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Do Prisoners with Depression and Mental Health Issues Receive Adequate Treatment?

January 20, 2015

More than half of people taking medication for mental health conditions upon entry into state and federal prisons fail to receive those medications while in prison, researchers reported recently in the American Journal of Public Health.

After reviewing data from 14,499 people in state prisons and 3,686 people in federal prisons nationwide, researchers found:

  • 18% of inmates in both state and federal prisons were taking medication for a mental health condition upon entry, but just 52% of them in federal prisons and 42% in state prisons continued receiving the medication while serving their sentences.
  • 20% of inmates reported having depression.
  • After depression, the most common mental health issues among inmates were mania, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Inmates with schizophrenia were twice as likely to receive medications, likely due to security risk.
  • Among inmates who received medication, 61% received no other form of treatment, such as counseling or group therapy.

“Individuals with untreated mental health conditions may be at higher risk for correctional rehabilitation treatment failure and future recidivism after release from prison,” said principal investigator Jennifer Reingle, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus.

“A standardized mental health screening process could benefit the inmates and the prison system as a whole.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


1. Reingle Gonzalez JM, Connell NM. Mental health of prisoners: identifying barriers to mental health treatment and medication continuity. American Journal of Public Health. 2014;104:2328-2333.

 2. Mental health care lacking in state and federal prisons [press release]. Newswise: Charlottesville, VA; Jan. 12, 2015.

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