Mental Illness in Criminal Justice: A Patchwork of Policies


A new Urban Institute report seeks to provide a national glimpse at the treatment of mentally ill individuals throughout the criminal justice system.

The study highlights the variations in policies and protocols used in jurisdictions across the country.

For instance, half of all states use the “M'Naghten Rule” — whether a defendant understood right from wrong at the time of her crime — to determine criminal responsibility; 20 states and the District of Columbia use the “Model Penal Code” test for legal insanity, which says the defendant must be able to appreciate the criminality of her conduct; one state, New Hampshire, uses the “Durham Rule”, which states that the defendant is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of any mental disease or defect.

Four states have no insanity defense.

The reported also points to “several promising criminal justice interventions,” including:

  • Diversionary mechanisms, such as mental health courts, that route mentally ill offenders to community-based mental health treatment programs instead of prison or jail
  • Community-based reentry programs providing coordinated services and case management for mentally ill offenders transitioning into the community
  • Policies that provide mentally ill offenders with increased access to medical and mental health care

Read the full report HERE.

Editor’s Note: See The Crime Report‘s recent story, “The Social Worker in the Cop Car“, for a look at pilot programs aimed at changing how the justice system deals with the mentally ill, by clicking HERE.

Comments are closed.