Mental disorder and offending in prison

Richard B. Felson, Eric Silver, Brianna Remster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


This research uses specific diagnoses and symptoms of mental disorder (MDO) to predict whether inmates offend in prison.Social psychological theories of aggression are used to make predictions about what types of MDO affect whether inmates commit violent and nonviolent infractions.The analysis was based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of more than 16,000 inmates from state and federal facilities.The evidence suggests that psychosis and major depression have strong effects on infractions involving aggression, whereas the effects of anxiety disorders are weaker and inconsistent.Psychosis and depression are also associated with nonaggressive offenses, suggesting that they have disinhibitory effects on misconduct generally.Analyses of the effects of symptoms suggest that paranoid thinking is the best predictor of offending, particularly, offending that involves aggression.In general, the evidence suggests that both cognitive and emotional aspects of MDO lead to prison offenses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-143
Number of pages19
JournalCriminal Justice and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • General Psychology
  • Law


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