Incarceration and the Family: A Review of Research and Promising Approaches for Serving Fathers and Families. 2.5 Substance Abuse and Mental Health


Substance abuse and mental health issues are common among incarcerated parents:

  • Of parents in state prison in 2004, 58% of fathers and 65% of mothers reported illicit drug use in the month prior to their arrest (Mumola, 2006).
  • Based on the DSM-IV criteria, 67% of fathers incarcerated in state prison reported alcohol or drug dependence or abuse prior to arrest (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).
  • One-third of fathers in state prison committed their offense while under the influence of illicit drugs. Thirty-seven percent of fathers in state prison committed their offense while under the influence of alcohol (Mumola, 2006).
  • Parents in prison reported slightly higher problems with substance abuse than did non-parents in prison (Mumola, 2006).
  • Of fathers classified as having an alcohol or drug use problem, 42% reported having received any substance abuse treatment since admission for the current incarceration (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).

Mental health issues also plague many incarcerated parents; 49% of fathers in state prison reported clinically meaningful symptoms of mental illness, as did 38% of fathers in federal prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). In general, rates of mental illness among inmates are two to four times higher than among the general population (Lurigio, 2001).

The intergenerational influences of family involvement in prison are strong. Forty-nine percent of fathers in state prison reported that a member of their family (a parent, sibling, or spouse) had ever been incarcerated. Nineteen percent of fathers in state prison had experienced paternal incarceration and 6% had experienced maternal incarceration (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).

These descriptive statistics reveal the need for comprehensive services to prepare men for release, including relationship and parenting programs and other rehabilitation services to address substance abuse, mental health, and employment problems which may exacerbate family problems and increase risk for recidivism.

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