SSIREP Research Workshop: Natalie Pifer (Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice)

Discussant: Robert W. Widel, Jr. (Associate Professor, Department of History)

Hybridizing Care and Control: Criminal Justice Development in Transinstitutionalization’s Wake

  • Date: October 30, 2020
  • Time: 3:00 PM EST
  • Location: This event was on Zoom and has concluded.


Much research analyzes the criminal justice system’s contemporary role in managing the mentally ill. Collectively, this scholarship traces how the criminal justice system arrived on the front-lines of this social problem in the wake of the policy of deinstitutionalization and identifies the ways in which the system has mismanaged its inherited responsibility. Under the “transinstitutionalization” thesis, jails and prisons are conceptualized as the new asylums and police work as “street corner psychiatrists”. Yet, the criminal justice system is concerned with punishment and poorly equipped to preform care functions. Rather than examine the causes of and challenges of transinstitutionalization, I analyze how it has reshaped the contours of the criminal justice field to understand contemporary developments in the criminal justice system. I trace the contours of transinstitutionalization’s ripples throughout the criminal justice field by analyzing two reforms to policing and incarcerating the mentally ill: a specialized Los Angeles Police Department unit focused on policing the mentally ill and a planned state-of-the-art Los Angeles County jail facility focused on mental health treatment. I argue that these reforms reveal a shift in how the field manages the mentally ill and function to re-entrench rather than reform its role on transinstitutionalization’s frontlines.