Incarceration itself is inherently harmful to people’s health and can haunt individuals after release

We often talk about the high numbers of incarcerated individuals with mental health disorders. But less attention is paid to the ways in which incarceration itself perpetuates this problem by creating and worsening symptoms of mental illness.

Incarceration can lead to “Post-Incarceration Syndrome,” a syndrome similar to PTSD, meaning that even after serving their official sentences, many people continue to suffer the mental effects.

The United States has the highest incarcerated population in the world due to increase of harsh sentences for nonviolent offenders. Black and Brown people are disproportionally affected by this.

- While being incarcerated individuals feel disconnected from society and their loved ones. Psychologists have long known that people with social support and positive family relationships tend to have better psychological well-being.

- Incarcerated people have virtually no control over their day-to-day lives, including when they wake up, what they eat, what their jobs are, and when they have access to recreation. This can lead to feelings of dependence and helplessness, which harm's one mental health.

-The cruel conditions in prisons and jails cause significant additional suffering and trauma. Many jails and prisons throughout the country are overcrowded, which often means more time in a cell, less privacy, less access to mental and physical healthcare, and fewer opportunities to participate in programming and work assignments.

- Being put in solitary confinement, which is a common practice in many prisons and jails, is especially harmful to mental health; the stress caused by spending time in solitary confinement can lead to permanent changes to people’s brains and personalities.

- Prisons and jails are extremely violent places. People often experience verbal or physical assaults and dehumanization at the hands of correctional officers. And the various stressors in this environment also increase the chances of violence among incarcerated people.

Mental illness and substance use disorders are higher among the people who are in and out of jail compared to the general population

People involved with the criminal system have higher psychological distress compared to the general population

Reentry and their Problems

Every year, nearly 700,000 people are released from American prisons, and an estimated 9 million are released from jail. According to the National Institute of Justice, almost two-thirds of them are arrested again within three years. Once released, formerly incarcerated people face many barriers that prevent them from successfully reentering society. They are not allowed to vote, have little access to education, face scant job opportunities, and are ineligible for public benefits, public housing, and student loans. Without a support system and the resources needed to reintegrate back into the community, recently released prisoners will continue to experience harmful mental health effects.