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Serious criminal offending and mental disorder

Case linkage study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 January 2018

Cameron Wallace*
Victorian institute of Forensic Mental Health, Department of Psychological Medicine
Paul E. Mullen
Victorian institute of Forensic Mental Health, Department of Psychological Medicine
Philip Burgess
Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria
Simon Palmer
Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria
David Ruschena
Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Department of Psychological Medicine
Chris Browne
Department of Physiology, Monash University
Professor P. E. Mullen, Department of Psychological Medicine, PO Box 266, Rosanna, Victoria 3084, Australia



A relationship exists between mental disorder and offending behaviours but the nature and extent of the association remains in doubt.


Those convicted in the higher courts of Victoria between 1993 and 1995 had their pyschiatric history explored by case linkage to a register listing virtually all contacts with the public psychiatric services.


Prior psychiatric contact was found in 25% of offenders, but the personality disorder and substance misuse accounted for much of this relationship. Schizophrenia and affective disorders were also over-represented, particularly those with coexisting substance misuse.


The increased offending in schizophrenia and affective illness is modest and may often be mediated by coexisting substance misuse. The risk of a serious crime being committed by someone with a major mental illness is small and does not justify subjecting them, as a group, to either increased institutional containment or greater coercion.

Copyright © 1998 The Royal College of Psychiatrists 

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