Crime and Psychiatry

Psychiatry and crime are linked in certain ways. On one hand, we have criminal offenders with serious psychopathology; and on the other hand, we have psychiatric patients who may commit criminal offences during the influence of a psychiatric disorder. The psychiatrist in practice has to come in contact with the criminal justice system at some point of time in his career. Forensic psychiatry under whose realm these issues reside is a branch yet underdeveloped in India. The present paper reviews the inter-relationship between crime and psychiatry and the factors involved therein.


  • The Relationship Between Crime and Psychiatric Patients
    The mentally ill have been often depicted in a criminalised manner. A large body of evidence suggests that the mentally ill are arrested, convicted and sent to prison in proportions that surpass their actual criminal behaviour (Skeem, Manchak and Peterson, 2011[18]). The mentally ill are often ‘referred’ to the criminal justice system due to poor or inappropriate resources in the mental health sector and this is due to the phenomenon of ‘deinstitutionalisation’ seen in many countries in the last few decades (Hamden et al., 2011[7]). The community mental health movement aimed at moving mental health away from psychiatric hospital to the community has never been properly implemented in India. As a result of deinstitutionalisation, the mentally ill increasingly come into contact with the police and courts, thus inflating the apparent relationship between crime and mental illness (Rai et al., 2014[14]).

    Many psychiatric patients abandoned by relatives take to the streets and are often arrested by the police for petty crimes as a preventive law and order measure (Golightley, 2014[5]). Many of the symptoms of mental illness are behaviours considered to be antisocial or criminal, such as violence or wandering behaviour (Fisher and Lieberman, 2013[4]). Mental illness elevates the risk of arrest as detection and subsequent calls to the police are more likely in those with such problems (Smith and Alpert, 2007[17]). There is also a bias in convictions, as the mentally ill are more likely to be charged and spend a longer time in jail for similar crimes (McNeill, 2009[10]).


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