State Officials Say Oklahoma’s Female Inmates Need Help for Drug Abuse, Mental Health

By Victoria Kim 09/24/15

Women prisoners in Oklahoma are in dire need of treatment.

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Oklahoma has the highest rate of imprisonment of women in the country, and the majority of them are in dire need of substance abuse treatment, according to state corrections officials.

The state’s female incarceration rate is 136 per 100,000 residents. The national rate is 83 per 100,000 residents, according to state figures. As of Saturday, 3,211 women were serving prison sentences in Oklahoma.

Drug abuse and mental health issues are at the root of the problem, said Susan Sharp, professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma. Drug offenses are among the most common reasons women are incarcerated in Oklahoma, and drug abuse is the most prevalent reason that women reoffend, Sharp says.

Sharp says 75% of the state’s female offenders have moderate to high needs for substance abuse treatment. Many of the women who are addicts have experienced traumatic childhood experiences in which they were physically or sexually abused. “They are self-medicating with drugs,” she said.

“Sixty-six percent of those surveyed reported some type of child physical or sexual abuse, 71% reported domestic violence as adults and 36% reported being raped as an adult,” said chief mental health officer for the Department of Corrections, Jana Morgan.

About 78% of women in Oklahoma prisons are either currently in treatment or have a history of being treated for mental health issues, said Morgan. About one in 10 female offenders in the state suffer from severe mental illness.

Intensive counseling before release helps cut the recidivism rate by more than half, Morgan said.

The legislative study was held at the state Capitol on the issue of Oklahoma's unusually high female incarceration rate. It was requested by state Sen. Wayne Shaw, who said he is gathering information on the issue for future legislation.

Last year, the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, a female inmate facility in McLoud, was ranked number one in the United States for the highest rate of prison rape, double the national average.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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