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Nervenarzt. 2006 Jul;77(7):830-41.

[Prevalence of psychiatric disorders, psychopathology, and the need for treatment in female and male prisoners].

[Article in German]

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Zentrum für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapeutische Medizin, Krankenanstalten Gilead, Bethel, Bielefeld.



While the international literature documents a high prevalence of psychiatric disorders in prisoners, German studies in this field are rare. The base of knowledge is even worse with regard to female prisoners. The purpose of this study was to investigate DSM-IV axis I and II psychiatric disorders and current psychopathology and to estimate treatment needs in prisoners.


On the 1st of May 2002, all female prisoners in Brackwede I Prison in Bielefeld, Germany, were included; and a sample of incarcerated men was matched according to age, nationality, and length of stay. Sixty-three women and 76 men participated. Criminal history and current living conditions were investigated using a questionnaire and prison documents. Psychopathology and psychiatric disorders were investigated using structured clinical interviews.


In 88.2% of the sample, at least one current axis I (83.5%) and/or axis II personality disorder (53.2%) was found. Comorbidity rates were high, with 3.5+/-2.7 diagnoses per case. Mean SCL scores revealed a substantial psychopathologic burden. In female prisoners, opiate-related and polysubstance use disorders and affective and post-traumatic stress disorders were more frequent than in the male subsample, which in turn showed higher rates of alcohol-related disorders. Specific treatment needs were indicated in 83.4% of the sample.


These results indicate that the proportion of mentally ill persons in prisons is substantially higher than in specialized hospitals for mentally ill criminals. More treatment options are urgently needed than has been realized up to now.

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