Women in prison or women formerly incarcerated: Mental Health | MyPaperHub


When we hear or even think of prisons from a layman’s perspective, what typically comes to our minds are the overcrowded facilities with high walls and also barbed wires. The typical mental image is of men that are built physically and also dangerous looking in some instances with tattoos all over their bodies (Walklate, 2004). Few of us are able to have a picture or imagination of the women in prison. It is because the proportion of the women in prison as compared to the men prisoners is minimal. However, there has been an indication of a rising number of female inmates over the years. A study conducted by IWCJ (2006) indicated that there were approximately 105,000 female inmates out of the over 2 million prisoners at the time in the United States alone. The study, however, indicates a marginal increase in the number of female prisoners (Messina et. al., 2006). It pointed to a notable increase in the number of the inmates at over 600 percent between 1977 and 2005 and the increase in female prisoners was attributed to the presence of tougher sentencing laws and also the growing record of drug offenders in the country.

With the rapid growth in the rate of female prisoners, there is still non-committal from the respective prison administrators to respond to the specific needs of the women. The growth of the women in the jail is apparent yet it is still inadequately addressed since the women cannot always treat as the men as they may have special health needs including mental health needs (Walklate, 2004). Historically, women have been underrepresented at different levels of the criminal justice system, and it is this that resulted in the creation of the system by men for men hence forgetting the diverse, unique needs of the women that may not be relevant to the male counterparts. The American and the Hispanic women are the majority of the women incarcerated, and the majority of them have indicated health concerns more so with mental health. It is even more emphasized by the fact that there are an increased number of women prisoners incarcerated with drug abuse related cases and such cases may need mental health interventions to overcome the addictions and also come to terms with the new reality of incarceration (Walklate, 2004). There are also other significant heath needs that are necessary for the women such as the gynecological requirements of the female inmates that are often dismissed by the prison administrators, and these have further led to the possibility of further mental health issues.

Mental health as defined by the WHO it is not just the absence of a mental health disorder but the ability of the individual to cope with the normal stresses of life, be a productive member of society and also attain their full potential (Messina et. al., 2006). It includes the general wellness of the women in the correctional facilities and the presence of their mental health needs and deficiencies that should not be overlooked at all. Moreover, being in the prison set up there are increased frustrations, stresses as well as challenges that may present mental health challenges to such women and hence the need to do something about the issue that is apparent in the prisons. Moreover, many of the incarcerated women had already reported some form of health-related deficiencies before their incarceration. Some of the women engaged in violence were drug addicts, and there is majority of them that are survivors of sexual abuse, physical abuse, trauma and even post-traumatic Stress Disorders (Messina et. al., 2006). They may also be survivors or even victims of high-risk activities such as prostitution that put them in danger of contracting HIV/Aids. If they are already infected or so, they may be at increased risk of further mental health damage as a result of the increased pressure and pain that may be emotional and psychological (Messina et. al., 2006). The women may also be victims of violence or perpetrators of violence and just incarceration for a period may be ineffective at changing the mental schemas of such individuals and hence required mental health intervention to cope with the stresses and also overcome the issues they may be facing.

Surveys conducted among the incarcerated women have indicated a linkage between childhood abuse and the other adult mental health problems such a depression, panics and eating disorders s (Messina & Grella, 2006). Messina and Grella (2006) further found out that the childhood issues including abandonment and poor upbringing in high-risk areas were also linked with the subsequent behavioral issue in the adult life of the women and were also directly like with other mental health concerns later in life. It meant that some of the women committed the crimes they are incarcerated for as a result of the mental health issues that they faced linked with their childhood experiences. Such issues cannot be solved or corrected through the use of the correctional facilities alone without the adequate mental health interventions. The majority of the women offenders have also experienced trauma in their lives, and this has also further been lined with the behavioral issues that they have and also other mental health needs of the individuals (Bloom et. al., 2003). It is, therefore, apparent that there is a need for mental health interventions for women in prison since the behavioral issues that got them incarcerated in the first place may be highly linked with the mental health problems that they may be facing as individuals over the course of their lives.




Purpose of the research

The research primarily aims at finding out the link between mental health issue faced by the women in their lives and the behavioral problems that landed them in prison. The research is also vital to being able to identify the need for mental health interventions for the women in prison through identification of the mental health problems that the women may be facing in incarceration.

Problem statement

The specific issue presented in the research is on the mental health needs of the women in prison that are apparent yet little has been done by the relevant stakeholders to address them effectively.









