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Lancet. 2000 Feb 19;355(9204):614-7.

Community care and criminal offending in schizophrenia.

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  • 1Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Australia.



The introduction of community care in psychiatry is widely thought to have resulted in more offending among the seriously mentally ill. This view affects public policy towards and public perceptions of such people. We investigated the association between the introduction of community care and the pattern of offending in patients with schizophrenia in Victoria, Australia.


We established patterns of offending from criminal records in two groups of patients with schizophrenia over their lifetime to date and in the 10 years after their first hospital admission. One group was first admitted in 1975 before major deinstitutionalisation in Victoria, the second group in 1985 when community care was becoming the norm. Each patient was matched to a control, by age, sex, and place of residence to allow for changing patterns of offending over time in the wider community.


Compared with controls, significantly more of those with schizophrenia were convicted at least once for all categories of criminal offending except sexual offences (relative risk of offending in 1975=3.5 [95% CI 2.0-5.5), p=0.001, in 1985=3.0 [1.9-4.9], p=0.001). Among men, more offences were committed in the 1985 group than the 1975 group, but this was matched by a similar increase in convictions among the community controls. Those with schizophrenia who had also received treatment for substance abuse accounted for a disproportionate amount of offending. Analysis of admission data for the patients and the total population of admissions with schizophrenia showed that although there had been an increase of 74 days per annum spent in the community for each of the study population as a whole, first admissions spent only 1 more day in the community in 1985 compared with 1975.


Increased rates in criminal conviction for those with schizophrenia over the last 20 years are consistent with change in the pattern of offending in the general community. Deinstitutionalisation does not adequately explain such change. Mental-health services should aim to reduce the raised rates of criminal offending associated with schizophrenia, but turning the clock back on community care is unlikely to contribute towards any positive outcome.

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