Our prayers go to Representative Giffords and all those killed or wounded in the tragic event in Tucson.
We have reader questions regarding the tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ. Three days after a gunman allegedly killed six people and left a congresswoman critically injured, there are multiple reports of erratic behavior and mental health issues with the suspect.
According to the Washington Post, “… two law enforcement sources said that FBI agents had found a 2007 letter from Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) to the shooting suspect, with the words “Die, bitch” and “Die, cops” scrawled on it.” See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/11/AR2011011107426.html. A more complete assessment of the shooter’s psychological state is available here:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/12/AR2011011206637.html.
Note that in 2009, there were an estimated 45.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with any mental illness in the past year. An additional 547,800 mentally ill people were on probation in the community. When you include the fact that, according to offender self-report data that 50 percent of offenders claim mental health issues (not a formal diagnosis) then we acknowledge that we encounter more than a couple people every day with troubled backgrounds.
We’re not suggesting that mental health issues equal criminal activity. That’s obviously not true. We are saying that mental health issues combined with substance abuse and other factors related to crime (i.e., child abuse) prompt higher percentages of people to have contact with the justice system.
This is why we support mental health courts. They work and they are necessary. See http://crimeinamerica.net/category/mental-illness/.
Reader questions essentially address two issues: the percentage of people in the criminal justice system who are mentally ill and the percentage of people in society with histories of mental illness. A third asked whether or not people with mental health issues had access to treatment.
People in the Criminal Justice System with Mental Illness
The document below is over ten years old, yet is contains the best statistical overview of the issue involving a large dataset. It comes from the US Department of Justice. There are additional DOJ materials suggesting that offender self-report data would put the number of people in the system with mental health issues over the 50 percent mark. Note that most research addressing justice sponsored programs suggest that small numbers of criminal offenders obtain comprehensive mental health treatment.
The report: An estimated 283,800 mentally ill offenders were held in the nation’s state and federal prisons and local jails at midyear 1998, according to a special report released by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). An additional 547,800 mentally ill people were on probation in the community.
Seven percent of federal inmates and 16 percent of those in state prisons or local jails or on probation said they either had a mental condition or had stayed overnight in a mental hospital, unit or treatment program.
The highest rate of mental illness was among white females in state prisons–29 percent. Almost 40 percent of the white female state prisoners age 24 or younger were identified as mentally ill. Twenty percent of the black females and 22 percent of the Hispanic females in state prison were mentally ill.
Offenders identified as mentally ill were more likely than other offenders incarcerated or on probation to have committed a violent offense.
An estimated 13 percent of the mentally ill State prisoners had committed murder; 12 percent, rape or sexual assault; 13 percent, robbery; and 11 percent, assault. Nearly 1 in 5 violent offenders in prison or jail or on probation were identified as mentally ill.
State prison inmates with a mental condition were, more likely than other state inmates to be incarcerated for a violent offense (53 percent compared to 46 percent). They were also more likely to have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their current offense (59 percent vs. 51 percent) and more than twice as likely to have been homeless in the 12 months prior to their arrest (20 percent vs. 9 percent).
More than three-quarters of the mentally ill inmates had been sentenced to prison, jail or probation at least once prior to their current sentence. Half reported three or more prior sentences. The mentally ill inmates were more likely than other prisoners to have a prior sentence for a violent offense.
Mental Illness in the General Population
From the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2010
In 2009, there were an estimated 45.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with any mental illness in the past year. This represents 19.9 percent of all adults in this country. Among adults aged 18 or older in 2009, the percentage having serious mental illness (SMI) in the past year was 4.8 percent (11.0 million adults).
Women aged 18 or older were more likely than men aged 18 or older to have past year any mental illness (23.8 vs. 15.6 percent) and SMI (6.4 vs. 3.2 percent).
In 2009, an estimated 8.4 million adults (3.7 percent) aged 18 or older had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year. Among adults aged 18 or older, 2.2 million (1.0 percent) made suicide plans in the past year, and 1.0 million (0.5 percent) attempted suicide in the past year.
Among the 45.1 million adults aged 18 or older with any mental illness in the past year, 19.7 percent (8.9 million adults) met criteria for substance dependence or abuse in that period compared with 6.5 percent (11.9 million adults) among those who did not have mental illness in the past year. Among the 11.0 million adults aged 18 or older with SMI in the past year, 25.7 percent also had past year substance dependence or abuse compared with 6.5 percent of adults who did not have mental illness.
Among the 45.1 million adults aged 18 or older with any mental illness in 2009, 17.1 million (37.9 percent) received mental health services in the past year. Among the 11.0 million adults aged 18 or older with SMI in 2009, 6.6 million (60.2 percent) received mental health services in the past year.
In 2009, 30.2 million adults (13.3 percent of the population 18 years or older) received mental health services during the past 12 months.
In 2009, there were 2.0 million youths (8.1 percent of the population aged 12 to 17) who had major depressive episode (MDE) during the past year. Among youths aged 12 to 17 in 2009 who had past year MDE, 35.7 percent used illicit drugs in the past year compared with 18.0 percent among youths who did not have past year MDE.
In 2009, 2.9 million youths aged 12 to 17 (12.0 percent) received treatment or counseling for problems with emotions or behavior in a specialty mental health setting (inpatient or outpatient care). The most common reason for receiving services among youths was feeling depressed (46.0 percent).
Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings (Office of Applied Studies