Cathy Osten


Cathy Osten



January 10, 2023


Tuesday, January 10, 2023


State Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), who served as a corrections officer/lieutenant for 21 years in seven different prison facilities in Connecticut, today welcomed a new report that she requested from the Connecticut Sentencing Commission which shows that one-third of Connecticut’s approximately 9,400 inmates have active mental health disorders which require ongoing treatment, and that 90 percent of inmates have a history of — or current — substance abuse problem.

“Having served the Department of Correction for two decades, and having interacted with inmates on a daily basis, these statistics are not surprising to me,” Sen. Osten said. “But they should be illuminating to other legislators and to the general public about the type of people that we have behind bars in Connecticut and some of the untreated mental health and addiction challenges that not only may have contributed to their incarceration, but which have to be considered if they are to be rehabilitated and released back into society. I think we have a long way to go in that respect.”

Sen. Osten said that the Connecticut Sentencing Commission will conduct further research on mental health issues in the criminal justice system using the $500,000 that the General Assembly appropriated for that purpose.

“I expect that next report is going to collect more data and look at diversion programs, sentencing, what role community mental health providers can play in all of this, and much more,” Sen. Osten said. “A follow-up report will hopefully give the legislature some clear direction on what we can do to not only keep people with mental health and addiction issues from committing crimes, but also providing them with better treatment before, during and after their incarceration. Better mental health and addiction treatment are truly at the heart of improving public safety in Connecticut.”

In the meantime, Sen. Osten said she will explore possible legislation this session to “provide the resources necessary to respond to the Sentencing Commission’s report.”

In 2019, Sen. Osten requested that the Connecticut Sentencing Commission undertake a study on mental health in the state’s incarcerated population. In 2020, the Commission published an initial memorandum on the Department of Correction’s mental health care need classification system. The new report serves as a continuation of that research.


The Commission’s new findings include:

• 32% of the incarcerated population was classified as having an active mental health disorder requiring treatment. An additional 41% of the population was classified as having a history of mental health disorders not requiring active treatment.

• The percentage of women with active mental health disorders requiring treatment (81%) was significantly higher than that for men (28%).

• The rate of active mental health disorders varied significantly across racial groups: Native American (53%), White (41%), Asian (35%), Hispanic (30%), and Black (26%).

• This rate of active mental health disorders was higher than average for individuals under 26 years old (37.6%).

Mood disorder diagnoses were the most common diagnostic category, affecting 24% of the incarcerated population. This rate is higher than the rate of diagnosed mood disorders for the general U.S. population, which is around 9.7%. The rate of psychotic disorders, 8%, was also higher than the reported prevalence for the general U.S. population rate, which is less than 1%. Incarcerated individuals with psychotic disorders had particularly high treatment needs, with 43% classified as having “severe” or “crisis-level” disorders.

The six most frequent mental health disorders found among inmates include:

· Mood Disorders (i.e. depression, bipolar), 23.62%

· Posttraumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), 12.65%

· Personality Disorders (i.e. antisocial), 9.41%

· Psychotic Disorders (i.e. schizophrenia), 8.01%

· Anxiety Disorders, 7.68%

· Adjustment and Acute Stress Disorders, 7.42%

Among inmates who have a history of — or current — substance abuse problem:

· 15% had a slight history of substance abuse, with a recommendation for voluntary recovery support services.

· 34% had a moderate substance abuse problem requiring treatment.

· 40% of the population had a serious or an extremely serious substance abuse problem requiring residential or intensive outpatient treatment.

· The prevalence of substance abuse problems requiring treatment was significantly higher for women (84.4%) than for men (73%).

· This rate varied across racial groups and was higher for White individuals (78.5%) than for Black (73%), Hispanic (71%), Native American (67%) and Asian individuals (60%).

· This rate was also higher for individuals aged 26 to 55 (77.7%).

The Commission notes in part in its 47-page report that, due to the high prevalence of inmates all across America suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders, “U.S. jails and prisons have become de facto mental health institutions.”

“According to a more recent study by the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness, approximately 70% of people involved in the criminal justice system have a mental health disorder. Common diagnoses among state and federal incarcerated individuals are major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and psychotic disorders.

“Individuals with substance use disorders also account for a significant percentage of the incarcerated population. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 85% of the incarcerated population have an active substance use disorder or were convicted for drug related crimes.

“These data highlight the marked overrepresentation of mental illness in correctional facilities and how U.S. jails and prisons have become de facto mental health institutions. However, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 63% of individuals with psychiatric illnesses do not receive mental health treatment while in prisons and 55% do not receive treatment in jails. Thus, psychiatric services in correctional facilities are lacking, leaving many without the necessary treatment.”