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Correctional Insights

Can Jail Cause PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder normally thought of as something that only affects soldiers and military members coming back from a stressful deployment. In fact, PTSD can affect anyone who has gone through some terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Because a stint in jail can include repeated traumatic events and habitual stress, inmates are at a greater risk of developing the disorder. 

Trauma from Jail Time

Research cited by promisesbehavioralhealth.com states that “African American men who had been incarcerated were two times as likely as those who had never been to prison to have PTSD. Thirteen percent of the men with PTSD had been in prison, while less than 8% who had never been incarcerated struggled with the disorder.”

Unfortunately, this higher rate of PTSD could explain why inmates experience so many problems adjusting to life outside of prison. Issues like unemployment, suicide, domestic violence, assaults, substance abuse often affect people with PTSD. As a result, PTSD and the problems that come along with it could be a key part of recidivism.

What Causes PTSD?

Crime isn’t always traceable back to a single choice. Similarly, most of the research about the link between prison and PTSD can’t pinpoint the exact causes of the disorder. Prison is full of variables. Plenty of inmates across the nation probably have short sentences and see very little of what causes PTSD. In addition, our brains adapt and function in a variety of ways, and we all respond differently to stress.

That being said, a number of stressful events can trigger the disorder. They are:

  • Physical Assault
  • Sexual Assault
  • Observing Murder
  • Observing a near-death experience

How to Help

According to newsmedical.net, in order for prisoners to deal with PTSD, they need “to understand the trauma in the right light.” Some inmates may be harboring background traumas, or events in the past that are shaping their present. Mental health experts need to resolve these past traumas as soon as possible.

“[A]voidance, stress levels, depression, self-blame and anger” all can affect inmates troubled by PTSD. As a result, inmates can benefit by learning controlled breathing techniques and by improving their coping habits.

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Correctional Insights

How did the Government Shutdown Affect Inmates?

Regardless of your political view, the government shutdown had serious implications for federal workers around the country. However, it wasn’t only federal employees who felt the impact of the government shutdown, but inmates as well. So let’s discuss the effects:

Short-Staffed

The problems that inmates experience during a shutdown stem from short-staffed prisons. During a shutdown, the Bureau of Prisons only allows employees to continue working if their duties involve “the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

According to The Marshall Project, up to half of the Bureau of Prisons’ staff was furloughed during this past shutdown—the longest shutdown in U.S. history. The remaining employees were asked to keep working unpaid and focus on maintaining security.

Local jails also often receive funding from the government to house federal inmates, and they too felt the impact.

So how does this affect inmates?

Many social visits for inmates were cancelled because of a lack of staff. Being able to keep up with communication to friends and family members helps inmates build and maintain relationships and reduces recidivism. Its importance cannot be understated; check out this previous Encartele article on the subject.

Arguably, more important is an inmate’s ability to be able to meet with their legal aid. The Bureau of Prisons confirmed to the criminal justice journalism team, The Appeal, that this had happened in Brooklyn and Manhattan. When a lawyer isn’t allowed to meet with their client, it can delay court proceedings and sentencing, extending the amount of custody time.

Applications that inmates filed for “compassionate release,” often went unread during the shutdown. Compassionate release is a process that is eligible to inmates who have special humanitarian circumstances, like terminal illness. These people do not have time to wait around. They want to be able to get home as soon as possible and spend their remaining days with their loved ones.

Inmates in varying situations were deprived of educational classes, library access and programs, as well as transfers and visits with mental-health professionals.

Though it was denied by the Bureau of Prisons, The New York Times reported that some prisoners went on hunger strikes, protesting the cuts that their facilities faced.

The government shutdown directly affected inmates who were unable to do anything to change their circumstances.

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Recidivism

The Importance of Consistent Communication

Anyone who has a family member or friend who is or has been incarcerated knows the struggle and the frustration associated with the behavior of the inmate.

Whether a short term stay or a lengthy sentence, those incarcerated are serving time for breaking the law. That behavior is a thorn in the side of every loved one—a thorn that can lead to a lack of empathy, a lack of patience and a lack of communication in their relationship with the inmate.

