Mental health services in Nigerian prisons: Lessons from a four-year review and the literature
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Forensic and correctional mental health services may constitute an important "safety net" for the mentally ill and can ensure a degree of public protection. The increasing prison populations and shift towards humane care of the mentally ill that encompasses promotion of human rights, community re-integration, utilitarian safety and operation of internationally comparable mental health legislations underscore the need to appraise correctional psychiatry services, especially in resource-restricted settings. We present findings from a review of the literature and from mental health services provided to 179 inmates in two Nigerian urban prisons. The mental health services spanned four years and allowed a focus on important issues deserving urgent attention. The mean age of participants was 33.10 years (SD = 9.91) and majority (86.6%) were males. The common clinical diagnoses among participants were schizophrenia (49.3%) and mood disorders (29.6%), while approximately half (46.5%) used psychoactive substances. About one-fifth was evaluated as having high risk for violence-dangerousness based solely on clinical evaluation. The majority (88.4%) presented with a first episode of mental illness, and 14% had a prior correctional history. Gender, marital status and hallucinatory experiences were associated with a high risk of dangerousness (p < 0.05), while gender, use of psychoactive substances, previous history of mental disorders and depot medication indexed participants more likely to have a previous forensic history (p < 0.05). Considering the current findings, we advocate for inclusion of validated tools in risk assessments, multipronged intervention strategy to address the unmet needs of prisoners and improved attention to forensic and correctional mental health in relevant policy-law, service-planning, research and training.
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