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Criminal Defense Attorneys’ Experiences with Mental Health Training and with Defendants with Mental Illness

22 April 2019


Due to the overrepresentation within the criminal justice system of defendants with mental illness, it is vital that criminal defense attorneys receive adequate training to work with this subgroup of defendants. In this study, 242 criminal defense attorneys across the United States responded to an Internet-based survey regarding law educational background, formal education in mental health topics, mental health training in law school and continuing legal education programs, and barriers to attending training. Results indicated that, when compared to criminal defense attorneys with less mental health education and less experience representing defendants with mental illness, criminal defense attorneys with more mental health education and more experience representing defendants with mental illness perceived themselves to have greater knowledge about mental health topics and greater skill in applying that knowledge. The majority of participants expressed moderate to extreme interest in receiving mental health training and moderate to extreme willingness to work with defendants with mental illness; however, barriers, such as lack of available training and time to attend such training, were identified. Suggestions to reduce identified barriers and implications for development of mental health training for criminal defense attorneys are discussed.


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