Professor Risdon Slate Honored by Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

Apr 7, 2016

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor

Professor Risdon Slate, who has waged a courageous battle against the unjust treatment of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, has been awarded the highest honor of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. 

Dr. Slate, professor of criminology and chair of the Department of Criminology at FSC, was given the John Howard Award at the annual meeting of the academy in Denver on April 2. The award recognizes an individual “who has made significant and sustained contributions to the practice of corrections.” 

Dr. Slate, a former U.S. Probation Officer, is the author of The Criminalization of Mental Illness: Crisis and Opportunity for the Justice System. He has been forthcoming about his own bipolar disorder and how that has affected his efforts to change public policies, but for years after his diagnosis, he hid his condition.

“I was ashamed and embarrassed I had been diagnosed with a mental illness. No one knew about it,” he said.

Dr. Slate joined the faculty of FSC in 1993. The following year, on the mistaken advice of his doctor, he stopped taking the medication that controlled his condition and suffered a delusional episode while visiting friends in another state. He was arrested, put in jail, and assaulted by another inmate before a friend got him out. Former FSC President Tom Reuschling ensured that Dr. Slate remained on the faculty while his medical situation was stabilized.

“I made a conscious decision I wouldn’t stay in the shadows anymore. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone,” he said. “What I have striven for is to have structures put in place in the criminal justice system.”

Dr. Slate has testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on the need for mental health courts and is internationally renowned for his efforts to train police and corrections officers on how to deal with mentally ill offenders.

In acknowledging the honor, Dr. Slate said it is gratifying to be recognized for his work in removing the stigma associated with mental illness and ensuring that the criminal justice system is better educated about disorders that affect behavior.

“I don’t see any shame in a person being mentally ill. The shame is not getting the right treatment,” he said. “I think it’s important for people in law enforcement to be able to see persons with mental illness who are not in crisis as functioning members of society.”

President Anne Kerr said the John Howard Award is well deserved.

“We are proud of Dr. Slate for his scholarly achievements, as well as for his honesty and courage. He provides strong advocacy for just treatment of the mentally ill in communities throughout the nation,” she said.