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Inmates with Mental Illness Less Likely to Return to Jail

Prison inmates work outside in a chain gang. Photo courtesy of CNN.

A prison inmate with a mental illness is less likely to commit another crime and return to jail than an inmate who does not have a mental illness or one who has a mental illness and also abuses drugs, according to a study from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.

Case Western assistant social work professor Amy Hall said researchers took inmates from the Philadelphia jail system, one of the largest in the nation, and divided them into four groups.

The categories were those with severe mental illnesses, those with a substance abuse problem, those with dual problems of mental illness and substance abuse, and those with neither problem.

The study found that at the end of four years, 54 percent of inmates with severe mental illnesses returned to jail,  compared to 66 percent of those with substance abuse problems, 68 percent with mental illness and substance abuse issues, and 60 percent of those who did not have either problem.

More study is needed but the lower recidivism rate for those who are mentally ill could be a sign they can more readily get treatment than those with dual problems, Wilson said.

“These findings point to a possible need for more integrated services for mental and substance abuse, and more attention being paid generally to the ways that substance abuse involvement among people with serious mental illness complicates these individuals involvement with the criminal justice system,” she said.

Click here to read more about the study at

To learn more about how social workers help people overcome mental illness and addictions visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Mind and Spirit web site by clicking here.

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