Online Program

Trauma within the jail and prison environment: The effects of incarceration on men's mental health

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Anne Bozack, MPH, Center for Evaluation and Applied Research, The New York Academy of Medicine, New York, NY
Erin Palmer, MS, Palladia, Inc., New York, NY
Diane Bonavota, CSW, Palladia, Inc., New York, NY
Linda Weiss, PhD, Center for Evaluation and Applied Research, The New York Academy of Medicine, New York, NY
Background: The prevalence of mental health problems is disproportionately high among jail and prison inmates. Over half of inmates have a recent history or symptoms of mental health problems, but less than one-third receive treatment while incarcerated. Research suggests that mental health problems may worsen during incarceration; however, there is a lack of understanding of the effect of the correctional environment on mental health and inmates' perceptions of trauma. Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted as part of a mixed-methods evaluation of a trauma-specific intervention for homeless men with substance abuse and a history of trauma. Participants were receiving residential or outpatient substance abuse treatment at Palladia. Interviews focused on participant background, drug use, and history and perceptions of incarceration. Interview notes were coded and analyzed using pre-identified themes and themes emerging from the data. Results: Participants (N=21) described experiencing acute and chronic trauma during incarceration. Acute trauma included interpersonal violence inflicted by inmates or correctional officers (“Violence became normal procedure”), and inadequate medical treatment. Chronic trauma included feelings of loneliness or fear, separation from family, and the effects of solitary confinement (“You walk around in circles like a caged animal”). A small subset of participants reported being unaffected or desensitized by their prison experience. However, most described experiencing multiple traumas with prolonged effects on their mental wellbeing (“You're damaging what you're gonna let back into society”). Conclusions: Findings suggest that the jail and prison environment is associated with significant traumas and may negatively impact on the mental health of inmates.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe acute and chronic traumas commonly experienced by inmates in the jail and prison environment. Explain the effect of trauma during incarceration on inmates’ readiness to reenter society. Discuss the potential role of the correctional system in addressing trauma experienced by inmates and providing sufficient mental health treatment to prepare inmates for reentry.

Keyword(s): Incarceration, Mental Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an Evaluation Project Director of interventions focusing on chronic diseases, mental health, and health disparities throughout New York City and New York State. I work closely with community-based organizations and health care providers to design and implement program evaluations and applied research and disseminate findings to multiple stakeholders.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.