Most offenders have forms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, brain injuries and mental illness.

Cops and correctional officers wonder why situations deteriorate so quickly. Parole and probation agents ponder massive recidivism even when offenders get treatment. There are reasons why.


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

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.

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 for inexplicable actions.

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 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, Law Enforcement Today.

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, Crime in America.


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, Law Enforcement Today.

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.


The vast majority of our discussions about 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, National Institute of Justice.

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, Law Enforcement Today.

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.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can Contact me at [email protected]