How Are Mental Health Issues Linked to Criminal Activity?

The number of incarcerated individuals with mental health issues is disproportionately high. Not all people who commit an offense have psychological problems, but those that do often go without care prior to being introduced to the criminal justice system. Having a better understanding of the relationship between offending and mental health issues could help in the development of interventions and identification measures aimed at those most at risk for mental health issues and criminal offense behaviors.

To capture a more accurate picture of the prevalence of psychological problems among offenders, Vera A. Morgan of the School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Western Australia recently led a study that analyzed data from a birth cohort spanning 15 years.

Morgan found that of those who were born during that time, over 116,000 had been arrested and over 40,000 had been registered as receiving psychiatric care. Of those who received psychiatric care, 32.1% were in the criminal justice system. The most common psychological issues in this group were substance abuse and schizophrenia. A combination of these two significantly increased the likelihood of being arrested.

When Morgan looked solely at arrest records, she found that over 11% had a psychological issue, 6.5% had substance abuse issues, and almost 2% had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. When she looked at other mental health issues, Morgan found that personality issues accounted for 35.9% of arrests, and 29.2% of all arrests were among people with psychological conditions other than substance misuse, schizophrenia, or personality issues. For many, being arrested led to their first contact with mental health services.

“Given a growing proportion of schizophrenia offenders being arrested prior to their first contact with psychiatric services, there are important implications for mental health and criminal justice policy and practice,” said Morgan. The development of programs designed to identify mental health issues prior to entering or at the threshold of the doorway into the criminal justice system should be explored in future work. Doing so has the potential to reach individuals most in need of mental health care and also to decrease the risk of offending by those with mental health issues, and in particular, substance abuse and schizophrenia.

Morgan, V. A., et al. (2013). A whole-of-population study of the prevalence and patterns of criminal offending in people with schizophrenia and other mental illness. Psychological Medicine 43.9 (2013): 1869-80. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Tara

    September 10th, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    One of the most serious issues that I see in our society as a whole is that in many instances these are the things that we try to sweep under the rug. No one likes to admit that a family member has a problem so we try to ignore it I suppose thinking that if we try not to think about it then it will go away. Unfortunate;y for this individual things only tend to get worse and many times they will then end up as a part of the criminal prison system because they have commited a crime and there is nowhere else for them to go. The sad thing is that for so many of them had this been addressed and caught early then there could have been some hope of stopping the behavior before it got out of control. Now we have an overcrowded system and a budget that really won’t allow us to do anything but continue to feed the recidivism rate.

  • Marie

    July 23rd, 2018 at 1:43 PM

    Often the person who has a mental illness will not acknowledge it or seek treatment. The stigma of mental illness is hard for them to overcome. Also, the fear of losing everything in their lives that they have wished for makes them not receptive for treatment or medications.

  • abbie

    September 11th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    If you look at the numbers, there is no denying that the mental health crisis and the criminal aspect go hand in hand.

    Yet the lawmakers? All they want to do is lock them up and throw away the key. But what good is that really doing any of us? This is leaving us with hardened criminals who rarely receive the kind of help that they need to get better and as a result, when they are released it is almost assured that they will end up right back up where they started.

    None of us are benefitting from this kind of treatment in the mental health or the prison system. There has to be a better way to maximize the use of public health and taxpayer dollars, right?

  • Christa Powers

    September 12th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    I would suggest that communities with the highest crime rates are also some with the lowest funds that are spent on public mental health services. Could anyone clarify or confirm that? And if that is the case then shouldn’t that be some big wake up call? Like, hello! If we atart taking care of the basic things that these people need, then maybe we can stop some of these crime rates from soaring out of control. But then you are spending money on the “undesirables” that society so often would just rather forget about, and that usually doesn’t go over too well with many in the voting public.

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