The complexity of convergence: criminal justice, mental health and risk

The World Mental Health Day earlier this month aimed to create awareness and mobilise efforts to support the mental health of individuals.  Editors of A companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk, Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley, which publishes today, have a particular interest in the point of ideological, legislative , practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice.

In their blog post academics and Policy Press authors Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley begin to outline some of the intertwining issues surrounding criminal justice and mental health.

PT, SM, KCNational and international awareness days are just one example of the myriad of activities aimed at promoting mental health agendas. Indeed, here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, those tasked with the mandate of support, educating about, and treating mental health issues are cross-disciplinary and multi-agency. One area, among many, of discussion and debate on the improvement of mental wellbeing and the support of mental health issues is in the criminal justice context.

Those in contact with the criminal justice system who experience poor mental health may be considered as exceptionally vulnerable. A system whose remit is to respond to a variety of crises – be that of a criminal or personal/social nature – is a system of complexity with a range of demands placed upon it.

Precarious system

Moreover, it is a precarious system whereby the expectations placed upon it are diverse, with innumerable competing aims. Allegations that aspects of the criminal justice process fail to support the needs of those with mental vulnerabilities are frequently expressed, and so too are those concerns that the system itself is implicit in creating and exacerbating mental health issues.

So then, the mobilisation of policies and services to address mental health in a criminal justice context have evolved, but at the same time has come under scrutiny. Indeed for some, the boundaries between healthcare and criminal justice have become blurred, and not always with positive outcomes.

This critical approach to the intersections of criminal justice and mental health legislation, policy and practice have grown gradually and have illuminated upon the ideological, legislative, practical and procedural convergence between mental healthcare and criminal justice (see for example, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2010).

“A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas”

Convergence continues to take place in many criminal justice and penal systems. It is complex to observe, sophisticated in form and influenced by a range of imperatives, agendas and discourses. The overlapping areas of criminal justice, mental healthcare and risk require a critical and balanced understanding, and along the way, require observers to ask the question “who benefits?”

Multiagency approaches and cross-discipline developments in the area of mental healthcare, risk management and criminal justice are becoming increasing normalised in the organising principles of those subject to sanctions and interventions.

The benefits of increased convergence are well documented, not least in the developing agendas to support mental health issues in areas such as court diversion and prisons. But at the same time, understanding the complexities of convergent practices provides a potential to be alerted to unintended consequences and less-than-positive outcomes.

A criminal justice system facing pressures to be efficient that at the same time is punishing more and more individuals finds itself riven with dilemmas, not least when thinking about the support and treatment of those subject to its controls.

The delivery of therapeutic interventions within an environment of sanctions is ideologically contradictory to say the least, and so the challenges facing those tasked with the planning and delivery of interventions are increasingly becoming more acute.

A companion to criminal justice mental health & riskA companion to criminal justice, mental health and risk by Paul Taylor, Karen Corteen and Sharon Morley is available at the discounted price of £22.39 (RRP £27.99) from Policy Press website, here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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