Objective: The National Study on Psychiatric Morbidity in New Zealand Prisons identified undiagnosed mental illness and unmet treatment needs for mentally disordered offenders. As approximately 50% of prisoners are of Maori and 8.3% Pacific Island ethnicity, we analyzed the data to determine if there were any differences in the rates of major mental disorders between ethnic groups.
Method: A census of all female prisoners, all remand male prisoners and an 18% random sample of the sentenced male prisoners were interviewed employing the diagnostic interview for mental illness (CIDI-A), screening diagnostic interview for relevant personality disorders (PDQ) and suicide screening questions. Self-identified ethnicity was recorded. Ethnic groups were compared for sociodemographic variables, morbidity for mental disorder, treatment experience and suicidality.
Results: The ethnic groups were largely similar in age and current prevalence for mental disorders, although there was some evidence of differing sociodemographic factors, especially younger age among the Maori prisoners. Maori report fewer suicidal thoughts, but acted suicidally at the same rate as non-Maori. Treatment for mental disorder was less common among Maori and Pacific Island prisoners than others, both in prison and in the community.
Conclusion: Criminogenic factors present in the developmental histories of prisoners might also increase the risk of mental disorders. Ethnic groups were not different in the rate at which they manifest mental disorders in the face of such factors. Younger prisoners were disproportionately more likely to be of Maori or Pacific Island ethnicity. Both prior to and after entry to prison, services must improve responsiveness to Maori and Pacific Island people.