The Effects of Attributional Styles on Perceptions of Severely Mentally Ill Offenders: a Study of Police Officer Decision-making
Description: Police officers are allowed considerable discretion within the criminal justice system in addressing illegal behaviors and interpersonal conflicts. Broadly, such resolutions fall into two categories: formal (e.g., arrest) and informal outcomes. Many of these interventions involve persons who have historically faced stigmatization, such as those who have mental disorders, criminal histories, or both (i.e., mentally disordered offenders). On this point, stigma generally includes discriminatory behavior toward the stigmatized person or group and can be substantially influenced by internal and external attributions. In addition, researchers have suggested that internal attributions lead to punishing behaviors and external attributions lead to helping behaviors. The current study examined attributions about offender behavior made by police officers in an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of Corrigan’s model. Specifically, this study investigated the effects of officer attributions on their immediate decisions in addressing intentionally ambiguous and minor offenses. Officers provided one of two vignettes of a hypothetical offender who was either mentally disordered or intoxicated and provided their anticipated resolution of the situation. Encouragingly, disposition decision differed by offender condition, with a substantially higher rate of arrests for the intoxicated offender (i.e., the external condition). Corrigan’s model was initially successful for both offender conditions, but was overall more successful for the mentally disordered condition. Results are discussed within the broader context of police policy, such as crisis intervention training, and identification of officers who could benefit from additional mental health trainings.
Date: August 2015
Creator: Steadham Jennifer A.