Mental Health & Criminal Behavior

Based on the paper titled “Mental Health & Criminal Behavior” by Misty Smith. Originally published on April 23, 2017, for PSY 224 at Southern New Hampshire University.

Mental Health & Criminal Behavior


Are there biological components that affect the decision making of both criminals and repeat criminal offenders, specifically those who suffer from mental illness? Studies show that criminals who are released from penal institutions are likely to commit other offenses once they are released back into the population (National Institute of Justice,2014). For example, The National Institute of Justice (2014) states that one study they conducted, which had over 400,000 released prisoners as participants, spanning a total of 30 states in 2005 showed that 76.6 percent of the released prisoners in the study were rearrested within a five-year span. Furthermore, there are numerous theories about why criminals commit crimes, and why they continue on a criminal path, including the Cognitive Theory of Desistance (Paternoster & Bushway, 2009), mental health considerations such as mental illness (Ramsland, 2011), and biological or genetic considerations such as the controversial MAOA gene (González-Tapia & Obsuth, 2015).

Previous Studies and Articles

For this project, numerous articles were examined pertaining to studies within the topic.The First article, titled Kent Kiehl: Peering Inside the Psychopath’s Mind by K. Ramsland discusses the life work of Dr. Kiehl. Dr. Kiehl’s fascination with the criminal mind began when he was only a child with learning about the serial killer Ted Bundy. Building from his childhood fascination, Dr. Kiehl has conducted numerous studies over the years in Mind Research.Incorporating such technology as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) he and his scientific team have been able to scan thousands of criminal’s brains during his research and has discovered that about 17% of the offenders who were scanned could be considered psychopathic. Dr. Kiehl suspects that it is the psychopathic illness that fosters the criminal behavior of his research participants. Furthermore, Dr. Kiehl believes that in the future medical advancements may occur which will help to foster feelings of appreciation of a psychotic criminal’s behavior on personal levels, which may help to deter them from participating in criminal activity. Bias may be an issue within the article Kent Kiehl: Peering Inside the Psychopath’s Mind because the article is solely focused on the life works of Dr. Kiehl. Because of this deliberate bias opposing theories and research are not used as comparisons to Dr. Kiehl’s work.

The MAOA gene is also commonly referred to as The “Warrior” Gene.

In the article titled “Bad genes” & Criminal Responsibility research into the genetic causes of criminal behavior is addressed. The MAOA gene, also known as the “warrior gene”, is the topic of the research discussed in the article. The warrior gene has been linked to bad human behavior on numerous occasions and in various research. The research suggests that it has now been proven that genes such as the MAOA are responsible for antisocial and criminal behavior. Therefore, it is the researcher’s conclusion that the genetic makeup of a certain portion of the criminal population is because of heredity. For example, they place and emphasize on the trait of hostility being a genetically passed trait between generations. Limitations of the research discussed in the article “Bad genes” & criminal responsibility include the predetermined belief that individuals with the MAOA gene will become criminals because they are destined to because of heredity. However, because the research is relatively new more research will need to be conducted over a larger amount of generations of specific families.

The article titled ‘Predictors of criminal justice system trajectories of homeless adults living with mental illness’ discusses the reoccurrence rates of criminal activities amongst a sector of the homeless population in Canada (Roy, Crocker, Nicholls, Latimer, & Isaak, 2016). The participants of the study were selected from the At Home/Chez Soi project which is a homeless housing project based in Canada. The participants did not represent a larger segment of the population, but a sub-segment of a population: in particular, the homeless. The participants all had an arrest within six months prior to the study. The study consisted of seven groups which were assigned by a number of times a participant had been in trouble with the law and the severity of their crimes. Participants were also groups by whether they had committed violent crimes versus non-violent crimes. Furthermore, participants were also divided between drug and non-drug offenses, mental health past and no mental health past. The groups were not biased as all possible combinations were placed together. The study researchers ensured equal status between the groups by including a variety of backgrounds, for example, multiple genders and races. Furthermore, the study researchers ensured that ethical standards were met. For example, the researchers obtained written formal consent from various institutions and consent from the study participants. As the study was conducted in Canada, they were not under APA jurisdiction. The variables of the study where the number of arrests among the participants, which were reported by the participants to the researchers via a voluntary questionnaire. If the participants reported an arrest they were moved to another group for closer observation and questioning.The questionnaires were completed at least once every six months for a twenty-four month period. The study concluded that 82% of the studies participants were re-arrested at least once within the two years, and 18% continuously being arrested. All of the arrested individuals showed symptoms of mental health issues and were directed to treatment. Furthermore, the study showed that the male participants were at higher percentages than female participants on being re-arrested for various crimes.

The article titled ‘Expedited Medicaid enrollment, mental health service use, and criminal recidivism among released prisoners with severe mental illness” discusses the results of a study of prisoners in Washington state who were given access to mental health services upon release (Morrissey, Domino, & Cuddeback, 2016). The participants of the study were selected from two groups of Medicaid recipients in Washington state during the 2006 – 2007 enrollment process. The participants represent only a fraction of the population and a subpopulation of prisoners. The groups of participants consisted of prisoners who were deemed to have a severe mental illness and pushed through the Medicaid enrollments versus those inmates with mental illness who were not pushed through the Medicaid enrollment process. The study was biased as they only studied inmates from one state and not the entire nation. The researchers should have expanded their study to other areas of the United States, displaying a larger picture of actual Medicare effects upon mental health rehabilitation of repeat criminal offenders. The researchers followed the recommended APA ethical guidelines within their study. They used proper methods to ensure the data supplied by the prison system and Medicaid program was kept private and secure. They also obtained permission from participants when available. The variables were the information provided by the state of Washington on the statistics involved in Medicaid enrollment and the severely mentally ill and repeat criminal offenders. The data was transferred into software for tracking and comparison. The experiment showed that the inmates who had Medicaid forced upon them did not show a decline in criminal behavior.

The article Homelessness, Mental Illness, and Criminal Activity: Examining Patterns Over Time by Fischer, Shinn, Shrout, & Tsemberis discussed a study of 207 homeless individuals and their criminal profiles. The study discussed, much like similar studies in the past, concluded that individuals who were homeless and had mental illnesses were more likely to commit crimes (Fischer, Shinn, Shrout, & Tsemberis, 2008). However, the study points out that there was no data on how, or if, programs and institutions that provided services to the homeless individuals helped to curve the rates of crimes committed.

The final summary relates to the article titled Effectiveness of a Short-Term Mental Health Court: Criminal Recidivism One Year Postexit by Aldigé Hiday, Ray, & Wales. Their study concluded that criminal behavior could be reduced by the successful treatment of mental illness, Furthermore, the article goes into a discussion about the effectiveness of screening for mental illnesses within the inmate populations and during pretrial timelines.

As discussed in the articles there has been limited and bias within the various studies provided. For example, the study out of Canada by Roy, Crocker, Nicholls, Latimer, & Isaak, and the one out of Washington by Morrissey, Domino, & Cuddeback clearly show the geographical bias of participants. Furthermore, the majority of the studies did not revisit the participants after the completion of mental health treatment.


Studies have shown that criminal behavior can be attributed to various mental illness diagnoses which are in correlation with both drug and alcohol use (Shaffer et al., 2007) and environmental conditions (LeBel, Burnett, Maruna, & Brushway, 2008). On the other hand, numerous scientists have proposed theories which have gone further and attribute biologically linked mental illness and genetics as a factor in repeat criminal activity (González-Tapia & Obsuth, 2015). It is the hypothesis of this student, in collusion with research, that there is a multitude of repeat criminal offenders that were born with biologically linked mental illnesses such as psychosis (Ramsland, 2011), and genetic factors such as the MAOA gene (González- Tapia & Obsuth, 2015) that set them on the path of criminal behavior. Furthermore, I theorize that the large rates of criminal behavior being cited can be contributed, partially, to the lack of mental health care to criminal offenders or those at risk. My hypothesis is based up the research conducted by various studies including those listed in the literature review. While some of the studies placed their theories as one reason over another, I theorize that it is a combination of biologically linked mental illness and genetics that contribute to repeat criminal offenses. For example, an individual could have family members who have been convicted of numerous crimes, yet they personally lack the biological or genetic markers attributed to criminal behavior, which could lead them to not being criminal offenders themselves (González-Tapia & Obsuth, 2015).

