Treating Criminal Tendencies

Harold Pollack wants to reduce violence committed by the mentally ill:

Millions of Americans suffer from some form of severe mental illness, or SMI. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of these men and women have never committed a violent crime and never will commit one. (Indeed, the mentally ill are often victims of violent crime, a social problem that has not received sufficient attention.) The most careful studies in several wealthy democracies suggest that the severely mentally ill account for perhaps 5 percent of violent crimes. Despite these rather low numbers, violence perpetrated by a subset of disturbed individuals is a genuine public safety concern.

He notes that “the combination of [severe mental illness] and substance abuse disorders, appears to be an especially strong risk factor for violent offending, with alcohol use playing a particularly prominent role”:

Because the social costs of crime are so high, even highly imperfect services—which is to say, most of the services offered to this population—tend to wildly pass any reasonable cost-benefit test. Anirban Basu, David Paltiel, and I published an economic analysis of substance abuse treatment services that included (but were not restricted to) individuals with co-occurring disorders. We found that the economic benefits of reducing the incidence of armed robbery alone—which was only committed by a small subgroup of treatment patients—were sufficient to offset the entire cost of the intervention.