Policy makers in the United States and the United Kingdom recognize that mentally disordered offenders present special challenges to law enforcement,mental health, and social service systems, as well as the community. Although various policy initiatives have advanced over the past twenty years to improve the management of mentally disordered offenders, mental health policy has chronically failed in both countries. Because safety concerns have emerged as the mental health system has been “deinstitutionalized,” debate is growing about whether the community-care approach works—for the community. This study argues that mental health policy fails because policy makers focus on the wrong risks and design policies that manage these risks in ways that increase the possibility of adverse clinical and economic outcomes. The argument made here uses the case of persons with severe mental illness in the United Kingdom as an example of the complex relationship between risk and policy making in democratic governance. Emphasis is on the nature of risk in mental health policy and how government responds to policy and political risks. Mental health policy in Britain is then analyzed in terms of its response to and management of risks. Mental health policy has historically mismanaged the risk issue in the United Kingdom and as such has set in motion the growing community-care backlash. The path to a better outcome lies in the responsible management of the right risks. Lessons from the United Kingdom experience can be usefully applied to mental health issues in many industrial democracies.

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