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Women's Mental Health and the Justice System


As we approach World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October and our upcoming mental health awareness conference, UN House Scotland has shifted its focus to mental health awareness. In accordance with Sustainable Development Goals Three (Good Health and Well-being) and Five (Gender Equality), one important issue area is the rising number of incarcerated women and the relationship between women’s mental health and criminalization.

A few general facts about women’s mental health in the justice system from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) include:

  • 61% of female prisoners indicated that they suffered from anxiety and 65% indicated that they suffered from depression (when compared to 33% and 37% of male prisoners).

  • The Corston Report (2007) found that 44% of women on remand have attempted suicide at some time in their lives; and between 22 and 37% of women sent to prison claim to have attempted suicide at some time in their life.

These numbers are both alarming and illuminating - indicating the considerable impact of imprisonment on mental health. This data also shows the intricacy of mental health and incarceration within the UK.

While the number of incarcerated women in Scotland and the UK is substantially less than their male counterparts, women are more likely to have a complex set of motivations behind their sentence. Women are less likely to commit crimes as some form of thrill-seeking and instead are more likely to commit crimes for some practical purpose to secure their lives or livelihoods. Women are also more likely to experience some form of domestic or sexual abuse directly affecting their mental health. According to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), up to 50 percent of incarnated women reported experiencing violence at home compared to the 25 percent of men. The resulting psychological effects of this abuse played a role in many of these women’s incarceration and thus should be closely analyzed.

There is also a certain stigmatization of women within the criminal justice system that has created a barrier for addressing these mental health issues and allowing women to receive the proper treatment. Within Scotland, there have been positive changes made to address these mental health issues--there has been a push away from incarceration to a system of treatment instead. According to BBC, individuals like Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) David Strang both sought to reduce the number of women in Scottish prisons and shift the pathways of criminalization. However, these advocates also pointed out that half of the incarcerated women in Scotland were placed in facilities intended for men, indicating the lack of resources available to women in the criminal justice system. Scottish courts have also sent women directly to prison rather than considering the many alternatives possible to reintegrate these women back into their communities.

In partnership with Soroptimist International Scotland South Region, we will be holding a Conference on Women’s Mental Health at the Albany Centre on the 9th of October. We will be discussing women’s mental health in the justice system and hope to create discussion to challenge the stigmatization that surrounds it. We hope to see you at the conference to discuss issues like these and others. To sign up for the event click here.

#women #womensmentalhealth #worldmentalhealthday #mentalhealth #criminaljusticesystem #prison

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The United Nations House Scotland is part of the United Nations Association Scotland, a charity registered in Scotland (SC048547).