Original Paper

Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research

, Volume 33, Issue 5, pp 544-557

First online:

Beyond Criminalization: Toward a Criminologically Informed Framework for Mental Health Policy and Services Research

  • William H. FisherAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, Center for Mental Health Services Research, University of Massachusetts Medical School Email author 
  • , Eric SilverAffiliated withCrime, Law and Justice Program, Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University
  • , Nancy WolffAffiliated withCenter for Mental Health Services & Criminal Justice Research, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

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The problems posed by persons with mental illness involved with the criminal justice system are vexing ones that have received attention at the local, state and national levels. The conceptual model currently guiding research and social action around these problems is shaped by the “criminalization” perspective and the associated belief that reconnecting individuals with mental health services will by itself reduce risk for arrest. This paper argues that such efforts are necessary but possibly not sufficient to achieve that reduction. Arguing for the need to develop a services research framework that identifies a broader range of risk factors for arrest, we describe three potentially useful criminological frameworks—the “life course,” “local life circumstances” and “routine activities” perspectives. Their utility as platforms for research in a population of persons with mental illness is discussed and suggestions are provided with regard to how services research guided by these perspectives might inform the development of community-based services aimed at reducing risk of arrest.


Mental health services Criminal justice Offenders with mental illness