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Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers

SUNDAY, JULY 11, 1999                     202/307-0784 

   WASHINGTON, D.C.   An estimated 283,800 mentally
ill offenders were held in the nation's state and
federal prisons and local jails at midyear 1998,
according to a special report released today by the
Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics
(BJS).  An additional 547,800 mentally ill people were
on probation in the community.

   In its first comprehensive report on mental illness
in correctional facilities, BJS identified persons
with mental or emotional problems based on information
from personal interviews with a representative sample
of offenders who responded to a series of mental-
health-related questions.  The interviews were
conducted only with offenders sentenced to
incarceration or probation and persons held in local
jail awaiting trial; people held under civil
commitments were excluded. Seven percent of federal
inmates and 16 percent of those in state prisons or
local jails or on probation said they either had a
mental condition or had stayed overnight in a mental
hospital, unit or treatment program.  

   The highest rate of mental illness was among white
females in state prisons--29 percent.  Almost 40
percent of the white female state prisoners age 24 or
younger were identified as mentally ill.  Twenty
percent of the black females and 22 percent of the
Hispanic females in state prison were mentally ill.

   Research conducted in the early 1990s found mental
illness rates in the U.S. general population among
people 15 through 54 years old varied by type of
psychiatric condition, gender, age and other
demographic characteristics.  Based on structured
diagnostic interviews, this research determined that
an estimated 0.6 percent of males and 0.8 percent of
females suffer at some point in their lives from
schizophrenia or other psychoses, and 14.7 percent of
males and 23.9 percent of females from an affective
disorder, such as major depression and mania. 
Controlling for demographic differences, other studies
have found rates of mental illness among incarcerated
offenders to be at least double the comparable rates
in the general population.

   Offenders identified as mentally ill were more
likely than other offenders incarcerated or on
probation to have committed a violent offense.  An
estimated 13 percent of the mentally ill State
prisoners had committed murder; 12 percent, rape or
sexual assault; 13 percent,  robbery; and 11  percent,
assault.  Nearly 1 in 5 violent offenders in prison or
jail or on probation were identified as mentally ill.

   When compared with other inmates and probationers,
the mentally ill inmates and probationers reported
higher rates of prior physical and sexual abuse and
higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse by a parent or
guardian while they were growing up.  Among mentally
ill state prisoners, nearly a third of men and three-
quarters of the women said they had been physically or
sexually abused in the past.  More than 40 percent of
the mentally ill inmates said their parents had abused
alcohol or drugs.  More than half said a parent,
brother or sister had also been in prison or jail.

   Since admission, 61 percent of the mentally ill
state and federal prison inmates and 41 percent of the
local jail inmates said they had received treatment
for a mental condition in the form of counseling,
medication or other mental health services.  Fifty-six
percent of mentally ill probationers had received
treatment since beginning their sentences.  

   State prison inmates with a mental condition were
more likely than other state inmates to be
incarcerated for a violent offense (53 percent
compared to 46 percent).  They were also more likely
to have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs
at the time of their current offense (59 percent vs.
51 percent) and more than twice as likely to have been
homeless in the 12 months prior to their arrest (20
percent vs. 9 percent).

   More than a third of the mentally ill in state
prisons or local jails and a quarter in federal
prisons also exhibited signs of alcohol dependence. 
Nearly half of the mentally ill in state prison said
they were binge drinkers; 46 percent reported they had
been in physical fights while drinking; and 17 percent
had lost a job due to drinking.

   More than three-quarters of the mentally ill
inmates had been sentenced to prison, jail or
probation at least once prior to their current
sentence.  Half reported three or more prior
sentences.  The mentally ill inmates were more likely
than other prisoners to have a prior sentence for a
violent offense.

   About 40 percent of mentally ill inmates were
unemployed before their arrest, and almost 25 percent
of mentally ill state inmates and 20 percent of
mentally ill jail inmates reported income from illegal

   Fifty-six percent of the mentally ill probationers
were employed, compared to 76 percent of other
probationers.  An estimated 52 percent of the mentally
ill probationers and 27 percent of  the other
probationers said they had received income from
government agencies during the past year.     
   On average, mentally ill inmates were expected to
serve 103 months in state prisons before their
release, 15 months longer than other inmates.  The
mentally ill in local jails were expected  to
serve 9 months prior to release, 2 months fewer than
other jail inmates.  While incarcerated, the 
mentally ill are more likely than other inmates to be
involved in fights and to be charged with 
breaking prison and jail rules.  Since admission to
prison or jail, more than 6 in 10 mentally ill state
inmates and 1 in 4 jail inmates had been charged with
rule violations.  About 36 percent of mentally ill
state prisoners and 19 percent of jail inmates said
they had been in a fight since admission.

   The special report, "Mental Health and Treatment of
Inmates and Probationers" (NCJ-174463), was written by
BJS statistician Paula M. Ditton.  Single copies may
be obtained from the BJS fax-on-demand system by
dialing 301/519-5550, listening to the complete menu
and  selecting  document number 162.  Or call the BJS
Clearinghouse number: 1-800-732-3277.  Fax orders for
mail delivery to 410/792-4358.  The BJS Internet site

   Additional criminal justice materials can be
obtained from the Office of Justice Programs homepage

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After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354
7/9/99 pm
Date Published: July 11, 1999