Follow by Email

"Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view."

- Richard P. Feynman, Physicist

"There is a danger in clarity, the danger of over looking the subtleties of truth."

-Alfred North Whitehead

December 20, 2010

The Interrelationship between Violence and Mental Illness

Concerns about individuals with mental illnesses perpetrating violence have been greatly amplified since the 32 homicides at Virginia Tech in 2007. However, recent research into the relationship between mental illnesses and violence shows a complicated relationship. An epidemiological study involving several thousand individuals was completed in an attempt to tease-out the impact of mental illness on the risk of violent behavior.[i]

These researchers concluded that the relationship between severe mental illness alone and violence is not statistically significant. In other words, people suffering from a severe mental illness alone, without any other risk factors, were not at an increased risk of committing a violent act, and in fact, have the same chance of being violent as any other person in the general population during the next three years.[ii]

However, that being stated, the incidence of violence is higher for individuals with mental illnesses. How could that be? The incidence of violence is higher for individuals with mental illnesses because individuals with mental illnesses are more likely than the general population to also be associated with risk factors for violence and the combination of these other risk factors and mental illness lead to higher risks for violence than just the risk factor alone.

For example, “people with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse and/or dependence had significantly higher incidence of violent acts” , and more than people with substance abuse alone. Further, 46% people with severe mental illness also had a lifetime history of substance abuse.[iii] Also, people with severe mental illnesses are more likely to have been victimized and prone to other environmental stressors, such as unemployment, which elevates the risk of violence.[iv]

These researchers stated that “the occurrence of 3 factors (severe mental illness, substance abuse and/or dependence, history of violence) was associated with a distinctly higher than average risk of violence.[v] The researchers concluded as follows” The current study aimed to clarify the link between mental disorder and violence, and the results provide empirical evidence that (1) severe mental illness is not a robust predictor of future violence, (2) people with co-occurring severe mental illness and substance abuse/dependence have a higher incidence of violence than people with substance abuse/dependence alone; (3) people with severe mental illness report histories and environmental stressors associated with elevated violence risk; and (4) severe mental illness alone is not an independent contributor to explaining variance in multivariate analyses of different types of violence….The data shows that it is simplistic as well as inaccurate to say the cause of violence among mentally ill individuals is the mental illness itself; instead, the current study finds that mental illness is clearly relevant to violence risk but that its causal roles are complex, indirect, and embedded in a web of other (and arguably more) important individual and situational cofactors to consider.”[vi]

[i] Elbogen, Eric B., and Sally C. Johnson, 2009, The Intricate Link Between Violence and Mental Disorder, Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, Arch. Gen. Psychiatry, 2009; 66(2):152-161.

[ii] Ibid. p. 157.

[iii] Ibid. p. 156.

[iv] Ibid. p. 156.

[v] Ibid p. 159

[vi] Ibid p. 159.

he views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the author(s) and do not represent the views of any other public official or organization.

December 13, 2010

Formal Processing of Juveniles Appears to Increase Delinquency

A recent meta-analysis of 29 separate studies concluded that processing juvenile delinquency referrals through the Court system did not appear to have any crime control effect, and may actually increase delinquency. The best results came from programs that divert juveniles from the system. See the entire study, entitled Formal System Processing of Juveniles:Effects on Delinquency at the Campbell Collaboration at Formal

The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the author(s) and do not represent the views of any other public official or organization.

December 6, 2010

Factors Moderately Associated With Crime

In my last entry I discussed the “big four” traits associated with criminal behavior. Andrews and Bonta (2010) also identified four additional traits associated with criminal behavior that they call the “moderate four”.[i] These four, along with the “big four” are what these researchers call the central eight. Andrews and Bonta calculated the correlation coefficients associated with the “moderate four” using a meta-analytic review. The grand mean of the coefficient correlations associated with these four factors averaged .17 as compared to .26 for the “big four”.[ii]

One of the “moderate four” is the offender’s family and marital circumstances. This factor assesses the quality of the offender’s relationship with their family and in older offenders, with their spouse, and the extent to which the offender’s family and spouse discourage anti-social behavior, and monitor the offender’s behavior. In young people, the factor includes the attitudes offenders have toward their parents and their parents’ opinions. With married offenders, lower risk is associated with a spouse that has pro-social expectations of the offender and keeps an eye on the offender. As Andrews and Bonta, only partly in jest, write “Do you know where your spouse is?”[iii]

The second of the “moderate four” is how the offender performs in school and work. High risk for re-offending is found with offenders who have a low commitment to school or a job, and low attachment to school or work colleagues.[iv]

The third of the “moderate four” is the level of involvement in pro-social leisure pursuits.[v] The interaction of the offender with other pro-social individuals provides the needed reinforcement to keep an offender on the straight and narrow as compared to just hanging out with criminal-minded friends. (Like work, spending time on a pro-social leisure activity reduces the time available for criminal activity. Some researchers hypothesize that potential offenders have been busy with video games and internet activities, which have displaced criminal activity.[vi])

The presence or absence of a substance abuse problem is the fourth of the “moderate four”. The offenders use and abuse of alcohol and drugs, and their attitudes toward these substances is another factor moderately associated with criminal behavior.[vii]

Factors identified as have very little or no association with criminal behavior are: lower-class origins, personal distress/psychopathology, fear of official punishment (deterrence), verbal intelligence, happiness, self-esteem, sociability, spirituality, openness to experience, and feelings of anxiety and worry.[viii]

One may ask, where are gender and age? Don’t young males offend more often than older females? They do. However, according to Andrews and Bonta these variables lose independent predictive power after one considers the “central eight” factors. For example, young males in general will test higher for impulsiveness, which is part of antisocial personality pattern (one of the “big four”), than for example, older females.[ix]

[i] Andrews, D.A. and James Bonta, (2010), The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, 5th Edition, Mathew Bender and Company, New Providence, NJ, p. 65.

[ii] Ibid, p. 65

[iii] Ibid p. 59

[iv] Ibid p. 59

[v] Ibid. p. 59-60.

[vi] The Economist, May 13, 2010, “…And Larry Katz, a Harvard economist, suspects that video games and websites may have kept the young and idle busy during this recession, thus explaining the surprising lack of an uptick in crime.

[vii] Andrews and Bonta (2010) Ibid, p. 60

[viii] Ibid. p. 61 & 65.

[ix] Ibid. p. 67-68

The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the author(s) and do not represent the views of any other public official or organization.