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A Master Thesis
Submitted to the Faculty
American Public University
Jennifer Wilece Corder
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
December 2018
American Public University
Charles Town, WV
The author hereby grants the American Public University System the right to display
these contents for educational purposes.
The author assumes total responsibility for meeting the requirements set by United States
copyright law for the inclusion of any materials that are not the author’s creation or in the
public domain.
© Copyright 2018 by Jennifer Wilece Corder
All rights reserved.
I dedicate this thesis to my children Jullian and Jenese. They are my why, they
keep me going, and they are who I strive so hard for. Without the drive of them and my
loved ones, the completion of this work would not have been possible.
I wish to thank my professor for his support, patience, and push for excellence. It
was a rough start, but he was always there for feedback and guidance. I have found my
course work throughout the Criminal Justice program to be stimulating and thoughtful,
providing me with the tools with which to explore both past and present ideas and issues.
I am grateful and appreciative for all help thus far.
Jennifer Wilece Corder
American Public University System, December 23, 2018
Charles Town, West Virginia
Dr. Miron Gilbert, Thesis Professor
This study aimed to investigate the relationships existing between various mental
disorders, like schizophrenia, and certain criminal activities such as gun violence. The
research used a descriptive design, as well as a continuum mathematical formula to
tabulate quantifiable data. Relevant information concerning history on the crimes
committed, involvement in substance abuse, and possible mental disorder diagnoses,
came from prison authorities and incarcerated inmates. SPSS analysis provided outputs
necessary for comparing means through the paired t-test. The targeted population was
300 mentally ill individuals from correctional facilities, rehabilitation centers, and
psychiatric hospitals, with a sample size of 20 people (Anderson, 2017). Overall, the
study clearly confirmed that mentally ill people have a high prevalence to commit crime
of all natures; however, it revealed a greater correlation between mental illnesses and
violent crimes such as armed or aggravated robberies and gun violence. Substance
abuse, psychotic conditions, and criminal activities are all closely connected, but it is
clear that schizophrenia and alcohol abuse present a most intimate connection with
violent crimes (Hare, & Hart, 2015). Mentally ill individuals have a role of overcoming
the influence of their conditions, thus becoming more acceptable society
Keywords: mental disorders, schizophrenia, violent crimes, paired t-test,
substance abuse
Table of Contents
1.0 Introduction
1.1 Purpose of the Research
1.2 Importance of the Study
1.4 Problem Statement
2.0 Literature Review
2.1 Historical study of the link between violence and mental illness
2.2 Mental illness and violent crimes
2.3 Gender differences in the comparison of mental disorders and crimes
2.4 Different mental illnesses in relation to violent crimes
2.4.1 Schizophrenia
2.4.2 Anti-social personality disorder
2.5 Public perception of the issue of mental illness and crime occurrence
2.5 Hypothesis
2.5.1 Null Hypothesis:
3.0 Methodology
3.1 Research Design
3.3 Sample Size and Sampling Procedure
3.4 Research Instruments
3.5 Data Collection Procedure
3.6 Data Analysis
4.0 Data Analysis, Presentation and Interpretation
4.1 Deductions
4.2 Demographic analysis of Crime occurrence and substance abuse
1.0 Introduction
According to Anderson (2017), a lot of focus on research has been with the
association between mental disorders, and crime, via the use of both longitudinal and
cross-sectional research designs. Many people who are mentally ill or suffer from mental
disorders do not ultimately become involved in any violent acts, On the same accord,
there are many individuals who commit violent crimes, although they do not suffer from
any form of mental ailment. So, while there is a clear connection between mental illness
and violent crime, they two are not mutually exclusive. The question therefore arises
whether violence and crime are synonymous or coincidental to mental illness.
Finding a relationship between various mental disorders such as schizophrenia
and violent criminal activities is of critical relevance. In fact, according to a report
released in 2016 by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than two-thirds of the
inmates, in almost half of the prisons in the United States suffer from mental disorders;
both chronic, and those induced by drug usage. Thus, it was reported that there exists a
significant relationship between substance use and mental disorders, a relationship that
leads to crime, such as robbery and gun violence. The project also shows that the rates of
crime among young people associated with substance abuse, mainly begins through peer
pressure and negative peer groups. Consequently, this substance abuse leads to mental
instability and disorders, which can ultimately lead to crime. Some substances commonly
abused such as marijuana, was found to reduce chances of violence, but users were
commonly found doing non-violent criminal activities such as stealing.
Former substance users who showed violent acts, also showed positive changes
after rehabilitation; Anderson (2017), in trying to assess the relation between mental
illness and criminal behavior compared the prevalent appearance of mental illness
patients among inmates, and those within the criminal justice system. This comparison is
also extended to those in the juvenile system. Generally, it is seen as teenagers and adults
who have been unfortunate enough to go into the criminal justice system and are more
likely to be diagnosed with mental disorders. Majority of these disorders include:
conduct disorders, oppositional defiant disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity
disorders, among others. The report concludes that there exists a great relationship
between mental disorders and substance abuse, that ultimately leads to crime in the
society. Data also shows that a considerable amount of mentally ill individuals who are
female are more likely to engage in one form of crime or another. These trends show that
the occurrence of crime among young mentally ill males and females is different in terms
of intensity and pattern.
