The Mental Health of the Incarcerated

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The concept of mental health refers to a general state of well being where individuals can effectively realize their full abilities, potential, productivity and fruitfulness. It is marked by the absence of mental disorder and general ability to cope up with normal stresses of life. This is also demonstrated through healthy expression of emotions and effective adaptation to a wide range of demands in a social environment. On the other hand, incarceration refers to the act of subjecting an individual or group of people to imprisonment, confinement, detention or restriction. In this context the incarcerated, therefore, refer to those who are subjected to any form of incarceration. Several scholarly researches and surveys reveal that incarceration has a number of effects on mental health of those who are subjected to the act whether rightfully or by fault (Hanlon, Carswell & Rose, 2007).

Literature Review

Ariga and his co-authors conducted a research from the Japanese juvenile system and came up with a number of findings. After interviewing a total of 64 incarcerated girls, the research realized that 77% of this number was going through traumatic mental disorder. The research also showed that 33 % of the sample was experiencing post-traumatic stress illness alongside other mental disorders like depression. In their reaction to this, they came up with a recommendation of an intervention to such a scenario. For them, a serious diagnosis of these trauma related problems has to be conducted in good time followed by effective treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders. If this is not managed, then a high sense of PTSD was foreseen (Ariga et al,, 2008).

On separate study, Covington (2005) affirmed that trauma is the most common consequence of incarceration of children. To address this, he recommended that there is a need to establish post incarceration rehabilitation centers which are well-staffed with knowledgeable social workers who can provide effective, relevant and contextual therapies to such victims (Covington, 2005).

In a research conducted by Arditti, Lambert & Joest (2003) it was established that incarceration can lead to serious mental disorders. As criminal justice experts with Virginia’s Department of Human Development, their scope of research was not only limited to incarcerate children, but also included the affected family members. In their approach, they conducted a study with an aim of investigating the mental health challenges that were faced by parents and children whose family members are incarcerated. They also widened their scope beyond the mental health factors and incorporated other social and economic challenges. Therefore, in their findings, they found that members of such families suffer from a variety of challenges including stress, family conflicts, social stigma as well as family conflicts which traumatized the incarcerated even further (Arditti, Lambert-Shute, & Joest, 2003).

For Hanlon, Carswell & Rose (2007), incarceration of adults make their children the most vulnerable to mental disorders. Risk evaluation also discovered that children whose mothers are incarcerated are at higher risk. This is based on the fact that in the absence of mothers, grandmothers take up the motherhood responsibility in order to raise up children (Hanlon, Carswell, & Rose, 2007). The psychological torture that the children go through renders them more vulnerable to other psychological defects than ever before. Thus, there is a need to consider the psychological effects of incarceration before they are rolled out and implemented. Sustaining these programs must consider how the risk of psychological crises can be dealt with as they serve their incarceration terms.

From a comparative approach on the same subject, Grogan and co- authors argue that male children are more vulnerable to incarceration than their female counterparts. As a result of this, they recommended that effective preventive measures should be non-reliance on criminal behaviors and put more emphasis on male children (Grogan et al., 2008). However, Pasko who is a juvenile justice specialist is of contrary opinion to Grogan and his colleagues. For him, girls are more prone to incarceration than boys. Moreover, he supports his argument by the fact that girls are more exposed to unique troubles that are likely to lead them to criminal activities. Furthermore, the connection between the offender and the victim also puts female at greater risk (Pasko, 2008).

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Hipwell and Loeber (2006) also made a similar observation in relation to incarceration of girls. Although they did not rank the rate of incarceration of girls higher than boys, they acknowledged that delinquency of girls is on a higher increase. These also lead to relationship dysfunctions, insufficient parenting skills and other mental disorders (Hipwell & Loeber, 2006). Wheeler and Peterson (2008) also conducted a survey on the same topic, but from a different dimension. Their main concern was to investigate both personal and communal challenges that former incarcerates face after their incorporation in the society. In their findings, incarcerates are likely to experience difficulty in fitting into the normal order of society after release. As a result of this, they recommended that social workers should conduct pre-release training to detainees hence prepare them on modalities of re- incorporation into the society (Wheeler & Patterson, 2008).


Incarceration has been revealed as one of the causes of mental health disorders. Most of the scholarly researches that have been conducted focus more on the effects of incarceration on female children and mothers. For instance, a review of Japanese juvenile system revealed that incarcerated girls are likely to suffer from traumatic mental disorders both as offenders and victims. Furthermore, when female parents are incarcerated, children suffer more because of improper upbringing. The scopes of these consequences are far reaching and interrelated. When a member of a family is incarcerated, the rest of the society is exposed to economic, social, mental and psychological challenge.