Do Criminals with PTSD Receive Favorable Treatment?

Post-traumatic stress symptoms can cause violent behavior, aggression and overreaction, especially in military personnel. “In the next several years, criminal courts may see an increase in the numbers of defendants who are veterans still struggling with the psychological effects of war,” said Jennifer Kelly Wilson of the University of Alabama, who recently led a study to determine if these defendants received preferential treatment from the judicial system because of their PTSD. She said, “Prosecutors may view veterans experiencing posttraumatic stress symptoms as less blameworthy for the alleged crime and less deserving of punishment.”  Wilson’s team enlisted 35 prosecutors from four states and presented them with criminal scenarios of unprovoked physical assault. Two of the scenarios involved defendants with PTSD, one veteran and one nonveteran, and two without PTSD. The defendants with PTSD had both experienced significant trauma involving an explosion or car accident that resulted in injury to them and the death of people around them.

The researchers found that the defendants with PTSD were more likely to be offered a diversion program than those without. They also discovered that the defendant’s military status by itself was a mediating factor. “Having either PTSD or veteran status made it more likely that a defendant would be offered a diversion program at the pretrial stage,” said Wilson. The prosecutor’s perception of culpability was also influenced by the presence of PTSD. “There was a significant effect for PTSD on perceived justification for a defendant’s actions in which prosecutors considered defendants who had PTSD to have significantly greater justification for their criminal actions than defendants who did not have PTSD.” Wilson believes that these findings are significant to the judicial system and the mental health field’s role within it. “Whether a psychologist adopts a more liberal criterion set for diagnosis of PTSD could potentially impact the process and outcome of a trial,” she said. “A more liberal criterion set would likely increase the number of individuals diagnosed with PTSD, adding to the number of people who may be perceived as less worthy of blame and more worthy of a treatment approach by courtroom personnel.”

Reference:
Wilson, J. K., Brodsky, S. L., Neal, T. M. S., & Cramer, R. J. (2011, August 29). Prosecutor Pretrial Attitudes and Plea-Bargaining Behavior Toward Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Psychological Services. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025330

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ryan

    Ryan

    September 9th, 2011 at 3:55 AM

    nobody deserves to be treated any different from others for the same crime,especially so for violent crimes.if someone has PTSD does it mean that he should go around spreading the same with violent acts?!!

  • Jocelyn

    Jocelyn

    September 9th, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    So are we gonna go down this line of guilty but by reason of insanity or something like that? because that kind of stuff irritates the heck out of me. Just because you have some issues does not mean that you did not do the crime! It is high time that we start valuing the lives of the victims, and stop pandering to that of the criminals. Let them do their time, and maybe if there is a next time for them than they will think a little bit more about what they are doing.

  • Barry Pewitt

    Barry Pewitt

    September 9th, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    I would hope that all individuals would receive equal treatment while on trial but unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case. Yeah, I understand that the jury are just average people and yeah, I know that it’s hard to keep your morals from controlling you during a trial, but can these people seriously not be a little less biased?
    If this is really as big of a problem as it sounds perhaps the jury should not be aware of there disorder??? It’s not like this information is needed to help your judgement. At the least, the courts should do something, after all criminals with PTSD can be just as dangerous as those without and definitely don’t deserve to be on the streets.

  • cece

    cece

    September 10th, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    So the next time someone wants to get off real easy from a crime of theirs that they did commit, they just have to feign ptsd. Nice- not!

  • Ernie Mulligan

    Ernie Mulligan

    September 18th, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    @c:ece Actually, regardless of what crime dramas would have you believe, insanity defenses are only used in 1% of all cases and far less have even been considered.

    Second, the states of Montana, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, and Arizona have either banned the defense or put strong limitations on it. The SCOTUS have also upheld the right of the states to do this, so it’s not an issue that is a hot-button. Only 0.26% of all cases in the US have a successful insanity defense.

  • Jacqueline McCall

    Jacqueline McCall

    September 19th, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Technically this can be considered a form of insanity defense. PTSD does not cause you to lose control of yourself completely, does it? I don’t believe in the insanity defense and I believe even less that someone with PTSD should get favorable treatment by the courts and avoid jail. They can get help behind bars.

  • Alistair Noble

    Alistair Noble

    September 19th, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    @Jacqueline–Do the crime do the time is my usual stance. If the perp is suffering from a condition that makes them more prone to committing a crime however, they must be given the opportunity to seek treatment while in prison. They’re not going to be doing anything else while in there and it would do them and our society plenty of good if they ever got out.

  • Shannon P.

    Shannon P.

    September 19th, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    @Jocelyn: It irritates me as well! It should be ten years in prison for the crime and an additional five years minimum in a psychiatric hospital for treatment, with no prospect of release until you are deemed well, because there is no excuse for any crime.

    We can’t do anything for the victims, but we can prevent there being more in future. If you are so disturbed as to do something that serious, you are not welcome in mainstream society until you can behave in a civilized manner.

  • David R

    David R

    May 29th, 2014 at 9:47 PM

    And what changes will a Verteran w PTSD undergo in a prison environment and what mindset will he she be released into society with once time is served?? Don’t think about that??? How serious will the next crime be in consideration?! If anything this war hero needs to be in a stable enviorment undergoing proper therapy and medication under supervision

  • GREG

    GREG

    March 29th, 2012 at 9:34 PM

    I CANT BELIEVE HOW COLD THE COMMENTERS ARE.CIRCUMSTANCES ARE DIFFERENT FOR EVEYONE .NOT TOO MUCH IS BLACK AND WHITE.POVERTY VIRSUS RICH PEOPLE.ITS CALLED THE JUSTUS SYSTEM NOT JUSTICE.WHEN IT COMES TO A LOT OF ASSAULTS THERE’S TWO SIDES.SOME PEOPLE ARE LOOKIN TO GET KILLED AND OTHERS ARE LOOKIN TO KILL SOMEONE.WHEN THESE TWO PEOPLE COME IN TO CONTACT ,SHIT HAPPENS.PTSD FOR ALL EMS AND THE MILITAY SHOULD MOST DEFINITELY BE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION.MY GOD THE SHIT WE ASK THESE WONDERFULL SOULS TO DO FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD IS UNBELEIVABLE;AND YES FOR SOME IT TAKES ITS TOLL.

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