Professors: Prison fails mentally ill women

By Chris Foreman
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rosemary Gido calls state prisons asylums for the invisible, particularly women.

A criminology professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Gido said an estimated 42 percent of women in U.S. jails and prisons are mentally ill, compared with 24 percent of men.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Corrections reports that 44 percent of female inmates and 18.6 percent of male inmates have mental health issues.

Women are more likely to have a co-occurring disorder — meaning mental health problems combined with drug or alcohol abuse — and a history of trauma, according to Gido, the former director of program and policy analysis for the New York State Commission of Corrections.

“We have primarily put people in prison who are addicts,” said Gido, who collaborated with IUP alumna Lanette Dalley on a book, “Women’s Mental Health Issues Across the Criminal Justice System.”

“I very much sympathize with correctional systems and jails and wardens because (their facilities) are the repository for these people, and they pretty much have to make do with what they have.”

Gido and Dalley, a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver, attribute the increase in mentally ill inmates to the failures of deinstitutionalization and the “War on Drugs” over the past half-century, as well as mandatory sentencing laws. Their book includes 14 years of research on jailed women’s mental health needs.

William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, said women “really get short shrift” because the state system is generally geared toward the men. His Philadelphia-based organization advocates for inmates, their families and former prisoners.

He cites clothing for female inmates that often seems better suited for men because the waists on the pants are too big and the legs frequently need to be rolled up at the bottom. “It’s almost as if there’s been an attempt to take away femininity that they might otherwise have,” DiMascio said.

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Professors: Prison fails mentally ill women

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