While those feelings aren’t uncommon and, in most cases, are justified, people who are incarcerated need consistent communication, empathy and patience, if their loved ones want to see them reenter society with lower recidivism rates than other inmates.

Communication Breakdown

In their research article on recidivism, Matthew A. Koschmann and Brittany L. Peterson argued that many reentry efforts focus primarily on traditional signs of reoffending, rather than on what is actually to blame for that recidivism. In other words, the focus is on continued criminal behavior, violations to parole and compliance with treatment requirements, but not on communication.

According to the pair, “the underlying cause is a communication breakdown of being cut off from networks and meaningful relationships that provide the necessary social capital needed for successful reintegration.”

A parent, spouse, sibling, other family member or good friend needs to continue offering consistent communication to the inmate throughout their sentence. Even better, a network of people who care for the incarcerated individual and want to see them succeed upon release need to work at consistent communication with the inmate to ensure their relationship with the individual stays strong. Deep ties to family and friends help an inmate to walk away from people and situations that don’t have their best interests in mind.

Prison staff should also strive for consistent communication with inmates. However, their style of communication must be different than the support offered by families. Staff have a responsibility to uphold an impartial, professional, and uncompromising relationship with the incarcerated population.

While staff want to see an inmate succeed in reentry and likely have some great advice to share with the inmate along the way, their relationship with any single inmate should be a sterile one.

This is important to remember, because, in some cases, staff relationships are all an inmate has for communication. Staff relationships do not offer the strong, deep ties to family and friends that will see them through difficult situations upon reentry.

Overall Importance of Relationships

According to an Evidence-Based Professionals Society article by Timothy Daty, “When examining recidivism, the study of family relationships is often a key component in predicting repeat criminal behavior among formerly incarcerated individuals. Research suggests that strong family ties produce lasting impacts among this population and often deter future incidents of crime (Bales and Mears, 2008).”

Consistent communication is an important factor in life, whether behind bars or not.

Kathy Miller, a caregiver coordinator who works with the elderly, wrote, “Our ability to communicate thoughts and feelings to those around us helps us to maintain our sense of identity, and is an integral part of maintaining our quality of life.”

She may have been referring to people suffering from Alzheimer’s, but the sentiment remains true to all facets of life. Communication is a key factor in our psychological well-being—something that can warp and disappear very quickly behind bars.

Keeping consistent communication with an incarcerated individual is easier said than done in many cases, as the pressures of prison can be extremely overwhelming, especially in the beginning.

The Roadblocks

There is pressure for inmates to find a group, to assert themselves or blend in, to maintain their independence or embrace the regulatory nature of prison. That pressure is a weight all inmates must carry, and it’s significant.

Inmates face strict regulations on items they can own, the amount of time spent out of their cell, and what they are allowed to eat, which can cause frustration. They also are surrounded by other inmates, some of whom have no desire to grow beyond their poor decisions and cultivate healthy relationships and success in life.

Break the rules, and the few privileges an inmate has will vanish. That includes phone time and in some cases receiving mail, depending on the severity of the infraction. Keeping those communication lines open is vital.

Being part of the support system for an inmate who regularly lands in trouble may put a damper on your relationship, but family members and friends should maintain consistent communication in spite of that, for the benefit of everyone.

According to a Prison Legal News article by Alex Friedmann, “studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.”

While a family member or friend can’t be forced to have consistent communication with an inmate, the opportunity is always there. More and more jails today have various forms of telecommunication for inmates, whether it be video visitation, phones or secure email.

The fact is, making the choice to keep up with your incarcerated loved ones directly affects their likelihood of getting out of jail—and staying out.

Categories
Recidivism

Back to Work: Why it’s Hard to Hire Former Inmates

Inescapably, one of the first questions asked when you meet someone is: “So, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?” The answer seems to define who you are as a person: I am a doctor, or I am a lawyer, or I flip burgers at that fast food joint, etc.

Of course, what we do is not the only thing that defines us. We are each unique and complex individuals, with varying situations, pasts and dreams. But that question is always there—looming—“What do you do?”

