Purpose: Fueled by growing numbers of women incarcerated in the United States recent years have witnessed an increased interest in the well-being of female offenders. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2008), the rates of female inmates increased 14% from 2000 and 2007. Despite this increased interest, there has been a lag in the number of empirical studies of coping and well-being while serving time in incarcerated settings. This is important given the substantial time that many women will spend under correctional control. Further, most women will return to communities facing a number of obstacles for a successful transition to post-release life. The primary aims of this study is to test the effects of socio-demographic, personality, and impulsiveness predictors on various indicators of coping and prison adjustment (i.e., anxiety and depression,) in a large sample of incarcerated females in Virginia.
Methods: Study data were derived from a sample of 805 women offenders at a maximum security prison in Virginia. Data was gathered based on structured interviews and institutional files. Dependent variables, Anxiety (M = 1.13, SD = 1.00) and Depression (1.39, SD = 1.01) was assessed using the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI). Predictor variables included personality disorders (schizoid, schizotypical, antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, dependent) assessed using the SCID II scores, Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS), security classification (low, medium, high) and sociodemographic controls. We examined the effects of these predictor variables on anxiety and depression using Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression.
Results: Findings from OLS regression indicate that both models were significant (p<.001). Specifically, a substantial variation was accounted for in anxiety (R-squared = 0.43) and depression (R-squared = 0.41). Demographically, women older than 32 reported higher levels of anxiety compared to women younger than 32. Several personality disorders were strong drivers of the results for both depression and anxiety including schizoid, borderline, avoidant, narcissistic, and dependent. Women who scored higher on the BIS cognitive impulsivity measure also reported high levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Implications for policy and practice: Findings indicate that several characteristics are associated with coping and adjustment, as assessed by symptoms of anxiety and depression, in this large sample of incarcerated women. The continuity of care and support for the psychological well being of this community during incarceration and post-release is a factor that has widespread consequences Improved screening and linkages with evidence-based treatments are a necessary step toward improved outcomes with this population. At a social policy level, there needs to be a rethinking of the incarceration process vis-à-vis mental well-being and the post-diagnosis process in terms of types of mental health supports offered. Further, the development of mechanisms to embrace this community that would provide a scaffolding of supports would likely reduce recidivism and the social and economic costs associated with female offending.