An Alternative to Incarceration for Mental Ill


The proposed study would aim to explore alternative techniques to incarceration for persons with mental health needs. This aim will be tested using a set of hypotheses and research objectives. The underlying rationale for this topic is that many people with mental health needs do not necessarily benefit from the conventional incarceration systems in place due to their mental status and hence the need to look for possible alternatives that can serve the purpose of rehabilitating them while still taking care of their mental health needs.

Literature Review

A review of available literature on the topic will be conducted to help the researcher understand current trends and gaps in knowledge. The review undertaken will be instrumental in assisting the researcher to interpret the findings of the proposed study.


A quantitative research approach with a descriptive research design will be used to explore alternative techniques to incarcerations for persons with mental health needs. Participants will be sampled from offenders with mental health needs as well as correctional officers. Data will be corrected using a Lickert-type survey questionnaire, and every effort will be made to ensure the instrument’s validity and reliability. Ethical concerns will be addressed when interacting with participants during the process of data collection


Data analysis will be done using SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences, version 18) for Windows. Both univariate and multivariate analyses will be conducted to come up with findings. Descriptive statistics and inferential statistics will be done to help interpret the data collected from the field


The discussion section will comprise a comparison of the findings and available literature to be able to synthesize the best available alternatives to incarcerations for persons with mental health needs.

The Rationale

Today, more than ever before, there has been a concomitant rise in the number of incarcerated individuals with severe mental illness due to problems of addiction, homelessness, treatment non-adherence, and fragmentation of services (Lamberti et al. 63). In the United States, most of the offenders with mental health needs suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression (Verro 32). Available studies report that the number of individuals with severe mental illness in the United States prison system “has risen from 7% in 1982 to 10-19% of jail populations, 18-27% of state prison populations, and 16-21% of federal prison populations” (Litschge & Vaughn 542). As postulated by these authors, the current rate of persons with severe mental illness in the United States jails and prisons is two to four times higher than the rates of persons with severe mental illness found among the general public.

Yet, despite all these facts, there has been a noted failure of existing services to engage and effectively treat persons with severe mental health needs (Lamberti et al. 65). The extreme diversity of persons with serious mental health issues presents inherent challenges in addressing their problems (Hodulik 1073). It may be that jail populations of persons with mental health conditions are increasing as noted due to lack of viable alternatives, thus the need for new models of service delivery. The proposed study is premised on the fact that alternative techniques to incarcerations for persons with mental health needs may act as a viable tool in decreasing jail populations and ensuring that these individuals are exposed to effective treatment regimes for successful reintegration back into society.

Literature Review

The literature on alternative techniques to incarcerations for people with mental health needs remains fragmented, scanty, and outdated. Many of the studies that appear to offer solutions present government-backed models that have failed to bear the intended outcomes. What is in the agreement is that there is a need to come up with alternative techniques to incarcerations for persons with mental health needs as these populations are overrepresented in the American correctional system. Available literature demonstrates that “persons with severe mental illness are more likely to be incarcerated for misdemeanors than non-mentally ill individuals, and they are often held in jail for longer periods” (Lamberti et al. 64). Up to date, according to these authors, there is a lack of consensus as to why persons with mental health needs are disproportionately incarcerated.

Some studies have illuminated models that could be used as alternatives to the treatment of incarcerated offenders with severe mental health problems. In one of the studies, the authors discuss a model that integrates mental health and addiction treatment services. Additional services that are targeted at the model and necessary for successful engagement and treatment include “residential services, public and financial assistance, primary medical care, and criminal justice services such as probation and parole” (Lamberti et al. 65). Another study discusses the mental health courts program, which was developed with the passage of federal legislation in 2000 and signed into law by President Clinton as America’s Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project Act. This and other subsequent acts “recommended using jail diversion and community re-entry programs as the best practices for reducing the increasing incarceration of adults and juvenile offenders with mental illness” (Litschge & Vaughn 543). The mental health courts program has been rolled out in several states with no viable outcomes.

There are several reasons why persons with mental health issues remain overrepresented in American prisons and jails. One study argues that “criminalization as a solution to homelessness has resulted in high incarceration rates of people who commit petty crimes associated with homelessness, such as sleeping in a park or begging in the subway” (Hodulik 1074). The de-institutionalization of hospitals and courts’ reluctance to simply drop charges against mentally ill persons has also been cited as a possible cause for the increase (Norton 28). Lastly, the unavailability of community mental health treatment services has been blamed for the ever-increasing number of incarcerated persons with serious mental health issues in American jails and prisons (Weedon 16). A viable alternative, therefore, would have to consider all these reasons with the view to curtailing the inflow of persons with mental health problems into jails and prisons

Overall, it is evident that persons with severe mental issues present a complex set of challenges for correctional institutions, staff, and the general population as they require specialized services, increased staff, and unique regulations (Norton 28). A brief review of the available literature has demonstrated that the models so far tried have failed to address the problem. The literature sampled has also revealed some of the reasons why individuals with serious mental health issues remain overrepresented in prisons and jails across the United States. Drawing from the reviewed literature, there is an urgent need to undertake research that is intended to explore or investigate alternative techniques to incarceration for persons with mental health needs

Works cited

Hodulik, Jennifer. “The Drug Court Model as a Response to Broken Windows Criminal Justice for the Homeless Mentally Ill.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. 91.4 (2001): 1073-1100. MasterFILE Premier. Web.

Lamberti, J. Steven, Robert L. Weisman, Steven B. Schwarzkopf, Nancy Price, Rudo Mundondo Ashton…John Trompeter. “The Mentally Ill in Jails and Prisons: Towards an Integrated Model of Prevention.” Psychiatric Quarterly. 72.1 (2001): 63-77. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Litschge, Christine M. and Michael G. Vaughn. “The Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004: Problems and Prospects.” Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. 20.4 (2009): 542-558. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Norton, Steven C. “Successfully Managing Mentally Ill Offenders: Thoughts and Recommendations.” Corrections Today. 67.1 (2005): 28-37. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Verro, Michael A. “Incarceration: Psychosocial Pro’s and Con’s.” Sociological Viewpoints. 15.2 (2010): 31-40. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Weedon, Joey R. “The Incarceration of the Mentally Ill.” Corrections Today. 67.1 (2005): 16-20. Academic Search Premier. Web.

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