NYAPRS Note: In reaction to suggestions by some that linkages between violence and mental illnesses could be best addressed by increasing the number of psychiatric hospital beds, the prestigious Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law examined the relationships between states’ murder rates by firearms and the availability of psychiatric hospital beds, and states’ murder rates by firearms and incarceration rates. Their analysis found the following:
- in the great majority of the 8,583 homicides with firearms in 2011,1 serious mental illness is not a factor
- If expanding the number of psychiatric beds is a meaningful remedy to firearm related murders in this country, one would expect a clear inverse relationship, showing that states with low per capita numbers of psychiatric hospital beds have higher rates of firearm-related homicides or higher rates of incarceration. Correlations among these factors were found to be strikingly low and not statistically significant.
- Proponents of expansions in psychiatric hospital beds have… also cited the over-representation of people with serious mental illness in criminal justice settings. If this were true, limited availability of psychiatric hospital beds would be expected to be associated with higher rates of incarceration, with inmates having serious mental illnesses swelling the numbers of incarcerated individuals. Applying data from the U. S. Department of Justice, again, the correlation was not statistically significant, approaching zero (Pearson’s r(47)=0.011, p=.470).
- There is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that meaningful remedies may instead be found in appropriately resourcing the nation’s community mental health systems enabling them to move from their current crisis focus and to provide early, effective services and supports to people with serious mental illness.