Female Prisoners Are Prone to Co-Existing Conditions

The female prison population in America has been at an all-time high owing to extensive law enforcement efforts and leading to more stringent drug sentencing laws. According to the 2015 report by “The Sentencing Project,” a research and advocacy center working for the effective U.S. criminal justice system, “between 1980 and 2014, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700 percent, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 215,332 in 2014.”

But when it comes to ethnicity, the Hispanic women are twice as likely to end up in prisons as compared to their white counterparts, whereas black women are four times more likely to be incarcerated than an average white woman. Such a phenomenal rise in the numbers of female inmates is probably linked to various drug-related offenses, escalating severity of offenses, and inadequate community sanctions and treatment for women who violate drug laws.

There is a high prevalence of mental health problems among jail inmates, and in case of female inmates, the rate of mental disorders can be higher than the general population. Further, women in prisons are three times more likely than the general population to report poor physical and mental health, which may also increase their vulnerability to substance abuse.

Is treatment more important than incarceration?

According to the 2014 report by the National Institute of Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank dedicated to reducing society’s dependence on imprisonment, “Two-thirds of drug offenders leaving state prison will be re-arrested within three years, and that nearly half of the released drug offenders will be returned to prison either through a technical violation of their sentence-such as failing a drug test-or on a new sentence.”

Studies have shown that most of the female prisoners suffer from chemical dependency and mental health problems stemming from interpersonal victimization. Unfortunately, at present, there is no significant treatment to address the co-existing conditions faced by such women.

The need of the hour is to provide facilities for an early diagnosis and treatment for those who are highly prone to criminal activities and the resulting dual diagnosis condition. The government should work on ensuring alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders battling with dual diagnosis. Moving them to alternative treatment options would ensure appropriate treatment in therapeutic settings, curb overcrowding in a correctional set up, as well as minimize relapse rates and incarceration costs.

Steps to treat dual diagnosis in a clinical setting

Nowadays, integrated intervention is the most widely accepted method to treat dual diagnosis because it focuses on both the mental illness and the substance abuse. The steps followed in a typical clinical setting are:

Detoxification: During the process, the patient is monitored 24/7 by a trained medical staff for up to seven days, wherein tapering amounts of the substance, or its medical substitute may be administered to ease the effects of withdrawal.

Inpatient rehabilitation: Patients suffering from serious mental health conditions and risky patterns of drug abuse are generally admitted to an inpatient rehabilitation center for a more comprehensive and closely monitored care aimed at eradicating the underlying causes.

Medications: Depending on the various mental illness symptoms a person is experiencing, specialist doctors prescribe different medications to facilitate a smooth recovery with minimal withdrawal effects.

Psychotherapy: It deals with making patients aware of their mental health conditions and how their beliefs and behaviors influence their thoughts.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): It helps people with dual diagnosis learn new coping strategies to change ineffective patterns of thinking.

Self-help and support groups: It is a platform for like-minded people to share frustrations, successes and referrals for specialists in order to promote recovery.