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Criminal Conduct and Mental Illness: Rarely Linked

criminal conduct and mental illnessNew research published by the American Psychological Association found that of the crimes committed by people with serious mental disorders, only 7.5 percent were directly related to symptoms of mental illness.[1] Therefore, mental illness is rarely linked to crime. The researchers analyzed 429 crimes committed by 143 offenders with three major types of mental illness.1 They found that three percent of their crimes were directly related to symptoms of major depression, four percent to symptoms of schizophrenia, and 10 percent to symptoms of bipolar disorder.1

“When we hear about crimes committed by people with mental illness, they tend to be big headline-making crimes, so they get stuck in people’s heads,” said lead researcher Jillian Peterson, PhD. “The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal, and not dangerous.”1

The study was conducted with former defendants of a mental health court in Minneapolis.1 The participants completed a two-hour interview about their criminal history and mental health symptoms for the past 15 years.1 There were no predictable patters found linking criminal conduct and mental illness symptoms over time.1 In fact, two-thirds of the offenders who had committed crimes directly related to their mental illness symptoms had also committed unrelated crimes for other reasons, such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and substance abuse.1

In the United States, there are more than 1.2 million people with mental illness who are incarcerated; however, people with mental illnesses are also on probation or parole at two to four times the rate of the general population.1

Also, researcher reviewed criminal history and social worker files to help rate crimes based on their association with symptoms of schizophrenia disorder, bipolar disorders, or major depression.1 The ratings were (1) no relationship between mental illness symptoms and the crime, (2) mostly unrelated, (3) mostly related, or (4) directly related.1 A crime was rated as mostly unrelated or mostly related to mental illness symptoms if those symptoms contributed to the cause of the crime but were not solely responsible for it.1 For example, researchers said that an offender with schizophrenia who was agitated because he heard voices earlier in the day and later on got into a bar fight, but wasn’t hearing voices at the time of the fight, leads to a categorization of mostly related.1

According to the researchers, programs designed to reduce recidivism for mentally ill offenders should be expanded beyond mental health treatment.1 They should include cognitive-behavioral treatment about criminal thinking, anger management, and other behavioral issues.1 Programs for after incarceration should also be expanded to include addiction and psychiatric treatment, housing, and employment support.1



[1] American Psychological Association (APA). (2014, April 21). Mental illness not usually linked to crime, research finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140421102327.htm

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