Examining the Complex Relationships Among Mental Illness, Criminal Risk, Recidivism and Parole Release Status
Serious mental illness exhibits a significant indirect effect with recidivism when considering its relationship with actuarially assessed risk. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.
Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2015, Vol. 39, No. 1, 75-86
Serious Mental Illness, Criminal Risk, Parole Supervision, and Recidivism:Testing of Conditional Effects
Jason Matejkowski, University of Kansas
Michael Ostermann, Rutgers University
Adults with serious mental illness (SMI) who are released from prison tend to recidivate more quickly and at higher rates than similarly situated adults who do not have SMI. The current study examined whether this relationship with recidivism is mediated by criminal risk level and whether parole supervision can ameliorate the effects of SMI on recidivism. Findings indicate that SMI did exhibit a significant indirect effect with recidivism when considering its relationship with actuarially assessed risk. However, this indirect effect was not conditioned by whether the individual was released to parole; specifically release status did not moderate the relationship between risk and recidivism. The direct effects of SMI on recidivism were found to be conditioned upon release status. Specifically, we found no relationship between SMI and recidivism for parolees and a negative relationship between SMI and recidivism among nonparolees. Findings indicate a need for paroling authorities to find more effective ways of reducing criminal risk, which can decrease subsequent recidivism, among the individuals they supervise.
Keywords: serious mental illness, parole supervision, criminal risk, conditional process analysis
Summary of the Research
“The term serious mental illness (SMI) indicates the presence of a psychiatric disorder that results in a high level of interference with social and occupational functioning” (p. 75). The criminal justice system is overrepresented with individuals who have SMI and the rates of individuals with SMI are higher in correctional settings than outside of these facilities, and the reason for this is not fully understood. Individuals are motivated to develop methods to reduce recidivism and promote diversion from the criminal justice system for people with SMI. This study examines the relationship between SMI and criminal risk and recidivism by reviewing parole release decisions and recidivism data for criminal justice involvement within two years of an offender’s release date. Additionally, the authors assess if parole supervision can improve the relationship between SMI and recidivism.
Mental Health and Recidivism
“Former inmates who have mental health problems have not fared well in the community after release from incarceration when compared with otherwise similar released offenders who do not have a mental health problem” (p. 75). Previous research has indicated that offenders with SMI have a large amount of static and dynamic risk factors, which play a critical role in criminal involvement and at higher rates compared to the general public. Additionally, research has indicated that the presence of SMI is related with increased antisocial attitudes and together these factors put offenders with mental illness at an increased risk for recidivism.
Parole and Recidivism
“It is suggested that parole supervision can moderate this indirect effect by mitigating the relationship between risk and recidivism, or it may influence the relationship between SMI and recidivism via an alternative manner (e.g., intermediate sanctions or increased supervision). As such, the study addressed the following questions: Is serious mental illness indirectly related to recidivism via relationships with criminal risk? Is this indirect relationship conditioned by whether or not the offender is released to parole supervision or does parole supervision influence the relationship between SMI and recidivism in some other way?” (p. 77)
Findings of this study indicated, “that SMI did exhibit a significant relationship with recidivism when considering their relationships with actuarially assessed risk. Those with SMI had significantly higher risk levels than those without SMI, and increased risk level was significantly associated with a re-arrest or technical parole violation within 2 years of being released from prison. Results indicate that this indirect effect of SMI on recidivism (through risk level) was not conditioned by whether the individual was released to parole; specifically release status did not moderate the relationship between risk and recidivism. However, when exploring the direct effects of SMI on recidivism at 2 years we found this relationship to be conditioned upon release status. Specifically, independent of the relationship SMI had on recidivism through increased risk level, we found no relationship between SMI and recidivism for parolees and a negative relationship between SMI and recidivism among nonparolees. That is, among nonparolees, SMI was associated with reduced likelihood of recidivism” (p. 82)
Translating Research into Practice
Parole supervision did not improve the relationship between risk and recidivism demonstrating that community corrections may not be utilizing the opportunity to reduce criminal involvement with the individuals that they supervise. Parole officers are encouraged to incorporate programs targeting behaviors that reduce criminal involvement in parole conditions. “As reduction in dynamic criminal risk factors is associated with reduced criminal behaviors, efforts to train officers in the importance of addressing criminogenic needs among those they supervise, identification of available services that target criminal risk reduction and evaluations of the efficacy of these programs to reduce criminal risk among those they supervise can improve parole’s response to the high levels of criminogenic need among the populations they supervise” (p. 84).
“Training to improve responses to the special needs of offenders with mental illness is essential to reduce their returns to incarceration. With the increasing presence of those with mental health problems within corrections and community corrections populations, it is imperative that parole agencies improve how their officers interact with, notice the ailments and triggering behaviors of, and connect those on their caseloads that have mental health problems to appropriate treatment regimens” (p. 84).
Mental illness alone is not a good predictor of criminal behavior. “This highlights the need for researchers, when examining the relationship between mental illness and criminal recidivism, to consider the potential contribution of risk factors to the total effect of SMI on recidivism and to interpret results accordingly. Failure to do so could lead to the overinflating of estimates of the relationship between SMI and criminal behavior” (p.83).
Special trainings for parole officers to work with mental health professionals may assist these officers in understanding this population. Paroling authorities may be more inclined to respond to individuals with SMI punitively as they do not understand all of the complex needs of this population. If provided adequate training, paroling authorities may attribute problematic behavior to an individual’s mental illness oppose to willful noncompliance, which may lead them to respond to criminal conduct with alternatives to arrest.
Crafting mental health clinics specific for individuals on parole may assist with addressing and lowering recidivism among individuals with SMI. Requirements of parole may be to participate in programs to reduce criminal behaviors as well as to understand the impact their mental illness plays in committing deviant acts. These programs may also address issues such as substance abuse, medication compliance, provide them with crisis intervention information and assist with finding employment. Intensive supervision may mitigate the relationship between recidivism and criminal behavior.
Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians
“Future research that identifies specific risk factors that mediate the relationship between SMI and recidivism could inform targeted interventions for reducing recidivism among this population” (p. 83)
“The current study did not contain data on conditions of parole supervision and services involved in among parolees it is unclear whether these criminogenic needs are being overlooked by parole officers, whether programming is available to parolees, or whether the available programs are ineffective at reducing criminal risk” (p. 84).
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Contributions to this post were made by Amanda Beltrani.
Amanda M. Beltrani is a first-year graduate student in the Forensic Psychology masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her professional interests include forensic assessments and criminal matter evaluations. Amanda plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program after completion of her Masters degree.