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Mental illness as an ecological factor of neighborhood crime


Based on prior research, the presence of more residents diagnosed with mental illness in a neighborhood may indicate the presence of more offenders or more targets. We suggest that it may also indicate reduced guardianship and lower informal social control. Using data from blocks in 108 cities in Southern California, we examined the association between two types of mental disorders (affective disorders and substance use disorders) and crime rates. Even after controlling for more traditional predictors of neighborhood crime, we found a strong positive relationship between certain mental disorders and aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft rates. We also tested nonlinear interactions with economic disadvantage and found that a higher proportion of mentally ill residents in a zip code was associated with higher block-level crime rates in zip codes with lower levels of concentrated economic disadvantage. The findings suggest that mental illness is a unique ecological factor by which to understand neighborhood crime.

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