WASHINGTON — The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a study
today that revealed 14 percent of state and federal prisoners and 26
percent of jail inmates reported experiences that met the threshold for
serious psychological distress (SPD). In comparison, the BJS study
found that one in 20 persons (5 percent) in the U.S. general population
with similar sex, age, race and Hispanic origin characteristics met the
threshold for SPD.
The data on the prison and jail inmates are from the BJS’s 2011-12
National Inmate Survey and the general population data are from the
National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), conducted by the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The NSDUH
data were standardized to match the sex, age, race and Hispanic origin
of the prison and jail populations.
The report examined the prevalence of mental health problems among
inmates based on two indicators: self-reported experiences that met the
threshold for SPD in the 30 days prior to the survey and having been
told at any time in the past by a mental health professional that they
had a mental health disorder.
Among the incarcerated population, the study also found that females
in state and federal prisons reported experiencing feelings that met
the threshold for SPD at higher rates (20 percent) than males (14
percent). In jails, 32 percent of females and 26 percent of males met
the threshold for SPD. Similar to the pattern for SPD, two-thirds of
female inmates in both prisons (66 percent) and jails (68 percent) had
been told by a mental health professional that they had a mental health
disorder, compared to around a third (33 percent) of male prisoners
and 41 percent of male jail inmates.
Thirty-seven percent of state and federal prisoners had been told by
a mental health professional in the past that they had a mental health
disorder. The most common disorder was a major depressive disorder (24
percent), followed by a bipolar disorder (18 percent), post-traumatic
stress or personality disorder (13 percent) and schizophrenia or
another psychotic disorder (9 percent).
Among jail inmates, 44 percent had been told in the past that they
had a mental health disorder. Nearly a third had been told that they
had major depressive disorder and a quarter had been told they had
Among inmates who met the threshold for SPD, more than half (54
percent) of prisoners and a third (35 percent) of jail inmates had
received mental health treatment since admission to their current
facility. About three-quarters of prisoners (74 percent) and jail
inmates (73 percent) who met the threshold for SPD said they had
received mental health treatment at some time in their life. Treatment
included prescription medication, counseling or therapy, or both.
Other findings from the inmate survey—
- White prisoners (50 percent) were more likely than black prisoners (30 percent) to have been told they had a mental disorder.
- White jail inmates (57 percent) were more likely than black jail
inmates (36 percent) or Hispanic jail inmates (31 percent) to have been
told they had a mental disorder.
- Seventeen percent of state and federal prisoners incarcerated for
a violent crime and 16 percent of those incarcerated for a property
crime were more likely to have met the threshold for SPD than those
incarcerated for DWI/DUI (14 percent), another public order offense (13
percent) or a drug crime (10 percent).
- Jail inmates incarcerated for a violent offense (29 percent) were
more likely to have met the threshold for SPD than those incarcerated
for a property crime (27 percent), another public order offense (26
percent), a drug crime (25 percent) or DWI/DUI (24 percent).
- Prisoners who met the threshold for SPD (14 percent) or who had
been told they had a mental disorder (12 percent) were more likely to
be written up or charged with a verbal or physical assault against a
correctional officer, staff or another inmate than prisoners without an
indicator of a mental health problem (4 percent).
The report, Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12 (NCJ
250612), was written by BJS statistician Jennifer Bronson and Marcus
Berzofsky of RTI International. The report, related documents and
additional information about BJS’s statistical publications and programs
can be found on the BJS website at www.bjs.gov.
The Office of Justice Programs, headed by Acting Assistant Attorney
General Alan R. Hanson, provides federal leadership in developing the
nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and
assist victims. OJP has six bureaus and offices: the Bureau of Justice
Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of
Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the
Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender
Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART).
More information about OJP and its components
can be found at www.ojp.gov