This study seeks to improve access to services for individuals with a criminal record. It also has implications for mental health practitioners, especially those who work with poor or vulnerable populations that are more likely to have been incarcerated. Future directions include the improvement of professional training and the development of continuing education programs around criminal backgrounds of potential mental health clients.
Approximately 600,000 to 700,000 individuals are released from prison every year in the United States. Of these individuals, at least 15 percent of men and 33 percent of women carry a mental health diagnosis, and many more are estimated to have difficulties in psychological functioning, including substance abuse. This reflects a growing and vulnerable population in need of mental health services, however they likely have difficulties in accessing services for a variety of reasons, including stigma towards those who have been incarcerated.
Little is known about the attitudes of mental health professionals outside of forensic settings towards those who have a history of incarceration. This study will seek to fill this gap in the knowledge base and determine whether different disciplines of mental health professionals express aversion or willingness to work with individuals with histories of property, drug, violent or sexual crimes. The sample will be drawn from a database of mental health professionals in a variety of disciplines (estimated sample size = 500). The primary assessment tool will be a modified version of the Attitudes Toward Prisoners scale. Other questions will assess training about, exposure to and willingness to work with individuals who have committed crimes. A qualitative interview with a subset of participants (n=15) will explore study topics in more depth; participation will be stratified based on range of responses to the quantitative survey.