Finding a good job, a job which defines you, can be difficult. Sometimes finding any job can be difficult. And finding work, when you were formerly an inmate, can be very difficult.

There are a number of reasons why getting a job can be difficult for former inmates. One of the biggest reasons is employers.

Employers and Former Inmates

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which deals with unlawful employment practices, does not prohibit employers from asking questions about your criminal history.

There is no law which forces an employer to ignore a job applicant’s criminal history, even though that individual has completed their sentence and paid their debt to society. A large percentage of employers do discriminate against those with criminal records even if they claim not to.

A 2004 study, by Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll, found that over 40 percent of the employers they surveyed would “probably not” or “definitely not” hire an applicant with a criminal record. A large percentage of surveyed employers said it “depends.” The study also found that the companies which were most willing to hire former inmates tended to offer unskilled jobs that had high turn-over rates and little customer contact.

Since 2004, the unemployment rate has dropped considerably and the prison population has increased, and, because of this, more and more reports are finding that pulling from the former inmate pool is the way to go. That doesn’t change the fact that former inmates have a much harder time finding work than others.

According to a 2017 study, among the five million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States, 27 percent are unemployed–over five times the national unemployment rate for 2017.

Employers are often hesitant about hiring former inmates, and, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, the ones which are willing to do so are far more likely to hire those who had committed substance-related crimes rather than financial, violent or sexual crimes.

So, what can a former inmate do to have a better chance at getting a job? Same as anyone: nail the interview.

Preparing for the Post-Prison Interview

In an interview, employers, as with anyone, are looking for good references, a solid performance record and training in relevant skills—all things which are difficult to obtain while incarcerated. But not impossible.

Pre-prison employment experience is something which will help an inmate when reentering the work force. In a 2008 brief, the Urban Institute surveyed a large number of former inmates and found that 70 percent had held a job for at least one year prior to entering prison.

While that experience is helpful, former inmates are still going to have to explain why there is a large gap in their employment history. The 30 percent who did not have employment prior to being incarcerated will have an even harder time. That is why in-prison programs and work release options are in place.

Former inmates must give an honest account for their time in prison to a potential employer. The National Institute of Justice has found that, while giving this honest account, it is good to have some prepared things to say.

An applicant should be able to acknowledge the factors that led to their criminality and describe how the prison experience has made them stronger and better able to contribute to society. They should acknowledge responsibility for their past and demonstrate a commitment to change.

Along with heartfelt contrition, having taken the initiative to be a part of a work program does show an employer that a former inmate is committed to changing their life. Educational programs are also often available to inmates, which can aid an inmate in finding work after release.

Any certificates, diplomas, documents demonstrating completion of training, workshops or seminars which were obtained in prison are helpful and should be clearly listed on a resume.

How Technology Helps Inmates

Expanding and strengthening a social network is very important for former inmates seeking employment. Family members, former co-workers, parole officers, social services providers, and acquaintances without criminal records can all assist in an inmate’s job-search, not to mention make for solid references.

Telecommunication infrastructure in jails can make a big difference here.

Prison communication technologies aid inmates in maintaining those relationships with their social network, and in the future, job postings could be sourced from online job boards and filled out by inmates before they’ve even completed their sentence.

So much of the job searching process today requires familiarity with computers and the internet. Applicants will have to do things like create email accounts, use search engines and job search sites, fill out electronic forms, and format both resumes and cover letters. The fact is, many jobs now require some working computer-use knowledge.

Even so, incarceration could provide the computer-training resources inmates need in order to be viable members of the workforce.

Gaining certification in various areas can also be accomplished by inmates online. Prisons often do not offer college courses, and some do not even offer work options or GED programs. However, there’s no reason why this can’t change.

Prisoneducation.com has compiled a list of over 35 college correspondence programs which allow prisoners to enroll. Not only does college education help inmates in finding a job, but it gives them a chance to find a job doing something they really want to do.

According to the 2008 Urban Institute brief, there is research which suggests “finding and maintaining a legitimate job can reduce former prisoners’ chances of reoffending, and the higher the wage, the less likely it is that individuals will return to crime.”

