RESEARCH WEEKLY: Serious Mental Illness and Likelihood of Incarceration after Arrest

Individuals with serious mental illness may be treated differently by the criminal justice and legal systems, according to new research, which may contribute to the higher prevalence of this population in jails and prisons.

A team of researchers from New York recently analyzed state data to determine the effect of serious mental illness on the severity of consequences endured by defendants following arrest. The researchers identified all individuals arrested for a misdemeanor or felony between January 2010 and 2013 from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice records. For individuals with multiple arrests, only the first arrest was considered in the analysis.

Arrest records were then matched with Medicaid billing records and admission and discharge records from the Office of Mental Health using specialized computer software. This process allowed the researchers to identify arrestees who received public mental health treatment in the year prior to their arrest. Individuals were considered to have serious mental illness if they were diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, another psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, manic affective disorder, or major depressive disorder at least one time in the analysis period.

Treatment Advocacy Center