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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.

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Correctional Insights

Why Prison Libraries Are Important to Inmates and Staff

Prison libraries, and their counterparts in other correctional facilities, are absolutely vital to fostering better outcomes for their users. Inmates rely on them for a number of reasons, including learning, entertainment, legal research and empathy-building.

For those reasons, prison libraries are hugely important to the inmates they serve. According to this paper by Vibeke Lehmann: “incarcerated persons have a large number of unmet needs, which translate into a high demand for information, learning materials, and self-improvement resources.” This high demand isn’t always self-evident, especially to those on the outside.

Some detractors may try to argue that resources shouldn’t be spent on prison libraries, and that they don’t actually make a difference for inmates or communities. But when you consider that digital options exist for many of the traditionally paper-bound library services, those arguments lose their weight.

In fact, prison libraries affect more than just inmates. According to this paper by Jayne Finlay and Jessica Bates: “The library offers a ‘positive socialization experience’, where bonds are created with other prisoners, staff members and family members.”

These positive socialization experiences are one of the most valuable outcomes a prison library can produce. Everyone benefits when connections can be formed in safe, meaningful ways. That is why prison libraries benefit inmates as well as correctional staff.

In the future, as new technologies and methods emerge, and digital libraries become increasingly common, it will be important for us all to remember the key roles that prison libraries play in the corrections environment. In doing so, we can emulate the best practices and continue to raise people to new heights.

Encartele believes that people need to hear messages like this, so we regularly produce free rehabilitative materials for public use.

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Correctional Insights

The Importance of Rehabilitative Content for Inmates

The sheer number of people who pass through the correctional system on a daily basis is staggering. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 77 million people in America have criminal records. Putting aside the fact that criminal justice in America is in need of massive reforms, our correctional institutions are missing out on a huge opportunity. Going to jail is a punishment, but it could also be an opportunity for every individual who passes through the facility. That’s why rehabilitative content for inmates is so important.

When an inmate enters a jail, they can still choose how they want to spend their time. They have fewer options, but choice is still a part of their daily existence. Frequently the choice is between escapism and self-improvement. For example, during rec time, a hypothetical inmate could either watch TV or do pushups. However, the options for rehabilitative content for inmates can be quite limited.

Many inmates (possibly even the majority) actually want to better their personal situations. They want access to group therapy, law libraries, and educational resources. Inside some institutions, rehabilitative content for inmates is in high demand, not only from inmates, but from staff members too. Content has the power to soothe, instruct and improve lives – of course correctional officers and jail administrators want inmates to have access to it. Content makes the facility safer.

The fact is, we are probably years if not decades away from reforming the mass incarceration epidemic America is currently facing. In the meantime, millions of people pass through institutions that could be offering rehabilitative content for inmates they house. Everyone benefits when this kind of content is dispersed, even the inmates who don’t need to be rehabilitated.

Where would you rather be: in a jail with other inmates who engage with positive content, or in a jail with inmates who have nothing to lose? Most people would probably prefer an environment of rehabilitation rather than senseless incarceration. By promoting rehabilitative content for inmates, we can make an immediate difference in the quality of life for millions of people.

Encartele believes rehabilitative content is critical, so we regularly produce free materials for public use. Click here to download them for free.

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Correctional Insights

Is Prison Food Adequate? What to Cook on the Inside

It goes without saying that prison food leaves a lot to be desired. A former inmate interviewed by the BBC discussed the notable difference in food quality between his two prison stints—one that took place in the 1990s and the other in the 2010s. Over time, “state budgets dropped, jail expenses increased, and more communities turned to privatized prisons. Food was one area where administrators looked to cut costs.”

Can you Cook in Prison?

Many prisoners turn to ramen-based dishes in order to make up for the lack in both quality and quantity of food in prison. Because prisoners often do not have access to a microwave, the process of cooking ramen is fairly complicated. Inmates typically cook the noodles in a bowl or garbage bag full of hot (or warm) water. Usually the bag or bowl has to be wrapped in bedding so as to retain as much heat as possible.

When making ramen in prison, many inmates add extra items to it, such as boiled eggs, mayonnaise, or pickles saved from a previous meal. Others add in items purchased from the canteen, such as chips, tuna, or rice. A Vice report into the culinary situation in prison says of the food, “For those who haven’t been inside, it may be hard to imagine how crunched-up Cheetos and hot water, moulded into something vaguely reminiscent of a tamale, could be worth the effort . But…[those] who’ve studied DIY prison recipes, say cooking meals in prison isn’t really about the taste—it’s a reminder of humanity, community, and the person you were on the outside.”

The Impact of Choice

We have previously covered the importance of choice within prison walls. Without choice, we are all likely to become prisoners to our own emotions. Unfortunately, prison takes away the element of choice for those who are incarcerated—from decisions about where to go or what to do, to basic choices about what to eat.

Instead, prisoners are forced into a highly unhealthy diet of inedible cafeteria food, ramen, and chips. Rather than let this problem continue to fester, the proactive thing to do would be to improve the food options available to inmates.

Budget cuts combined with increased costs have led prison administrators to seek economizing strategies for their facilities. This has led to a serious decrease in the quality of food served to inmates. Inmates should never be forced to seek out new ways of feeding themselves while incarcerated. This is both dehumanizing and socially immoral.

What You Can Do

Rather than ignore the current situation prisoners face when it comes to eating in prison, share this article to help raise awareness of the poor quality of prison food—such food is so bad that it can’t be ignored.

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Correctional Insights

My Mother is in Jail – What’s Next?

Having a parent go to jail can be an extremely traumatizing experience for a child. Whether it’s the mother or father, the negative effects of parental incarceration touch every area of a child’s life. Criminal justice expert Eric Martin states the following:

“Children of incarcerated parents face profound and complex threats to their emotional, physical, educational, and financial well-being.”

When a child’s parent is jailed, Martin states that the child is highly likely to become a “hidden victim” of the criminal justice system. Often these children do not have access to support or even acknowledgement.

Despite the fact that many children suffer from the same post-crime issues as direct victims do, they don’t have the same institutional support. Generally, these hidden victims do not benefit from the societal assistance systems typically available to direct crime victims.

Parent-Child Communication

In the past, we have discussed how important it is for jail administrators to encourage and facilitate visits between children and their mother or father who is in jail. Such visits can have a profound effect when it comes to mitigating the potential negative effects felt by children of incarcerated parents.

In fact, research by the Urban Institute shows that a child who visits his or her mother or father in jail is less likely to feel abandoned and anxious. Instead, visits in a child-friendly setting with appropriate emotional preparation can promote emotional security and have a positive effect on kids.

However, single one-off visits aren’t likely to modify behavior long-term. Consistent communication with parental figures is crucial for every child. It helps their brains develop, and their interpersonal skills grow. The more opportunities a child has to speak with their incarcerated parent, the better.

The Unseen Victim

As a society, we must also put in place a social safety net to help catch these children. Our country has to stop willfully ignoring these kids in the Criminal Justice reform conversation. In order for that to happen, we need to talk about the problems they face.

We can’t allow this victimization to continue. Our country must ensure that children of incarcerated parents have access to the resources they need. Both physical and emotional resources are vitally important. Access to the systems designed to protect direct victims of crime are also important. Now is the time to support the unseen victims of crime: children.

In order to combat the profoundly negative effects rooted in parental incarceration, we need to raise awareness of the problem. When a child’s mother or father is jailed, that child faces a range of problems that are not his or her fault. Far too few people understand this fact, especially in government.

How You Can Help

Society can do better for these children. Rather than continue to ignore the problem, share this article today to help raise awareness. Your voice matters, and change can only happen when society demands it.