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Author: Lt. Col. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Jabri

The relationship between mental disorder and criminal activity is not as clear as might be thought. This is a complicated issue and the relationship may be examined in two ways. Firstly, by looking at crimes and criminals, and exploring the forensic evidence which links certain kinds of crime with certain criminal groups. Secondly, by finding out what aspects of an individual’s condition or psychiatric disorder might have led the individual to act in a criminal manner (Higgins, 1995).

This paper deals with the relationship between schizophrenic illness and crime. It is divided in three sections: Firstly, what is schizophrenia? Secondly, Schizophrenic illness and crime, thirdly, the forensic evidence linking schizophrenics and crime.


There are many definitions of the condition of schizophrenia. The lay people and media quite often confuse the symptoms of schizophrenia with many other mental illnesses. Because of this, this section will illustrate various definitions of schizophrenia combined with explanations of some relevant aspects.

There is no doubt that some may characterise mental disorder as the suffer hearing internal voices not heard by other people, which might well in this case be diagnosed as schizophrenia (Hollin, 1991). Others may consider incorrectly schizophrenia as showing signs of a “split personality”. While some other may described schizophrenia as being caused by bad parenting or personal weakness. Schizophrenia is a disorder of the brain like epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, this brain disorder frustrates the ability to think clearly, know what is real, it shows a disturbance in emotions, an inability to make decisions, and to relate to others (http: / www.psychguides. corn / eks_sche.htm).

In fact, scientists regard schizophrenia as a ‘chronic, severe, and disabling brain disease’. In addition to hearing voices, people with schizophrenia suffer from another terrifying symptoms such as believing that others read their minds, control their thoughts, or plot to harm them. These symptoms may create terrifying fears and erratic behaviour within the sufferer.

Approximately 1 per cent of the population develops schizophrenia during their lifetime, and more than 2 million Americans suffer from this illness. Moreover, it is stated that mental disorder affects male in their late teens or early twenties while it appears in female in their twenties and early thirties (http: / / www.nirnh.nih. gov / publicat / scizoph.htm#shizl).

Ries writes that schizophrenia is characterised by “(a) psychotic symptoms, (b) a disturbance of functioning in work, social relationships, etc., (c) not being related to another mental disorders, and (d) continuous signs of the disturbance for at least six months” (Ries: 1993, 109).

Feldman, (1993), states that it means “a major form of psychosis (mental disorders which severely disrupt the everyday lives of those affected, typically in the area mood and thinking)”. While Spry (1984: 126) states that “the term schizophrenia covers a group of psychotic illnesses, not associated with any known form of brain damage”.

In Faulk’s definition, he defines schizophrenia in an ideal forensic comprehensive manner when he stated that “both the lCD 9 and the DSM III refer to delusions (bizarre, grandiose or persecutory), disordered thinking (e.g. interrupted and illogical flow of thought, incomprehensible speech), disturbed perceptions (e.g. hallucinations, feelings of passivity, ideas of reference), disturbed moods, disturbance of movements (e.g. catatonia, excitement, stupor) and deterioration in personality and functioning “(Faulk: 1988, 139).


With regard to schizophrenia, Higgins is one of the scientists who examines the area of schizophrenia and crime. He claims that research provides limited answers to some important questions such as “Does having schizophrenia lead to a greater risk of offending? What sort of offending might this be, and what stage of the illness might it occur?...” (Higgins: 1995, 53). Any relationship between schizophrenics and crime, may be examined on the basis of Higgins’s questions.

However a wide range of research has attempted to find out the relationship between schizophrenia and crime by carrying out empirical research. So another possibility would be to examine the empirical research into criminal populations that have been addressed to discover the relationship between schizophrenia and crime.

One study indicated that, regarding the symptoms of schizophrenics, talking and behaviour can be so disorganised that it may be frightening to others. This is confirmed by Shore’s (1985) analysis, which concludes that 25 per cent of the offenders in 300 “White House cases” in the period between 1970 and 74 received hospital treatment. The majority suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and 1 / 4 of them committed to institutions threatened prominent public figures (Feldmen, 1993). Correspondingly, this criminal behaviour is justified in Spry’s paper, when he referred to Prins (1980) that the latter outlined that schizophrenia is associated in the lay public mind with delinquency and violent crime. Prins writes that such behaviour may lead to considerable notoriety and publicity, especially if they involve a prominent figure. Thus, these individuals, often diagnosed as deluded and paranoid, attract a great deal of attention (Spry: 1984).

Accordingly, the Media tends to link mental illness and violence; regardless of whether research indicates that people with schizophrenia are not, in general, prone to violence, and this reputation is develops from cases of those with a criminal violent record which they had prior becoming ill, and those with dual diagnosis (http:/ / publicat/ shizoph.htm #shizl). Equally, Robertson (1988) states that schizophrenics are not generally violent, but they are more likely than other offenders to be detected and arrested (Higgins: 1995). While some evidence derived from a number of pieces of research points to schizophrenics, and especially the paranoid sub-group as being most represented in violence crime (Feldman: 1993). Swanson et al. (1990) became to highly reliable and valid sources after work done on the Epidemiologic Catchment Area project, which cites that schizophrenics, as classified by a DSM III, Axis 1 diagnosis, are four to sex times more prone to commit violent crime than people without an illness (Taylor et al.: 1994).

The consequence of any increase in the crime rate among schizophrenics can be shown by figures published by correctional and health institutions. In prison remand, inmates who suffer from schizophrenia are six times more likely than other inmates to be convicted for violent offences (Taylor & Gunn: 1984; Higgins:1995). Moreover, Glueck (1918) examined6O8successive admissions to Sing Sing prison over nine months and deduced that 6 per cent were schizophrenics (Spry: 1984). Among convicted inmates, Gunn et al., (1991) reported that 1.5 per cent suffered from schizophrenia (Higgins: 1995).

Taylor (1986) in a survey of psychiatric patients in London sentenced to life in prison concluded that ‘over two-thirds of London’s life-sentenced men and women appeared to have some form of psychiatric disorder. As many as 10 per cent of the sample were psychotic, almost certainly schizophrenic’ (Hollin: 1991, 103).

On the other hand, Taylor& Gunn (1984) in a survey take carried out in London prisons over more than four months. Astonishingly, their findings demonstrates that a round 9 per cent out of 2,700 inmates were psychotic, and 2 / 3 were suffering from schizophrenia, while 11 per cent of inmates convicted of homicide were dual diagnosis patients (Feldman: 1993).


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