Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Cure for Crime? Psycho-Pharmaceuticals and Crime Trends

This new NBER paper advances the fascinating hypothesis that the diffusion of new therapies for mental illness have significantly reduced violent crime.

A cure for Crime? Psycho-Pharmaceuticals and Crime Trends

Dave E. Marcotte, Sara Markowitz

In this paper we consider possible links between the advent and diffusion of a number of new psychiatric pharmaceutical therapies and crime rates. We describe recent trends in crime and review the evidence showing mental illness as a clear risk factor both for criminal behavior and victimization. We then briefly summarize the development of a number of new pharmaceutical therapies for the treatment of mental illness which diffused during the “great American crime decline.” We examine limited international data, as well as more detailed American data to assess the relationship between crime rates and rates of prescriptions of the main categories of psychotropic drugs, while controlling for other factors which may explain trends in crime rates. We find that increases in prescriptions for psychiatric drugs in general are associated with decreases in violent crime, with the largest impacts associated with new generation antidepressants and stimulants used to treat ADHD. Our estimates imply that about 12 percent of the recent crime drop was due to expanded mental health treatment.

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