The data shows that over the last five years, the US saw 5.3% increase in the
number of mental illnesses related crime; annually. The data also shows that the case of
mental illness have dropped among young females, and increased among males (Vogel,
Stephens & Siebels, 2014). There has been a 2.7% annual increase in the number of
mental illnesses among middle-aged females for the past three years.
The two issues of mental health and crime are often closely linked in society. This
has caused a lot of stigma around these patients, making them more reluctant to wanting
to seek medical attention. (Anderson, 2017). This perception ends up isolating them from
the society, failing to disclose their illness, and ultimately hinders them from seeking
treatment in hopes of rehabilitation. Typically, those with mental illnesses are just a small
portion of those who become violent offenders. In fact, these patients are more likely to
be victims of crime than perpetrators. Statistics show that the majority of the crimes that
are committed are usually committed by people who do not suffer, or report suffering,
from any kind of any mental health issues.
A study carried out by Goldstein (2015), a psychologist in a Guatemalan
maximum-security Prison in 2014, related substance abuse and violent crimes. It noted a
positive relationship, with a large number of violent crime prisoner’s confession to have
abused at least one substance. Most of the prisoners who were in for non-violent crimes
were found to be either clean of substance abuse, or mild substance abusers. The idea
being propagated, is that the researcher created a correlation between the abuse of drugs,
and the engagement to violent crime, especially when it comes to mass shootings. With
the effect of changing normal desired and priorities, the researcher thus describes
substance use as a mental disorder (Levin, 2005). Other than the interviews with the
prisoners, the researchers also had access to prison data detailing personal histories for
the offenders, and information pertaining to the offenders first incarceration.
It is clear that there has been an increase in the number of individuals with mental
issues and substance abuse in the criminal justice system. This phenomenon has
increased the monetary, health and welfare costs, as a result of offering special care to
these patients while in the justice system (Lankford, 2016). Therefore, it is important to
look at the relationship between these two societal issues in order to be able to find way
to divert those with mental issues from the prison system. The relationship between
mental illnesses and violent crimes continues to be a debate over the decades. The
argument also includes the abuse of substance abuse that act as a catalyst to the
symptoms of mental illness, which may lead one into violence. Additionally, researchers
have also considered the instances of recidivism among those with mental illnesses and
noted that this could be the result of biases towards the mentally ill when it comes to the
criminal justice system.
Research has shown that young males suffering from mental health issues have a
propensity towards the commission of violent crimes. More notably, mental illness
appears to be highest among people from poor communities. The occurrence of violence
in these areas is also high, and this link could largely be due to mental illness. Most of the
cases of mental illness go unnoticed until they reach incurable stages. The issue thus
shows laxity and negligence in the society that paves the way for adverse cases of mental
illness. To end the issue fully, commitment and increased health awareness should be
increased among the members of the society.
Statistics of a cross-national study (Lankford, 2016) show that five out of every
ten inmates with serious crimes had in their lifetime; abused one type of drug, or another.
Those interviewed in different US correctional centers for males, also stated they
performed serious crimes like murder and robbery with violence under the influence of
drugs. The occurrence of a crime under the influence of drugs is thus a major issue that
relates to mental or psychological instability of an individual. Most of the victims of
substance abuse tend to behave abnormally as substance abuse tends to interfere with the
mental stability of a person and hinders critical thinking. (Lankford, 2016).
The issue of drug abuse also needs to be addressed, as it is one of the major
triggers of mental instability and related illnesses. “Strong” or “hard” drugs, such as
Methamphetamine often lead to mental illness when abused for a long time. Young
people tend to engage in drug abuse with the aim of relieving stress or for enjoyment.
The behavior may advance to levels of addiction that causes many people to have severe
mental illnesses. The issue of drug abuse thus seems to have a huge implication on the
mental health of an individual (Lankford, 2016). Medical examinations on inmates who
have committed serious crimes like murder and robbery with violence show an acute
level of substance abuse prior to the crime. Substance abuse thus has a huge correlation
with the mental stability of a person and may sometimes advance to cause serious and
permanent mental illnesses. Studies have also shown that people who abuse drugs for
many years have serious psychological issues like phobia, anxiety, and anger. These traits
develop when one is exposed to more than one drug for a long time and may even
advance to mental illness. The nature of mental illnesses depends on its causative agent
and the intensity of the cause.
Substance abuse thus remains a major cause of mental illnesses, particular for
middle-aged people. The use of drugs to intense levels impairs the ability of the brain to
make moral decisions. The inability to think critically leads to regrettable decisions and
actions for a drug addict. Most of the people who engage in serious crimes like robbery
with violence and murder, tend to do so under the influence of drugs. Those interviewed
state that it is hard to commit some crimes like murder in a normal state of mind. The
issue thus shows that substance abuse has a huge implication on the mental stability of a
person. The inability to reason properly under all situations hinders one from
differentiating the right from wrong, and this may lead to crime prevalence among
substance abusers (Lankford, 2016).