Literature review

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in a study titled Women’s Health in Prisons: Correcting Gender Inequity in Prison Health (2009), the majority of the women in the prisons around the globe are in jail as a result of nonviolent crimes. They are mostly drug offenders, property related offender, and other cases. It has led to the serving of shorter terms in prisons as opposed to their male counterparts and hence the increased need to ensure that the women that go through the system are sound to be released to the society. A prison can change an individual as a result of the interaction with other inmates that may be violent and also if the conditions in the jail are not conducive for correctional. Moreover, there are indications of continued violence and also the abuse of women in the prisons from other inmates and also from the jail administrators. In fact over 70% of the correctional officers in the female correctional centers are male and hence may increase the vulnerability of such women. It is, therefore, imperative that the women have access to enough mental health support systems so that they can be able to get into terms with the experiences they have in the prisons. A justice system for such offender should also be instituted. Failure to address the traumatic events that may occur to such a woman may lead to further violence in future leading to further sentencing with other more violent crimes in the future. It may also lead to defiance and vulnerability to mental health issues for the inmates that may crop from such experiences.

There are over 48% if women that were victims of sexual or physical abuse before ending up in prison (Green et. al., 2005). They may be individuals that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and hence end up engaging in activities masked as coping mechanisms, such as alcohol and drug abuse. Such individuals may end becoming drug addicts as they attempt to deal with the distress of the abuse and hence end up in prisons. It may be counterproductive to have such an inmate serve a jail term and then release them to the public once again without sufficiently addressing the issues that they may be facing to help them deal with the problems (Green et. al., 2005). It may make the justice system ineffective if they are not able to address the mental health needs that led to the committing of the crime and also increases the likelihood of a second and subsequent jail terms that may make the offenses advance from nonviolent to violent as the situation gets worse. The situation in the current correctional system is that there are more and more facilities that just offer medications to the visible distresses of the inmate but do not provide the relevant psychosocial support and also psychotherapy that is essential for healing.

A study published in 2009 by IWCJ titled: Mothers, Infants, and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives indicated that the prevalence of mental illness was higher for the female prisoners than the male inmates and was also infrequently addressed. The study also suggested that the women were more likely to hurt themselves that the men while in prison. It is an indication of the apparent need for interventions to address the mental health of the women in prison. Incarceration may be more difficulty in coping with for the women than is the case for the men and therefore there is a need for specialized systems and structures that meet the particular needs of such individuals. There is a need to offer sufficient coping mechanisms to the women through addressing the issues they experience while in prison and also what they faced before they got into jail (The Independent, 2009). It is because, before they get to harming themselves, it is an indication of deep-rooted emotional and psychological distress that may mean that it is an impediment to the proper functioning of the women. It is, therefore, the role of the prison administrators to offer the support and also the psychological support required for the women (The Independent, 2009).

There are also indications of mental health difference between the incarcerated women from the general women population. For instance, the general population indicates that 12% of the women have mental health issues but in the state prison, there are indications of 73% of the women having mental illness symptoms (James and Glaze, 2006). The study also indicated that the incarcerated women had a higher prevalence of serious mental disorder such as schizophrenia, substance abuse disorder, personality disorders and also experience psychosocial dysfunction. It is a clear indication of the gap that exists within the prison systems and also in society since the women that serve short prison terms then released into society with such issues further contributes to the effects of such mental health matters in society. They may also lead to causing further distress to others such as their spouses, their family members and even children for those that have them. Some of the conditions may also be the reasons why some of the inmates may end up becoming more violent and as a result, some of them get extended prison terms. It is, therefore, imperative to have the psychic evaluation platforms that also lead up to the provision of mental health interventions to the individuals. 

Research by Bloom, Owen, and Covington (2003) indicates that the women offenders in the United States are majorly characterized by poverty, women of color, young mothers and also unemployment, have significant substance abuse issues and obvious mental health issues. It means that some of the women were victims of mental health disorders and hence may have engaged in some acts not in their right mind but as a result of the disorders that they may face. There is also a visibility of commonality in the fact that the female inmates are major victims of past violence, abuse, and other family or community-related problems. However, the correctional facilities do not spend some time to screen for nay childhood or adulthood issues that may have resulted in the behavioral issues witnessed through the breaking of the law. The majority of some of the women should not be thrown in the prison cells without therapeutic interventions. In fact, the therapeutic interventions would be the most efficient ways for the desired behavior change and change of such individuals to be productive and model citizens (Medlicott, 2007).

