PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF INCARCERATION

Punishment has become a need in order to bring decorum in society but sometimes it comes with a cost- mental, physical and social- depending on the nature of the crime.

Incarceration is a method of controlling one’s disposition of relining to their old tracks and emphasizing rehabilitation. But today, incarceration is a method of dehumanizing, which elevates the situation into a dire need to introspect. The prisoners suffer from mental illness and find it hard to cope with the post-prison lifestyle.



Identity crisis:

Most of the prisoners are usually impaired of identity when they are confined for a longer period of time, and the imprisonment period leaves them without any sense of belonging.

The way they are addressed in the confinement also takes a major toll on them as they begin to associate themselves with numbers, leaving aside all the inherent charisma of an individual.


Development of unhealthy emotions:

Whatsoever the crime, a prisoner is always on a lookout which doesn’t give much scope for escape, hence the victim gets instilled with fear and develops hypervigilance. This further affects the movement and regular functioning of an individual.

A prison’s environment is potentially dangerous because it invites exploitation. A prison administrator once wrote, “Prison is a barely controlled jungle where the aggressive and the strong will exploit the weak, and the weak are dreadfully aware of it.” This causes the prisoner to be in constant fear which might persuade them to end their life or to remain recluse, such people are also categorized as “prison mask.” These people undergo both emotional and behavioural crisis and choose to remain withdrawn from social interactions.

They find company in isolation and are disconnected from others. Self-imposed isolation could encourage them to lean on themselves. In worst cases, they would lose the capacity to initiate their behaviour and finally reach the initial stages of clinical depression.


Internal conditions:

The prison environment also plays a major role in shaping their behaviours. They sometimes live in cramped and small spaces which vitiates their primary privacy right. The government doesn’t want to spend their resources on “a negative exercise, whose benefits are dubious”. Hence, the authorities should manage the existing facilities.

Since they remain socially deprived and lose out all sense of expression, they gradually become hypersensitive to any stimuli. During my school days, as a part of the special activities club, I had an opportunity to visit the Central jail which served as an alibi to the environment they live in. It truly had the potential of impacting the psychology of a person. My interaction with a mother of a 3-year-old stood out as I began to visualize the mental trauma and the upbringing of the child.

These children usually become resilient to pain and ameliorate as rebels who are not given the privilege to nurture moral ethics. The prison authorities must aim to avoid such instances.


Police brutality:

Prison must be a space for rehabilitation and not a mental asylum. The police brutality against those who are incarcerated or held under trial is horrendous. They have succumbed to inexpressible torture which damages them completely. Hence, when they come into contact with the free world, they are unable to adapt to the pace, build a family or start a journey of their own. Most of the time, people accused of a crime that they aren’t guilty of, have to go through this process as well.

There is no room for emotional connection or affection as the degraded living conditions reiterates them of the deprived social life. This sort of confinement encourages them to compromise their social status, diminish their worth, internalize the circumstances further leading to self-deprecation.


Need for the betterment of prisons:

Prisons, as said before, must be a place where the prisoner doesn’t leave deranged but can readjust to the free society as a better human. Many Scandinavian countries run after the model that “if you treat prisoners like animals, they will act like animals.” Hence, they have structures which help the prisoner grow out of their old habits.

Indian prisons must focus on life after incarceration which will mitigate the emotional impact of the inmates. The staff must employ empathy and not have a cavalier attitude towards one of their own.

Lastly, the government needs to look into every matter without remaining oblivious to the needs of its people. It is the responsibility of everyone to unite and ameliorate every inmate into a responsible citizen.

- Persis Jeyakumar