The link between mental disorders and rate of crime is visible and significant in many ways. Having a mental disorder does not label you an offender. An idea that persistently emerges within public perception is that people with a mental disorder are more likely to commit criminal acts. In actual fact, people with mental disorders are more likely to be the victims of violent crime.
People with mental disorders can be seen as vulnerable preys to ruthless predators. Women are seldom the targeted victims of violent crimes; often this is the result of patriarchal and misogynistic values. Mental disorders are prevalent in all aspects of the criminal justice system – from offenders to victims and their families. The multifaceted problems faced by the UK criminal justice system do not end until we can identify how much onus can be placed on people with mental disorders for their actions.
In order to determine the seriousness and level of responsibility an individual has for their actions, we can look up to the criminal justice system. The evidence determines the fairness of the judge’s sentence. Sometimes, the sentence is too lenient or too exaggerated. This is how neurocriminology can assist in determining the level of onus an individual has for their actions. Furthermore, neurocriminology can assist in finding a suitable rehabilitation program for ex-offenders. Neurocriminology is an emerging field which adds assistance and value to the prediction of crime. Scientific predictions are not supported without facts; they rely on evidence and knowledge of social, environmental and biological factors in the making of offenders, and the causes of criminal behaviour.
Just like the use of forensics, we cannot solely rely on neurocriminology to give us all the answers, but we can combine neuroscience with the evidence to present a more accurate account of the crime. Neuroscience can provide further explanations for the way some individuals react to crime and their mental capacity. An example of this is the lack of emotions or fear sometimes expressed on these individual’s faces which can occur as a result of reduced amygdala functioning.
During fetal development, brain development is a significant factor which makes up for the vast proportion of prediction related to people who commit violent acts. The changing structures of the brain help us to determine the making of offenders. Moreover, fetal development can be traced back to the mother’s pregnancy. Factors that come into perspective are the mother’s habits regarding: smoking; drinking alcohol; drug abuse; genetic disease predispositions; injuries during birth or later which can affect the brain; dysfunctional brain mechanisms in the fetus; the mother’s nutrition which is absorbed into the bloodstream and the general welfare of both mother and baby.
Criminal behaviour deviates from normality. Therefore, it would make sense that people who undertake criminal behaviour also deviate from normality. The law holds no precedence to these shameless individuals and their perception of life becomes distorted; for those who seek out to hurt others. For these individuals, hurting others can become a form of pleasure and gratification. Research suggests that people with triple morbidity (those individuals with severe mental disorder, substance use disorder, and antisocial personality disorder) are substantially more likely to be violent than someone with a severe mental disorder alone. A severe mental disorder on its own does not form a violent individual. It takes multiple disorders alongside other social and environmental factors to produce a violent individual. This is the trend that we have seen in many notorious killers like Ted Bundy and Richard Chase.
Having a mental disorder is relevant but not a valid excuse for committing criminal acts. It would be a disservice to target those with a mental disorder as future offenders. This is not how neurocriminology works. Brain imaging technology can help to track the development of people with brain deficiencies. Most people who have a severe mental disorder do not go on to behave violently. There are many factors that contribute to the making of an offender which are also influenced by a wider social, environmental and biological context.
Sometimes, when we hear that a perpetrator has a severe mental disorder, it becomes a central focus for the cause of the crime. The mental disorder becomes an excuse for their behaviour. However, a mental disorder cannot be the sole cause of a crime. A pre-existing mental disorder is completely different to substance abuse and intoxication because your mental capacity level is permanently reduced rather than on a temporary basis. Before you undergo the acts of substance abuse or intoxication, you have the choice to either go ahead or walk away, knowing the consequences, knowing how much of an impact this will have on your mental capacity and whether you are capable in such a state of committing a criminal offence.
Over time, offenders deviate their modus operandi according to the development of forensics, technology and science. The developments in biology, criminology, psychology, brain technology, and neuroscience have come together in the emergent field of neurocriminology. In particular, there is now a growing inclination on the part of this emerging field to predict, prevent and manage violent behaviour. The developments in brain imaging technology is undoubtedly an emerging gateway to reducing crime rates.
In the same way criminology has played its part, I believe that neurocriminology will be able to positively disrupt the world of criminology. Knowing the social and environmental factors creates an incomplete picture in criminology without familiarising and fully understanding the biological factors. With knowledge expansion of the biological factors that relate to criminal behaviour, we can focus and trace back to childhood development and how this plays a huge role in the making of a violent individual. In essence, we can use this information to predict the individuals likely to go down this unpleasant route in their life.
The public most fear violence that is out of the blue, reasonless and unpredictable which they associate with those that have a severe mental disorder. Those who commit unpredictable violent attacks pose an immediate threat to the public as there is no ideal victim. Therefore, anyone can become a victim of crime during such attacks. The public are more satisfied to know that a victim is harmed by an individual they know rather than a frenzied attack. The outcome is not satisfiable. However, there is still a degree of safety in their minds when knowing this information.
Different stimuli activate different functions of the brain. Just like a weather forecast, which we rely on every day for our general activities, neurocriminology is predictable in an unpredictable way. We can predict the weather forecast, but we cannot predict the exact severity of it and how it differs in different locations. Similarly, we can predict whether someone is likely to commit a crime, but we cannot predict the type or location of the crime or the severity of the crime. Moreover, opportunistic crimes are also difficult to predict. However, we can try and place mitigation efforts within our power to prevent someone from committing a violent act in the future. Furthermore, an emphasis on positive mental health can transform an individual’s destiny or planned route to violent behaviour. This is why neurocriminology is the future and adds huge value to the world of criminology; in supporting to reduce violence and crime.
Madii Hussain is a trainee biology teacher at Birmingham City University. Her aspiration to become a neurocriminologist stems from the work of Dr Adrian Raine.