Mental illness and return to incarceration

Peter Wood
Professor of Criminology and Sociology, Eastern Michigan University

Key Findings

  • There is a statistically significant relationship between having a DSM diagnosis and re-incarceration.
  • Substance-related disorders account for most of that relationship.
  • There are some important variations among types of disorders examined.


In the study, “Dissecting the Relationship between Mental Illness and Return to Incarceration,” Wood and his co-author used survival methods and Cox regression to understand patterns of and influences on return to prison. Their measure of mental illness is based on in-prison clinical diagnoses and data include a rich set of administrative variables with demographic, criminal history and institutional controls. The authors conclude that research that examines mental illness and recidivism without controlling for substance use disorders/ problems is likely to be uninformative and misleading. Findings provide qualified support for the notion that programming addressing criminogenic risks and needs may be as important, or more so, than therapeutic programming focusing on mental illness when recidivism reduction is the goal.

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