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People With Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System

Answering a Cry for Help

Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry
Committee on Psychiatry and the Community

  • ISBN 978-0-87318-219-5
  • Item #7219

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Written by a committee of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, People With Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System: Answering a Cry for Help represents the collective wisdom of leaders in community psychiatry and is the third in a series of successful publications that have used Dear Abby letters as source material. The letters, submitted by readers with experience with mental illness and the criminal justice system, constitute a rich, real-world repository for the case stories presented in this fascinating volume. Using the experiences shared in the letters, the authors employ the Sequential Intercept Model to present a series of chapters offering detailed recommendations for psychiatrists, group practices, and criminal justice entities on partnering with individuals who are at risk and their families, with the goal of improving outcomes.

The book's many features and functions make it relevant to a diverse audience:

  • The Dear Abby letters on which the book's stories are based are heartfelt and human, providing a depth of emotion and understanding that cannot be found elsewhere, and the down-to-earth writing style and real-world material are designed to be useful and compelling to both practitioner and layperson.
  • The case-based recommendations for effective interventions are very specific and practical to promote and enhance clinical skill development.
  • A robust set of appendices presents information for professionals on a variety of critically important topics, including principles for criminal justice and community psychiatry; sequential intercept mapping; stages of engagement with the criminal justice system; HIPAA regulations; screening and mental status/criminal justice history; essential systems of care; and the risk-need-responsivity model.
  • An extensive section of criminal justice/mental health online resources addresses areas such as law enforcement, courts, corrections, evidence-based practices, veterans, organizations, and miscellaneous topics, providing avenues of information and assistance for individuals, families, and clinicians.

This simple, evidence-based guide challenges psychiatrists to initiate changes in their clinical work; in the operation of their agencies, programs, and teams; and in their partnerships with local criminal justice and behavioral health providers to positively impact people with behavioral health conditions in the criminal justice system. Implementing the approaches described so eloquently in People With Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System: Answering a Cry for Help can potentially reduce the overrepresentation of people with mental illnesses in justice settings, provide alternatives to incarceration, and divert individuals who do not pose a public safety risk from jail.


  • Foreword
  • A Call to Action
  • Chapter 1. Introduction to the Manual
  • Chapter 2. Getting Started: Welcoming and Hope
  • Chapter 3. Partnership With Families
  • Chapter 4. Partnership With Law Enforcement During the Crisis
  • Chapter 5. Partnership With Judges and the Court System
  • Chapter 6. Partnership With Psychiatrists Within the Corrections System
  • Chapter 7. Partnership in the Transition Between Jail and Community
  • Chapter 8. Partnership With Probation and Parole Agents: Applying Principles of Therapeutic Justice and Contingency Management
  • Chapter 9. Partnerships in Successful Integrated Community-Based Care
  • Chapter 10. Conclusion
  • Appendix A: Principles for Criminal Justice and Community Psychiatry
  • Appendix B: Sequential Intercept Mapping
  • Appendix C: A Letter on Security and Trauma-Informed Care
  • Appendix D: Stages of Engagement With the Criminal Justice System
  • Appendix E: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act General Regulations
  • Appendix F: Screening and Mental Status/Criminal Justice History
  • Appendix G: Essential Systems of Care
  • Appendix H: Risk-Need-Responsivity Model
  • Appendix I: Additional Resources
  • Index


    Kenneth Minkoff, M.D.
    Fred C. Osher, M.D.
    Margaret Balfour, M.D., PhD
    Frances Cournos, M.D.
    Michael Flaum, M.D.
    Stephen M. Goldfinger, M.D.
    Terry Kupers, M.D.
    H. Richard Lamb, M.D.
    Steven Leifman, J.D.
    Stephanie LeMelle, M.D., M.S.
    Jacqueline Maus Feldman, M.D.
    Mark R. Munetz, M.D.
    William Nunley, M.D.
    John A. Talbott, M.D.
    Yvonne Yang, M.D.

As a former trial judge and justice, I have seen growing involvement and leadership from the judicial system, both from judges and law enforcement, seeking solutions to the revolving door of criminal justice for those with mental illness. Told with real- life, gut-wrenching letters, but followed by guides, tools, resources, and education for the treatment community, the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry has written a powerful tool for real- life approaches.... A must read for every physician, psychiatrist, and medical student.—Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Retired, Ohio Supreme Court, retired

Beyond the vivid stories, lay illustrations of how we, as psychiatrists, can start to be part of the solution. The authors provide empowering information and guidance, for those of us with a curiosity to learn and do more. A must read for anyone working in community psychiatry, or even anyone in the justice system.—Dianna Dragatsi, M.D., Assistant in Clinical Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center; Director, Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Room, of New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Sobering, compelling, and inspiring, this profoundly important and timely book provides a manual of practical steps to address the concerns of both public health and public safety through establishing collaborative problem- solving partnerships between mental health providers and criminal justice personnel. The authors call for engaged involvement spanning from community to correctional facilities that is integrated, trauma informed, and recovery oriented, and attends to factors associated with illegal behaviors. An invaluable resource for all working to address the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system.—Michael K. Champion, M.D., Forensic Chief, Hawai'i Department of Health, Adult Mental Health Division; Former Chair, Workgroup on Mental Illness and Criminal Justice of the Council on Psychiatry and Law, American Psychiatric Association

The criminalization of people with mental illness is a national tragedy. This excellent book with its personal stories puts a human face on the issue and is recommended reading for all mental health professionals who work in the criminal justice system.—Renee Binder, M.D., Professor and Director of Psychiatry and Law Program, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, UCSF School of Medicine, President, American Psychiatric Association

There are many books about the plight of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, but few with this committee's approach. This book is well written and thorough, without overwhelming its readers. More importantly, it seems to offer useful advice for navigating what are traditionally challenging areas for psychiatrists. The personal letters add depth and humanity to the discussion, creating a successful and interesting read that is well worth the effort.—Steven T Herron, M.D., Doody's Book Review

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