U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Baseline Psychpathology in a Women's Prison: Its Impact on Institutional Adjustment and Risk for Violence

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2001
165 pages
This document discusses the spectrum of psychopathology that characterizes the general non-hospitalized population in a prison for women.
The first goal of this study was to explore the psychiatric symptoms, childhood and adult victimization, and personality disorders that characterize a female prison population. The second goal was to explore the impact of these experiences and conditions on institutional adjustment and to validate the Prison Adjustment Inventory (PAQ), a measure developed for use with men, on a female sample. The final goal was to explore the relationship of these psychiatric conditions and past experiences to the violence perpetrated by female inmates while in prison and in the community. Data were collected from two cohorts of women over a 3-year period. The first phase involved the screening of 802 women from the general population of a maximum-security prison using a variety of self-report measures. The second phase involved diagnostic interviews with a sub-sample of 261 inmates. The findings suggest that the women that were currently incarcerated in prisons suffered from more extensive and diverse types of psychopathology than was suggested by studies that focused only on the acute forms of mental illness. The results underscore the pervasive rates of psychiatric distress, victimization, and personality disorders that characterize a female prison population. The impact is obvious both in terms of personal costs as well as the cost that accrues to society. It is clear that the majority of women have been experiencing victimizing and harsh life circumstances for many years and that the symptoms of their pervasive types of personality disorders have likely been apparent since adolescence. The same influences that cause their personal suffering also contribute in a powerful manner to the patterns of criminality and violence that plague society. Many of the women found their life adaptation easier in prison than in the community. 1 figure, 33 tables, 300 references

Date Published: July 1, 2001