In this post, Ian Cummins (pictured below), introduces his new book Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System: A social work perspective. The book was published in March 2016 by Critical Publishing.
am a Senior Lecturer in Social Work based at Salford University. I trained as a
probation officer and worked as a mental health social worker in Manchester
before taking up academic posts. My main
research revolves around the experiences of people with mental health problems
in the criminal justice system. This includes all areas of the criminal justice system but I have
focused on policing and mental illness. I argue the criminal justice system has become, in
many incidences, the default provider of mental health care. These issues are
examined in my new book.
My analysis of the development of mental health policy has applied Jonathan Simon’s notion of “Governing through Crime” to the history of community care. This approach helps to explain why mental health policy became so politicised from the mid 1980s onwards. The roots of the current crisis in mental health and criminal justice system policy lie in the populist policies of that period - three strikes and you’re out (in the USA) and prison works (in the UK). The failures of community care policies have led to more people with mental health problems being drawn into the criminal justice system. This is not only unjust but puts their health at greater risk.
I conclude that the current fiscal retrenchment of the state provides an opportunity to challenge fundamental assumptions about the criminal justice system. The use of imprisonment has to be reduced and that the only way to do this is by rediscovering the principle of dignity. All those caught up in the criminal justice system are our fellow citizens. If we start from acknowledging this fundamental point then we would devise completely different responses to both mental health crises and offending.