Medications can help ex-cons from returning to jail

November 11, 2016 - 06:20

Pyschotropic medication can help keep convicts from engaging in violent crimes after being released.

A new study indicates that certain medications can help reduce the number of convicts who relapse into new criminal activities after being released. (Photo: JJ_SNIPER/Shutterstock/NTB scanpix)

A new study indicates that prescribing psychotropic medications (antipsychotics, psychostimulants and medications used for addictive disorders) can reduce instances of violent re-offending among former prisoners.

The study was made by researchers at Karolinska Institute and colleagues at Uppsala and Örebro – all in Sweden – as well as England’s Oxford University. The researchers found that released criminals who were treated with such drugs had a 42 percent lower risk of being re-incarcerated for new violent crimes.

Antipsychotics are used in treatment of schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

“This study raises the possibility that prescribed medications may provide a way to cut the risk of violent reoffending, as part of a wider package of support,” says Seena Fazel, a professor at Oxford University and one of the researchers behind the study, in a statement to The Independent.


The study also showed a 36 percent lower risk of committing new crimes when ex-prisoners were treated with psychostimulants. These drugs stimulate the central nervous system but have a calming effect on persons with ADHD. Caffeine is the most common psychostimulant.

Researchers found that use of medications against addictions, for instance nicotine and methadone, cut violent episodes by over half.

The comparison was made in relation to groups who were not given the same medical treatment for addictions.

Released prisoners in Sweden

The study looked at all released prisoners in Sweden who had been set free from July 2005 to December 2010 and it followed their police records through 2013. The cohort consisted of 22,275 former inmates, nine out ten of which were men.

In the course of this time, 4,031 of them committed violent crimes. That amounted to about 18 percent of the former prisoners. This number corresponds to crime statistics in Norway, the Nordic country that has the lowest recurrence rate in this respect. 

The researchers defined violent crime as murder, assault, robbery, arson, sexual offences and threats.

The recurrence rate for violent crimes among those taking psychotropic drugs was low by Swedish standards, but the researchers could not ascertain that this was the direct cause of reduction. 

Relapse rates in Norway

Even if Norway seems statistically to rehabilitate criminals more successfully than its Nordic neighbours do, its reoffending rate shows that there is still room for much improvement.

“Amongst those convicted of violent crimes in Norway, 18 percent become reoffenders,” says Christine Friestad, a researcher at the University College of Norwegian Correctional Service (KRUS).

That figure was established in a Nordic cooperation study in 2010. That study defined relapses into crime as cases leading to a reaction by the criminal justice system within two years of release.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by
Glenn Ostling

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