Learning disabilities and mental illness associated with higher risk of criminality

Learning disabilities and poor mental health are associated with an increased risk of entering the criminal justice system, a major study has revealed.

According to the research, published by the University of Sheffield, adolescents convicted of crimes have “significantly” higher rates of mental health disorders.

The risk is “further amplified” by societal factors, such as inequality and disadvantage, the authors noted.

The study is based on a review of some 245 journal articles and publications, analysing trends and associations using the data of thousands of convicted criminals.

The research found that between 11 and 48 per cent of detained young people were found to have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to just five per cent of the general population. Around 17 per cent of young men and 39 per cent of young women, meanwhile, had attempted suicide, compared to just four per cent of the general population.

Learning disabilities were also common. Around 10 to 32 per cent of young people in the criminal justice system reported a mental condition, compared to two to four per cent of the general population.

Commenting on the report, Nathan Hughes, Professor of Adolescent Health and Justice at the University of Sheffield, said: “Research shows that it is our most disadvantaged and unwell young people who end up in the youth justice system.

“Their health and welfare needs are complex, and many detained adolescents have multiple, co-occurring health issues that are compounded by communication difficulties, risky substance use and trauma.”

Publishing the findings, the researchers are now calling on policymakers to consider mental health conditions and trauma when sentencing young people.

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