Auburn criminologist explains how prison conditions affect mental health

Auburn criminologist explains how prison conditions affect mental health

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More than two million people are imprisoned in the United States – a 500% increase over just 40 years ago. As prisons are overcrowded across the country, and incarcerated individuals suffer from mental illnesses, it is increasingly important to understand the impact of prison environments. Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology Timothy EdgemonHis most recent work, “Prisoner Mental Health and Prison Pain,” examines the individual effects of prison conditions and suggests ways to improve mental health outcomes.

What do we know about the relationship between prison and mental health?

Previous research has examined how prison itself can cause mental health problems, but I have tried to separate the different aspects of imprisonment. It looked at how different conditions of confinement affected mental health differently, and they affected different aspects of mental health differently.

As prison overcrowding increases, this leads to a higher average rate of depression and hostility for people incarcerated in those prisons. People in prisons with less overcrowding experience less depression and less hostility, and therefore as overcrowding increases, the mental health effects also increase.

A higher proportion of prison work assignments are associated with negative mental health reductions. Since people inside prison have the ability or choice to participate in work activities, this appears to improve their mental health on average.

Prisons with a high security level are associated with increased depression. Another interesting finding in this study is that lack of access to television increases hostility.

Why should prison conditions be studied from a social perspective?

People go to jail as punishment, no for punishment. Nobody wants to deprive him of his freedom. This is the punishment.

When we talk about prison conditions and incarceration conditions, they are things like overcrowding, exposure to violence or being victimized while in prison. All this added to the punishment that was imposed on you. It is simply not the original purpose of the prison.

The second reason I think we should be concerned about that is because to the extent that conditions of incarceration affect people and affect their mental health and cause negative effects on people, most people who are serving a prison sentence will be released back into society. .

Previous research has shown us that people who go to prison and develop psychological problems because of or in connection with imprisonment have worse outcomes when released. They are unable to find housing, cannot find work, and are likely to return to prison. We should be concerned about it from an individual human perspective, but we should also be concerned about it from a societal perspective. How does this negatively affect our society and our communities?

What do you suggest prisons do to improve the mental health of inmates?

What this research suggests and what previous research suggests is that we should think very seriously about how incarceration conditions affect people. I think that tends to get lost, so we should really think about how the environmental conditions of the prison translate into real impacts on the individuals incarcerated there.

Specifically, how can we improve those environmental conditions? There are many ways. Obviously the more expensive ways are to add more prison beds to reduce overcrowding, or you can add more wings to the prison or you can build new prisons to reduce overcrowding. I don’t necessarily think this is the best way to do it. You can build more prisons or add more beds, but you can also take out prisoners, so you can divert more people away from prisons. Reimagining other methods of punishment is important to reduce overcrowding, and ultimately reduce the environmental concerns of the prison, but this is a comprehensive adjustment of the picture.

One of the things I pointed out in the study is that just adding more recreational opportunities in prison and not using them as a means of control would be beneficial. And even things like resetting work priorities, introducing more work assignments or increasing the number of programs available to people will help. But again, it comes back to the issue of financing and back to the issue of overcrowding. Because if your prison is very overcrowded, you are limited to how much you can offer for those programs.

Listen to the full conversation with Edgemon on Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know Podcast.


About Timothy Edgemon:
Timothy Edgemon is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work in the College of Arts. His research examines the links between criminal justice and health outcomes at the individual and societal levels. His current research focuses on the relationship between prison conditions, post-release mental health outcomes, and recidivism rates.

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