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mental illness in female offenders

Mental illness in female offenders

There have been many studies regarding female offenders and mental illness. To begin, though, it is important to realize that the number of female offenders has grown drastically over several years and is over one million female offenders. The women who do end up incarcerated have been found to be a high-risk group for substance abuse and mental health-related issues. Stephanie Covington (2008) states that “according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 73% of female prisoners in state institutions and 47% in federal institutions used drugs regularly prior to incarceration” (p. 1). Covington (2008) also states that “data from other studies suggest that as many as 80% of incarcerated women meet the criteria for at least one lifetime psychiatric disorder” (p. 1). It seems that the past history of different levels of abuse is the major factor for female offenders and why they are at higher risk for mental illness or substance abuse. There tends to be a higher correlation between past physical, sexual, or emotional abusive events in women than there is in male offenders. Covington (2008) brings up that “Surveys conducted among incarcerated women have also shown a strong link between childhood abuse and adult mental health problems, particularly depression, post-traumatic stress, panic, and eating disorders” (p. 2), Thus leading to the correlation of their past histories to their current mental illness risks. If they never sought treatment in the past for the events that caused them to have mental illnesses or substance abuse issues, they would certainly not always have the correct coping skills for the issues they are going through.

There are many treatment options for both men and women but women do receive a few different treatments that can help them a little better than male inmates. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (2012) states, “Female offenders are more likely to need medical and mental health services, child care services, and assistance in finding housing and employment. Following a comprehensive assessment, women with mental health disorders should receive appropriate treatment and case management, including victim services, as needed. For female offenders with children, parental responsibilities can conflict with their ability to participate in drug treatment. Regaining or retaining custody of their children can also motivate mothers to participate in treatment. Treatment programs may improve retention by offering child care services and parenting classes” (p. 3). These are things that the male population of incarcerated offenders may not be looking at as important. It may not mean that the male population does not completely care about these topics, but women do tend to care a little bit more, especially regarding children and parenting. Males will tend to fall back into their previous actions and groups due to their environment. If you look at most gangs, the overwhelming population of each gang is male, and only a small portion tends to be female. These are the things that are uniquely suited for women and will be given mostly to them in an attempt to help them assimilate into the real world again after incarceration.

Women tend to have more need for being around their children than the male population of incarcerated offenders. This leads to the need for female offenders to have their children around and could have a very therapeutic treatment for those patients. Mothers not being around their children can cause greater strain on the child as well during their life, and their propensity for mental issues can be increased during this time as well. There are many programs available for mothers offered by prisons, and the accommodations they provide for mothers are vast. It has been noted that there is significant importance on mother-child bonding, and due to that importance, prisons began offering child visitation programs and nursery programs as well. Jessica Mayo-Swimeley (2009) states that “These programs are often modeled after the programs at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York, which houses the oldest prison nursery program in the United States. Currently, prisons in nine states have nursery programs, where mothers are allowed, for a limited amount of time, to parent their child born during their incarceration. Prisons in seven states have community based residential facilities that allow mothers to live with their children in a community setting while serving their sentences” (p. 70). This can lead to helping the mothers foster a better relationship with their children and ultimately lead to a better chance at having a solid reintegration into their children’s lives again. Thus, giving them a greater opportunity to heal during their therapy sessions and trying to work on their mental illnesses.

Women face big struggles when trying to reintegrate back into the real world. If they want to reintegrate back into the world with the best opportunity to succeed, they need to make sure they have a plan in place on how they can best reintegrate into the real world. Covington (2004) states that “Ideally, a comprehensive approach to reentry services for women would include a mechanism to allow community- based programs to enter institutional program settings. At the women’s prison in Rhode Island, Warden Roberta Richman has opened the institution to the community through the increased use of volunteers and community-based programs. This policy allows women to develop connections with community providers as a part of their transition process. It also creates mutual accountability between the prison and the community” (p. 15). These steps are incredibly important for the female offender to end up reintegrating back into the world. The concepts they will learn during this stage and how to cope with stressors that arise are very important. Bringing their family into the therapy sessions as well will play a huge part by ensuring that the family will be able to understand what the offender has gone through. This will ultimately give the best opportunity for the family members to give the greatest support system to ensure the offender does not fall back into their criminal ways and end up right back in prison.


Covington, S. (2004). Prisoners once removed: The impact of incarceration and reentry on children, families, and communities. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press.

Covington, S. (2008, November 5). Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Women Offenders. Retrieved September 5, 2018, from

Mayo-Swimeley, J. (2009). Children and Maternal Incarceration: The Significance of Facilitating Healthy Mother-Child Attachment. The McNair Scholars Journal,64-77. Retrieved September 5, 2018.

Principles of drug abuse treatment for criminal justice populations: A research-based guide. (2012). Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.


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The assignment is 12 pages (250-500 words minimum)

Identify and briefly describe the two features common to female offenders that you selected for this Application Assignment.

Explain how and why each of these features is common among female offenders.

mental illness in female offenders

mental illness in female offenders

Explain the implications of each feature on treatment approaches and treatment outcomes for female offenders. Be specific and provide examples.

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