Former inmates should also prepare themselves for the reality of the situation; they will probably receive a lot of rejection and disappointment. But with preparation, contrition, tenacity and courage, inmates can find placement after incarceration.

Categories
Tips & Facts

What is Voting in Jail Like?

The past midterm election brought voters to the polls in huge numbers. In fact, voter turnout for the 2018 midterms was over 50 percent of the voting-eligible population, which is the highest voter turnout for a midterm election in over a century.

But for a significant portion of U.S. citizens, voting wasn’t an option.

Voting in jail is a right mainly granted to inmates convicted of misdemeanors, or those who currently reside in pre-trial detention. Many states revoke a Felon’s right to vote, and that fact has sparked much debate.

Should Prisoners Vote?

The general idea behind inmate disenfranchisement is that if prisoners vote, then those who have broken the law will be able to shape and change the laws to their liking. The majority of Americans do not believe that voting in jail is a right that should be given to all inmates.

However, there has been a growing trend in recent decades to reinstate voting rights for former inmates. According to a Cambridge study only 31 percent of Americans endorse allowing people currently in prison to vote, while 60 percent favor allowing those who have exited prison to vote.

One of the highlights of this past midterm was the approved Florida Amendment 4. This amendment was written to “automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole and probation.”

ProCon.org explains that only two states currently extend full voting rights to those with felony convictions (Maine and Vermont). In these states, voting rights are guaranteed even while the citizen is in prison.

The majority of states allow voting rights to be granted back to released prisoners after both the completion of their sentence plus parole/probation. However, sometimes additional action (like a Governor’s pardon) is required to regain voting rights. In addition, there are 10 states in which felons lose their vote permanently (NV, WY, AZ, IA, KY, TN, MS, AL, FL, DE).

Because these rules are so different from state to state, many inmates may hear conflicting messages regarding their ability to vote. Some may not even bother trying to figure out their eligibility, let alone the specific procedures required to do so from their incarceration facility.

An Informed Voting Base

Take the case of Dustin Cordova of Denver CO who said, “I didn’t know I could vote, period, because I had been in jail for felonies.”

According to the local Channel 4 CBS Denver news, Cordova had served his time for his past felonies and didn’t know that he could vote while in jail for other charges. The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition had to provide Cordova with information before he knew that he could vote in the 2018 midterm.

Information is extremely important when it comes to voting, especially when voting in a correctional environment, where information doesn’t flow as freely.

And though there are jails that make the effort to inform inmates when they are able to vote, sometimes that information is not available to inmates. According to the Oregon Public Broadcasting group, a 2016 investigation by Disability Rights Washington “found that only a handful of Washington state’s 38 county jails have a policy for letting inmates vote and few of those facilities actually follow those procedures.” This resulted in thousands of eligible voters being wrongfully disenfranchised.

The accessibility of information for prisoners — sometimes provided through communication with outside human rights groups — is essential to insuring that eligible voters know if voting in jail is possible for them.

Eligibility is only half of the inmate-voting question, however.

In order to be an informed voter, a person has to be exposed to the issues and the positions of the available candidates. This requires research on the part of the voter, and non-biased research is commonly conducted by visiting a library, reading the news, or by searching on the internet.

Unsurprisingly, internet access is often very limited for inmates.

Technology and the Voter

In a past blog post, we stressed the importance of inmates maintaining contact with their family and friends. It’s good for the inmates, their families, and society at large because consistent communication reduces recidivism.

Likewise, ensuring that eligible inmates have all the information they need to vote is also a public good.

The decisions that are made during elections have long-lasting effects. That being the case, many inmates want to be sure that their interests and the interests of their children are recognized.

Remember Dustin Cordova? Knowing that he could vote in jail not only surprised him, it also gave him a sense of responsibility. Channel 4 CBS Denver reported Cordova saying, “My kids are growing up, and I can have an input into their future so it was a shocker to know that I could vote.”

Whatever side of the inmate-voting debate you fall on, it’s vitally important that our nation’s incarceration facilities can deliver what the law requires. Should a state require substantive voting access for inmates, Encartele will be there ready to help jails and prisons provide it.