Mental illness and crime are closely linked in England and the United States. According to a recent article in The Guardian, people subject to detention under England’s Mental Health Act (EMHA) of 1983 in 2014 totaled 25,117, an increase of nearly 10 percent from the previous year. Out of this number, people were detained a total of 58,399 times. Experts say the increase is due to the failure of mental health facilities to admit patients soon enough thereby causing their problems to evolve into more serious psychoses. A commitment under EMHA is involuntary (a detainee’s consent is not required), and often used as a “last resort” remedy. Private therapies and hospitalizations are not included in these numbers, however even if one attempted voluntary admission, there would likely not be a bed available because of the number admitted under EMHA. Of the people admitted under the Act, the majority were black, followed by Asian and other ethnic groups. Cost is the primary factor behind the prevention of early detection and assistance. The criminal justice system in England is jammed with mentally ill defendants, and crowded and under-underfunded facilities are only adding to the problem. The failure to treat mentally ill people early is substantially increasing serious crime in England.
The truth is that many government-run hospitals, throughout the world, are understaffed and underfunded. In the United States, it is estimated that 4% of the population, or 10 million people, suffer from a serious mental illness. The mentally ill represent about 16 percent of the prison population. Men and women are incarcerated for crimes ranging from property offenses to homicide (about 1,000 murders per year are committed by defendants who are mentally ill). The cost of imprisoning the seriously mentally ill is about $15 billion. Such amounts do not include the costs associated with suicides, property damage and collateral harms caused by the mentally ill.
Early intervention is paramount if we hope to head off many offenders before they commit crimes. We should not require a person to be violent before they are committed or otherwise treated. The emphasis must be on early detection and prevention. Several billion dollars spent on treating the mentally ill would likely save ten times that amount in other social costs. The additional intangible benefits derived from treating the mentally ill early, emotional loss to the victims of the injured and killed, are immeasurable. People must be held accountable for their crimes, but money wisely spent on early mental detection is likely to reduce the number of victims and costs.