Date of Award


Degree Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Dr. Ashli Owen-Smith, PhD SM

Second Advisor

Dr. Monica Swahn, PhD MPH


Background: In recent years, the number of women incarcerated has increased at a rate higher than men. Drug and social policies related to employment, housing, education, welfare, mental health, and substance abuse treatment make it difficult for women to succeed once released from prison or jail. Women with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders are a high-risk population for negative post-release outcomes. For the majority of prisoners experiencing psychological distress during incarceration, distress persists after release. Unfortunately, contact with mental health services in the community by ex-offenders is low. Further research is needed to understand the barriers to seeking these services.

Aim: Explore the social behavioral factors that contribute to mental health of women recently released from prison or jail by: (1) reviewing the current programs available for women who need mental health services after prison release, (2) synthesizing the peer-reviewed literature -evaluating the effectiveness of community reentry programs with a mental health service component and (3) identifying future research and policy needs to better address mental health needs of women post incarceration and reduce recidivism.

Methods: A literature review was conducted to assess the structure of current community reentry programs and evaluate the effectiveness of community reentry programs with mental health service components.

Conclusion: There is need for more gender specific mental health reentry programs for women. Men account for 90% of the incarcerated population, and as a result reentry programs are predominately created for men. Community reentry programs that focus on cognitive behavior theory rooted in the power of individual choice must also ensure that they prepare ex-offenders to deal with unexpected barriers to social services such as housing, employment, food stamps, and health insurance. There is need for more outcome evaluations of existing reentry programs and reentry programs that include tools that measure mental health outcomes during release.