Mental Illness and Crime

VII. Federal Legislation

In addition to innovative programs for mentally ill offenders, the federal government has implemented groundbreaking legislation over the past several years. The first piece of legislation, the Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction Act of 2003, was designed to promote public safety and community health by facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems in diverting mentally ill individuals from the criminal and juvenile justice systems and in treating such individuals within those systems. This act provided $50 million in grant funding to promote the expansion of mental health courts and to establish community partnerships to better serve mentally ill offenders.

Another piece of federal legislation that had a significant impact on mentally ill offenders was the Second Chance Act. This act was designed to improve outcomes for people returning to the community from prisons and jails. On April 9, 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act into law (see http://csgjusticecenter.org/government-affairs/). This legislation authorizes federal grants to government agencies and community and faith-based organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victim support, and other services that can help reduce reoffending and violations of probation and parole. The House of Representatives appropriated $45 million to fund these grants.

As a result of these two important pieces of legislation, many new programs have been created or augmented, resulting in better and more cost-effective service to mentally ill offenders. These programs enable communities to tailor their programs to fit both their needs and resources in a community-specific way.

VIII. Crime Victimization and the Mentally Ill

Another aspect of mentally ill persons in the criminal justice system that receives little attention is the victim. According to Teplin (1999), persons with serious mental illness are more than seven times more likely to be a crime victim than those without a mental illness. This population is also 9 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime and more than 24 times more likely to be the victim of rape. Women with serious mental illness are much more likely to become victims of sexual assault than men.

According to experts, symptoms often associated with severe mental illness, such as disorganized thought processes, impulsivity, lack of awareness of one’s environment, and poor planning and problem-solving skills, may compromise one’s ability to perceive risks and protect oneself, making one more vulnerable for victimization. In addition, the deinstitutionalization of individuals with mental illness has led to increased vulnerability due to their tendency toward homelessness, substance abuse, and poverty. According to Levin (2005), nearly 3 million severely mentally ill individuals are crime victims each year. The severely mentally ill are more than 140 times more likely than the general population to be the victim of a property crime. In addition to a higher likelihood of being victims, severely mentally ill individuals are more likely to suffer repeat victimization. This is due to symptoms related to their mental illness, which often lead them to be discredited as witnesses or to be found as complicit in their own victimization.

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