Massachusetts - The women's prison in Framingham houses by far the largest percentage of mentally ill inmates in the state, a review of state Department of Correction records shows.
Of the 645 inmates serving time in Framingham, 391 are classified as ``open mental health cases,'' meaning more than 60 percent of the prison population suffer from some form of mental illness.
By comparison, nearly 1 in 4 male inmates in Massachusetts prisons has been diagnosed with some form of mental illness, ranging from mild depression to debilitating diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Experts attribute the high percentage of mentally ill female inmates to the confluence of trauma, abuse or domestic violence, as well as family problems experienced by the prison's all-female population, particularly if they have children.
``It's a very big problem,'' said Steve Kenneway, president of the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union. ``There is a great deal of mental illness involved with every shift.''
For many female inmates, though, prison is simply one more trip through a revolving door that punishes the mentally ill for their symptoms while doing little to treat the underlying disease.
It's a carousel ride Leslie Walker knows all too well: She worked in the public defenders office for 16 years.
``A huge number of cases I had there were people that had already cycled through, and you knew they were going to come back,'' said Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, a Boston-based prison advocacy group.