Incarcerated women represent about ten percent of the incarcerated population. While they exhibit many of the same disease patterns as men, there are some additional factors that are worth addressing. First, the rates of mental illness appear to be significantly higher for women than for men; in one study, 73 percent of female inmates had mental health problems compared to 55 percent of male inmates (James and Glaze, 2006). The majority of female offenders have histories of trauma and abuse; 57 percent of women in state prison reported that they were physically or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives (Greenfield and Snell, 1999). Their trauma histories are often catalysts to the cycle of incarceration as victims of trauma are more likely to abuse substances.
The female prison population grew by 832 percent in the last three decades (Women’s Prison Association, 2009). As the number of women entering the corrections system continues to increase, attention to issues that affect female ex-offenders becomes increasingly important. The substantial growth of female incarceration highlights the need for gender-specific services that adequately address the unique social, emotional, psychological and physical challenges faced by incarcerated and reentering women.
The Division of Cancer Prevention and Control within the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, funds the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Two state grantees are targeting incarcerated females with outreach activities and screening services.
Where reentry is concerned, the Office on Women’s Health is conducting the Incarcerated Women’s Transition Project with the purpose of providing a comprehensive set of recommendations to articulate a model for creating, expanding and/or enhancing services that promote successful transition of women and girls back into their respective communities. This will promote better health for the women, their families and their communities which should also help to prevent recidivism.