Are mentally ill offenders more violent than others?


There have been numerous researches conducted with regard to therelationship between mental illness and violence. There is a generalpublic opinion and belief that the mentally ill offenders are violentand indeed they are greatest causes of violent cases in the prisons.This is a notion that has made the mentally ill to be victimized moreoften. As this research will find out, although the mentally ill maybe violent, it is evident that they might be the victims of theviolence rather than the perpetrators (Parry &amp American BarAssociation, 2009). It is worth noting that the mentally illoffenders are more likely to be involved in violence than thementally stable offenders. Research has indicated that there are moreviolent incidents in jails with a high number of mentally illoffenders than in jails with few mentally ill offenders.

Considering the numerous incidents of violence in the Americanprisons, it is essential to have this research done. This will helpin finding out whether there is any relationship that exists betweenthe mentally ill and violence. This research aims at finding outwhether the mentally ill offenders are indeed violent or they arevictims of violent activities. The research will seek to find outwhether the mentally ill are more prone to violence than otheroffenders (Mulvey, 2010). It is also essential to find out the roleof the prison officials in the management of the offenders. Are thementally ill offenders involved in violent acts with other mentallyill offenders or they are involved with the mentally stableoffenders. This is a relevant topic to study and research since itsfindings will be critical in finding out the best ways of curbing theviolence. It will also critically assess the role of the prisonofficers in managing the offenders. Additionally, considering theincreasing number of mentally ill offenders, it is essential toresearch on the best practices of incarcerating such offenders(Mulvey, 2010).

This research will review previous literature on the topic which isavailable in books, academic journals and peer reviewed articles. Itwill address the various arguments presented regarding the issue ofviolence and its relation to the mentally ill offenders. Thelimitation of the time and resources will be encountered in thisresearch (Mulvey, 2010). This is because the research will rely onsecondary sources of information rather than primary sources. By theend of the discussion section of the paper, it will be clearly statedas to whether mentally ill offenders are indeed violent as opposed tothe other offenders. Sufficient evidence to back up the claims willbe provided.


Mental illnesses are ailments which affect the brain functionalityof an individual. The individuals suffering from mental illness areunable to reason correctly and may act in ways which are viewed asbeing weird by the mentally stable people. There are numerousconditions which are termed as mental ailment such as bipolar andschizophrenia (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). When thesemental conditions are not treated on time, the victims may end upbeing violent towards themselves and also towards other people. Onthe other hand, violence involves acts that can lead to physical harmto an individual. Violence can also lead to psychological damages tothe victims. There have been numerous studies which have attempted toidentify the relationship between violence and the mentally illoffenders (Parry &amp American Bar Association, 2009). Are thementally ill offenders more violent than other? Although there aremore violence incidents in centers with mentally ill offenders acrossthe United States than in centers without mentally ill offenders,extensive research has indicated that there is no clear connectionbetween mentally ill offenders and violence. This research willdemonstrate that violence is associated with other factors ratherthan mental illnesses.

There is a general public opinion that the mentally ill offenderssuch as the ones with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorders are moreviolent than other offenders. It is, however, essential to state thatresearch has indeed found out that the mentally ill are only involvedin violence to a very small extent. Research by the AmericanPsychiatric Association found out that numerous offenders who areinvolved in violent activities are not mentally ill (Mulvey, 2010).The same research body found out that the mentally ill are mainly thevictims of violent activities as opposed to being the perpetrators.It is clear from literature that there are other major causes ofviolence amongst offenders such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse andexcessive use of force by the police in the rehabilitation centers.Whereas there might be cases of mentally ill offenders being violent,it is essential to note that violence is not a symptom of mentalillness (Landsberg, 2012).

Offenders who are mentally ill are in need of continuous treatmentto ensure that the ailment does not escalate to violent levels. Thementally ill offenders who are involved in violent activities aremainly the ones who have been neglected by the prison managementofficials and their conditions have escalated to violent levels.These are the offenders who are likely to cause harm to boththemselves and to other offenders in rehabilitation centers. Thisaspect draws attention to the issue of prison management of thementally ill offenders. It is essential to have an effectivemanagement of the mentally ill offenders (Parry &amp American BarAssociation, 2009). The offenders must be subjected to the prescribedtreatment and have professionals managing their needs. Thepossibility of mentally ill offenders being violent is high when theyare not receiving the necessary treatment. It is critical to statethat the mentally ill may experience hallucinations and delusionswhich turn out to be violent if they are not treated on time. Thehallucinations and delusions may make the mentally ill offenders tointerpret the happenings in their surroundings wrongly and turn outas violent (Landsberg, 2012).

