The overrepresentation of Blacks among those committed to mental institutions : does their behavior warrant it?



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Recent reports indicate that Blacks are overrepresented among involuntary commitments to mental institutions. A critical issue concerns whether differences in disability and dangerousness expected under the commitment principles are reflected in voluntary/involuntary functioning differentials and whether the comparative functioning of Blacks warrants their overrepresentation. Recent reports provide minimal support for voluntary/involuntary differentials and no information concerning Black/White differentials. Thus, employing highly replicable, objective behavioral indexes, the present study examined this critical question on an acute, urban sample. Results revealed voluntary/involuntary differentials expected under the commitment principles. Although Blacks were overrepresented among the involuntarily committed, few commitments were unwarranted based on comparative functioning. Because Blacks showed comparatively greater levels of both dangerousness and deficits in competent functioning, both their higher commitment rates and the lower commitment rates of Whites were equally warranted. Implications for treatment and ongoing assessment operations in mental health settings were explored within a wider social context.



African Americans, Mental health, Institutionalization