Health Care of Incarcerated Women: A Qualitative Study [18M]

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To describe the health care experiences of incarcerated women.


Twenty-one formerly incarcerated women participated in a qualitative study to discuss their health care experiences while in prison or jail. Data were analyzed by 2 researchers using a grounded theory approach, and interviews were stopped upon thematic saturation.


Women who are incarcerated have high rates of mental health issues (90%), substance abuse (90%), and sexually transmitted infections (66%). Women are not routinely screened for these issues and find it challenging to receive adequate treatment. Many women are placed in solitary confinement in lieu of actual behavioral health treatment. Half of the women had been incarcerated while pregnant and reported feeling their safety was threatened. Other commonly reported themes included delays in obtaining care and medication, easy access to illegal drugs while incarcerated and lack of privacy during medical exams. The majority of women interviewed were unemployed (81%) and homeless (52%) or living in public housing (24%) post-incarceration.


Incarcerated women suffer from a disproportionally higher rate of mental health and substance abuse issues than the general population. Most women reported negative experiences when attempting to access care while incarcerated. The results highlight the fragmentation and lack of standardization in correctional health systems and the need for increased resources and programmatic change.

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