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Prison inmates with schizophrenia: A phenomenological investigation

25 July 2005


Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses are being incarcerated in U.S. prisons at an increasing rate. Despite an extensive amount of research on persons diagnosed with schizophrenia who reside in the community and in hospitals, there is very little research on this population in prisons. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the experiences of prison inmates who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. A qualitative research project in the phenomenological tradition was conducted. Fifteen inmates at Oregon State Penitentiary who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia were interviewed about their experiences in prison and their diagnosis before and during incarceration. Six main themes emerged from the interviews. All of the participants discussed a history of psychotic symptoms for which most gave supernatural explanations. They also described environmental stressors prior to incarceration, including pressure from daily demands of living, substance abuse, and, homelessness. Responses to the prison environment included a preference for being alone, a perception of being stigmatized, and a sense of being vulnerable to abuse by other inmates. Participants described symptoms they experienced while in prison, including hallucinations, disorganized thinking, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, participants discussed treatment considerations, such as counseling, medication issues, and the helpfulness of specialized units. Finally, all participants described hope for a better life. The findings are discussed with recommendations for practitioners and program administrators.


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