Find Out What The Criminalization Hypothesis Is

Criminalization Hypothesis

Have you ever heard of the criminalization hypothesis? The basic premise is that individuals with serious mental illnesses (SMI) (i.e. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, mainly) are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system because they are committing crimes and being arrested for offenses because of their untreated illness symptoms.

Abramson, more than 30 years ago, was the first to discuss “criminalization.” He believed that individuals with SMI are being routed through the criminal justice system instead of the mental health system.  He observed that trend in the early 1970s.


Defenders of the criminalization hypothesis cite studies (among others) such as Linda Teplin’s 1984 Chicago study in which it was found that individuals with a mental illness were arrested at a higher rate than those without a mental illness. The rate of arrests for individuals deemed mentally ill was 46.7 % compared to 27.9 % for individuals not appearing to have a mental illness. Teplin concluded from her study that individuals who appeared to be mentally ill had a higher probability of being arrested than those who did not. In her opinion, “clearly the way we treat our mentally ill is criminal.”

Not Everyone Agrees

Not everyone agrees with the criminalization hypothesis. Scientifically, it is difficult to prove. Within academic circles, it is a debate that may never be resolved.

In a future post, I will discuss alternative theories. What do you think?

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