There are little epidemiologic data on psychiatric disorders of women in jails. Accurate data on female jail detainees are critical because of their increasing numbers and their unique treatment needs.
Using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule, independent interviewers assessed a randomly selected, stratified sample of 1272 female jail detainees awaiting trial in Chicago, Ill. We tabulated lifetime and 6-month prevalence rates of disorders by race or ethnicity (African American, non-Hispanic white, Hispanic), age, and education and compared the jail rates with general population rates for women in the Epidemiologic Catchment Area program. We also examined whether or not psychiatric disorder was associated with the severity of the detainee's current arrest charges.
Over 80% of the sample met criteria for one or more lifetime psychiatric disorders; 70% were symptomatic within 6 months of the interview. The most common disorders were drug abuse or dependence, alcohol abuse or dependence, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Major depressive episode was the most prevalent major mental disorder. Rates were generally highest among non-Hispanic whites and among older detainees. Rates for all disorders were significantly higher than general population rates, except for schizophrenia. Most detainees with psychiatric disorders were arrested for nonviolent crimes.
These results suggest substantial psychiatric morbidity among female jail detainees.