As simple as it seems to some, criminals – and the path they take to commit crimes – aren’t solely law and order problems. Plenty of those indicted on drug abuse charges often have addiction problems, which is better treated as a health problem than as a criminal one, for example.
Mental illnesses also play a part in certain crimes too. That’s not to excuse the crimes, of course – but if offenders with mental illnesses are given appropriate treatment, it’s likely they won’t re-offend when they’re eventually released from prison. Indeed, that’s exactly what a new study led by the University of California Berkeley has found.
Every year, 2 million people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other similar mental illnesses are arrested in the United States for committing a variety of crimes. The authors of the paper note that this essentially means that the US correctional system is the country’s primary provider of mental health care – if it chooses to provide it, that is, and live up to its “corrective” namesake.
The team decided to monitor the lives of 359 offenders with serious mental illnesses over eight years.
The subjects were either given traditional probation – whereupon they were sentenced to community-based work or just observation under the guidance of a supervisor rather than given exclusive detention – or they were put under “special probation” in which their supervising officers had mental health training and tailored their treatment to each individual case.
The study, published in the JAMA Psychiatry, explains that “specialty officers had better relationships with probationers, participated more in probationers’ treatment, and relied more on positive compliance strategies than traditional officers” – pointing out that good people abide by the law, essentially.
The results were startling. Two years after being released from probation, 51.8 percent of those on the traditional program were re-arrested. When it came to those who had individualized care, just 28.6 percent were re-arrested.
Just by tailoring the mental health care to each person, re-offending rates were almost cut in half. Not only does that mean the public safety is drastically improved, but that the monetary and physical resources of the US correctional network are saved and can be put to better use elsewhere.
The average cost of incarceration for inmates in the US is around $32,000 per year. Each year, then, these 2 million new inmates with mental health problems cost the US taxpayer $64 billion dollars. If special probation could slash re-arrest rates in half, imagine how much money that would save.
What this study is inferring, then, is that when probation officers treat their assigned criminals as fallible human beings, rather than corrupted machines, everyone benefits. Sadly, a lot of prisons in the US are still run as for-profit industries – so high re-offending rates are good for business.