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Special Populations of Mentally Ill in Prisons: Women, Veterans….

October 15, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm CDT

Roundtable Discussion

Special Populations of Mentally Ill in Prisons: Women, Veterans, and African Americans

Lisa Faille, PhD, MPH, ABPP

Associate Professor, Forensic Psychology, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Online Campus

Andrea Fuentes, Student, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Online Campus

Kesley Williams, Student, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Online Campus

The rate of incarceration in the United States is higher than any other country in the world with a staggering 2.2 million adults in prisons in America (National Research Council. 2014). Estimates are that 25-30% of those who are imprisoned in the US suffers from major mental illness (National Alliance on Mental Illness, n.d.). However, a multiple groups with unique and specific needs within the incarcerated population have emerged and include females, Veterans, and African Americans. While women comprise approximately 7% of the incarcerated population, they report mental health issues and emotional distress at nearly twice the rate of men in prison (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2017). Further, the circumstance of separation from their children while imprisoned imposes an additional layer of stress on women. Secondly, Veterans undergo extreme emotional and physical stress during combat, and many experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder upon returning home, which sometimes manifests as violent behavior. A study of incarcerated Veterans at a prison in Connecticut showed rates of 30-45% for diagnoses of substance abuse disorder and 29% for posttraumatic stress disorder. However, only 31% reported being helped to receive needed mental health services, and less than half reported receiving substance abuse treatment (Tsai & Goggin, 2017). Thirdly, African Americans are imprisoned five times more often than European Americans and comprise 38% of all prisoners in the US (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2015). However, mental illness among African American prisoners is underserved. For example, during the initial intake screening upon arrival at a jail, prior health issues are often identified by asking whether the newly arrested person has previously been diagnosed with a mental health issue. However, prior to incarceration, African Americans have often had less contact with metal health services compared to other groups related to the combined impact of a lack of access to mental health treatment due to racism and socioeconomic status (Youman, Drapalski, Stuewig, Bagley, & Tangney, 2010), which can leave their mental illness undetected by prison staff. Implications for improved responses for these special prison populations of women, Veterans, and African Americans will be discussed and include: the availability of diversion programs to allow women to remain with their children, specialized prison units for Veterans, better screening for the mental health needs of African Americans, and increased substance abuse treatment facilities for all of these incarcerated groups.

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