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How incarceration impacts mental health

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Incarcerated Iowa residents face a number of potential issues relating to their prison sentences. In addition to the long-term financial problems caused by incarceration, mental health struggles among inmates are common. These struggles relate to losing their sense of purpose, exposure to violent situations, trauma and much more.

Losing a sense of purpose

It’s common for people who spend time in prison to lose their sense of purpose. Since inmates don’t have a way to generate income during their incarceration, they must rely on friends and family members for any money that they need to purchase things. Not being able to provide for themselves and being at the mercy of the system can cause inmates to feel frustrated and embarrassed.

Loss of identity

Once the criminal defense process comes to an end and someone goes to prison, they can feel like another number in the state’s prison system. While most people on the outside identify themselves through their career, familial status or hobbies, an inmate’s identity revolves around their charges. Being known only as a criminal sentenced to prison is a stark contrast to the identities that people establish when they’re free.

Exposure to violent situations

No matter how diligent prison wardens and correctional officers are, prisons can be violent places. This is especially troubling for inmates who didn’t commit violent crimes and have no history of violence. The potential for violent situations leaves many inmates always feeling hypervigilant and traumatized.

Solitary confinement

For inmates who break the rules established by the prison, solitary confinement is a common punishment. While many opponents of this method believe that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, prisons continue to use it. Being isolated in a small, dark room for an indeterminate period can cause mental and emotional distress as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

While many prisons offer mental health services to inmates, others continue to fall through the cracks. Losing purpose, identity, facing solitary confinement and constant exposure to potentially violent situations often leave inmates struggling with their mental health, even after their sentence ends.



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