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The psychological effects of incarceration: what happens in the minds of inmates?

The psychological effects of incarceration: what happens in the minds of inmates?

November 4, 2022

The fact of being imprisoned and deprived of liberty It brings with it important psychological consequences. These can develop a chain of reactions and affective, cognitive, emotional and perceptual distortions, all this caused by the emotional tension within the penitentiary environment. In addition, a capacity for adaptation and resilience is required to support the dispossession of family and own exterior symbols.

In this article we will see what are the psychological effects of incarceration , and the way in which this situation affects the minds of the inmates.

  • Related article: "The 13 types of prisons (and their psychic effects)"

The prisonalization

There is a variable called prisionalization that intervenes in the behavior of the inmates. It is the process by which a person unconsciously assumes the code of conduct and values ​​of the prison subculture as an effect of being in direct contact with it.


A differentiation can be made between a superficial prisionalization, which is the minimum necessary for a person to adapt to the prison environment, and a deep one, which would be an institutionalization. This occurs when the acquired behaviors and ideas exceed the individuality of the inmate.

On the other hand, there are factors that determine the degree of prisionalization in individuals:

  • Personality : talking about maturity, emotional intelligence, intellectual capacity, stability, etc.
  • Set of external circumstances around the person: frequency of re-entry, length of stay, type of crime and both family and personal expectations.
  • Age and cultural level : understood as personal experiences and knowledge and skills, respectively. The more experiences, knowledge and abilities you have, the more easily you adapt.

The types of criminals

Another classification about the degree to which prisonalization affects has to do with the type of offender to which it belongs:


1. Primary offender

It's your first time in prison , maintains prosocial conducts so it refuses to adhere to the prison code. Imprisonment is a great impact.

2. Occasional offender

He is an individual who does not have problems to live under the norms of the society , but in the moment that the opportunity is given, he commits some crime. Usually try to minimize the act and justify it.

3. habitual offender

Crime is like your lifestyle ; They consider that illegal activities give them greater satisfaction than legal activities. They are already completely familiar with the rules of the jail.

It could be said that the longer the time in prison, the greater the degree of prisionalization. While this may be true, it also influences the fact that the inmate knows that he will soon be released from prison and will return to society. So you can start to recover values ​​and attitudes forgotten or not applied inside the jail, to prepare for a reinsertion and recover his life .


The psychological effects of the stay in prison

Now, going to the psychological effects of the inmates, these are the following:

1. Anxiety

The level at which it appears depends on the circumstances in which the imprisonment occurs and the personality of the subject itself. They face the unknown.

2. Depersonalization

Loss of your individuality . The fact that when entering prison, you are assigned to a number, to that your person is reduced. It also becomes part of a collective rejected by society.

  • Related article: "Depersonalization and derealization: when everything seems like a dream"

3. Loss of privacy

It arises from forced coexistence with other inmates. They have little or no time to concentrate on themselves. This is aggravated when the environment is violent and your safety is at stake.

4. Low self-esteem

It is given by not fulfilling own expectations or defrauding the image that one had of itself, and by the fact of being imprisoned. But nevertheless, there are many others whose self-esteem is not adversely affected , since they feel satisfied leading a criminal life.

  • Maybe you're interested: "10 keys to increase your self-esteem in 30 days"

5. Lack of control over your own life

It occurs because of a certain inability to make personal, family or social decisions; yes there may be a margin of decision, but the range of options is not great. What is most limited is the control of the inmate before the evolution of external events. This situation causes frustration .

6. Absence of expectations

There is few expectations in the life of the inmate beyond his desire for freedom . People are conditioned by a recurring idea: all the time that was lost and the fastest way to recover it.

7. Changes in sexuality

There may be frustrations for not having the usual sexual routines , dysfunctions can appear and the normal development of an adequate practice can be blocked.

The need to understand the inmate

An analysis of personal history and vital circumstances that have led the person to commit a crime is required in order to provide an optimal therapeutic approach that takes into account all aspects of his personality. This is how the objective of the prison can be met directly: a reeducation of the lacks or lost values and a subsequent positive reintegration into society.

It is essential that there be quality intervention by professionals, specifically psychologists, to promote their social reintegration. The prison environment can affect inmates in a great way and it is important that, before they are released, they recover their positive essence, rebuild values ​​and re-encounter with themselves.

It is not enough that general proposals are made to address the issue, you have to have an individualized plan with each one since they have different personalities and needs. Even if they are criminals, they are still human beings.


PTSD, The Effects After A Lengthy Incarceration (November 2022).


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