The majority of the incarcerated women that may have psychiatric disorder do not receive sufficient and required interventions, and hence, they have a lifetime of mental health issues. The study further asserted that some women are troubled as a result of the lack of mental health treatments and also due to a repeated incarceration without the necessary interventions (Jordan et. al., 2002). It means that the women continued engagement in activities and behavior that leads to incarceration is a direct result of the failure of such justice systems to address the actual issues that face such citizens. The justice system, therefore, spends massive taxpayer funding incarcerating the individual instead of taking the more cheaply and efficient method by addressing the issues that the person, may be facing. Without making the relevant mental health interventions, the correctional interventions of people may remain irrelevant and also ineffective leading to increased overcrowding of inmates in the prisons due to repeated engagement in crimes of such individuals (Medlicott, 2007). It also leads to the continued existent of criminals and crime perpetration motivated by the emotional and psychological impairments that are not within the control of the individual.

In 1998, Bureau of Justice Statistics released a publication that documented that 40% of the women sent to state prisons in the United States reported that they had been under the influence of drugs and substances during the time of committing a given crime (James & Glaze, 2006). There were only 32% of the men that reported drug abuse during committing of their crimes. There were also around one-third of other incarcerated women that committed the crime such as theft, burglary and robbery at times with violence with the sole goal of buying drugs with the money in mind. A publication in 2004 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics further stated that over 60% of the women in the state prisons indicated some history of drug dependence (James & Glaze, 2006). It is an indication that the substance abuse is an important issue in the country.

Drugs and substance abuse related crimes are not issues that can be superficially solved through incarceration without offering the relevant social, emotional and psychological interventions. In fact, it shows that if the justice systems focus on investing more in trying to avert drug abuse through offering psychosocial support and mental health interventions to the addicts, then they would be better placed at reducing the rates of crimes (James & Glaze, 2006). Drug dependence is not something that any individual can be punished out of and therefore, requires direct intervention to the underlying emotional and psychological issues. There is also the need to address the addiction disorder in the individual so as to attain any significant changes among the individual.



Implications for Criminal Justice/Society

The continued existence and also lack of sufficient mechanisms to address the mental health needs of women in incarceration continue to provide grave consequences on the criminal justice system and also to the society. The criminal justice system may not be in a position to attain their goal by having the women in rosin which are to reshape them into model citizens and also ensure that they become productive and model citizens. Such individuals that have underlying mental health issues unless they are addressed will continue to present a challenge as they will continue to be at the loggerheads with the law. Mental health disorders are not conditions that a person can be punished out of since what the criminal justice system achieves by incarcerating individuals suffering from mental health issue is punishing them at all times. It is counterproductive and also against the fundamental rights of the individuals that suffer from mental disorders while committing a crime to be put through an increased torture and through situations that may further lead to worsening of their conditions and also leads to suicides and violence against others in some extreme cases. The society is also not spared from the ordeal since such women that are drug addicts and suffering from mental disorders and them are incarcerated are somebody’s mother, sister, aunt, niece, wife and even wife. It means that societies will continue to lose individuals that would have been productive if they were given the right form of support and interventions for the behavior that may be contrary to the law. For the students and the professional, it continues to present a challenge that needs in-depth research and also presents an issue that requires immediate attention and may be a source of problem on the right channels and mechanisms that need to be instituted to adequately address the problem.



In conclusion, the women in prison continue to increase at an alarming rate around the world. However, there is slow and in some cases nonexistent sufficient health interventions for the women and presents issues that have a significant impact on the core human rights of such women. The women cannot also be treated in the same way as the men since they have their unique health related issues facing them. Furthermore, the Justice system is highly discriminative of the women as it was made by men for the men and hence the structures and mechanisms instituted are more relevant for the men than the women. The women in prison face significant issue with mental health since they are majorly the victims of abuse, trauma, PTSD and other child related difficulties that result to mental health issues. Moreover, the issue of drug abuse is the most fundamental among the women and in fact majority of the incarcerations for women are drug related. Most of the crimes committed by the women are either committee under the influence of drugs, are drug offences or are committed with the aim of satisfying the drug dependence. Drug abuse on its own is a significant mental health issue in the contemporary society and therefore, the majority of women in prison are there due to the mental health problems that they may be facing. It is also evident that the women face more pressure and are more vulnerable to mental health disorders while in prison than the men and hence the need to have interventions to address the issues. There are sufficient research and evidence indicating that there is a need for mental health interventions for women in prison since the behavioral problems that got them incarcerated in the first place may be highly linked with the mental health problems that they may be facing as individuals over the course of their lives.

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