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Treating Violent Crime as a Disease

As a criminal defense attorney, I know firsthand that criminality and mental health issues along with poverty go together. According to Dr. Barry Mahoney of the Justice Management Institute "Harris County Jail is now the largest facility providing mental health services in the State of Texas." Despite the evident correlation between mental health and those who commit crimes, we continue to use the same failed tactics to address criminal behavior. What if we shifted our focus from incarceration and started treating violent crime like a disease?

In 2005, the United Nations named Scotland the most violent country in the developed world, with Glasgow declared as the "murder capital" of Europe. In the same year Scotland formed the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), which implemented a "public health" approach to preventing crime. The World Health Organization's guidance on violence prevention says, "violence can be prevented and its impact reduced, in the same way that public health efforts have prevented and reduced pregnancy-related complications [or] workplace injuries." VRU utilizes support agencies in the areas of health, addiction and job placement to decrease crime.

According to the World Economic Forum, "one of the primary indicators that someone will carry out an act of violence is first being the victim of one. The idea that violence spreads between people, reproducing itself and shifting group norms, explains why one locality might see more stabbings or shootings than another area with many of the same social problems."

Since the launch of VRU, the murder rate in Glasgow has dropped 60%. Being tough on crime may win elections, but evidence shows that it does not make us safer. Adopting a more health centered approach to crime may lead to a healthier and safer society.

Author Biography:

Stacy M. Allen has served as counsel on an array of legal matters including civil and criminal law, family law, bankruptcy, and even terrorism cases. Stacy is a proud graduate of St. Edward’s University where she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations with a concentration in Latin America, and of Howard University School of Law, in Washington, DC, where she served as President of the Huver I. Brown Trial Advocacy Moot Court Team. Her current practice focuses on a variety of civil litigation and criminal law matters.

Stacy M. Allen, Attorney at Law (@SMAllen_Esq)

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