors are: personal biological and cognitive attributes, prior criminal involvement as a juvenile or an adult, socio-economic status (including homelessness), crime and unemployment rates, and the improved correctional diagnosis of serious mental illness. Previous research has also identified mental health spending and utilization as directly controllable influential factors. Recently released URS state-level data for 2005 and 2006 are used to test the hypothesis that increased utilization of community based mental health services or evidence-based practice programs in 2005 would reduce the number of persons with mental illness incarcerated in 2006. Alternatively, a reduction in utilization of community based mental health services or evidence-based practice programs in 2005 would increase the number of persons with mental illness incarcerated in 2006. Regression analyses of the state-level URS data set revealed that a statistically significant relationship did not exist between the 2005 utilization of community based mental health services or evidence-based practice programs and incarceration in 2006.

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