Racial Disparities in Mental Health and Criminal Justice

The representation of people of color–especially African-Americans in the criminal justice system is a well established fact. According to Incarceration Trends, it shows that blacks were 2.17 more likely to be arrested than whites 6 years ago.

What’s troubling is that even though people of color are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, there is evidence that they are less likely to be identified as having a mental health problem. Also, they are less likely to receive access to treatment when they are jailed.

There is also evidence of racial and ethnic disparities in community mental health care. As documented by the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on Mental Health, racial and ethnic minorities have less access to mental health services than whites, are less likely to receive needed care and are more likely to receive poor quality care when they are treated. There may be also dynamics at play once people enter the criminal justice system.

The good news is that there is increased focus on how to divert people with mental illness–including people of color with mental illness–out of the criminal justice system entirely.

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