Those accused of serious criminal offenses will sometimes try to avoid the worst possible consequences of a criminal conviction by using their mental health as a defense. Historically, people have claimed either temporary insanity or long-term mental health issues as reasons why the state should not prosecute or convict them for a crime.
However, search pleas only occur in a tiny percentage of all criminal cases, especially because many people accused of serious offenses never try to raise a defense and do not go to trial. The actual percentage of people going through the criminal justice system because of mental health issues is much higher than most people realize.
What is known about the correlation between mental health issues and criminal convictions?
Many of the people in state custody have a history of mental health struggles
It can be difficult to conclusively determine when someone struggles with a mental health issue. Many people with diagnosable conditions never receive any treatment either due to their own aversion to diagnosis or because they don’t have access to resources, like health insurance.
However, looking at the medical records and statements made by inmates so they strong correlation between mental health issues and incarceration risk. According to statistics provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures, mental health issues and criminal convictions seem to go hand in hand. Roughly 56% of state prisoners and 64% of jail inmates have a history of some kind of mental health issue.
Experts also note that those with mental health issues may be more likely to spend longer in state custody because they struggle to develop positive relationships with other inmates, have trouble following the rules or have yet to address the issues that caused their worst behaviors.
Many people need treatment rather than punishment
Someone with an untreated mental health condition might self-medicate with drugs and then get arrested for possession. They might also struggle with self-destructive or impulsive behavior, which increases their chances of getting caught for a criminal act.
There’s little question that our society and our criminal justice system fail those struggling with mental health issues. Recognizing and proactively addressing mental health issues after an arrest could potentially impact the rest of someone’s defense strategy when facing criminal charges.