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Pope LG, Stagoff-Belfort A, Warnock A, de Bibiana JT, Watson AC, Wood J, Compton MT. Adm. Policy Ment. Health 2023; ePub(ePub): ePub.


(Copyright © 2023, Holtzbrinck Springer Nature Publishing Group)






People with serious mental illnesses are disproportionately involved in the criminal legal system, often for low-level, non-violent misdemeanors. This paper examines how decision-makers at different stages of the criminal legal system articulate unique visions of the "best approach" for addressing this problem of over-representation. Focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted with 94 stakeholders from Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia to understand how decision-makers from different agencies use and process specific misdemeanor charges in relation to people with serious mental illnesses. Data were analyzed using a thematic approach. The data reveal a series of tensions regarding how criminal legal system stakeholders process people with serious mental illnesses through the misdemeanor system. Three key themes emerged from analysis. The first characterizes the shared commitment across agencies to reducing system contact among people with mental illnesses. The second explores how agencies differ on how to make good on that commitment because of the distinct values and goals they bring to the table. The final theme explores the limits of current approaches to reducing system contact for people with mental illnesses.

FINDINGS are discussed in the context of literature on "loose coupling" and the focal concerns framework and demonstrate that decisions about how and when to intervene with people with mental illnesses in the criminal legal system are influenced by the varying orientations, goals, and values of stakeholder agencies. Understanding these core differences is a critical step toward value alignment in strategies to reduce system involvement among people with mental illnesses.

Language: en


Criminal Legal System; Focal Concerns; Mental Illnesses; Misdemeanors


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