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Gerontologist. 2008 Oct;48(5):692-7.

Religiousness/spirituality and mental health among older male inmates.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0348, USA.



With the rapid growth in the older inmate population, emerging issues regarding physical and mental health require greater research and clinical attention. We examined the relation of religiousness/spirituality; demographic characteristics such as age, race, and type of crime; and physical and mental health among 73 older male inmates in the state of Alabama.


Inmates older than age 50 who passed a cognitive screening completed face-to-face interviews lasting between 30 and 60 min. Due to the low literacy rates of the participants, we administered all measures orally with response cards to facilitate understanding.


Nearly 70% of the inmates were incarcerated for murder or sexual crimes. There were no racial/ethnic differences in reported religiousness/spirituality, demographic characteristics, or mental health. We found an association between self-reported years of incarceration and experienced forgiveness. Three regression models examined whether inmates' self-reported religiousness/spirituality influenced anxiety, depression, and desire for hastened death. We found that having a greater number of daily spiritual experiences and not feeling abandoned by God were associated with better emotional health.


Future studies, perhaps using longitudinal or case-control methodology, should examine whether increased daily spiritual experiences and decreased feelings of abandonment by God foster better mental health among older inmates.

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