What is it about?

This study reports rates of serious mental health disorders such as PTSD, Bipolar, Major Depression, and Substance Use Disorders in women in jail. We interviewed 491 women in jail in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, and metro Washington DC to assess mental health disorders. Most of the women (83%) had a substance use disorder. Over half of the women (53%) had PTSD. Over one third (38%) has a serious mental illness and substance use. These rates of mental health problems are much higher than rates in the general public and highlight the need for mental health assessment and treatment planning when women are detained as well as the need for alternatives to detention such mental health courts.

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Why is it important?

Serious mental health problems increase the risk of entering the criminal legal system and the risk of reoffending. It is important that we identfy individuals with serious mental health problems and help them to access treatment and decrease the risk of continuing legal system involvement.


The United States has the highest rate of incarceration (detaining people in jail and prison) in the world. Many women in jail and prison have serious psychological distress related to traumatic experiences such as child abuse and partner violence. One way people cope with trauma related distress and mental health problems is by numbing and avoiding their feelings with drugs. Drug use is a key risk factor for legal system involvement in the US. Identifying individuals with serious mental health needs, including substance use problems, and providing effective treatment has the potential to decrease the high rate of incarceration in the United Stated.

Shannon Lynch
Idaho State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A Multisite Study of the Prevalence of Serious Mental Illness, PTSD, and Substance Use Disorders of Women in Jail, Psychiatric Services, May 2014, American Psychiatric Association,
DOI: 10.1176/appi.ps.201300172.
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