Whereas mental illness alone may not be associated directly withviolence, research by The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Studyhas found that the use of drugs or alcohol by the mentally illincreases the risk violence by a great degree. Other factors that maylead to violent acts amongst the mentally ill include poverty andstress. The surrounding or the neighborhood within which a mentallyill offender is contributes largely to his or her violent nature(American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Some of the mentally illoffenders do not understand why they are incarcerated and this makesthem turn violent in a bid to rescue themselves.

There is a theory that suggests that drug use and alcohol useamongst the mentally ill or even the other offenders increases thechance of turning out violent. This is because alcohol and drug useimpairs the judgment of the offender. The drugs and alcohol are saidto affect the emotional equilibrium of the users hence triggeringviolent acts. Some of the offenders who abuse alcohol and drugs aremostly treated for mental illness and therefore do not respond totreatment (Mulvey, 2010). This theory asserts that alcohol and druguse are likely to increase grandiosity and hostility amongst theusers. The use of these substances is even worse when the offenderhas a mental illness. This is because the substances increase theeffects of the disorder such as the hallucinations and delusions.

Although the mentally ill offenders are considered through publicopinion as being violent, it is essential to state that thebackground of the offender matters a lot. Some of the offenders arefrom a family background that was rife with violence. As a result,the mentally ill offenders might end up being violent (NATO, 2010).This is indicates that it is unfair to accuse and stereotype theoffenders without due assessment of their background. Additionally,there are some offenders who were previously homeless and this madethem interact with violent people and a life that hardened them hencemaking them prone to violence. Homelessness is a factor that has beenknown for long to trigger violent behaviors. Research has alsoindicated that the poor and the people will low economic statusfamilies are more likely to be violent. It is essential to considerwhether the mentally ill are from such backgrounds before accusingthem as being more violent offenders than other mentally stableoffenders. Another aspect that ought to be considered is the age andthe gender of the offenders (Landsberg, 2012). It is clear fromresearch that the male gender has a more likelihood of being violentthan females. Additionally, the young hardcore criminals are likelyto be violent than the older offenders. It is clear that the mentallyill offenders comprise of people from the categories described aboveand therefore the risk of violence may be high. This is, however, nota reason to argue that the mentally ill are more violent than theother offenders.

The United States prisons with mentally ill offenders record ahigher percentage of violent cases. There are 31% cases of violentacts in mentally ill centers as compared to 18% in the centers withother offenders. Whereas this violence may be attributed directly tothe mentally ill offenders, it is essential to note that theincarceration and management of these offenders contribute largely tothe violence. The prison management incarcerates the mentally ill inseparation from the rest of the offenders. The incarceration centersare normally crowded and this creates an environment which triggersviolence as the offenders compete for every available resource (Parry&amp American Bar Association, 2009). The aspect of separating theoffenders has also been accused as a major cause of violence amongstthe mentally ill. Majority of the mentally ill offenders havedepressions, hallucinations and cannot make rational judgments.Therefore, when such people are grouped together in one crowded area,there is a very high possibility that there will be violence.Recommendations have been made to have the mentally ill offendersmixed up with the rest of the offenders whose reasoning abilitieshave not been impaired. There is a need to reduce the prisonpopulations and to hire more professionals to deal with thepsychiatric&nbspcases. This is yet another indication that theassumption that the mentally ill are more violent than the others isindeed wrong (Landsberg, 2012).

Another perspective that is brought out by this research is theissue of the police officers using force on the mentally illoffenders. The use of force results in violent acts by the mentallyill offenders. It is essential to note that the mentally illoffenders cannot be handled the same way the other offenders arehandled. The prison officers must understand the mentally illoffenders have psychiatric problems and can turn violent when theyforced to do something against their will (American PsychiatricAssociation, 1994). At the William P. Clements Unit, police officersuse force to deal with the prisoners. This leads to violent actswhich are said to be perpetuated by the mentally ill offenders. It isclear that these offenders are mainly victims of the violence.