1.1 Purpose of the Research
This research seeks to identify whether there is a relationship between mental
disorders and criminal activities. It also seeks to identify whether, if there is any; how
mental disorders influence the type and effects of the crime they participate in. The
public perception of how mental illness patients are linked to violent crimes has brought
up a debate trying to justify the coerced treatment of mentally ill patients. While the
research will not dwell on mass shootings, there is a need to note that the paper seeks to
understand the role of substance abuse and mental illnesses on violent crimes, and thus,
the overall conclusion of weapons not being exposed to people with mental illnesses.
Additionally, it also tried to offer some recommended courses of action
appropriate in reducing the effect of mental disorder on social order, if at all mental
disorders are found to influence and trigger criminal activities. In most cases, when it
comes to mass shootings, there are four assumptions, which apply in the U.S. Generally,
numerous pieces literatures show evidence that there is a link between mental illness and
criminal behavior. There are certain disorders, particularly those that manifest externally
and also those that are accompanied by delusions and hallucinations. These kinds of
disorders seem to increase the risk of criminal behavior. However, stating this casually
just simplifies the relationship between the two. (Lankford, 2016).
In addition to that, the misrepresentation of mental illness has led to
misunderstanding it truly. Unfortunately, violence in relation to crimes has been
sensationalized in the present world that there has developed stigma around mental health
patients. Mental illness has been a misunderstood issue mainly on its causes and impacts.
Society has ignored the fact that mental illness is an existing issue affecting people of all
ages and gender. The attention gives to mental illness is still low, and this makes the
problem persist. The misunderstanding creates a misguided picture on mental illness with
some perceiving it as a hereditary issue. Understanding the crime patterns is the best way
to learn its cause and impacts on society. One major demographics of crime is age.
Studies have shown that crime occurrence is mainly based on age for the criminals. In
most cases, crime is conducted by the young and middle-aged persons in society. In
connection to substance abuse, this age group has a high likelihood to engage in drug
abuse and thus the noted crime prevalence. (Lankford, 2016).
We see how the media sensationalizes crimes that have been committed by people
with mental illnesses as compared to the others, like in mass shootings. Therefore, this
research is important to be able to understand exactly how the two issues relate to each
other. The first assumption is that mental illness is the main cause of mass shootings.
Secondly, psychiatric diagnoses can lead to the prediction of crime, and mass shootings
are the epitome of deranged individuals that are mentally ill. Lastly, gun control cannot
come to deal with such issues and people in society. (Knoll, 2016)
1.2 Importance of the Study
The first benefit of this study is restoring social order. As aforementioned in the
objectives, it seeks to reinstate social order. The study will achieve this benefit by giving
proper recommendation to reduce criminal occurrences due to substance abuse. Secondly,
this study will work towards the reduction of the number of people incarcerated in
prisons, yet they are supposed to be in rehabilitation or a mental health asylum centers for
mental illnesses and substance abuse. Thirdly, the study will be beneficial to the general
community because it will serve as a warning against the effects of mental illnesses on
the people they live with. It will be a guide on how they will live with these types of
people Goldstein (2015).
Furthermore, there is a need to try and call for more funding to the mental
programs in the prisons, since research indicates that there is massively underfunding
towards mental welfare in the prison system. There is a need to have an objective
framework through which all the people who have been engaged in violent crime and
mass shootings in America are accorded the expected mental care, rather than being
subjected to the media bias and vindictive approach.
1.3 Continued Research
A lot of research studies have been done over the years to determine whether
there is a relationship between mental disorders or rather mental illness and crime. The
results that have been obtained are still contradicting; as others support while others
differ. The goal of the research study is to investigate the nature of the dynamic
relationship between gun violence and mental disorder and substance abuse.
What factors apply? The paper endeavors to establish the interaction of mental
issues and substance abuse, and how they lead to, or not lead, to gun violence. The paper
covers the effects of drug substance abuse on the mental health and more specifically
how mental health disorder can lead to increased criminal activities for addicts.
According to Goldstein (2015), there is no general conclusion that people involved in
criminal offenses suffer from mental illnesses or that people suffering from mental
illnesses are involved in criminal offenses.
1.4 Problem Statement
According to Hare (2015), there is an ongoing debate that deliberates the
association between mental illness and crime. Approximately 18.5% of people in the
United States only are diagnosed with a mental illness. If these people are positively
related to criminal activities, it means that this high percentage of new crimes will be
experienced every year. Schizophrenia, for instances, is associated with violence. 1% of
Americans are diagnosed with the mental disorder every year. 1.2% of Americans are
living with the mental conditions and only less than 50% of the schizophrenia patients
have access to psychological therapy. If the relationship holds to be true, then there are a
good number of violent p …
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