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Mental Illness, Mass Shootings And Everyday Crime
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 09/02/2019

Mental health

The vast majority of our discussions about crime, mass shootings, police encounters that go wrong, treatment failures and recidivism may be explained by the fact that offenders we encounter can be very troubled people with brain injuries, PTSD, and mental health issues who self-medicate through drugs and alcohol.

Most offenders are under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of arrest.

Correctional officials in prisons and parole and probation agencies say that their mental health caseloads are exploding.

Cops cite inexplicable actions on the part of offenders that create dangerous or deadly confrontations. Many, if not most, have mental health issues ranging from the diagnosable to emotional to anxiety, stress and depression concerns as well as brain injuries.

Mental Health Does Not Mean Dangerous

We need to understand that mental illness does not mean criminality or dangerousness; the great majority of those with mental illness pose little to no risk. But concurrently, forms of depression, anxiety, despair, mental illness, and self-medication through drugs and alcohol, is part of the makeup of most in the justice system.

Add Drugs

We arrested an offender with anxiety issues who was high on PCP. He assaulted a woman at a college.

There were three of us arresting one person and we almost destroyed an office in the process. All of us were considered large individuals; he was five foot nine weighing approximately 150 pounds. He fought viciously. We were worried about our safety and uncertain as to his apprehension. After a ten minute intense struggle, we handcuffed the individual.

Data indicates that most offenders at the time of arrest were under the influence of drugs or alcohol or both.

Anywhere from 56 percent (Charlotte) to 82 percent (Chicago) of arrestees across sites tested positive for the presence of some substance at the time of arrest. In 9 out of the 10 sites in 2009, 60 percent or more of arrestees tested positive, see ADAM and Drug Use at Arrest.

CNN and Mass Shootings

Each attack is as unique as it is horrific. But among the country’s deadliest acts of violence last year, investigators found similarities between many of the alleged perpetrators.

The Secret Service’s annual Mass Attacks in Public Spaces report, released Tuesday, says almost all of the alleged criminals in 27 mass attacks last year had experienced a major stressor in their lives.

And almost all had made alarming or threatening communications directed toward or in the presence of others. In more than 75% of the cases, someone else had noticed a sign of concern.

The report was published by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center. The 27 attacks studied involved those in which three or more people were killed or injured last year. They include attacks in workplaces, schools and places of worship.

Half of the attackers were motivated by a grievance, the report found.

“In this report, two-thirds had mental health issues that deeply impacted their relationships,” said Dr. Lina Alathari, chief of the National Threat Assessment Center.

“For some of them, it contributed to the motive of why they carried out the attack.”

“While there is no single profile of a person who commits targeted violence, this report, and so many others … aims to assist our partners in law enforcement, in the education area, and so many other stakeholders in understanding some of the motivations behind mass attacks and their causative factors,” Secret Service Director James Murray said, CNN.

Everyday Offending

There is a ton of dysfunctional decision making among offenders resulting in police shootings, criminal activity, and high recidivism.

I interviewed hundreds of offenders who successfully transitioned from a criminal to a law-abiding life. Asked what separated them from those who fail, they told me that it was their personal conviction to get out of crime. They also remarked that many were not ready for change. When asked what that meant, they often said that their peers were fighting demons they could not control.

Data about traumatic brain injuries helps explain why so many offenders don’t do well. Add mental health, PTSD and substance abuse concerns, it collectively suggests that there are reasons for offender dysfunction.

New studies regarding those treated for criminal insanity and police crisis intervention teams are not encouraging. Neither is the data on programs to assist offenders leaving prison or on probation.

Personal dysfunction has been examined for decades as to why criminal offenders constantly make bad decisions. Most offenders recidivate; they return to the criminal justice system in massive numbers, Crime in America.

Even when provided with programs to address dysfunctional lifestyles, the vast majority do not do well, Crime in America.

But we now know there are reasons.

Denver Post-54 Percent Have A Serious Brain Injury

“Through a project that began five years ago, researchers have screened 4,100 people in jail, on probation or assigned to drug courts in Denver and five other counties to find out how many have a traumatic brain injury — an impairment that could impact the likelihood of their return to the criminal justice system.”

“The results were stark: 54 percent had a history of serious brain injury, compared with 8 percent of the general population,” Denver Post.

Most Offenders Have Mental Health Issues

Those dealing with the offender population often describe many as, “Having a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana.” Hostility is often an everyday trait. Many of us believe that it’s related to massive child abuse and neglect, Crime in America.

We’ve known since a 2006 self-report study that more than half of all prison and jail inmates have mental health problems. These estimates represented 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of jail inmates.

“Twenty percent of all US adults have some form of mental illness, but very few of them have a mental illness that will increase their likelihood of violence,” Slate.Com.

A 2017 report states that more than a third (37%) of prisoners had been told by a mental health professional in the past that they had a mental health disorder.

Forty-four percent of jail inmates had been told by a mental health professional in the past that they had a mental health disorder.

Some suggest that the numbers above are an undercount. Many are reluctant to admit to mental health concerns.


There are articles about people who live in high crime communities having PTSD because of their exposure to violence in their families and community. High crime area violence seems to be corrupting; it may influence people who can see violence as a necessary component of life.

Pro-Publica-35 Percent Of People Found Criminally Insane Receiving Treatment Charged With New Crimes

About 35 percent of people found criminally insane in Oregon and then let out of supervised psychiatric treatment were charged with new crimes within three years of being freed by state officials.

Between Jan. 1, 2008, and Oct. 15, 2015, the state freed 220 defendants who had been acquitted of felonies because they could not tell right from wrong or control their actions. About a quarter of them, or 51 people, were charged with attacking others within three years. Twenty-five were charged with lesser crimes. Eighteen others were charged more than three years later, including 12 people for violent incidents.

They were charged with felonies about as often as people freed after serving prison terms — both 16 percent — according to our analysis and the Oregon Department of Corrections.

On its website, the board assures Oregonians that repeat offenses by people it supervises are exceedingly rare events, with only 0.46 percent of defendants committing new crimes each year, ProPublica.

Police Crisis Intervention Teams

This practice comprises specialized police-led, pre-booking jail diversion responses to individuals with mental illness. The goals are to reduce police officers’ injuries and use of force, and to reduce arrests of individuals with mental illness.

The practice is rated no effects by the Department of Justice for reducing arrests of individuals with mental illness and reducing trained police officers’ use of force in situations involving mentally ill individuals, Crime Solutions.Gov.

Nevertheless, there are numerious calls from law enforcemtnt to stop sending cops into situations where mental health issues are suspected. Well trained or degreed experts should be handeling these calls with officers in the background if necessary, Wall Street Journal.


The vast majority of our discussions about mass shootings, crime, police encounters that go wrong, treatment failures and recidivism may be explained by the fact that offenders we encounter can be very troubled people with brain injuries, PTSD, and mental health issues who self-medicate through drugs and alcohol.

Most offenders are under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of arrest.

I’m not excusing or justifying bad behavior, but the dynamics need to be understood.

It’s probable that the conditions mentioned above explain the chaotic nature of the lives of offenders. It’s equally probable that the root cause of justice involved people is massive child abuse that few are willing to acknowledge or address.

As said previously on this site, programs to address the social and personal needs of people caught up in the justice system need examination by a national conference and a research agenda similar in importance to cancer.

Crime is insidious, profoundly affecting metropolitan areas, employment, education, investment and everything we hold important to any functional society. Without the tools to remediate the social and personal issues offenders bring to the table, we will never make headway as to perceptions of safety and economic recovery.

Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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