Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Psychiatry behind bars: Practicing in jails and prisons

Kathryn A. Burns, MD, MPH, Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH

Over the last 2 decades mandatory prison sentences, longer prison terms, and more restrictive release policies have lead to a dramatic increase in the number of persons in jails and prisons. Currently, more than 2 million individuals are incarcerated in the United States. Psychiatric illness is over-represented in correctional populations compared with the general population—more than half of all inmates have a mental health diagnosis. Correctional facilities are legally obligated to address the medical and mental health needs of the persons committed to them. As a result, more psychiatrists are practicing in jails and prisons.

This article explains correctional facilities’ obligation to provide for inmates’ mental health needs and describes correctional mental health processes and how psychiatrists can play a role in screening, evaluation, and suicide prevention.

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