Female Prisoners, Mental Health, and Contact with Family and Friends

AuthorIrina Fanarraga,Katarzyna Celinska
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Female Prisoners, Mental
Health, and Contact with
Family and Friends
Katarzyna Celinska
and Irina Fanarraga
The present study explores the psychological symptoms of 194 female
inmates housed in a northeast state prison. Imprisoned women completed
Derogatis(2001) Brief Symptom Inventory-18 and responded to questions
on the frequency of contact with family and friends via phone calls, letters,
and visitations. The results showed signif‌icant correlations between psycho-
logical symptoms and modes of contact. Multiple regression models revealed
that certain types of contact with family and friends had a statistically signif‌i-
cant impact on the self-reported psychological symptoms of female inmates.
Policy implications and recommendations are discussed.
female inmates, psychological symptoms, contact with family
There has been a dramatic rise in female imprisonment in the American crim-
inal justice system, with over 231,000 women incarcerated in 2019 (Kajstura,
2019). Since 1980, the growth rate of female imprisonment has been twice
City University of New York-John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Dept. of Law, Police Science,
& Criminal Justice Administration, New York, NY, USA
City University of New York-Criminal Justice Doctoral Program, New York, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Katarzyna Celinska, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Dept. of Law, Police Science, & Criminal
Justice Administration, 524 W. 59th St., Suite 422-11, New York, NY 10019, USA.
Email: kcelinska@jjay.cuny.edu
The Prison Journal
2022, Vol. 102(3) 259282
© 2022 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00328855221095518
that of males, effectively making women the fastest growing segment of US
incarcerees. In fact, between 1980 and 2018, the number of incarcerated
women increased by over 750%, and the rate of imprisonment of African
American women was twice that of White women (The Sentencing Project,
2018). These f‌igures are in line with research on so-called triple jeopardy,
which places a particular emphasis on the uniqueness of issues and problems
experienced by minority women as a result of the intersection between their
race, class, and gender (Enos, 2012; Lynch et al., 2012).
The increase of women in prison triggered a surge in scholarship and pub-
lications on female offenders (Belknap et al., 2016). Theoretical develop-
ments, mainly within feminist research, informed the pathways theory,a
perspective that identif‌ied past traumatic events in womens lives as leading
conduits into crime and incarceration. In particular, many women who are
involved in the criminal justice system have histories of trauma and victimi-
zation and exhibit mental health issues, psychological distress, and substance
use problems (Bronson & Berzofsky, 2017; James & Glaze, 2006; Lynch
et al., 2017). Bureau of Justice Statistics indicators point to a continuous
mental health crisis in American prisons and jails (Kajstura, 2019).
In addition to histories of trauma and mental illness, a factor of salience for
female inmates is their role as mothers. It has been estimated that 62% of
women in state prisons and 80% of women in jails are mothers of minor chil-
dren, for whom they were usually the main caregivers prior to their imprison-
ment (Glaze & Maruschak, 2010; Kajstura, 2019).
While research on female inmatesmental health problems has been increasing,
there are topics that need more examination, including the association between
their mental health and contact with family and friends. The current study proposes
to examine patterns in the psychological symptoms reported by 194 female
inmates in a northeast state womens prison. In addition, we explore correlations
and multiple regression models that focus on individual psychological symptoms,
identif‌ied by the Brief Symptom Inventory-18 (BSI-18), and various types of
family and friendscontact (phone calls, letters, and visitation).
The present study is signif‌icant in several ways. It is important to advance
research on the mental health of incarcerated women, especially given the con-
sistent growth of female incarceration rates for the last several decades.
Because the psychological and mental health issues of this correctional popula-
tion pose a signif‌icant challenge when it comes to correctional management
and treatment, it is critical that we continue to study their prevalence, as well
as associated factors that might be relevant to improving female inmates
mental health (see Cabeldue et al., 2019). For instance, previous research has
indicated that separation from family and children during incarceration is a
source of stress particularly salient for incarcerated women (Crewe et al.,
260 The Prison Journal 102(3)

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