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In 1990, Latin American countries committed to psychiatric reforms including psychiatric bed removals. Aim of the study was to quantify changes in psychiatric bed numbers and prison population rates after the initiation of psychiatric reforms in Latin America.
We searched primary sources to collect numbers of psychiatric beds and prison population rates across Latin America between the years 1991 and 2017. Changes of psychiatric bed numbers were compared against trends of incarceration rates and tested for associations using fixed-effects regression of panel data. Economic variables were used as covariates. Reliable data were obtained from 17 Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, El Salvador, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The number of psychiatric beds decreased in 15 out of 17 Latin American countries (median −35%) since 1991. Our findings indicate the total removal of 69 415 psychiatric beds. The prison population increased in all countries (median +181%). Panel data regression analyses showed a significant inverse relationship −2.70 (95% CI −4.28 to −1.11; p = 0.002) indicating that prison populations increased more when and where more psychiatric beds were removed. This relationship held up when introducing per capita income and income inequality as covariates −2.37 (95% CI −3.95 to −0.8; p = 0.006).
Important numbers of psychiatric beds have been removed in Latin America. Removals of psychiatric beds were related to increasing incarceration rates. Minimum numbers of psychiatric beds need to be defined and addressed in national policies.
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