Mental Health Units in Correctional Facilities in the United States [2020]

The prevalence of severe mental illness (SMI) in correctional settings is alarmingly high. Some correctional facilities have developed mental health units (MHUs) to treat incarcerated individuals with SMI.

To identify existing MHUs in the United States and collate information on these units.

Data Sources
A systematic review using Criminal Justice Abstracts, ERIC, PsycINFO, PubMed, and SocINDEX, plus an exploratory review using the Google search engine were conducted. MHUs were included if they were located within an adult correctional facility in the United States, specifically catered to SMI populations, and were in active operation as of June 2019.

Eleven articles were identified through the peer-reviewed literature, but there were still major gaps in the information on MHUs. The Google search identified 317 MHUs. The majority of units were located within prisons (79.5%) and served only men (76%). The Google search found information indicating that 169 (53.3%) offered groups or programming to inmates; 104 (32.8%) offered individual therapy; and 89 (23%) offered both. One hundred sixty-six units (52.4%) had dedicated mental health staff, and 75 (23.7%) provided mental health training to correctional officers. Information on funding and outcomes of the MHUs is presented.

Use of the Google search engine and sources that have not been peer reviewed limits the robustness of conclusions about the MHUs.

Standards for developing and implementing MHUs are not widespread. The shortcomings of current MHUs are discussed in the context of desired criteria for size, staffing, and programming.

Cohen, Talia R. BA; Mujica, Christin A. BS; Gardner, Margaret E. BS; Hwang, Melissa BS; Karmacharya, Rakesh MD, PhD
Harvard Review of Psychiatry: 7/8 2020 – Volume 28 – Issue 4
DOI: 10.1097/HRP.0000000000000267