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Mental Health Treatment in State Prisons Falls Short

Among the 1,558 public and private state prisons and community corrections facilities, approximately 191,000 prisoners are mentally ill. Of these prisoners, about one in five does not receive necessary mental health treatment.

These numbers come from a report by Allen J. Beck and Laura Maruschak of the Bureau of Justice Statistics based on surveys of state prisons and prisoners in 2000. Some, however, question the study's results.

Associated Press writer Christopher Newton reports that University of New Mexico psychologist Roger Paine sharply criticized the accuracy of the numbers, pointing out that most prisons' screening and diagnostic procedures are inadequate. He called the study results "pure fiction." Beck acknowledged the modesty and limitations of the survey, but said that "mental illness is a significant problem for state prisons." Beck called for further study of prisoner mental health issues.

The reported numbers, however questionable, are large. Nearly 1 in 6 state prisoners is mentally ill. Approximately l in 8 state prisoners receive mental health therapy or counseling services, and about 1 in 10 receive various forms of psychotropic medications. Slightly less than 2% of State prisoners received 24-hour care in special mental health units.

The level of mental health screening, assessment, and treatment vary among the states and, within states, by the type of facility and security level. Maximum security facilities are most likely to screen and treat prisoners, while minimum security community based correctional facilities are least likely to provide any mental health services. Many community corrections facilities do not even have policies relating to mental health treatment. Indeed, 125 (8%) of reporting facilities provide no mental health screens at all, and only 155 facilities (11.1%) specialize in mental health treatment, including mental health confinement. Only New Mexico, Ohio, and Rhode Island conduct mental health screening and psychiatric assessments at every prison.

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to receive mental health counseling, treatment, and psychotropic medication. The l in 4 women receiving some form of mental health therapy or counseling is higher even than the 1 in 6 maximum security prisoners receiving such treatment. The report does not address the reasons for this disparity.

The report is titled, "Mental Health Treatment in State Prisons, 2000," report number NCJ188215, published July 2001. One copy is available free upon request to Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 20531. The document is also available for download from http://www. in either ASCII or portable document format (.PDF).

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