Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12

Only one-third of inmates in the U.S. with mental-health problems receive treatment, according to a new Department of Justice report released Thursday. In federal prisons, about half of those who need treatment get it, DOJ found.

Inmates are five times as likely to have a mental-health problem than the general U.S. population. The report, by Jennifer Bronson and Marcus Berzofsky, found most prisoners and jail inmates with a mental-health problem have at some point received treatment in their lives. Overall, more jail inmates have a current mental health problem than federal prisoners.

A higher percentage of women meet one or both of the criteria: 20 percent of female federal prisoners 32 percent of female jail inmates. Whites were found to have reported a mental health problem more often than black and Hispanic inmates and prisoners.

Inmates and prisoners with less than a high-school degree were most likely to indicate a mental health problem, followed by those with a college degree and those with a high school degree or equivalent. Those with a college degree were most likely to have a history of mental illness. Lauren-Brooke Eisen of The Brennan Center for Justice said the disparity may be due to differing opportunities for diagnosis and time spent with teachers who may identify illness.

Researchers documented self-reported experiences that demonstrate a current mental health problem in the last 30 days and a self-reported history of a mental health problem. Major depressive disorder was the most common self-reported previous diagnosis among prisoners and inmates, followed by bipolar disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers also interviewed inmates and prisoners about how often they felt nervous, hopeless, restless, worthless, fidgety, felt everything was an effort, or felt so depressed that nothing could cheer them up.

While many inmates and prisoners enter the system with a history of mental illness, Prison Policy Institute analyst Wendy Sawyer said the stresses of being incarcerated may contribute to the prevalence of mental health problems, as evidenced by the report’s finding that serious psychological distress is most often reported/experienced during the first month of detention.

Population of focus: Incarcerated individuals

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Date: 2017

Organization: U.S. Department of Justice