RESEARCH: 1 in 3 Incarcerated Women Suffer from Severe Mental Illness
(March 5, 2014) Nearly one-third of incarcerated women are currently suffering serious mental illness and 43 percent of women in jails and prisons meet criteria for having ever had a serious mental illness, concludes a new report published in the journal Psychiatric Services in Advance (“Mental illness highly prevalent among incarcerated women,” Psychiatry Online, Mar. 7).
The researchers examined a sample of 491 women in jails in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina and the District of Colombia metropolitan area over the course of nearly a year ending in March 2012.
Over a quarter of the women met criteria for having ever suffered a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder in their lifetime. This includes major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Among the women who met criteria for a severe mental illness, 45 percent showed signs of severe functional impairment.
“The prevalence of serious mental illnesses . . . suggests the critical need for comprehensive assessment of mental health and impairment level at the point of women’s entry into the criminal justice system and for increasing alternatives to incarceration, such as mental health and drug courts, and for programs that can address the complexity of female offenders’ treatment needs,” the researchers said.
More and more, evidence demonstrates that jails and prisons have become the new psychiatric hospitals.
For many of these men and women, adequate treatment can be key to avoiding contact with the criminal justice system in the first place. Better treatment standards to allow for court-ordered treatment when necessary can help avoid the very crises that often lead to arrest.
Read our study, “More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons than Hospitals.”
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