are charges & sentencing patterns altering?


The connection between murder perpetration and psychological sickness is an emotive matter. It’s a devastating end result, however in absolute phrases it’s rare. The result with essentially the most dramatic implications for public notion is murder of a stranger, which is even rarer – round 1 per 14 million individuals per yr (Nielssen et al, 2011). Regardless of this small general contribution, there’s a vital affiliation between psychological dysfunction and murder in diagnostic teams akin to psychotic diseases (Whiting et al, 2022).

Total, each within the UK and internationally, there was a fall in murder charges from the mid-2000s into the mid-2010s. The present paper by Sandra Flynn and colleagues makes use of knowledge from the Nationwide Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Security in Psychological Well being (NCISH) to reply two foremost questions:

  1. Did murder by individuals with psychological sickness lower together with complete murder within the UK?
  2. What’s the sample of sentencing for these with critical psychological sickness?

To know the paper, a crash course in court docket course of and sentencing is required. When accused of an offence, there are a number of steps – arrest, cost, potential remand into custody (not but convicted/sentenced), coming into a plea, trial, conviction and sentencing. There are a number of ways in which psychological dysfunction will be related, and at every step there are alternatives for switch to hospital below the Psychological Well being Act for evaluation and/or remedy.

Within the present paper (Flynn et al, 2021), apart from the charges and proportions of murder, two foremost elements of the method are thought-about. First is whether or not there was an alternate verdict to homicide, e.g. manslaughter on grounds of diminished accountability (the place irregular psychological operate considerably impaired capability to grasp, choose or management conduct), or the rarer discovering of not responsible by motive of madness (NGRI). These different verdicts permit imposition of a hospital order, relatively than jail sentence, which is the second facet highlighted.

Homicide perpetration by those with mental illness is rare but devastating and perpetuates stigma.

Murder perpetration by these with psychological sickness is rare however devastating and perpetuates stigma.


The research is a consecutive case collection of murder offenders in England and Wales between 1997 – 2015 (together with these convicted, offenders discovered unfit to plead [i.e. so unwell that unable to participate in court] and NGRI).

For these people, knowledge was collated from:

  • Psychiatric court docket studies (medical historical past, psychological state at time of offence, lifetime prognosis of psychological dysfunction)
  • Police Nationwide Pc (earlier convictions)
  • If any contact with the principle hospital/group psychological well being supplier of their space, a questionnaire was despatched to their psychiatrist (about historical past, remedy, last contact and views on prevention).

These knowledge have been used to look at patterns for 5 definitions of psychological dysfunction: a schizophrenia prognosis, irregular psychological state at time of the offence, sufferers in touch with psychological well being companies, a diminished accountability verdict, and an end result of hospital disposal (hospital order relatively than jail sentence). Mid-year inhabitants estimates have been used to calculate age-standardised charges and proportions. Temporal and proportion tendencies have been examined with Poisson fashions.


Total, there have been 10,918 murder offenders within the research interval (91% male, median age 28). Psychiatric studies have been obtained for 4,064 offenders (38%).

Outcomes are introduced in several combos of time durations and definition groupings, so we’ll consider the principle findings right here:

  • Normal inhabitants murder conviction charges fluctuated with an upward pattern till a peak of 1.38 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008. After this, convictions fell yr on yr to 0.78 in 2015.
  • There was no vital fall within the quantity or proportion of perpetrators with psychological dysfunction when outlined by a prognosis of schizophrenia, an irregular psychological state on the time of offence, or affected person standing.
  • There was an general fall within the variety of homicides by these receiving a manslaughter verdict on grounds of diminished accountability (IRR 0.98, 95% CI 0.96 to 0.99), or receiving a hospital disposal (IRR 0.98, 0.97 to 1.00).

The authors thought-about two time durations:

  • 1997-2005: Rise in variety of convictions by most definitions, vital improve within the quantity with schizophrenia, an irregular psychological state at time of offence, and sufferers; inversely, a fall in quantity and proportion of verdicts of manslaughter.
  • 2006-2015: Fall within the quantity (however not proportion) of sufferers perpetrating murder, however proportion with diminished accountability verdicts and people with schizophrenia elevated.

43% of sufferers with psychological dysfunction had a secondary prognosis of alcohol and/or drug misuse/dependence.

Of the 656 people with a schizophrenia prognosis:

  • 28% have been discovered responsible of homicide and 35% manslaughter (diminished accountability)
  • 35% obtained a jail sentence and 63% hospital disposal.

When utilizing the definition of standing as sufferers inside 12-months of offence (n=1,143), the sample is completely different:

  • 47% have been convicted of homicide, 17% of manslaughter (diminished accountability)
  • 72% obtained a jail sentence, 26% hospital disposal.

There was a non-significant upward pattern within the charge of individuals with schizophrenia receiving a jail disposal. There was a major fall in these receiving a hospital order (IRR 0.98, 95% CI 0.96 to 0.99). A jail disposal was considerably extra doubtless if there was substance misuse comorbidity, or a secondary prognosis of ‘persona dysfunction’.

"Despite their complex needs, people with serious mental illness continue to be imprisoned."

