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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 56  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 150-153
Psychiatric morbidity among prisoners

1 Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Kozhikode, Kerala, India
2 Government College of Nursing, Medical College, Kozhikode, Kerala, India
3 Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Kozhikode, Kerala, India

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Date of Web Publication11-Apr-2014


Background: There is a considerable lack of scientific estimate of psychiatric morbidity among Indian prisoners.
Objective: The objective of the following study is to study the prevalence of psychiatric morbidity among prisoners.
Settings and Design: A cross-sectional study at District Jail, Kozhikode, Kerala.
Materials and Methods: A total of 255 prisoners who were inmates during the period from mid-April to mid-July 2011 participated in the study. The study subjects included both male and female remand or convict prisoners. Socio-demographic data, clinical history and criminological history were collected from each individual. Psychiatric morbidity was assessed using MINI-Plus.
Statistical Analysis: Done by using SPSS version 16 (SPSS Inc, Chicago, USA).
Results: A total of 175 subjects (68.6%) had a current mental illness. Substance use disorder was the most common diagnosis (47.1%). Antisocial personality disorder was diagnosed in 19.2%, adjustment disorder in 13.7%, mood disorder in 4.3% and psychosis in another 6.3% of prisoners. A high rate of a current psychiatric disorder was seen in male (69.7%) prisoners. A significant association was noticed for the different nature of crimes with psychiatric diagnoses and previous imprisonment. Nearly 4% of prisoners reported a moderate to high suicide risk.
Conclusion: Mental health problems among prisoners were quite high. Mentally ill prisoners are at high risk for repeated incarceration. The increased rate of psychiatric disorders should be a concern for mental health professionals and the policy makers.

Keywords: Crime, prisoners, psychiatric morbidity

How to cite this article:
Ayirolimeethal A, Ragesh G, Ramanujam JM, George B. Psychiatric morbidity among prisoners. Indian J Psychiatry 2014;56:150-3

How to cite this URL:
Ayirolimeethal A, Ragesh G, Ramanujam JM, George B. Psychiatric morbidity among prisoners. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2014 [cited 2020 Feb 26];56:150-3. Available from:

   Introduction Top

In general, persons who are suspected to have committed an offence are arrested and brought to jail regardless of their mental condition. It has been recognized that the inmates in prisons have exceptional mental health needs. Studies show that the prisoners have high levels of mental illness and drug or alcohol dependence. [1],[2],[3] Furthermore, persons with mental health problems are more likely to be jailed. It is a fact that the prison environment is highly stressful and often predisposes the prisoners to develop mental disorders. Many a time, the psychiatric problems of prisoners go undetected and untreated. The previous studies reported a high prevalence of psychiatric illnesses among men and women prisoners. [2],[4] Conditions in jails often test or demand effective coping skills and this may lead to adjustment disorders. High rate of suicide was also reported among the prisoners. [5],[6],[7] Individuals with antisocial personality problems have an increased chance of conflict with the criminal justice system. Substance abuse, on several occasions leads to increased risk of violent behavior. Considerable evidences indicate a high rate of substance related disorders among the prisoners. [3],[4],[8] Men account for majority among prison population. Women prisoners, though small in number, also have an increased rate of psychiatric illness. [3],[6]

Researches related to psychiatric morbidity of prisoners were done mainly among the western prison population. It is uncertain whether these study findings can be applied to other settings.

Most of the Indian jails show a high occupancy rate and 0.9% of the total inmates were reported to be mentally ill. [9] A study by Goyal et al., [10] observed 28.8% psychiatric morbidity among convict prisoners. There is a need for further exploration of the mental health problems in prisoners.


To study the psychiatric morbidity among prisoners.

   Materials and Methods Top

This study was carried out in the District Jail at Kozhikode, Kerala. It is one of the three District Jails in Kerala, having a capacity of 300 that can accommodate both male (270) and female (30) offenders. The number of prisoners in the jail changes daily due to addition of new prisoners and release of older ones. The average number of prisoners during our study period was 269.

All the prisoners who entered jail during mid-April to mid-July 2011 and who gave informed written consent were included in the study. The exclusion criteria included mental retardation and acute medical illness. Six male prisoners and no female inmates refused consent. Two male prisoners were excluded due to language barriers. Information on socio-demographic data, crime and clinical history were collected from each prisoner and then MINI-Plus was administered. Diagnostic clarification, whenever needed was made by the psychiatrist of the research team.

Results are expressed as percentages for qualitative variables and using mean and standard deviation for quantitative variables. Chi-square test was used for finding association between two qualitative variables. Variables which were found to be significant on univariate analysis was put into a logistic regression model. A P value of 0.05 or less was taken as statistically significant.

This study was permitted by the Home Department, Government of Kerala and approved by the Institutional Ethics Committee for Research.