On the contrary, there is enormous evidence indicating that thementally ill offenders record high violence than the other offenders.Research on the Texas State prisons indicated that the prisons andthe centers which housed the mentally ill recorder more violence thanother centers. It has been found out that the mentally ill abuse moredrugs and alcohol than other offenders. This increases the chance forviolence in the cells (NATO, 2010). The high number of violent actsamongst the mentally ill offenders can be attributed to various otheraspects as it has been discussed above. However, one notable aspectis that psychiatric disorders enhance grandiosity and violentthoughts amongst the offenders. Some of the violent incidents areknown to be the ones that the mentally ill offenders inflict onthemselves (Corrigan et al., 2012). Lack of sufficient psychiatricprofessionals to deal with the problem exacerbates the problem.

Majority of the mentally ill offenders are hesitant to seektreatment due to the stigma that exists towards the mentally ill. Thementally ill are discriminated and stigmatized by the members of thepublic and a majority of them will fear to report their conditions tothe relevant psychiatric officers in the prisons. As a result, themental conditions they are suffering from escalate to levels thattrigger violence (NATO, 2010). When such incidents occur, thementally ill are accused of being violent in the rehabilitationcenters. It is also critical to note that the therapy sessionsorganized by the prisons are hardly successful. There only a handfulof mentally ill offenders who attend the sessions and their successin rehabilitating the offenders cannot be guaranteed.

In order to curb this issue of mentally ill offenders and violence,there is a need to have a few steps taken by the prison and therehabilitation centers’ management. There is a need to have thementally ill psychiatric needs being addressed professionally. It isalso essential to have the prisons decongested to reduce theincidents of violence (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).Another step which the management should take is to ensure that theydo not totally separate the mentally ill offenders from the otheroffenders. Their interaction is essential in reducing the incidencesof crime.


It has clearly been demonstrated that the notion that thementally ill offenders are violent is indeed untrue. The mentallyoffenders are not more violent than the other offenders. However,there are other factors which contribute to the mentally illoffenders being violent. One major aspect which came out clearly wasthe issue of management of the prisoners. The police officers whohave little or no training of dealing with the mentally ill offendersuse force against the hence triggering violence. It has also beendemonstrated that the mentally ill are most likely abusers of drugsand or alcohol which triggers violent feelings. The background of thementally ill offenders such being homeless, poor and exposure toviolent family members contribute to their violent nature in theprisons (Landsberg, 2012). Psychological research has clearlydemonstrated that there is no connection between mental disorders andviolence.

The major controversy that surrounds this issue is the popularpublic belief that the mentally ill are violent. This is a wrongbelief and it has led to stigmatization of the mentally ill who findit difficult to talk freely about their conditions and seektreatment. This notion has been wrongly upheld by some policeofficers who have been violent towards the mentally ill. The failureby the mentally ill to seek treatment has made the conditions worsehence leading to violence. Another issue that seems to raise acontroversy is whether the mentally ill offenders should be mixedwith other offenders or they should remain in secretion. There needsto be an extensive future research which should establish why thementally ill attracted to crime. It is also vital to have someresearch which seeks to find out whether there is any relationshipwhatsoever that exists between mental disorders and substance abuse.Most of the mentally ill offenders who have been violent have beenassociated with drug and alcohol abuse. Lastly, there needs to beresearch that establishes the relationship between violence in thementally ill and their life before incarceration.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994).&nbspFact Sheet:Violence and Mental Illness. Washington, DC: AmericanPsychiatric Association.

Corrigan, P.W., Rowan, D., &amp Green, A. (2012).Challenging twomental illness stigmas: Personal responsibility and dangerousness.Schizophrenia Bulletin, 28, 293-309.

Landsberg, G. (2012).&nbspServing mentally ill offenders:Challenges and opportunities for mental healthprofessionals. New York: Springer.

Mulvey, E. P. (2010). Assessing the evidence of a link betweenmental illness and violence. Hospital and Community Psychiatry,45, 663-668.

NATO Advanced Study Institute on Effective Prevention of Crime andViolence among Persons with Major Mental Disorders, &amp InHodgins, S. (2010).&nbspViolence among the mentally ill: Effective treatments and management strategies.

Parry, J., &amp American Bar Association. (2009).&nbspCriminalmental health and disability law, evidence andtestimony: A comprehensive reference manual for lawyers, judges, and criminal justice professionals. Chicago, Ill: ABACommission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, Criminal JusticeSection.