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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