   Results Top

A total of 255 prisoners participated in the study, of which 210 (82.4%) were remand prisoners. [Table 1] shows the socio-demographic profile of the study group. Majority were males (n = 222), married (58.4%), belonged to a nuclear family (64.3%) and came from a rural background (68.2%). The age range of the study group was 18-78 years (mean = 34.49, standard deviation = 11.38). A significant majority (63.9%) reported an income of more than Rs. 5000/month prior to incarceration.
Table 1: Socio-demographic characteristics

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Offences against property were the major types of crimes (34.5%) [Table 2]. An increased rate of previous imprisonment was noted (42%) among the inmates except for the financial (4.6%) and political (38.9%) offenders. Thirty two of the 33 (96.9%) female prisoners committed crime for the first time. Our study group reported a high rate of history of substance abuse (n = 187, 73.3%) and a family history of substance abuse (n = 141, 55.3%). A small group (n = 14, 5.5%) had a past history of mental illness and thirty (11.8%) had a chronic physical illness (diabetes, hypertension etc.).
Table 2: Criminological characteristics

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A current psychiatric diagnosis was made in 68.6% of the total population. Substance use disorder (SUD) (47.1%) was the most common psychiatric diagnoses, followed in the order of frequency by antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) (19.2%). Adjustment disorder (13.7%), psychosis (6.3%), mood disorders (4.1%) and anxiety disorders (1.6%). When substance induced psychosis was excluded, schizophrenia and related psychosis was seen in 1.6% of the prisoners. Fifty four (30.9%) of the mentally disordered prisoners had more than one diagnosis, SUD being the most common comorbidity.

The relationship of psychiatric diagnosis with gender, crime variables and suicide risk is given in [Table 3] [Table 4] and [Table 5]. Psychiatric disorders were high among men prisoners. ASPD and SUD had a significant association with gender [Table 3]. Prevalence of psychiatric diagnoses was found to be significantly lower among financial and political offenders [Table 4]. Nearly 4% of the inmates were assessed to have a moderate to high suicide risk. No women prisoners were found to be at risk. A significant relationship of suicide risk with mood disorder, anxiety disorder and psychosis was observed [Table 5].
Table 3: Association of psychiatric diagnosis with gender

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Table 4: Association between nature of crime, crime variables with psychiatric diagnosis

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Table 5: Association between psychiatric diagnosis and suicide risk

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Results of logistic regression analysis relating the psychiatric diagnosis with important variables indicated a reasonably good model fit (R2 = 0.196). Odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (95% CI) obtained from the model showed that following variables were statistically significant - male gender (OR = 7.49, 95% CI = 3.18-17.67), political crime (OR = 0.16, 95% CI = 0.06-0.48) and financial crime (OR = 0.20, 95% CI = 0.08-0.52). Age (OR = 0.99, 95% CI = 0.96-1.02) and previous imprisonment (OR = 1.92, 95% CI = 0.99-3.72), were not statistically significant.

   Discussion Top

This study observed a high prevalence of mental health problems among the prisoners. Similar findings were reported by many previous studies. [11],[12],[13],[14] However, some studies report a lower prevalence than this study. [1],[15] Guy et al., [15] reported 34% and Goyal et al., [10] observed 28.8% prevalence of psychiatric morbidity which was lower than what was seen in this study. This could be due to the exclusion of SUD from the psychiatric diagnoses. This study reports SUD as the most common mental disorder among prisoners. SUD and ASPD were significantly higher in male participants. This finding is comparable to other studies by Assadi et al. [13] and Birmingham et al. [11] Dependence on substances other than nicotine was absent among women inmates that could be due to socio-cultural influences. The prevalence of SUD would have been higher if we had included the life time SUD.

Though the prevalence of ASPD was 19.2% in this study, it was comparable to earlier studies, [12],[13] which reported 23-35%. The diagnosis of mood disorders was found to be in agreement with the findings of the study by Birmingham et al., [11] which reported 4% prevalence of mood disorders. However, Goyal et al. [10] and Assadi et al., [13] in their study have reported a higher rate of affective disorders (21% and 30% respectively) than this study. This could be due to comparatively shorter duration of imprisonment in this study population where more adjustment disorders were diagnosed (13.7%). Furthermore, this study group reported an increased rate of adjustment disorders compared to the findings of previous studies. [1],[11],[16] Psychosis and anxiety disorders showed a lower rate which was comparable to many other studies. [10],[12],[13] The comparative lower prevalence of psychosis could be due to the shifting of severely mentally ill to mental health centers during the acute phase of illness itself.

The socio-demographic profile except for the marital status, was found to be similar with other Western studies. [12],[15] The comparatively high representation of the married inmates in this group could be due to socio-cultural reasons. The financial offenders had lower psychiatric disorders. Similar observations were made by Assadi et al., [13] who reported mental illness in 10% of financial offenders. The rate of illiteracy and unemployment was less compared to the study by Goyal et al., [10] probably due to the high literacy rate in the state and other social reasons.

Political crimes tend to be committed by a group rather than a single person. It can be considered as an altruistic type of behavior. The social support and the coping styles used by them may explain the lower rate of psychiatric morbidity among this group. However, this needs further exploration.

