The Effects of Incarceration on Mental Health


Mental Health Care Behind Bars
Jails and prisons are supposed to provide basic health care for inmates, but unfortunately the quality of this care varies depending on the prison/jail. Usually prison based mental health care focuses on stabilizing inmates rather than treating them. For instance, a person who experiences hallucinations, depression, posttraumatic stress, and other mental health conditions that don’t necessarily cause major changes in behaviours may not get treated. It is rare that prisoners receive therapy or comprehensive treatment, so mental health issues that were previously controlled with medication and therapy may get much worse during incarceration.

Prison and Trauma
Even for the toughest criminals, prison can be a scary place. The department of Justice reports that 70,000 prisoners are sexually abused every year, along with assault, fights, and other acts of violence that are common in prison settings. But violence doesn’t only happen between inmates; prison guards work in a high stress environment that can increase their likelihood of acting out violently. With the small chance of reports being issued against abusive guards, some inmates may endure verbal abuse, threats of physical violence, and even severe attacks. Woman inmates are at an even higher risk of being sexually assaulted by jail and prison guards. This ongoing increase of trauma can create anxiety, depression, phobias, and PTSD in prisoners who previously had no serious mental illness.

Lack of Support
Prisoners, by definition are cut off from the rest of society, and their access to supportive friends and family is often limited. Many jails have instituted mail policies prohibiting letters and magazine subscriptions, and these policies can eliminate prisoners’ ability to talk with and get support from loved ones.  Prison based phone calls can be costly, and prisoners impoverished backgrounds may have families who can’t afford to pay for the costs of collect calls, however infrequent. There’s little hope for getting any support in prison, as many prisoners are concerned more with gaining respect and avoiding fights in a relentless pursuit of safety.  Support from loved ones can play a critical role in helping people overcome mental challenges, and isolation can increase a person’s risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Getting Out
Most prisoners have ignored basic rules of society, so it can be difficult for prisoner rights issues to garner much public sympathy. But many prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes that are the result of substance addiction. And even inmates that are in prison for violent crimes do not typically serve life sentences. Most prisoners are ultimately released, and the mental health issues they develop in prison can increase their risk of reoffending and make it difficult to re-enter society as a productive, nonthreatening citizen. Almost 70% of people who have been incarcerated are arrested again within three years, and the dire state of mental health care in prisons could play a significant role in this high rate of recidivism.

Source of information:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s