Context: Since deinstitutionalization, most persons with severe mental illness (SMI) now live in the community, where they are at great risk for crime victimization.
Objectives: To determine the prevalence and incidence of crime victimization among persons with SMI by sex, race/ethnicity, and age, and to compare rates with general population data (the National Crime Victimization Survey), controlling for income and demographic differences between the samples.
Design: Epidemiologic study of persons in treatment. Independent master's-level clinical research interviewers administered the National Crime Victimization Survey to randomly selected patients sampled from 16 randomly selected mental health agencies.
Setting: Sixteen agencies providing outpatient, day, and residential treatment to persons with SMI in Chicago, Ill.
Participants: Randomly selected, stratified sample of 936 patients aged 18 or older (483 men, 453 women) who were African American (n = 329), non-Hispanic white (n = 321), Hispanic (n = 270), or other race/ethnicity (n = 22). The comparison group comprised 32 449 participants in the National Crime Victimization Survey.
Main outcome measure: National Crime Victimization Survey, developed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Results: More than one quarter of persons with SMI had been victims of a violent crime in the past year, a rate more than 11 times higher than the general population rates even after controlling for demographic differences between the 2 samples (P<.001). The annual incidence of violent crime in the SMI sample (168.2 incidents per 1000 persons) is more than 4 times higher than the general population rates (39.9 incidents per 1000 persons) (P<.001). Depending on the type of violent crime (rape/sexual assault, robbery, assault, and their subcategories), prevalence was 6 to 23 times greater among persons with SMI than among the general population.
Conclusions: Crime victimization is a major public health problem among persons with SMI who are treated in the community. We recommend directions for future research, propose modifications in public policy, and suggest how the mental health system can respond to reduce victimization and its consequences.