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Psychological Disturbance and Violent Crimes: What do Mentions in Judicial Sentences Reveal?

The intersection between immigration and crime has been a focal point scholarly attention since the beginning of the 20th century following the large-scale settlement of migrants in the suburbs of Chicago. Subsequent events stimulated the development of a series of theories related to immigration and crime based around the deregulation of social class. In this context, an analysis was conducted of violent crimes (including murder, robbery, physical assault and rape) in Portugal (Guia, 2015a). The citizenship/ ethnicity of prison inmates, convicted between 2002 and 2011, was assessed to determine if they were in fact Portuguese or foreign nationals (immigrants, third-country circulating individuals, Euro migrants or visitors from EU countries). The analysis did not reveal any significant relationship between immigration and violent crime, with the exception of robbery, where there is a growing overrepresentation of foreign nationals. The findings indicate that the selective policing of foreign nationals and judicial practices that result in the increased application of preventive detention and imprisonment has led to foreign nationals being overrepresented in crime and justice statistics.

Nevertheless, and having analysed 116 convictions for violent crimes, psychological disturbances appear be increasingly cited as mitigating reasons for violent crimes. The suggestion of psychological disturbances calls into questions the offender’s capacity and responsibility for the commitment of such crimes. Consequently, more research is needed to determine the prevalence of psychological disturbances among violent criminal aggressors. Consequently, I have analysed judicial sentences for references to psychological disturbances in a bid to answer the following questions: What is the distinction between the burden of responsibility for violent aggressors and those who have mental health issues? Are arguments about mental health issues used to question responsibility or are they really about facilitating access to treatment? This article presents the preliminary results of this analysis and highlights the need for further analysis. Moreover, the outcomes of this study have implication for possible early intervention activities.

Author(s): Maria Joao Guia

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