Nationwide, more than half of all state prison and jail inmates at midyear 2005 had a mental health problem, as did almost half of federal prisoners, according to a report recently released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Tables 1 and 2). These figures are noticeably higher than those for the general U.S. adult population. According to data in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, about 11 percent of those 18 or older in the U.S. are estimated to have mental disorders. Female inmates—like females in the general population—had higher rates of mental disorders than men. The mental health problems also often occurred in conjunction with substance abuse or dependence (Table 3). About a third of state prisoners had received treatment for a mental disorder since admission; 24 percent of federal prisoners and 17 percent of jail inmates had received treatment (Table 4).
The findings of the BJS study were based on personal interviews conducted with a national sample of inmates. The surveys collected information on those experiences of inmates over the previous 12 months that would indicate symptoms of major depression, mania or psychotic disorders. The surveys did not evaluate the severity of the symptoms. Symptoms due to medical illness, substance abuse or bereavement were not excluded from reported results. Inmates in mental hospitals or those physically or mentally unable to complete the personal surveys were excluded from the sample.
Mental health problems were defined by two measures: symptoms as based on criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV); or a recent history of problems indicated by a clinical diagnosis or treatment by a mental health professional.
The preceding article is based on BJS Special Report “Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates,” NCJ 213600.