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June 1996

Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders Among Incarcerated WomenII. Convicted Felons Entering Prison

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(6):513-519. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830060057008

Background:  No unbiased estimates of the rates of psychiatric disorder among women prison inmates are available. Nonetheless, available data suggest that some psychiatric disorders are prevalent in this population. The objective of the study was to determine the rates, risk factors, and outcomes of specific psychiatric disorders among women prison inmates.

Methods:  A virtual census of women felons (N=805) entering prison in North Carolina was assessed using in-person interviews. Assessments were conducted for 8 disorders, using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview as the primary assessment measure. For validation purposes, one quarter of the inmates were reassessed for 2 of these disorders, using structured clinical interviews.

Results:  Inmates were found to have high rates of substance abuse and dependence and antisocial and borderline personality disorders compared with women in community epidemiologic studies. Rates among inmates were also somewhat elevated for mood disorders but not for anxiety disorders. The rate of reports of lifetime exposure to traumatic events was also high. Rates of disorder tended to be higher among white than among African American women.

Conclusion:  High rates of substance abuse, psychiatric disorder, and psychological distress associated with exposure to traumatic events suggest that women in prison have a need for treatment for substance abuse and other mental health problems.