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Women prisoners, mental health, violence and abuse

Morag MacDonald

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

Available online 1 May 2013

 

Abstract

This article examines the specific experiences of women in prison, focusing on previous (and continuing) physical and mental abuse, the consequent health care requirements of women prisoners, the policy response and the availability of suitable health care in prisons across the EU. It draws from an extensive review of the literature on women prisoners across Europe that was part of an on-going European Project funded by the DAPHNE programme of the European Commission, entitled 'DAPHNE Strong'. It also uses the field research from the project collected via surveys and in-depth interviews with key personnel in organisations that work with women prisoners or ex-prisoners and staff with a strategic overview of activity from the ministries of justice, police, prison service and women's support organisations.

 

There are probably many more women prisoners with a history of domestic abuse than is officially recognised. Many of the women prison population who have experienced violence and abuse mask this by problematic drug or alcohol use as well as self-injury. These are key areas that training for prison staff needs to address.

 

The availability of services for this group of women is inconsistent within and between countries of the EU. The political will to address the situation of women in prison, as distinct from the norms applied to men, is variable and it seems to take the determined efforts of active lobby groups to make inroads into an area of latent inertia.

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