Inmates with mental illness tend to fare worse in risk assessments and are less likely to be paroled than non-mentally ill inmates, extending their time behind bars. While prior research has attributed parole denial to "differential treatment" of mentally ill inmates in the parole release process, it is possible that other factors associated with mental illness increase the assessed risk of criminal behavior among inmates with mental illness, leading to higher rates of parole denial among this population. The study examined the relationships among mental illness, risk factors for criminal behavior, and parole release decisions in a representative sample of inmates with parole release decisions in the State of New Jersey during 2007. The possibility that these risk factors are applied differently to inmates with mental illness during the release decision-making process was also explored. Mental illness was not related to parole release but was related to several risk factors. However, these risk factors were not associated with release decisions. Mental illness had neither a direct nor an indirect effect on release decisions. Exploration of the moderating effects of mental illness on risk factors in the release decision making process revealed that risk factors examined were not considered differently by the parole board based upon an inmate's mental health status. Prior research indicating differential treatment of inmates with mental illness in parole release decisions may have overstated this discrimination. The evidence on criminogenic needs that has been developed since prior examinations of release decisions were conducted has influenced parole board members' release decisions and mitigated the influence of mental illness on release decisions. This study highlights the importance of considering these risk factors when analyzing parole release decisions. Further, it is incumbent upon services that aim to reduce the criminal behavior and incarceration rates among people with mental illness to target efforts at reducing criminal risk as well as the mental health of the people they serve.
Adviser: Jeffrey Draine. Thesis (Ph.D. in Social Welfare) -- University of Pennsylvania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references.