Study Proposes Expanded Mental Health Services
(12/04/2009)

More Than 8,000 Texas Inmates Diagnosed With Major Psychiatric Disorder

GALVESTON, Texas — Authorities should expand specialized interventions and programming to reduce the higher recidivism rates that exist among inmates with major mental illness, according to a University of Texas Medical Branch study.

Inmates with major psychiatric disorders — an estimated 10 percent of the Texas state prison population — are more likely to be incarcerated repeatedly than offenders without mental health issues, according to the study published in the American Psychiatric Association’s Journal of Psychiatry.

Inmates diagnosed with bipolar disorder were more than three times more likely to have four or more previous incarcerations than inmates with no major psychiatric disorder, according to the study.

“To reduce the cycle of repeat imprisonment for people with severe mental illness, we should consider a number of interventions, including alternative correctional facilities with appropriate clinical care for psychiatric illness,” says lead researcher Jacques Baillargeon, an epidemiologist at UTMB’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health.

Researchers found that more than 8,000 of the approximately 79,000 inmates who entered the prison system between September 2006 and August 2007 were diagnosed with at least one major psychiatric disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and nonschizophrenia psychotic disorder.

Although inmates with bipolar disorder showed the greatest differential in multiple-incarceration rates, almost all serious psychiatric conditions were associated with higher rates of repeat incarceration. Researchers analyzed data, including demographics, medical/mental health and sentencing histories, for a six-year period preceding the inmate’s current incarceration.

The study highlights the need for the systematic reform of mental health service delivery in the corrections system to reduce recidivism among mentally ill inmates.

The Texas criminal justice system diverts some offenders with mental health issues to community-based treatment programs. Offenders convicted of a crime involving violence are ineligible for placement in such programs.

Researchers recommend the creation of alternative secure clinical treatment facilities for violent offenders with major psychiatric disorders.

The study stresses the importance of improving the quality and continuity of treatment and the criminal justice outcomes for offenders with major psychiatric disorders. Researchers recommend expanding alternatives to incarceration, treatment delivery and re-entry programs during incarceration, and post-release community-based support and programming.

“If we are truly interested in reducing recidivism among our prison population, this is an area worth exploring,” Baillargeon says.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is the largest state prison system in the United States. At mid-year 2007, the inmate population exceeded 172,000 inmates, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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