Mental health problems prevalent among SA’s female inmates

In its report‚ the commission said informants revealed that the mere fact of being convicted as a criminal affected the mental well-being of female inmates as they would experience extreme shock and shame as a result of being perceived as delinquents by their families and communities.

“It was clear that the shame emanating from the status of being an incarcerated woman stemmed from the widespread gender stereotypes that predominantly associate criminal behaviour with men‚ thus making it taboo for a woman to bear the status of being a convicted criminal.”

Substance abuse and addiction was a significant finding in Pollsmoor Centre in the Western Cape. Although the abuse of substances is generally more pronounced among men than women‚ informants revealed that a number of female inmates had a history of substance abuse and were mainly using drugs to escape from the daily realities of poverty and other socio-economic challenges.

Some of the inmates also revealed to researchers that substance abuse was one of their coping strategies and were thus disgruntled that they could not even access cigarettes‚ since the use of tobacco was banned from the centre.

Informants also reported that many of the female inmates had experienced several traumatic events in their lifetime‚ such as growing up in dysfunctional families‚ living in extreme poverty‚ witnessing violence‚ and suffering intimate partner violence and sexual abuse.

“In fact‚ the clinical psychologist from the Pollsmoor Centre revealed that the majority of cases that were presented to her were associated with childhood trauma that was never diagnosed or dealt with accordingly.

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