, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 557-569

Race and Ethnicity, Mental Health Services and Cultural Competence in the Criminal Justice System: Are we Ready to Change?

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By the end of 2003, 3.2% of the U.S. adult population or 6.9 million adults were incarcerated, on probation or on parole. While non-whites constitute approximately 25% of the general U.S. population, they represent the majority of the prison (62%) and jail population (57%), a 33% increase since 1980. Approximately 15% of this prison and jail population has active symptoms of serious mental illness with two-thirds likely to have a co-occurring substance use disorder diagnosis. Meanwhile, the lack of adequate mental health and substance abuse treatment within all levels of the criminal justice system continues to exist. This is further exaggerated by the dearth of evidence showing appropriate cultural awareness and competence in delivery of these much needed services to a majority non-white population. This article will review the existing racial disparities present in the criminal justice system, the lack of appropriate psychiatric services, and the effect of cultural dissonance in service provision when services do exist. Policy implications and recommendations are included in the conclusion with a call for action to all agencies directly and indirectly affected by this multifaceted problem.