Persons with ASPD and drug related disorders are often considered recidivist offenders. This may explain the high prevalence of repeated offenders. This also emphasizes the fact of high representation of ASPD among the prisoners.

The reported suicidal risk was less compared to studies by Shaw et al., [7] Marzano et al. [17] and Rivlin et al. [18] No female prisoners had a moderate or high suicide risk. This low risk of suicide may be due to multiple factors including the feeling of having a family support, better prison conditions than earlier days and a hope of an early release. In general, suicide risk is high among the mentally ill. A significant association of psychiatric diagnosis with suicide risk was seen even in this population. This finding was in agreement with a study by Hassan et al., [19] which showed an increased suicide risk in prisoners with mood disorders (32%) and psychosis (45%).


Despite the potential inaccuracies of self-report data and use of MINI-Plus as our diagnostic instrument, we believe that this study has made a sincere attempt to look into the mental health problems of prisoners. The findings are based on inmates of a single prison and those with a shorter duration of stay. We used a cross-sectional study design. This study could not assess whether the psychiatric morbidity was present before imprisonment or not.

   Conclusion Top

High rate of mental health problems exists in prisons. Identifying mental health needs and ensuring appropriate care for the mentally ill offenders can be challenging. Many factors including the prison settings, socio-cultural differences and methodological issues must be considered while dealing with the psychiatric problems of prisoners. Proper diagnosis and timely intervention of the mental health problems including substance related disorders may help in the reduction of occurrence or repetition of some offences.

   References Top

1.Gunn J, Maden A, Swinton M. Treatment needs of prisoners with psychiatric disorders. BMJ 1991;303:338-41.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Fazel S, Bains P, Doll H. Substance abuse and dependence in prisoners: A systematic review. Addiction 2006;101:181-91.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Maden T, Swinton M, Gunn J. Psychiatric disorder in women serving a prison sentence. Br J Psychiatry 1994;164:44-54.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Jordan BK, Schlenger WE, Fairbank JA, Caddell JM. Prevalence of psychiatric disorders among incarcerated women. II. Convicted felons entering prison. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1996;53:513-9.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Bird SM. Changes in male suicides in Scottish prisons: 10-year study. Br J Psychiatry 2008;192:446-9.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Fazel S, Benning R. Suicides in female prisoners in England and Wales, 1978-2004. Br J Psychiatry 2009;194:183-4.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Shaw J, Baker D, Hunt IM, Moloney A, Appleby L. Suicide by prisoners. National clinical survey. Br J Psychiatry 2004;184:263-7.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Farrell M, Boys A, Bebbington P, Brugha T, Coid J, Jenkins R, et al. Psychosis and drug dependence: Results from a national survey of prisoners. Br J Psychiatry 2002;181:393-8.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Prison Statistics. New Delhi, India: National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs; 2009. Available from: accessed on 21/10/2011.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Goyal SK, Singh P, Gargi PD, Goyal S, Garg A. Psychiatric morbidity in prisoners. Indian J Psychiatry 2011;53:253-7.  Back to cited text no. 10
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11.Birmingham L, Mason D, Grubin D. Prevalence of mental disorder in remand prisoners: Consecutive case study. BMJ 1996;313:1521-4.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Brooke D, Taylor C, Gunn J, Maden A. Point prevalence of mental disorder in unconvicted male prisoners in England and Wales. BMJ 1996;313:1524-7.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Assadi SM, Noroozian M, Pakravannejad M, Yahyazadeh O, Aghayan S, Shariat SV, et al. Psychiatric morbidity among sentenced prisoners: Prevalence study in Iran. Br J Psychiatry 2006;188:159-64.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Gunter TD, Arndt S, Wenman G, Allen J, Loveless P, Sieleni B, et al. Frequency of mental and addictive disorders among 320 men and women entering the Iowa prison system: Use of the MINI-Plus. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 2008;36:27-34.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Guy E, Platt JJ, Zwerling I, Bullock S. Mental health status of prisoners in an urban jail. Crim Justice Behav 1985;12:29-53.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Davidson M, Humphreys MS, Johnstone EC, Owens DG. Prevalence of psychiatric morbidity among remand prisoners in Scotland. Br J Psychiatry 1995;167:545-8.  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Marzano L, Fazel S, Rivlin A, Hawton K. Psychiatric disorders in women prisoners who have engaged in near-lethal self-harm: Case-control study. Br J Psychiatry 2010;197:219-26.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Rivlin A, Hawton K, Marzano L, Fazel S. Psychiatric disorders in male prisoners who made near-lethal suicide attempts: Case-control study. Br J Psychiatry 2010;197:313-9.  Back to cited text no. 18
19.Hassan L, Birmingham L, Harty MA, Jarrett M, Jones P, King C, et al. Prospective cohort study of mental health during imprisonment. Br J Psychiatry 2011;198:37-42.  Back to cited text no. 19

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Anithakumari Ayirolimeethal
Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Kozhikode - 673 008, Kerala
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Source of Support: State Board of Medical Research, Kerala, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5545.130495

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]