“Regardless of their complicated wants, individuals with critical psychological sickness proceed to be imprisoned.”


The authors summarise:

Over the 19-year interval, there was a major fall within the charge of murder convictions in England and Wales since a peak within the mid-2000s, with a 43% fall between 2008 and 2015. Murder by individuals with psychological dysfunction has adopted an identical sample, however the fall has been much less hanging than within the common inhabitants. Consequently, psychological dysfunction is now turning into proportionately extra essential to murder discount.

The excessive proportion of jail disposals for these with psychological dysfunction is highlighted, doubtlessly defined by comorbid substance misuse.

"Addressing substance misuse comorbidity and maintaining engagement with services may help prevent patient homicide."

“Addressing substance misuse comorbidity and sustaining engagement with companies could assist forestall affected person murder.”

Strengths and limitations

This can be a nationwide cohort research that triangulates a number of knowledge sources to attract some useful observations, as half of a giant and influential wider venture. Findings are appropriately framed on the subject of some caveats, together with the reliance on pre-trial prognosis (and that that is introduced throughout trial), or prior contact with companies. There are some additional nuances in a roundabout way defined; for instance, how any diagnostic discrepancies between psychiatric studies have been handled.

Sending questionnaires to clinicians is a technique worthy of some reflection, on condition that recalling facets of remedy, historical past and views on prevention could also be colored by the intense untoward incident. Within the occasion, this info was not reported on this paper.

One other a part of the disposal puzzle is the “hybrid order” (Part 45A). These are jail sentences however with an preliminary hospital path, and produce into play thorny points akin to partial culpability. Numbers are small, so would unlikely have a cloth influence on the findings, however they have been on the rise through the research interval (Delmage et al, 2015) and so info on the place these fitted would have been attention-grabbing.

This nationwide cohort study triangulated multiple data sources to draw some helpful observations.

This nationwide cohort research triangulated a number of knowledge sources to attract some useful observations.

Implications for follow

For me, one foremost medical implication is a straightforward, acquainted chorus – we have to do higher at supporting people with comorbid substance misuse and extreme psychological sickness. Too typically clinically these people fall between companies (typically offered by separate organisations), the place substance misuse appears extra an exclusion criterion than a flag of threat and wish. It additionally reinforces that proportionate, individualised consideration of whether or not threat of violence is a medical want needs to be a routine consideration in psychological well being companies.

It’s highlighted that solely 63% of these with a schizophrenia prognosis who perpetrated murder obtained a hospital disposal. Is that this inappropriately low? This can be a query that may’t be answered by the present research. At a person degree, psychological dysfunction will not be a binary idea, and disposal is influenced by an array of things together with historical past, medical elements, the offence particulars, remedy wants and optimum frameworks for threat administration.

At a system degree, strain on safe hospital beds is excessive. This finite useful resource supplies long-term care for individuals who have dedicated the gravest offences (and murder recidivism in jurisdictions the place these companies are established is low [Golenkov et al, 2014]). Nevertheless, the system additionally must retain capability to accommodate in a well timed style these acutely unwell people in jail who’re in pressing want of remedy below the Psychological Well being Act. There are not any simple solutions, however even in my present function as a jail psychiatrist it will not be too controversial for me to champion the system-wide advantages of enhancing the supply of psychological well being care in jail (Piper et al, 2019).

Only 63% of homicide perpetrators with a schizophrenia diagnosis received a hospital disposal - is this too low?

Solely 63% of murder perpetrators with a schizophrenia prognosis obtained a hospital disposal – is that this too low?

Assertion of pursuits



Major paper

Flynn, S., Ibrahim, S., Kapur, N., Appleby, L., & Shaw, J. (2021). Psychological dysfunction in individuals convicted of murder: Lengthy-term nationwide tendencies in charges and court docket end resultThe British Journal of Psychiatry, 218(4), 210-216. doi:10.1192/bjp.2020.94

Different references

Delmage E, Exworthy T, Blackwood N (2015) The ‘Hybrid Order’: origins and utilization, The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 26:3, 325-336.

Golenkov A, Nielssen O, Giant M. Systematic evaluation and meta-analysis of murder recidivism and schizophrenia. BMC Psychiatry. 2014 Feb 18;14:46. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-14-46

Nielssen O, Bourget D, Laajasalo T, Liem M, Labelle A, Häkkänen-Nyholm H, Koenraadt F, Giant MM. Murder of strangers by individuals with a psychotic sickness. Schizophr Bull. 2011 Might;37(3):572-9. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbp112. Epub 2009 Oct 12. PMID: 19822580; PMCID: PMC3080680.

Piper, M., Forrester, A., & Shaw, J. (2019). Jail healthcare companies: The necessity for political bravenessBritish Journal of Psychiatry, 215(4), 579-581

Whiting D, Gulati G, Geddes JR, Fazel S. Affiliation of Schizophrenia Spectrum Problems and Violence Perpetration in Adults and Adolescents From 15 International locations: A Systematic Evaluate and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry.2022;79(2):120–132. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.3721. [PubMed abstract]

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