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RESEARCH: Public Costs Double When Mental Illness Leads to Crime

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(July 17, 2013) The public cost of services to individuals with severe mental illness doubles when they get arrested and enter the criminal justice system, according to the first comprehensive estimates of the criminal justice costs associated with providing services to people with mental illness.

jail_barbedwireCosts of criminal justice involvement among persons with serious mental illness in Connecticut ” by Jeffrey W. Swanson et al. reports on a study of 25,133 adults with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who were served by Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services during the fiscal years 2006 and 2007 (Psychiatric Services, July 2013). The study found that one in four of the subjects became involved with the justice system during the two-year period.

“The justice-involved group incurred costs approximately double those of the group with no involvement - $48,980 compared with $24,728 per person,” the study found. Costs were shared by several state agencies and Medicaid.

Individuals who ended up in the criminal justice system were “significantly younger” and more likely to be male and African American than the non-involved persons with mental illness. They also were “far more likely” to have a co-occurring substance abuse issue than their counterparts who were non-involved (65% vs. 28%) and more likely to have bipolar disorder (63% of those “justice-involved) than schizophrenia (37%).

The research also found that individuals who received a greater number of short, acute hospital admissions were more likely to become justice involved than those who had fewer but longer admissions to a hospital.

The authors paint a bleak picture of combining criminal justice involvement with mental illness including negative impacts on “long-term chances for stable housing, employment, income, marriage and community ties, and general well-being over the life course.”

The Treatment Advocacy Center always says that treatment works. But early and effective treatment also pays. Public officials who blame budget woes when they shut down psychiatric hospitals, reject court-ordered outpatient treatment options and fail to use mandated treatment for those too ill to seek treatment for themselves need to look at the numbers.

Swanson and his fellow researchers conclude, “By applying (Connecticut’s) per-person cost estimates to analogous service populations and agencies, other states should be able to plan, coordinate, and deliver more cost-effective services to individuals with serious mental illness….”

If you agree, forward or mail “Costs of criminal justice involvement among persons with serious mental illness in Connecticut ” to the elected leaders or public officials in your community who are in a position to improve your treatment laws and see that they are used to provide treatment before criminalization.

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