Do specialty programs for justice-involved people with mental illness exacerbate stigma?


Specialty mental health probation caseloads have shown promise in reducing recidivism for
justice-involved people with mental illness. However, assignment to these caseloads may be
stigmatizing due to labelling effects. We examined (1) whether assignment to specialty probation
versus traditional probation is associated with greater internalized stigma among clients and (2)
whether probation officers are the source of some of this stigmatization. As part of a multi-site
longitudinal study, 138 specialty probation clients and 148 similar clients from traditional
probation rated their internalized stigma of mental illness, and officers rated their attitudes
toward each of their supervisees. Specialty probation clients experienced more internalized
stigma (d = .61) than traditional clients. Although both specialty and traditional officers held
stigmatizing attitudes toward clients, only traditional officers’ attitudes were associated with
clients’ internalized stigma. Probation officers from both types of agency may benefit from antistigma
interventions to effectively work with clients with mental illness.

Keywords: offenders with mental illness, probation, officers, stigma