Mental Health Problems

Mental health problems among offenders are a growing concern in light of the public fascination with violent crimes committed by mentally ill offenders (Howells et al., 1983; Marzuk, 1996). On the other hand, mental illness is sometimes seen as an excuse for criminal behavior (Szasz and Alexander, 1968). Many juvenile offenders who need screening and treatment for mental health problems fail to receive either (Woolard et al., 1992).

Data from the Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency indicated that the relationship between persistent mental health problems and persistent serious delinquency is statistically significant for males at all three sites (see table 4). For males, the presence of mental health problems, as measured in the studies, is a better indicator of serious delinquency than serious delinquency is an indicator of mental health problems. That is, less than 25 percent of male delinquents displayed mental health problems. On the other hand, of those with mental health problems, almost one-third in Rochester and almost one-half at each of the other two sites were serious delinquents.

Table 4

The relationship is statistically significant for females only in Rochester, where one-third of females who were serious delinquents also had mental health problems. At the same time, only 17 percent of those with mental health problems were serious delinquents. This relationship is the reverse of that seen in males. Thus, at least in the case of Rochester, the presence of delinquency among females is a better indicator of mental health problems than mental health problems are an indicator of delinquency.

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Co-occurrence of Delinquency and Other Problem Behaviors Juvenile Justice Bulletin November 2000