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People involved with criminal justice frequently are exposed to violence and traumatic experiences. This may lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, no review, to our knowledge, has synthetized findings in this setting. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate prevalence rates of PTSD in prison populations. Original studies in which prevalence rates of PTSD in unselected samples of incarcerated people were reported were systematically searched between 1980 and June 2017. Data were pooled using random-effects meta-analysis, and sources of heterogeneity for prespecified characteristics were assessed by meta-regression. We identified 56 samples comprising 21,099 imprisoned men and women from 20 countries. Point prevalence of PTSD ranged from 0.1% to 27% for male, and from 12% to 38% for female prisoner populations. The random-effects pooled point prevalence was 6.2% (95% confidence interval: 3.9, 9.0) in male prisoners and 21.1% (95% confidence interval: 16.9, 25.6) in female prisoners. The heterogeneity between the included studies was very high. Higher prevalence was reported in samples of female prisoners, smaller studies (n ≤ 200), and for investigations based in high-income countries. Existing evidence shows high levels of PTSD among imprisoned people, especially women. Psychosocial interventions to prevent violence, especially against children and women, and to mitigate its consequences in marginalized communities must be improved. Trauma-informed approaches for correctional programs and scalable PTSD treatments in prisons require further consideration.

Original publication




Journal article


Epidemiol Rev

Publication Date





134 - 145


Global Health, Humans, Models, Statistical, Prevalence, Prisoners, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic