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Correctional Insights Recidivism

What If Every Inmate had Access to Counseling?

If Every Inmate had a Counselor, How Would That Affect Their Lives?

Counseling is the possibly the gold-standard when it comes to rehabilitation and reducing recidivism for incarcerated populations. The question is, why aren’t more counselors connecting with inmates?

The issue of incarcerated individuals’ mental health is often overlooked. One study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that within a group of prison inmates surveyed, about 26 percent had been diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their life.

Of those people, very few received any treatment for mental health conditions. And according to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2005 more than half of all prison inmates had a mental health problem. So if the issue is so prevalent, what can be done about it?

Why Do Inmates Need Counseling?

Many genetic, environmental, and socio-economic factors can influence a prisoner’s mental health. Inmates often need help coping with the realities of prison life and the challenges that led them to that place.

A few of the stressors a prisoner might be facing are:

  • Existing mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or schizophrenia
  • Loneliness and self-isolation
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Difficulty adjusting to prison life
  • Guilt over previous crimes or actions
  • Drug abuse
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

These are heavy topics that need to be addressed under the professional care of a counselor. Sending them back into society without the tools they need to overcome their problems may be setting them up for failure.

How Counseling Can Benefit Inmates

In 2016, over 1,000 inmates died in local jails, with suicide as the leading cause of death. This disheartening number is preventable with the right therapeutic practices in place. If every inmate had a counselor, we’d see much more positive change and growth.

Counseling can benefit inmates by offering them healthy outlets to talk and process through what they’re experiencing in prison, the traumatic events of their childhood, past mistakes, and more. The right therapies can offer inmates a better outlook on life and enable them to make positive choices for themselves moving forward.

For those struggling with substance abuse, counseling could free them from the hold of addiction. Individual counseling is an essential aspect of addiction recovery because it allows the person to work through more sensitive issues in a private setting without the scrutiny of group sessions or judgment from their peers.

Many inmates also silently struggle with co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and mental illness. And despite the high rate of prisoners with co-occurring disorders, there are few programs designed to help them.

Inmates must see themselves as capable of change. Research has found that with counseling, inmates can develop and maintain an enhanced self-image and accept personal responsibility for their actions.

An individualized treatment plan can give inmates the guidance and encouragement they need to succeed in and out of prison. Specific therapeutic techniques (like motivational interviewing, faith-based initiatives, token economy models, and medicated treatment) have been proven to provide positive results.

These attention-improving models help inmates to be more aware of themselves and others, knowing how others experience and perceive their behavior.

The Bottom Line

Prisoners need counseling for the same reasons everyone else who seeks counseling does: Some issues are too difficult to face alone, and counseling can make the way for healthy coping strategies to make positive change.

If we gave every inmate a counselor, their lives could be impacted by the ability to take control over their own lives and find solutions to problems. We could prevent recidivism and give inmates the ability to overcome struggles with crime and mental health.

Author bio: Hannah Bennett is a content specialist for AddictionResource.net, an informational guide that provides resources for those struggling with addiction and their loved ones.