News Editor: Tina Pentland

bigstock-Man-Arrested-255609It is quite well established that people with serious mental illness make up a disproportionate percentage of people who are involved with the criminal justice system for various reasons, including arrest and imprisonment.  And not only are they more likely to be arrested and end up in prison than members of the general population, they are also more likely to remain involved with the justice system for much of their lives.  The health costs to these individuals and the monetary costs to society are immense.

With this in mind, Dr Richard Van Dorn at the Research Triangle Institute, North Carolina, in collaboration with researchers at NC State University and the University of South Florida, developed a study to evaluate the effects of out-patient treatment, including medication and therapy, among people suffering schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as a factor in reducing the risk of arrest following discharge from hospital.  A secondary aim of the study was to compare the costs of on-going funding of outpatient treatment for mental illness and the costs of funding individuals in the justice system.  The longitudinal study was carried out on 4,056 people who had been hospitalized for mental illness in 2004 or 2005 and who were followed up (via Florida Medicaid) over seven years, between 2005 and 2012.

The results of the study, “Effects of Outpatient Treatment on Risk of Arrest of Adults With Serious Mental Illness and Associated Costs,” published in the Journal Psychiatric Services, demonstrate quite clearly that treating the mentally ill and keeping them out of trouble with the law had better outcomes—both in terms of the health of the individuals concerned and the costs to the taxpayer.  The cost to the government, per individual, of providing outpatient services and treatment was significantly less than funding individuals in the criminal justice system: the difference was an astounding $10 per day, or around $27,000 across the study period.

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