Bipolar and Crime

Is crime more likely with Bipolar Disorder?

Crime has always been an intriguing topic, both to the general public and the law enforcement folks too. But if there was any thing more captivating than crime, it would perhaps be the curiosity to know if people with a mental disorder were more prone to commit crimes. Bipolar disorder has been under lot of scrutiny, more so in the recent decade. The major factor contributing to this occurrence is the increasing number of claims of bipolar disorder as being the defense or explanation to the crimes committed by individuals suffering from it.

What is more significant is that in spite of being cited increasingly as the defense or reason for numerous criminal offenses, the law does not accept a person with bipolar disease to be legally insane. Now this becomes very perplexing to the general public, because on one hand, there are increased evidences of crimes being committed by people with bipolar disorder, and on the other hand, the law refuses to accept these people as legally insane.

The explanation put forward by the law is that insanity is defined to be lack of awareness about one’s actions or the consequences thereof. An insane person is given the preferential treatment by the law in spite of committing grave crimes like homicide and rape, because these people are considered to be committing these acts, without having an intention to do so, and without realizing that their particular act could harm the other person. Bipolar patients do have episodes of mania, alternating with depression, but these patients know exactly what they are doing, and are well aware of the repercussions of their actions.

The law considers bipolar disorder as an EXCUSE, not the reason for the crimes committed by bipolar offenders. The only consideration offered by the legal system in case of this disorder, is a leniency in the charges and the punishment meted out. That means if a bipolar individual commits murder, he may be charged with manslaughter, which is a comparatively lesser charge.

This is just one facet of the entire issue. A research was conducted by the psychiatry department of the Oxford University and the Karolinska Institute of Sweden, on the prison inmates between 1998 and 2000. The research revealed the incidence of mental illness in 45 cases out of the 1000 prisoners reviewed. But out of these, only 2.4 % of the cases had severe psychoses, including bipolar disorder. The nature of the crime and the corresponding incidence rates are listed out below:
•    Arson- 15 %
•    Threats and assaults- 7.5 %
•    Assault of a police officer- 7 %
•    Aggravated assault- 6.3 %
•    Sexual offences-5 %
•    Robberies- 3.6 %
•    Common assaults- 3 %

Regardless of the above facts, Dr. Seena Fazel who led the research concluded that the majority of the violent crimes are committed by people without any mental illness whatsoever. Despite the prevalence of the notion that mentally ill people are more prone to violent crimes, it is just a misconception.

But again, there are wide spread incidences of crimes committed by people with mental illness, like for instance the very publicized murder of Jonathan Zito by a schizophrenic Christopher Clunis, and the less violent but equally despicable act of plagiarism and fabrication of news stories by Jason Blair (a bipolar disorder patient) who was a full time reporter with the New York Times etc.

The final verdict in terms of relation of bipolar disease to crimes has not yet been proved more research and detailed studies are necessary