What is the relationship between mental health and crime?


The relationship between mental health and crime is complex. The first complexity that arises in this issue is the definition of mental disorder. The legal definition of mental disorder is found in the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA 1983), s 1 which provides that mental disorder is ‘any disorder or disability of the mind’. This is a very wide definition. Disability of the mind can include learning disabilities and cognitive dis-functions, which impact a large population. Peay explains that the chances of there being a straightforward relationship between constructs of mental disorder and crime is very small. This is so because mental disorder is a very wide term and the scope of offending behaviour is also very wide (Peay, 2011, p.1).

There is a lot of literature on the relationship between mental health and crime. Some of the questions that can be raised pertaining to the relationship between mental health and crime are related to contribution of mental disorder to offending behaviour; criminal behaviour and its contribution to mental disorder; likelihood of offending in certain mental disorders, etc.

There is another important question in context of the relationship between mental health and crime. It is this- are people with mental health issues more likely to be victims of crime? This question is important because generally people associate mental health with offending. However, there may also be a strong inter-relationship between mental health and victimising. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 recognises this and has accordingly made offending against a person with a disability an aggravating factor. Under these provisions, the courts have to treat this as an aggravating factor for imputing offence and deciding punishment.

Peay (2011, p.xiv) makes a very significant statement where he says that “mental disorder is a term with sufficient expansionary capacity readily to embrace many forms of deviant or disconcerting behaviour, so its role in explaining crime has considerable and arguably growing prominence.” There is thus a definite relationship between mental health and crime. The many forms of deviant behaviour cannot be categorised simply on the basis of mental health. So for example, paedophilia is a crime that can be committed by a completely sane person as well as a person with some debilitating mental problem.

There is a curious case of a man who had no history of criminal behaviour. Suddenly, the man started showing an interest in child pornography and also engaged in paedophilia. He was convicted for sex offences. A medical examination led to the discovery of an egg- sized brain tumour. After the tumour was removed, the man’s behaviour changed again and he showed revulsion to child pornography (Peay, 2011, p.33). This case illustrates the relationship between mental health and crime.

Mental health can be a mitigating factor in crime and punishment. Thus, law may allow mental disorder and insanity (permanent as well as temporary) to bear upon the culpability of a person (Morse, 2011). Mental health and crime, as mentioned before, is a complex issue and it poses a myriad of questions. These questions have direct bearing on the causation of crime, mitigating factors and culpability.


Reference List

    1. Barak, G. (2015). The Crimes of the Powerful and the Globalization of Crime. Retrieved from https://seer.imed.edu.br/index.php/revistadedireito/article/viewFile/931/721 Chakraborti, N., Garland, J. (2009). Hate Crime: Impact, Causes and Responses (London: Sage).
    2. Hutton. E. (2009). Bias Motivation In Crime: A Theoretical Examination. Internet Journal of Criminology. Retrieved from http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/hutton_bias_motivation.pdf Madison, G. (2009). Body Maps: Envisaging Homophobia, Violence and Safety. In Barbara Perry, Hate Crimes, Volume 5 (Greenwood Publishing) Morse, S.J. (2011). Mental Disorder and Criminal Law. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol 101 (6).
    3. Sykes, G.M. (1974). Rise of Critical Criminology. 65 J. Crim. L. & Criminology, 206 Payne, B. (2016). White-Collar Crime: The Essentials (London: Sage) Peay, J. (2011). Mental Health and Crime (London: Routledge)

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