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A Sociological Analysis of Police Interactions with Mentally Ill Youth

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Title: A Sociological Analysis of Police Interactions with Mentally Ill Youth
Author: Allen, Kelsey
Department: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Program: Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy
Advisor: Yule, Carolyn
Abstract: The over-representation of youth aged 12-17 with mental illnesses within the Canadian criminal justice system has raised concern among political figures, legal actors and scholars. Although the Ontario Mental Health Act recommends that youth with mental illness should receive specialized treatment, many of these youth continue to be dealt with by the criminal justice system through harsher measures and more punitive sanctions than youth without mental illness. Surprisingly, very little research has been conducted on the decision-making processes of police officers when encountering mentally ill youth despite the fact that they are the first point of contact with the criminal justice system. Using a social constructionist framework, this study employs face-to-face interviews with police officers to explore how they construct mental illness with delinquent youth and how this shapes their use of formal and informal measures. The findings reveal that police officers have developed a construction of mental illness, based on limited information, which they use to create a three-tier response in an effort to protect the safety of the mentally ill youth and the general public.
Date: 2017-09
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