The criminal justice system is looking at mental health again – will it use the right lens?

The Ministry of Justice recently shared details of five pilot schemes under which offenders with mental health needs are diverted from prison, instead receiving support to address their underlying issues in the community. Psychologist Peter Kinderman tells Hardeep Matharu why it is important to see criminality and mental illness as non-binary concepts.

Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May vowed to tackle “the burning injustice of mental illness”.
“There is no escaping the fact,” she said “that people with mental health problems are still not treated the same as if they have a physical ailment, or the fact that all of us – government, employers, schools, charities – need to do more to support all of our mental wellbeing.”

It is difficult to argue that mental health is not now receiving the attention it deserves, but does it necessarily follow that the way in which we think and talk about our experiences of it is a helpful one?

Peter Kinderman doesn’t think so. Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool, his work explores how those working in medicine, the criminal justice system and beyond use labels, diagnoses and norms to frame mental health difficulties as illnesses – an approach he believes is not ultimately useful for tackling the issue.

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