Mental Health & Trauma among Women in Jails

This fact sheet is a statistical overview from a study examining the prevalence of serious mental illness (SMI), substance use disorders (SUDs), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among nearly 500 women in jails across urban and rural counties in the United States. Behavioral health issues and trauma have implications on treatment, prevention, rehabilitation, and reentry for justice-involved women.

Trauma and mental health played a significant role in the risk level of justice-involved women in jail; one in four women met the diagnosis criteria for lifetime SMI, PTSD, and SUD. The reported rates of mental health issues for women in jails are reflective of patterns found by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2011; women in Colorado and Idaho jails reported higher rates of SMI, PTSD, and SUD than those in South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Interpersonal violence and adversity in life were often associated with the onset of justice involvement, and many women experienced multiple forms of adversity or interpersonal violence.

Findings are important for professionals in child welfare, mental health, substance use, law enforcement, court diversion, corrections, and transitional services for reentry. The information in this resource is valuable for care providers, law enforcement, corrections officers, and community-based organizations devoted to the recovery and rehabilitation of justice-involved women with behavioral health issues. Most women experience multiple forms of violence and adversity, so these factors must be taken into consideration when treating women in jails and prisons with trauma. Treatment and rehabilitation services that acknowledge these risk factors will reduce the risk of recidivism upon reentry to the community.

This resource was first shared in 2012.

(Fact sheet, PDF, 298 KB)

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