McNair Scholars Research Journal


This comprehensive literature review explores the intricate relationship between mental health and the criminal justice system, discussing its nuanced and multifaceted disparities and complexities. The over- criminalization of mental illness in the U.S. correctional system along with historical and contemporary inadequacies in access to treatment has led to the disproportionate representation of individuals with mental illness within the carceral system, as correctional facilities have become the nation’s largest mental health care provider. Mass deinstitutionalization, biased police interactions, and improper training has increased the representation of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system. This review of the literature will explore gender and racial disparities in policing. Such documented realities of individuals with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system urge the need for an intersectional perspective to address the systemic issues perpetuating such disparities. Proposals for reform that advocate for community-based alternatives for incarceration and specialized police response teams are also explored.