Research Design/Methodology

The research design in which I have selected consists of a combination of experimental design, a correlational design, a survey, and a case study. Medical tests such as fMRI and DNA testing will need to be conducted for participants in order to verify the existence of any MAOA or other aggressive genes which may or may not be present in the participants. In addition, medical histories of participants along with surveys will need to be studied along with any criminal histories in order to find a link to repeat criminal activities among participants. Finally, participants will need to be studied for up to 10 years in order to follow their criminal convictions or arrests.

I propose that the research project consists of at least 200 individuals from various areas of the United States. The ages of the participants should between the ages of 18 to 60. The participants should consist of all genders and ethnic origins. Participation in the research design would be voluntary from a pool of a minimum of 100 individuals who would be found by conducting advertisements via social media and newspapers. Next, a minimum of 100 individuals would be needed to be found through voluntary participation of inmates in jail and probationary systems.

In order to stay within the APA Ethical guidelines for research, the participants will be selected from a voluntary pool. The information they provide will be collected and stored on private encrypted computers with number identification instead of real names in the reports. Data collected will include information on prior arrests and any new arrests that may occur during the study. Participants will be kept informed of the results of the study at the conclusion.


There is strong scientific evidence to support that aggression, which can be linked to criminal activity, can be inherited, thus a part of an individual’s genetic makeup (González-Tapia & Obsuth, 2015). Does this mean that everyone who has an aggressive ancestor or family member is destined to commit criminal activity? I do not believe so, however, this can be seen as a genetic link to predetermined criminal activity. Furthermore, studies have shown that repeat offenders do not always wish to commit criminal activity, yet the mental illnesses they may suffer from may push them in committing offenses without first thinking about the consequences of their actions (Paternoster & Bushway, 2009). The research data collected during the proposed study would be reported in a journal article format. The data would show statics only and no personal information pertaining to the participants. The number of prior arrests, the nature of the mental illnesses of the participants, and the reoccurrence of crimes will all need to be referenced to during the findings. In addition, further research can build upon the study by following individuals who have been given access to new treatment programs. The new treatment programs could possibly be created around the results of this study.



Aldigé Hiday, V. g., Ray, B., & Wales, H. W. (2013). Effectiveness of a Short-Term Mental Health Court: Criminal Recidivism One Year Postexit. Law & Human Behavior (American

Psychological Association), 37(6), 401-411.

Fischer, S. N., Shinn, M., Shrout, P., & Tsemberis, S. (2008). Homelessness, Mental Illness, and Criminal Activity: Examining Patterns Over Time. American Journal Of Community

Psychology, 42(3/4), 251-265. doi:10.1007/s10464-008-9210-z

González-Tapia, M. I., & Obsuth, I. (2015). “Bad genes” & criminal responsibility. International Journal Of Law And Psychiatry, 3960-71. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2015.01.022

LeBel, T. P., Burnett, R., Maruna, S., & Bushway, S. (2008). The ‘Chicken and Egg’ of Subjective and Social Factors in Desistance from Crime. European Journal Of Criminology, 5(2),

131-159. doi:10.1177/1477370807087640

Morrissey, J. P., Domino, M. E., & Cuddeback, G. S. (2016). Expedited Medicaid enrollment, mental health service use, and criminal recidivism among released prisoners with severe

mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 67(8), 842-849. doi:10.1176/

National Institute of Justice. (2014). Recidivism. Retrieved from


Criminology, 99(4), 1103-1156.

Ramsland, K. (2011). Kent Kiehl: Peering Inside the Psychopath’s Mind. Forensic Examiner, 20(3), 24-29.

Roy, L. l., Crocker, A. G., Nicholls, T. L., Latimer, E., & Isaak, C. A. (2016). Predictors of criminal justice system trajectories of homeless adults living with mental illness. International

Journal Of Law & Psychiatry, 4975-83.

Shaffer, H. J., Nelson, S. E., LaPlante, D. A., LaBrie, R. A., Albanese, M., & Caro, G. (2007). The Epidemiology of Psychiatric Disorders among Repeat DUI Offenders Accepting a

Treatment-Sentencing Option. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 75(5), 795- 804.



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