What Is Correctional Psychiatry?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills

Sometimes considered as a part of forensic psychiatry, correctional psychiatry is the rendering of psychiatric treatment and care within the confines of a criminal justice facility or environment, such as a prison. Once a topic solely covered under the purview of forensic psychiatry, the discipline has evolved into a distinct specialty. In large part — often responding to legislation — this is due to an increased concern of penal systems being able to provide adequate mental health services to inmates when required. Acting as the driving force behind both research and applied theory, this concern has spurred the rapid development of correctional psychiatry into a branch of mental health that now outlines comprehensive applied theory, methods, challenges and treatments best deployed, or faced, in a correctional environment. Objectively, the discipline seeks to provide those within the confines of the penal system the same mental health services that normally are accessible in a public setting.

Correctional psychiatry includes treatment and care in prisons and other criminal justice facilities.
Correctional psychiatry includes treatment and care in prisons and other criminal justice facilities.

Topics of concern with the branch of correctional psychiatry include a wide range of situations unique to correctional settings, or experienced by those either confined or working within such systems. Main topics of research and applied theory revolve around the appropriate treatment methods deployed within a correctional setting and how established security impacts delivery of that treatment. Furthermore, the discipline concerns itself with the impact of various confinement arrangements on mental health and the appropriate responses from a medical standpoint.

Correctional psychiatrists will often work directly with inmates.
Correctional psychiatrists will often work directly with inmates.

Other major areas of concern include the handling of inmates with special needs, such as those with developmental disabilities, mental retardation or diagnosed mental illnesses. As well, correctional psychiatry attempts to thoroughly examine women in confinement and assess their needs in regards to mental health. Considering women as a group with special needs, the discipline has conducted research into common experiences and concerns that impact the mental health of female prison populations. These concerns include pregnancy, victimization of a sexual nature, personality disorders and diseases transmitted through sexual contact.

Suicidal and homicidal inmates are also two important areas of established research within correctional psychiatry. Aside from these areas, victimization of a sexual nature is another important area of treatment and research among male populations, to include dealing with both the anticipation of such an event to the mental and physical state thereafter. Overall, the discipline has developed established treatment methods, procedures and theory applicable to a wide range of situations common to mental health within a prison community.

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