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Introducing Corrections & Mental Health

By Russ Immarigeon


The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) welcomes you to Corrections & Mental Health, a new electronic resource covering correctional mental health practices. Corrections and mental health issues have long been intertwined. But only in recent decades have they come to the forefront of our attention, and, as recent reports note, they often come to us as a crisis.

In Psychiatric Services, the monthly journal of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Marvin S. Swartz of the Duke University Medical Center cautions about the transinstitutionalization of the mentally ill from hospitals and psychiatric centers to correctional facilities. "Psychiatric hospital beds are disappearing and jails are growing," he observes, "but many other causal factors have been implicated: the paucity of affordable housing, shortfalls in social insurance programs, inadequate community rehabilitative programs, and the limited number of supported employment programs - to name just a few."  (Swartz, 2010, p. 431)

Also, the National Sheriff's Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center, a leading mental health policy group, reports results from a national survey that demonstrate jails are increasingly housing mentally ill persons while available psychiatric beds are in short supply. In fact, these organizations observe that "the situation faced by individuals with serious mental illness today is remarkably similar to individuals with serious mental illnesses in the 1840s - a shortage of psychiatric beds and an abundance of jail and prison cells." (Torrey et al., 2010, p. 8)

Old problems, new issues

The criminal justice and mental health crisis is not simply a matter of where mentally ill persons are sanctioned, treated, or confined. In themselves, these are complex issues. But other issues also affect the care, supervision, and custody provided the men and women who pass through these systems. Our current fiscal troubles, nationally and locally, are clearly an important aspect of a larger problem. Less and less public and private funding is available not only for the maintenance of these systems as a whole, but also for the adequate availability of services to address the particular needs of those consumers who pass through them.

Fiscal concerns have always been troublesome with regard to the treatment of mentally ill people, but other matters also dig deeply into the fabric of correctional mental health: How many men and women are affected by mental health problems? What are these problems and how do we identify them? What forms of intervention work? What forms do not work? What actually makes these interventions effective or not? What can we do without additional funding? Indeed, what would we do with more resources at our calling?

Recently, I came across a two-page tally of "pressing problems" facing mentally impaired persons who were incarcerated or at risk of incarceration. When this survey was done in the early 1990s, New Yorkers were examining the use of the insanity defense and the treatment of "mentally retarded/ developmentally disabled" persons in the criminal justice system. Interestingly, the issues identified in this survey mirror those many advocates and administrators, policymakers and practitioners, and researchers working in criminal justice and mental health speak about today:

  • Inappropriate arrests;
  • Inadequate identification of disabilities in pre-sentence reports;
  • Disparity and discrimination in treatment services;
  • Inappropriate placement within jails and prisons;
  • Inappropriate placement in solitary confinement;
  • Inadequate or "badly flawed" programming and treatment;
  • Insufficient long-term treatment centers;
  • Mental and physical problems associated with HIV/AIDS;
  • Inadequately trained correctional staff in mental health units as well as in general population; and
  • Inadequately supported readjustment to community life after release from confinement.

New publication

In Corrections & Mental Health, NIC is maintaining a source of information that will substantively involve correctional mental health communities in topics such as those listed above that cross the boundaries that connect various fields of social and legal intervention practice.  Our primary purpose is to provide new and useful information to those who carry out the day-to-day operations of these systems, who work to improve the quality of care offered through these systems, and who establish the overall framework within which these services are provided.

Corrections & Mental Health will examine innovative approaches, best practices, challenging developments, shifts in policy and practice, and emerging reforms in the treatment of mental health issues in the community- and facility-based corrections systems of state, local, and federal governments. Corrections & Mental Health will serve not as a forum for advocacy, but rather as a vehicle for communicating different, occasionally conflicting, ideas, and efforts to improve our responses to the mental health issues that affect men and women entering and exiting the criminal justice system through correctional agencies, confinement, and supervision.

Corrections & Mental Health focuses on current issues confronting correctional and mental health practitioners working with pre-trial defendants, convicted offenders awaiting sentence, community-supervised offenders, incarcerated offenders, and post-sentence, released-and-supervised offenders. It concerns women as well as men. And it gives juveniles serious coverage, especially in the context that many of the mental health issues of youth affect them as adults and, moreover, many juveniles are entering the adult criminal justice system as juveniles. In addition to addressing the treatment of offenders, it also attends to issues relevant to criminal justice and correctional practitioners working with offenders with mental health problems.


Corrections & Mental Health is an open-ended, non-partisan forum. As editor, I am always seeking referrals on new (or old) articles, reports, and books. Information about emerging issues is always welcome. I am also routinely seeking contributors who wish to write articles. So please let me know about new state and local developments, research or program progress reports, and policy-related reviews of correctional mental health services. Your comments on the content of this publication are also highly welcome. In this light, please contact Russ Immarigeon, Editor, Corrections & Mental Health, 563 County Route 21, Hillsdale, NY 12529, (518) 325-5925, (email)

Posted Wed, Apr 6 2011 2:18 PM by Tracey Vessels
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This blog is funded by a contract from the National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions stated in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.