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What role does mental health have in criminal activity?

On Behalf of | Dec 23, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

It is common for people to flippantly dismiss those accused of significant crimes as someone who must be “crazy.” Some use that derogatory term to refer to anyone who struggles with their mental health. It is unquestionably damaging to presume that all criminal activity is the result of a mental health condition.

However, research does show that many of the people accused of crimes have some underlying issues that contribute to their behavioral problems. In the United States, the prevalent current practice is to just lock people up rather than try to address their underlying issues and rehabilitate them. That approach, focusing on punishment in lieu of treatment, is one reason why many prisons seem to have revolving doors.

Many inmates have mental health issues

Estimates from the American Psychological Association (APA) create a picture of a broken criminal justice system. The APA estimates that roughly half of all inmates have some kind of mental health issue.

Roughly 64% of those in jail report having some kind of mental illness. In state prisons, 54% of inmates acknowledge mental health challenges, while 45% of federal prisoners have a known mental health condition. Many of these people also struggle with addiction, possibly due to self-medicating.

The sad truth is that being in prison does little to help these issues. Inmates are often subject to intense stress and abuse, both by those who work for the prison and the others incarcerated there. Their addictions may continue unabated in prison, although they may use different substances based on what is available inside. Oftentimes people who are released will reoffend and go back into state custody within a relatively short time.

How should the system change?

The United States is in desperate need of an overhaul of its approach toward criminal justice. Identifying the unique issues of each prisoner and pairing them with mental health resources would be a good start.

So, too, would be providing better substance abuse support for individuals both accused of crimes and incarcerated for them. Focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment would be a way to break the cycle of reoffending for many.

Understanding how your personal issues can lead to criminal charges can help someone regain control of their life after making a potentially criminal mistake.


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