Want a Career in Criminal Justice? Study Mental Illness

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Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Education via Flickr

Students training for criminal justice careers in the U.S. are given little academic preparation that would help them deal with the mental illness of justice-involved populations, a recent study says.

Most criminal justice degree-granting institutions in the U.S. don’t even offer undergraduate coursework on the intersection of mental illness and the criminal justice system except, in a small number of cases, as an elective, says the study, published by the Journal of Criminal Justice Education and posted online on December 30, 2016.

That, say study authors Philip Mulvey and Matthew Larson, is troubling at a time when the interaction of mentally troubled individuals with the justice system has become a focus of attention.

The need for more academic training   “has never been as salient as it is today,” they write, citing as one example research that suggests   7 to 10 percent of all police-citizen interactions involve persons with mental illness.

In effect, they note, “students who plan to be future police officers are also becoming future mental health practitioners.”

Similarly, students preparing for careers in many other fields of criminal justice would benefit if the study of mental illness were a required subject.

For the study, entitled “Identifying the prevalence of courses on mental illness in criminal justice education,” the researchers used the website www.criminaljusticeprograms.com, to identify 641 criminal justice programs in 49 states that offered at least a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice. They  excluded for-profit universities, online-only programs with no physical address, and programs offering an associate degree or certificates only.

As of the fall of 2016, the study found, “only 40 institutions (roughly 6.25 percent) offer an elective course on mental illness to their criminal justice students,” but no program required students to take a course on the topic.

Philip Mulvey is an Assistant Professor at the School of Criminal Justice Sciences at Illinois State University. Matthew Larson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Wayne State University

This study is available for purchase. Journalists can receive a full copy of the report by contacting Alice Popovici at alice@thecrimereport.org. A summary is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR intern Davi Hernandez



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