Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

John K. Cochran, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kathleen Heide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

George Burruss, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wesley G. Jennings, Ph.D.


functional disabilities, macro strain theory, crime, mental health


Over the last few decades, there has been a consistent increase in mental illnesses in the US population. This has also lead to increased interactions of those with mental illnesses and/or disabilities with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Despite these instances, there is limited research on the relationship between disabilities, mental health issues and crime in the large body of criminological research. Further, the current extant research is a) outside the field of Criminology, b) primarily focuses on those with only intellectual or developmental disabilities and/or c) does not examine this relationship at the macro level, despite evidence of high disability levels in areas of high disadvantage. In addition, prior research does not provide a theoretical explanation of the link between disabilities, mental health issues and crime.

The purpose of this dissertation is to address these knowledge gaps and examine the relationship between functional disabilities (mobility, cognitive, hearing, vision, independent living, employment or self-care), mental health issues and crime rates. Furthermore, this dissertation is the first to apply Agnew’s Macro Strain (MST) to examine the relationships between disabilities and crime and mental health issues and crime. These relationships are examined through two separate macro level analyses. First, the relationship between functional disabilities and crime is examined in the city of Boston using neighborhood-level data from the US Census Bureau and crime rates from the Boston Police Department. The analyses are conducted examining bivariate relationships across the seven types of disabilities and crimes, Ordinary Least Regression models controlling for neighborhood level factors and utilizing a neighborhood disadvantage index. Second, the relationship between mental health issues and county-level crime rates is examined using data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and involuntary commitment petition data from the Baker Act Reporting Center in 67 Florida counties from 2000 to 2018. Involuntary commitment petitions initiated by law enforcement, health professionals and judges (utilized as a proxy for those experiencing a mental health crisis) and crime rates are examined. The analyses are conducted examining key summary statistics, time series plots of involuntary exam petitions and crime rates overtime, and county and year fixed effects regression models.

Several key findings emerged from the results that advance research on the disabilities, mental health issues and crime rates relationship. First, neighborhood analyses showed a significant positive relationship between cognitive, sensory, and physical disabilities with property and violent crime rates in neighborhoods. Second, county-level analyses from involuntary commitment exams initiated by law enforcement, health officials, and judges and crime rates showed a negative effect of health official initiated involuntary exam petitions on county level crime rates. The findings provide evidence for macro level relationship between cognitive, sensory and physical disabilities and violent crime rates in neighborhoods. Further, county level analyses may provide precursory evidence towards the efficacy of involuntary commitment petition laws, when initiated by health professionals. The findings underscore the need of neighborhood and county level initiatives to provide resources for individuals with disabilities and those experiencing mental health crises. In addition, it highlights the need for training for law enforcement as interactions between those experiencing mental health issues and criminal justice system rise. The dissertation concludes with implications for health and criminal justice policy and directions for future research.