Prevalence of serious mental illness among jail inmates

Psychiatr Serv. 2009 Jun;60(6):761-5. doi: 10.1176/ps.2009.60.6.761.


Objective: This study estimated current prevalence rates of serious mental illness among adult male and female inmates in five jails during two time periods (four jails in each period).

Methods: During two data collection phases (2002-2003 and 2005-2006), recently admitted inmates at two jails in Maryland and three jails in New York were selected to receive the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID). Selection was based on systematic sampling of data from a brief screen for symptoms of mental illness that was used at admission for all inmates. The SCID was administered to a total of 822 inmates-358 during phase I and 464 during phase II. To determine the current (past-month) prevalence of serious mental illness (defined as major depressive disorder; depressive disorder not otherwise specified; bipolar disorder I, II, and not otherwise specified; schizophrenia spectrum disorder; schizoaffective disorder; schizophreniform disorder; brief psychotic disorder; delusional disorder; and psychotic disorder not otherwise specified), interview data were weighted against strata constructed from the screening samples for male and female inmates by jail and study phase.

Results: Across jails and study phases the rate of current serious mental illness for male inmates was 14.5% (asymmetric 95% confidence interval [CI]=11.0%-18.9%) and for female inmates it was 31.0% (asymmetric CI=21.7%-42.1%).

Conclusions: The estimates in this study have profound implications in terms of resource allocation for treatment in jails and in community-based settings for individuals with mental illness who are involved in the justice system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / classification
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Severity of Illness Index*