Shannon Lynch, Ph.D., of Idaho State University and colleagues at four other institutions interviewed 491 randomly sampled women in jails in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, and the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C. Structured interviews assessed lifetime and 12-month prevalence of disorders and level of impairment. The researchers found that 43% of participants met lifetime criteria for a serious mental illness, and 32% met 12-month criteria; among the latter, 45% ;showed severe functional impairment. In addition, about 53% of subjects showed PTSD symptoms. They also assessed psychiatric comorbidity, finding that about 33% met criteria for a serious mental illness and PTSD, 38% for a serious mental illness and a co-occurring substance use disorder, and about 25% for all three in their lifetime.
“The prevalence of serious mental illness and its co-occurrence with substance use disorders and PTSD in this multisite sample suggest the critical need for comprehensive assessment of mental health at the point of women’s entry into the criminal justice system and the necessity for more programs that offer alternatives to incarceration and that can address the complexity of female offenders’ treatment need,” the researchers said.
Commenting on the study for Psychiatric News, Debra Pinals, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and director of forensic education at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said "the growing rate of female offenders makes it imperative that we more thoroughly understand their challenges and behavioral health care needs. Attention to trauma histories, risk levels, and psychosocial variables related to recidivism, along with a focus on barriers to success and the impact of incarceration and offending on families and children warrant specific attention. Where serious functional impairments are identified, programs that attend to rehabilitation and support can be developed that can help these women achieve additional improvements."
For more on issues concerning mental illness in jails and prisons, see the Psychiatric News articles, "Untreated Schizophrenia Increases Risk for Violence By Inmates" and “Judges, Psychiatrists Confer on Handling Mental Illness in Justice System.”
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