International studies show a consistent finding of women in prisons as having a high prevalence of mental disorder. Most will be treated within the prison however the most severely ill require transfer to a hospital facility. The primary aim of our study was to survey the total provincial female prison population in Ontario, Canada, to determine the proportion that require treatment in a psychiatric hospital, and the security level required. The secondary aim was to investigate the validity and psychometric properties of DUNDRUM-1 and DUNDRUM-2 in making these assessments.
We carried out a cross-sectional study of all remand and sentenced female inmates detained in all 16 provincial jails that hold women in Ontario. The severity of mental health need was categorised by mental health staff on a five-point scale. Two forensic psychiatrists then examined all medical files of prisoners that had been categorised in the highest two categories and a random sample of nearly a quarter of those in the third category. An overall opinion was then made as to whether admission was required, and whether a high intensity bed was needed, and files were rated using DUNDRUM-1 and DUNDRUM-2.
There were 643 female inmates in provincial prisons in Ontario. We estimated that approximately 43 (6.7%) required admission to a hospital facility, of which 21.6 [prorated] (3.4%) required a high intensity bed such as a psychiatric intensive care bed within a secure hospital. The DUNDRUM-1 and -2 tools showed good internal validity. Total scores on both DUNDRUM-1 and DUNDRUM-2 were significantly different between those assessed as needing admission and those who did not, and distinguished the level of security required.
This is the first study to determine level of need for prison to hospital transfers in Canada and can be used to inform service capacity planning. We also found that the DUNDRUM toolkit is useful in determining the threshold and priorities for hospital transfer of female prisoners.