Substance Use Disorders Strong Predictor of Offender Recidivism

Researchers debunked the long-standing premise that there is a strong association between mental illness and crime by determining substance addiction is a stronger predictor of recidivism among offenders.

Substance addiction is a stronger predictor of recidivism amongst offenders than mental illness, according to a study in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology, Public Policy, and Law journal.

For a 2-year period, a team of researchers at Simon Fraser University (SFU) examined offense outcomes of 31,014 Canadians with a criminal history. The observed participants were serving varying sentences throughout British Columbia when the study began.

Individuals with non-substance-related mental disorders were no more likely than their healthy counterparts to commit a crime again, according to the analysis. Conversely, the investigators found a strong association between substance use disorders and recidivism.

The writers also noted close to 50% of observed re-offenders were formally diagnosed with a substance use disorder within 5 years prior to their first convicted crime.

Overall, their findings debunked the long-standing premise that there is a strong association between mental illness and crime.

“This adds strength to the emerging conclusion that non-substance-related mental disorders are, as a group, less likely to predict recidivism than substance use disorders,” Stefanie Rezansoff, a SFU PhD student and the study’s leader, said in a statement.

Furthermore, Julian Somers, a health professor at SFU and contributor to the research, touted the study for the size and diversity of their participant pool.

Based on their findings, the researchers had several recommendations on how to remedy the issue, such as improving treatment for substance use disorders and removing the stigma often associated with mental illness. Additionally, the investigators recommended a joint effort between health and corrections fields be made to target at-risk persons.

“These individuals (substance abusers) are already being identified by the healthcare system,” Somers said. “If they received better and more effective treatment then perhaps they would offend less often. This shows that healthcare does have an impact on public safety.”