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A Journal on Psychiatry, Psychology and Psychopharmacology

Official Journal of the Italian Society of Social Psychiatry
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Minerva Psichiatrica 2013 June;54(2):129-35

language: English

Psychiatric problems in prisoners: screening, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Opitz-Welke A., Konrad N.

Justizvollzugskrankenhaus Berlin Abteilung für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie Berlin, Germany


Prison psychiatry offers psychiatric care for clients, who often show a high prevalence of severe mental disorder, substance abuse, and personality disorder. In addition, many of these clients have never had contact with psychiatric care before incarceration. The aim of this article was to give an impression of the special challenges of psychiatric work in prison. The state of knowledge in prison psychiatry is described, using current literature and clinical experience. Suicide is a leading cause of death in prison, and self-harming behavior and suicide attempts are common. Psychiatric care in prison should provide the same quality of psychiatric care as the one available in the community. However, this principle of “equivalence” is sometimes difficult to enforce. Psychiatrists working in prisons should insist on being able to offer psychiatric treatment without being implicated in the correctional decisions. Prisoners have a high prevalence of mental disorders. Any prisoner suffering from a serious mental disorder should receive appropriate psychiatric care. Therapeutic services should be organized according to the needs of prisoners with severe mental disturbances. This includes psychiatric inpatient care and psychiatric outpatient care.

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