Profiling Mentally Disordered Offenders: A Case Study of New Jersey Prison Inmates

J.R. Bjerklie, Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Nancy Wolff, Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Tina Maschi, Rutgers University - New Brunswick

The research evidence, although thin, suggests that mentally disordered offenders are similar to their non-mentally ill counterparts in jails and prisons in that they commit a range of crimes, and like their counterparts in the community, they have a range of behavioral health problems. While it seems most clear that there is not one type of mentally disordered offender, the nature and extent of the variation among these offenders is far less evident. This paper profiles the behavioral health and criminal justice characteristics of the universe of male special needs inmates (n=2715) in New Jersey prisons. Mentally disordered offenders were found to vary significantly and systematically in their treatment needs and their risks to the community. The lack of homogeneity within the mentally disordered population suggests the need to classify need-risk clusters within the offender group, develop programs that respond to particular need-risk clusters, and match types of mentaly disordered offenders to these specialized programs. Recommended is a cafeteria-style approach to treatment planning that recognizes the complexity of problem behaviors and the variation in the presentation of those problems within the population.

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Updated 05/20/2006