The Relationship between Crime and Mental Illness





The Relationship between Crime and Mental Illness

The association between crime and mental illness has been the cause of argument and concern for general public as well as institutions meant for correction, criminal justice and mental health. This has led to extensive research being carried out to know why mentally ill people engage in criminal activities. According to Wallace et al., the ongoing debates about the care of, the nature of, and the need for care of mentally ill people is founded on the fact that many of them are likely to be involved in violent acts and commit crime; thus, causing harm to family members, friends, or even to themselves compared to healthy people (481). This paper discusses the relationship between crime and mental illness, describes the prevalence of mental illnesses in criminal populations, and gives an overview of whether prison is a good place for mentally ill individuals.

The relationship between crime and mental illness cannot be overstated. Fazel and Grann state that violence is related to psychosis and mentally ill individuals fall into that category (1398). Wallace et al., on the other hand, argue that drug and substance abuse triggers violent acts among mentally ill people (482).  An online public survey carried out by Markowitz revealed that many people thought violence and mental illness go hand-in-hand (51). The survey indicated that 62% of American citizens thought that people suffering from schizophrenia acted violently towards others, while 32% of depressed people engage in criminal activities (Markowitz 52).  However, research reveals that public opinion does not tell the reality as most people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders are not violent.  Although, a number of them commit violent crimes and assaults, research outcomes have been incoherent about how much mental disorders lead to criminal or violent acts and how much factors like substance abuse do.

Markowitz proposed that drug abuse was a precondition for violent and assaultive acts among people with mental disorders; factors such as violence history, perceived threats, and unemployment increased criminal acts among the population (68). Some researchers agree with this relationship but state that the nature of aggression should be considered. A study carried out on people charged with criminal activities in the U.S prisons showed that 22% of their cohorts committed crimes while under the influence (Markowitz 71). Additionally, studies reveal that the relationship between crime and mental illness is eliminated or reduced when substance abuse is taken into consideration. So it can be concluded that alcohol and substance abuse is a more prominent than mental illness in acts of violence. Even though it may not always be a pre-determinant factor, if controlled, then criminal activities among that population will be reduced.

Research shows there exists more than ten million prisoners globally, and the prevalence of all examined mental illnesses is higher compared to the general population (Skeem et al. 120).  Although the rate at which prisons heightens the prevalence of mental illnesses is tentative, there is a substantial indication of low rates of treatment and identification of psychiatric disorders. Research also indicates that in some nations, there are prisoners with mental disorders of much severe nature than that in psychiatric facilities. Despite this, the disorders are often under diagnosed and rarely treated.  For instance, a study carried out in New York and Mary Land in 2009 based on inmate interviews shows that 17% of the prisoners ( 32% females and 15 % males) showed serious symptoms of mental illness ( major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder). However, 25% of the inmates asked to participate in the study declined, showing a percentage paranoid schizophrenia. Given the results of the study, it is reasonable to say that today, 22% of inmates have serious mental illnesses.  Another study carried out in Florida`s Orange County Jail indicated that the jail gives an average stay of 26 days to all inmates, however; mentally ill prisoners stay for 51 days as  they find it challenging to follow and understand prison and jail rules (Wallace et al. 484).  This shows that there is a high number of mentally ill people in prisons today.

Prisons are clearly not the appropriate places to deal with people with mental illnesses, although that is where many of them end up.  According to Lamb and Weinberger, in the U.S, it has become a national trend for mentally ill people to be held in prisons rather than in psychiatric hospitals (530). It is an expensive and a non-effective way to deal with the issue. For instance, Michigan locks up approximately 9,400 inmates who are mentally ill. This is expensive as it costs over $96,000 to keep a mentally ill person which is almost three times more than that used on a stable inmate. In several cases, mentally ill people tend to lose control of their actions, and therefore commit crimes. This is because their medication either failed or they never received any treatment (Lamb and Weinberger 532). When mentally ill individuals engage in petty and non-violent crimes, which do not pose any threat to the public, then prison is not the best place for them. It costs the tax payer and does not treat such illnesses effectively. Moreover, long-term isolation can lead to further deterioration in the mental health of these individuals.








Works Cited

Fazel, Seena, and Martin Grann. “The Population Impact of Severe Mental Illness on Violent Crime.” American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 163, no. 8, 2006, pp. 1397-1403.

Lamb, H. Richard, and Linda E. Weinberger. “The Shift of Psychiatric Inpatient Care from Hospitals to Jails and Prisons.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, vol.  33, no. 4, 2005, pp. 529-534.

Markowitz, Fred E. “Psychiatric Hospital Capacity, Homelessness, and Crime and Arrest Rates.” Criminology, vol. 44, no. 1, 2006, pp. 45-72.

Skeem, Jennifer L. et al. “Correctional Policy for Offenders with Mental Illness: Creating a New Paradigm for Recidivism Reduction.” Law and Human Behaviour, vol. 35, no. 2, 2011, pp. 110-126.

Wallace, Cameron, et al. “Serious Criminal Offending and Mental Disorder: Case Linkage Study.” The British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 172, no. 6, 1998, pp. 477-484.


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