Objectives: To estimate the prevalence of psychiatric morbidity, substance misuse problems and related health and social problems among women prisoners newly committed and a cross-section remanded and sentenced in the Irish prison population. In 2002 women represented 10.7% (1043) of all persons committed to the Irish Prison system, and 3.3% (104) of the daily average number of persons in custody. We surveyed psychiatric morbidity in these two groups to assess the need for psychiatric services for women prisoners, and to compare Irish morbidity with an international average.
Method: We interviewed 94 newly committed women prisoners within 72 hours of committal, representing approximately 9% of female committals per year. We also interviewed a cross sectional sample of 92 women, representing approximately 90% of all women in custody. Mental illness and substance misuse was measured using the SADS-L, SODQ and a structured interview.
Results: Five (5.4%) of the committal and 5 (5.4%) of the cross-sectional sample had a psychotic illness within the previous six months. 8 (8.5%) of the committals and 15 (16.3%) of the women in the cross-sectional sample had a major depressive disorder in the last six months. 8 (8.6%) committals and 14 (15.2%) in the cross-sectional sample had an anxiety disorder within the last six months. 61 (65.6%) of the women interviewed at committal and 61 (65.2%) of the cross-sectional sample had a substance misuse problem in the last six months.
Conclusions: There is a high prevalence of mental illness and substance misuse problems amongst women newly committed to prison and in a cross section of those remanded or sentenced in prison in Ireland. We found evidence of a cycle of deprivation and institutionalisation. These findings highlight the need for the integration of community and forensic psychiatric services, and for ongoing collaboration with drug services.