Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 281-300

First online:

Policing the deinstitutionalized mentally ill: Toward an understanding of its function

  • Sandra WachholzAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of New Brunswick
  • , Robert MullalyAffiliated withDepartment of Social Work, St. Thomas University

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Although the police have long been recognized as a community health resource in the United States, this role has expanded significantly over the past several decades as a result of the deinstitutionalization movement. From a critical perspective, this article provides an analysis of the relationship between this enlarged police role and the current American socio-political order, in general, and the welfare state in particular. It is argued that in the course of handling the mentally ill the police carry out a number of functions for both the welfare state and the socio-political order, and in doing so, shore-up the social conditions which have inhibited the development of a positive, long-term care policy for the mentally ill. This article discusses three such functions and identifies an alternative social arrangement; one in which the police would not have to serve as a support for liberal-capitalism and its attendant inadequate welfare state.