Type of Work

Research Paper

Publication Date



In this research we critically review information on Virginia’s criminal justice system’s response to people with mental illness. We first investigate issues that persons with mental illnesses experience as they navigate three stages of Virginia’s criminal justice system. The stages are: first, when people with mental illness are apprehended by the police, second, when they must stand trial, and third, when they are incarcerated. At the apprehension stage, the main issues we identify are that most officers do not have proper crisis intervention training, and that there are not sufficient options for diversion from jail for people with mental illnesses. When defendants with mental illness face trial, we find existing opposing perspectives as to how to approach cases and stringent requirements in mental health dockets to be the main issues at this stage. Finally, upon incarceration, we note long wait times for mental health assessments and state hospital beds, and the delay or mismanagement of medications to be the main issues at this stage. Upon seeing how people with mental illnesses are incorrectly treated in jails and prisons currently, we began to look for alternatives to incarceration. At the apprehension stage, it would be beneficial for communities to create crisis intervention teams and conduct in-depth and continuous crisis intervention training for emergency responders. When the defendants with mental illnesses are in court, we recommend redirecting them away from prison using mental health dockets or assisted outpatient therapy. Ultimately, through our research, we found that incarcerating people with mental illnesses comes at too large a cost for the people themselves, taxpayers, and the criminal justice system. Therefore, alternatives should be created and utilized.

Hamilton Areas of Study

Government, Philosophy

Hamilton Sponsoring Organization

Levitt Public Affairs Center

Hamilton Scholarship Series

Levitt Winter Research Fellowship

Hamilton Faculty Advisor

Katheryn Doran