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Reading of the Week: Mental Illness & Crime Victimization – the New JAMA Psychiatry Paper

From the Editor

After the mass shooting on Toronto’s Danforth, mental illness has been much in the news. The Canadian Psychiatric Association went so far as to warn against stigmatizing those with mental illness.

Despite stereotypes, studies show that people with mental disorders are more likely to be victims of violent crime rather than perpetrators. That said, the literature is light on how much crime patients experience, and the diagnoses of these patients.

This week, we look at a new paper just published by JAMA Psychiatry. Drawing on databases from Denmark, the University of New South Wales’ Kimberlie Dean and her co-authors consider crime (including violent crime) in a cohort study involving more than two million people. What do they find? Those with mental illness are much more likely to be victims than the general population.

gettyimages-126140612_superDenmark: old buildings and not-so-old data

In an accompanying editorial, Duke University School of Medicine’s Jeffrey W. Swanson and Charles M. Beldendiscuss the paper, and contrast it with American data. Their piece begins memorably: “The media-driven notion that mentally ill people pose a danger to others appears to be encrusted like a barnacle on the concept of mental illness submerged in the public mind.” They also weigh in on difference in rates of violence between Denmark and the United States.

DG

 

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Reading of the Week: Ending Revolving Door Justice?

More than 10 million people are currently in prison worldwide, and substantially larger numbers of ex-prisoners are living in society. Despite reported decreases in violence in many countries, repeat offending remains high across many high-income and middle-income countries. In the USA and UK, more than a third of released prisoners are reconvicted for a new crime within 2 years, and more than half within 5 years. Furthermore, about 70% of those convicted in the USA are repeat offenders. In England and Wales, this figure is estimated at 90%, and the proportion of individuals convicted who have had 15 or more previous offences has been increasing since 2008.

So begins a new paper that considers Swedish prisoners and the likelihood of reoffending with a particular focus on those with mental disorders. This opening paragraph well describes our incredible success at crime reduction – historical lows across the west – and our incredible failure – those who do end up in jail often are convicted again (and again and again).

This week’s Reading: “Psychiatric disorders and violent reoffending: a national cohort study of convicted prisoners in Sweden” by Zheng Chang et al., which was just published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Zheng Chang

This paper may not seem immediately relevant – it draws on European data and was published in a British journal. In fact, it is. First, Canada’s prison population has a high rate of mental illness (an International Journal of Law and Psychiatry study found that a third of people entering Canadian penitentiaries met criteria for mental illness.). Second, there is growing interest in prisoners and mental health, both in Ottawa and beyond. Chang et al. helps shed light on this important issue – and perhaps even points the way to more sensible public policy. Continue reading