32 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2014 Last revised: 7 Oct 2014
Date Written: July 1, 2014
While there is a well-documented link between violence and mental health, there is substantially less known about the relationship between mental health laws and violence. One policy in particular that may have an effect on crime is based on the mental health professional’s ability to involuntarily detain a patient who is deemed dangerous. It is unclear, a priori, if involuntarily detaining mental health patients will deter violent crime by removing the threat of violence, or actually encourage violence by altering the doctor-patient relationship. To address this question empirically, I exploit the state to state variation in timing of passage and length of stay laws that dictate both the minimum and maximum mental health facility stays for those who are involuntarily detained. Using a state panel, I find that while laws dictating the maximum length of time an individual can stay in a mental health facility have no effect on violence, laws dictating the required minimum stay do. That is, we would expect to see the general homicide rate decrease by 0.12%, or about 1 murder every two years, for each state that adopts a 3 day minimum stay law.
Keywords: mental health, involuntary commitment
JEL Classification: I18, K13, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation