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Open Access Publications from the University of California

More than Mental Disorder: Toward a Situated Understanding of Recidivism and Risk

The data associated with this publication are within the manuscript.

Individuals with serious mental disorder diagnoses (SMD) are grossly overrepresented in jails and prisons, returning to custody more often and more quickly than their non-diagnosed counterparts. This paper delineates two distinct approaches to understanding how these individuals enter carceral revolving doors, one which views them as criminalized patients and one which views them as high risk/need offenders, arguing each is limited in its ability to explain how individuals with SMD come to be carcerally involved and presents results from a qualitative pilot study (n=24) to narrow this gap. The study inductively builds from the experiences of carcerally-involved individuals with SMD, asking: what are the events and circumstances precipitating arrest and how do they contribute to carceral involvement? The paper takes a first step toward an alternative, participant-informed framework for understanding the overrepresentation of individuals with SMD. Results indicate carcerally-involved individuals with SMD are risk-exposed agents whose carceral involvement is related to early institutionalization, varying mental states of deliberation and intoxication, interpersonal conflict, and life circumstances punctuated by socioeconomic marginality. Conceptually, findings indicate risk is best understood as accumulative, interactive, dynamic, and across individual and structural levels of analysis, with early and frequent institutionalization, social and economic exclusion, and the criminalization of drug use contributing to risk.

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