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, 30 (1), 29-56

A Cure for Crime? Psycho-pharmaceuticals and Crime Trends


A Cure for Crime? Psycho-pharmaceuticals and Crime Trends

Dave E Marcotte et al. J Policy Anal Manage.


In this paper we consider possible links between the diffusion of new pharmaceuticals used for treating mental illness and crime rates. We describe recent trends in crime and review the evidence showing that mental illness is a clear risk factor both for criminal behavior and victimization. We summarize the development of a number of new pharmaceutical therapies for the treatment of mental illness that came into wide use during the “great American crime decline.” We examine limited international data, as well as more detailed American data, to assess the relationship between rates of prescriptions of psychotropic drugs and crime rates, while controlling for other factors that may explain trends in crime rates. Using state-level variation in the rates that various drug therapies disperse within populations to identify impacts on crime rates, we find some evidence that the expansion of psychiatric drugs is associated with decreased violent crime rates, but not property crime rates. We find no robust impacts on homicide rates and no effects on arrest rates. Further, the magnitudes of the estimated effects of expanded drug treatment on violent crime are small. Our estimates imply that about 5 percent of the decline in crime during the period of our study was due to expanded mental health treatment.

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