Many studies have assessed the prevalence and types of prisoner mental disorder. Two of the most comprehensive and recent are Singleton, et al (1998) in their research on ‘Psychiatric morbidity among prisoners in England and Wales’ and Stewart in his paper on ‘The Problems And Needs Of Newly Sentenced Prisoners: Results From A National Survey’. Their results are summarised below, supporting again that essentially rates are extremely high!

Recent Facts and Figures on Mental Disorders in Prison Populations

The following is an overview of mental health conditions affecting the prison population:


  • Personality Disorder: 60.5% (Singleton) and 60.0% (Stewart).
  • Psychosis: 11.25% (Singleton) and 10.0% (Stewart).
  • Neurotic Symptoms: 58.50% (Singleton) and 36% severe, 82% one or more symptom (Stewart).
  • Drinking: 49.00% (Singleton) and 36.00% (Stewart).
  • Drug Dependence: 47.25% (Singleton) and 69.00% (Stewart).

Is Appropriate Mental Health Care Available in Prisons?

The most shocking statistics however are the small number of those offenders, who actually request or receive care for their mental disorder within the criminal justice system.

Bonta, Law & Hanson, suggest in the target of the correction service, as its name suggests is to rehabilitate deviant individuals to the point where they are deemed corrected and able to re-enter society without re-offending. As part of this rehabilitation, the underlying mental health disorders must be addressed. Mentally disordered offenders should be entitled to and receive the same quality of mental health care as the general population, however Brooker and Ullman found the reality is that serious deficits remain.

Diamond et al looked at ‘Who Requests Psychological Services Upon Admission to Prison?’ and reported only a mere 11% of individuals requested help with mental health problems upon admission. Singleton et al, found equally low numbers who actually received treatment during prison with 15.5% for men and 26.5% for women. This highlights a large gap between those identified to need help and those requesting and receiving it.

Why do Mentally Disordered Individuals end up and Remain in Prison?

Shift looked at ‘Improving Media Reporting of Mental Health’ and found that deeply ingrained prejudiced attitudes within society support the view that mentally disordered individuals are unpredictable and violent. The stigma attached to mental disorder results in individuals often being overlooked, turned away or intimidated when approaching mental health services before incarceration. Subsequently many mentally disordered offenders committing only minor non-violent offences, end up in the criminal justice system due to lack of access to alternatives.

In addition the lay view that mentally disordered individuals generally will be criminal, is the even stronger view that those who have already committed a crime once, are likely to violently reoffend. This acts to keep these individuals in prisons, further increasing numbers.

However this claim seems unsubstantiated. Firstly a reminder that many mentally disordered offenders are incarcerated for non-violent crimes to begin with. In addition Bonta, Law & Hanson, suggested that mentally disordered offenders have no higher likelihood of violent recidivism when compared to rational criminals. Also Rice and Harris (1992) studied the recidivism of schizophrenic and non-schizophrenic offenders, a mental health disorder with a particularly high level of stigma and misunderstanding against it. They found those with the mental disorder were actually less likely to reoffend.

Does Mental Disorder Predict Crime?

Stigma and irrational fears act to prevent individuals seeking treatment before incarceration, and to lower the chance of release once they enter the criminal justice system. Once inside these individuals have poor access to appropriate mental health care maintaining the figures.

So are people with mental disorders really more likely to commit crimes? Or do prevalent stigma and irrational fears explain why so many individuals with mental disorders end up in the criminal justice system, and keep them there?