American Sociological Association

Unburdening Stigma: Identity Repair through Rituals in Mental Health Court

A growing trend in the criminal justice system is the move toward problem-solving courts, including mental health courts. Using case studies of two mental health courts in a West Coast city, this article seeks to explore how mental health courts may operate by reducing stigma among clients. From observations of the court process in mental health courts and qualitative interviews with mental health court professional staff and mental health court clients, ritual process emerged as a powerful theme that underscores the management of social stigma. Drawing on Collins’s interaction ritual framework, the study demonstrates the benefits of rituals and how the focus on rituals in mental health courts is toward nonstigmatizing ends. Courtroom rituals work to reduce social stigma, manage spoiled identities, and attempt to reintegrate and restore the social self. Failed rituals and the subsequent reinforcement of stigma are also explored, which demonstrates that the posited effects of the ritual process are conditional.


Snedker, K. A.





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