incarceration among women make health care for women in prison a pressing issue (Young and Reviere, 2001).
Women offenders have needs that are different from those of men, stemming in part from their disproportionate victimization from sexual and physical abuse and their responsibility for children, according to the authors of Women Offenders: Programming Needs and Promising Approaches (BJS, 1998b). In an American Journal of Public Health editorial, Braithwaite et al. (2005) noted that the diverse needs of women are forgotten and neglected in the criminal justice system. Medical concerns that relate to reproductive health and to the psychosocial matters that surround imprisonment of single female heads of households are often overlooked. The authors state that “Women in prison complain of a lack of regular gynecological and breast examinations and say their medical concerns are often dismissed.” They also note the poor physical health of women as they enter the correctional system, with higher than average risk for high-risk pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and human papillomavirus infection, a risk factor for cervical cancer. Nearly 6 in 10 women in state prisons had experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past (BJS, 1999b).
“Women have more severe substance abuse histories by the time they come to the attention of the criminal justice system,” said Nena P. Messina, Ph.D., a criminologist at University of California, Los Angeles Integrated Substance Abuse Programs. “That means they are using drugs on a daily basis. They are more likely to be injecting drugs, using multiple drugs, and trading sex for drugs and money. Their histories and their paths to substance abuse and crime are very different than men’s.” Messina described her experience with women prisoners at the July 2005 meeting of this Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee.
In a survey of prisoners in New Jersey (Blitz et al., 2005), researchers found that women were more likely to be classified as special needs inmates (those with behavioral health disorders) than men (37 percent versus 16 percent). An active addiction disorder was present in one-half to three-quarters of women with behavioral health disorders. National data collected by the BJS in 1998 also showed more women than men (20 percent versus 16 percent) are diagnosed with mental disorders (BJS, 1999a).
Although substance abuse is common, drug rehabilitation programs are not common in these institutions (Braithwaite et al., 2005). Consequently, when women prisoners are released, they are at high risk of falling