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Confronting the mental health gender gap in prisons

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As the Minnesota Department of Corrections announced it has chosen a new health care provider last week, officials revealed a startling gender gap among inmates who are being treated for mental health problems.

About 65 percent of women at the state's women-only prison in Shakopee, Minn., use mental health services compared to 25 percent of men in the state's prison system.

"There's a culture in prison that men don't want to admit weakness. It's just not something that serves an offender very well," John King, assistant commissioner of the Department of Corrections, said on MPR's The Daily Circuit. "Males typically don't want to be seen as vulnerable, whereas women are more comfortable with expressing their vulnerability."

King, who oversees facility services, said the World Health Organization has identified other factors that could help explain the gender gap: women are more likely to have been exposed to violence or sexual violence and traditionally have a lower social status than men.

Among Minnesota's overall prison population, King provided more information about the types of mental disorders being treated:

• 6.3 percent of inmates have adjustment disorder with a depressed mood

• 83.9 percent have an anti-social personality disorder

• 27 percent have an anxiety disorder

• 38 percent have a depressive mood disorder