Treatment of Mental Illness Lowers Arrest Rates, Saves Money

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Research from RTI International, North Carolina State University, and the University of South Florida shows that outpatient treatment of mental illness significantly reduces arrest rates for people with mental health problems and saves taxpayers money.

“Our study showed that providing routine monthly outpatient mental health care, including access to psychopharmacological medications, to adults with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, reduced their likelihood of arrest,” said Richard Van Dorn, Ph.D., a senior mental health services researcher at RTI and the paper’s lead author. “This is important as people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, make up a disproportionate share of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system.”

The researchers wanted to determine the extent to which treating mental illness can keep people with mental health problems out of trouble with the law.  They identified more than 4,000 people who had been hospitalized for mental illness in 2004 or 2005 and then tracked them from 2005 to 2012.

The researchers were able to determine which individuals were receiving government-subsidized medication and which were receiving government-subsidized outpatient services, such as therapy. The researchers were also able to determine who was arrested during the seven-year study period.

“Our research shows that people receiving medication were significantly less likely to be arrested,” said Sarah Desmarais, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “Outpatient services also resulted in a decreased likelihood of arrest.”

The researchers also compared criminal justice costs with mental health treatment costs. Individuals who were arrested received less treatment and each cost the government approximately $95,000 during the study period. Individuals who were not arrested received more treatment and each cost the government approximately $68,000 during the study period.

“It costs about $10 less per day to provide treatment and prevent crime," Desmarais said. "That’s a good investment.”

“An important but challenging next step is to create and maintain coordinated systems of care between jails and community treatment providers that prevent people from slipping through the cracks and going without treatment for long periods of time," Van Dorn said.

The paper, “Effects of Outpatient Treatment on Risk of Arrest of Adults With Serious Mental Illness and Associated Costs,” was published online May 15 in the journal Psychiatric Services. The research was supported by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

 

woman getting counseling

Highlights

  • Outpatient treatment of mental illness significantly reduces arrest rates for people with mental health problems and saves taxpayers money
  • The study shows that people receiving medication were significantly less likely to be arrested