Mental health treatment and criminal justice outcomes

 
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Prisoners suffering from mental illness or showing its symptoms are common among criminal justice populations. The potential relationship between crime and mental illness could have important policy implications, particularly if increased more widespread mental health treatment could prove to have wide effects on rates of criminality.

A 2010 paper by the Harvard Medical School for the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Mental Health Treatment and Criminal Justice Outcomes,” examines whether treating children and adult with mental health illnesses could reduce crime. The paper includes a survey of past studies as well as original research. The findings include:

  • Children who exhibited serious behavioral problems between the age of 6 and 9 are 14.3% more likely to be suspended or expelled by the age of 17.
  • Children who exhibited serious behavioral problems between the age of 6 and 9 are 5% more likely to be arrested or convicted by the age of 16.

While such data are suggestive of a link between mental illness and crime, the author cautions that the causal connection is not overwhelming. Consequently, “the case for broad-based expansion of mental health prevention or treatment would need to rest on grounds other than crime reduction.” These include better mental health and better social functioning.

The authors conclude by considering the cost-effectiveness of mental health courts and mandatory outpatient treatment.

Tags: mental health, prisons, children

Last updated: July 26, 2010

 

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Citation: Frank, Richard; et al. "Mental Health Treatment and Criminal Justice Outcomes", The National Bureau of Economic Research, April, 2010, NBER Working Paper No. 15858, PDF.