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Mental Illness in the Eyes of the Law: Examining Perceptions of Stigma Among Judges and Attorneys

NCJ Number
Psychology Crime & Law Volume: 24 Issue: 7 Dated: 2018 Pages: 673-686
Ashley B. Batastini; Michael E. Lester; R. A. Thompson
Date Published
14 pages
Since legal personnel may act as gatekeepers in placement decisions and there is a lack of research on their attitudes toward offenders with mental illness, this study assessed perceptions of offender dangerousness and treatment need among a sample of judges, prosecutors, and public defenders across the state of Mississippi.
While controlling for age, results of a factorial MANCOVA revealed that public defenders, relative to both judges and prosecutors, endorsed more compassionate attitudes about defendants with mental illness. Political ideology did not significantly influence attitudes toward mentally ill offenders. Although judges and prosecutors had more negative stereotypes about mental illness and perceived mentally ill defendants as a greater risk to the community, mean scores across groups suggested moderately positive attitudes overall. Study limitations, implications for correctional mental health providers, and directions for future research are discussed. (publisher abstract modified)