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Study: Improved psychiatric care reduces reoffending

High quality psychiatric treatment during imprisonment and after release can significantly reduce the risk of violent reoffending, a study has found. 

Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that released prisoners with schizophrenia are three times more likely to be violent than other prisoners, but only if they receive no treatment or follow-up support from mental health services. 

The researchers, from Queen Mary University of London, looked at 967 adult male and female offenders serving sentences of two years of more for sexual or violent offences. 

They compared those who did receive treatment with those who received treatment only during prison and those who received treatment both in prison and after release. 

It was found that prisoners with schizophrenia who remained untreated during and after imprisonment were more likely to be violent following release than other prisoners. Results revealed the cause of this violent behaviour was linked to delusional beliefs in individuals that someone or something is out to harm them - a symptom itself caused by lack of treatment.

Professor Jeremy Coid, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry, Queen Mary University of London said: “This is an important public health problem and at the moment we're failing high-risk people with psychotic disorders and the public by not screening and treating people with severe mental disorders well enough, nor accurately evaluating risk when they're released from prison.

“Most people with schizophrenia are not violent and pose no danger to others. However, among those who have shown severe violent tendencies and been imprisoned as a result, the risk of future violence is greatly increased if they are not treated.

“Current risk assessment tools do not take treatment into account and we are therefore missing out on this vital part of the puzzle.” 

Professor Coid called for improved screening methods to ensure that prisoners with psychosis have access to treatment, both in prison and following release. 

An abstract of the study is available on the American Journal of Psychiatry website