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Psychiatr Serv. 2007 Jun;58(6):782-6.

Treatment prospects for persons with severe mental illness in an urban county jail.

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Department of Psychiatry, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90086-0125, USA.



A retrospective study of inmates with severe mental illness in a large, urban county jail aimed to obtain information about their psychiatric and criminal histories and status, the psychiatric services they used while incarcerated, and the challenges they might present in psychiatric treatment after release.


The authors ascertained demographic characteristics, diagnoses, psychiatric and legal histories, and current psychiatric condition and treatment from jail psychiatric records of a random sample of 104 male inmates with mental illness and from electronic county mental health records and state records of criminal histories.


Seventy-eight inmates (75%) were diagnosed as having a severe mental illness. Of these, 59 (76%) required inpatient care or its equivalent for part of their time in jail for the current offense. Of the inmates with severe mental illness, 92% had a history of nonadherence to medications before this arrest, 95% had prior arrests, 72% had prior arrests for violent crimes against persons, and 76% were known to have a history of substance abuse.


A large percentage of persons with severe mental illness received their acute psychiatric inpatient treatment in the criminal justice system rather than in the mental health system. The persons with severe mental illness in this study would present a major challenge in treatment in any setting given their psychiatric and criminal histories. The resources of the mental health system need to be greatly expanded, with priority given to treating persons who are criminalized or who are in danger of becoming criminalized.

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