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OBJECTIVE: The types and amounts of crime experienced by persons with severe mental illness were examined to better understand criminal victimization in this population.

METHODS: Subjects were 331 involuntarily admitted psychiatric inpatients who were ordered by the court to outpatient commitment after discharge. Extensive interviews provided information on subjects' experience with crime in the previous four months and their perceived vulnerability to victimization, as well as on their living conditions and substance use. Medical records provided clinical data.

RESULTS: The rate of nonviolent criminal victimization (22.4 percent) was similar to that in the general population (21.1 percent). The rate of violent criminal victimization was two and a half times greater than in the general population—8.2 percent versus 3.1 percent. Being an urban resident, using alcohol or drugs, having a secondary diagnosis of a personality disorder, and experiencing transient living conditions before hospitalization were significantly associated with being the victim of a crime. In the multivariate analysis, substance use and transient living conditions were strong predictors of criminal victimization; no demographic or clinical variable was a significant predictor. Given the relatively high crime rates, subjects' perceived vulnerability to victimization was unexpectedly low; only 16.3 percent expressed concerns about personal safety. Those with a higher level of education expressed greater feelings of vulnerability.

CONCLUSIONS: The study found a substantial rate of violent criminal victimization among persons with severe and persistent mental illness. Results suggest that substance use and homelessness make criminal victimization more likely. (Authors)
Psychiatric Services
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A program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services