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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

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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Tips & Facts

Mental Health & the American Jail

“You can’t do anything right. You don’t matter to anyone. You’re worthless.”

Mental illness can be its own prison. When it’s your own mind making you feel trapped and hopeless, the difference between reality and fiction can begin to blur.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness.”

It’s incredibly likely that someone you know or meet will have experienced a mental illness at one point in their life. While there are organizations and individuals helping to de-stigmatize mental illness and champion mental health awareness, it’s still taboo and tough to openly discuss.

Asking for help can feel like the hardest possible course of action, but even when people do ask, access to mental health services can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

Now imagine trying to deal with these issues while being incarcerated.

Mental Health in American Jails

The Bureau of Justice Statistics published a report concerning mental health problems, finding that “…more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem, including 705,600 inmates in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons, and 479,900 in local jails.”

These staggering figures reveal a tremendous problem. More than one million Inmates across the country must adjust to incarceration while dealing with their inner turmoil.

Offering more education and counseling programs could help afflicted inmates. Having a GED program or small-group meetings (like the ones used in Alcoholics Anonymous) could curb symptoms of mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. Learning about other people who have experienced similar hardships is a great way to set a person’s mind at ease.

In addition, discussing personal experiences with a therapist could also make the adjustment less harsh. Therapy and counseling carry the stigma of only being for people who have a “real” problem, but why not make services available to all inmates? Having a mental illness does not make inmates more hostile or any less human.

It’s important to think about these possible treatment options because many people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their mental health problems.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that people who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder consumed 69 percent of all the alcohol consumed nationwide, along with 84 percent of the consumed cocaine and 68 percent of the consumed cigarettes. This validates the theory that substance abuse and other addictions are used as a coping mechanism for dealing with mental illness.

In a Boston Globe article by members of the Spotlight team, “The Harvard-led Boston Reentry Study found in 2014 that inmates with a mix of mental illness and addiction are significantly less likely than others to find stable housing, work income, and family support in the critical initial period after leaving prison…” These risk factors directly affect an individual’s ability to resist criminal influences and escape the cycle of recidivism.

What can we do to help those with mental health disorders post-incarceration?

Outside Treatment Options

Currently, the criminal justice systems lack rehabilitation options for those on their way out of jails. Though there are transition programs in every state, funding and participation are huge factors in whether a program will endure.

Re-entry programs help to combat post-incarceration syndrome, but don’t necessarily assist in finding counseling options for ex-offenders. One reason that felons re-offend is because they fall into the same patterns and groups they were involved with pre-incarceration. But recidivism will decrease if inmates are prepared for the outside world.

Continuing therapy post-incarceration and offering community engagement opportunities could ease the isolation that comes with being released. Giving ex-offenders a purpose or place in society could make the difference as to whether or not they re-offend.

Using Technology for Mental Health in Prison

Video-chatting and live-streaming have become prevalent forms of inmate communication for many counties. Some correctional facilities now offer video visitation services and that can be used to help inmates dealing mental illness.

Offering a way to live chat with a therapist could be another incentive to acquiring such technologies. Inmates lose touch with the outside world during incarceration, and providing a way to stay connected could decrease their feelings of isolation. If the feeling of isolation increases anxiety and worsens depression in normal people, the effects must be exceptionally strong in a prison or jail.

Correctional facilities house many inmates who have mental illness and providing solutions like therapy and video visitation can help combat these emotions. Live video-chatting offers a way for inmates to connect with a therapist on the outside who could possibly help them post-incarceration.

Unfortunately, there is no “best” way to mitigate every mental illness, but providing options like therapy or video visitation in a correctional facility would be excellent first steps.