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Incarceration and Mental Health

Updated: Mar 15

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, 44 state prisons hold more mentally ill people than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospitals. It is very common to have mentally ill individuals incarcerated in place of hospitalization. However, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most inmates—nearly two-thirds—do not receive any treatment for mental illness. Not only do some have mental illnesses prior to being incarcerated, but studies compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative also show that prisons can cause mental health disorders and/or worsen pre-existing disorders. 

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, incarceration is linked to major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. There have also been linked studies by the Prison Policy Initiative stating that researchers believe incarceration leads to Post-Incarceration Syndrome, which can be compared to having PTSD and is due to prison experiences, such as overcrowding, solitary confinement and exposure to violence.

According to a study conducted by Lancet Psychiatry, overcrowding is highly correlated to suicide in prison. Many of the mood disorders individuals may experience can also be due to family disconnection, a lack of purpose and the unpredictability of prison. After being released from prison, individuals experienced institutionalized personality traits, social and sensory disorientation and social/temporal alienation. 


Carroll, Heather. “Serious Mental Illness Prevalence in Jails and Prisons.” Treatment Advocacy Center, Sept. 2016,

Hawton, Keith. “Suicide in prisons: an international study of prevalence and contributory factors.” NCBI,

Initiative, Prison Policy. “Mental Health.” Prison Policy Initiative,


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