Serving a prison sentence is a life experience that cannot be compared with many outside the prison walls. Prison has its own culture, characterised by heightened alertness to attack and aggression, and a hardening of emotion in order to adapt. Release from prison demands the ex-prisoner rejoin society, often with very little preparation for what the outside world expects of him. Adjusting to freedom and to the demands and expectations of other people can be difficult. The U.S. Department of Justice supports a Prisoner Reentry Initiative to help inmates to reintegrate back into a productive, non-offending lifestyle.
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Relapse into Addiction
Whether a prisoner has an addiction prior to sentencing or not, she is vulnerable to becoming addicted to drugs while serving her sentence. According to a 2009 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "addicted persons will experience challenges to their sobriety through multiple stressors that increase their risk of relapsing to drug use." After release, some prisoners must spend time in a halfway house that may house people with alcohol and drug addictions. Being outside of the prison routine can provoke anxiety, which the ex-prisoner may try to mask with drugs and alcohol.
The prisoner's family may or may not have stayed involved in a supportive way while he has been in prison. If the former prisoner's relationship survives the sentence, it is still vulnerable to breaking down when he is released, as he gets used to living in a domestic setting with family members again, and adapting to their routine. It is difficult to make the transition from isolation in prison to being with family again on release. A Fall 2010 article in "The Future of Children," research shows "that incarceration contributes to family break-up and adds to the deficits of poor children."
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The prisoner may have been a victim of violence, rape or other traumas while serving her sentence. She will have had to defend herself, either passively or actively, against chaotic personalities around her. This can often leave the prisoner with post-traumatic stress disorder after release. Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterised by traumatic memories and flashbacks, emotional numbing or episode of anxiety and depression, difficuties managing mood and behaviour, and problems with normal daily activities such as eating and sleeping. An article by violence and addictions expert Terence T. Gorski explains that it can be "caused by constant fear of abuse from both correctional staff and other inmates."
Former prisoners often need counselling and therapy for long periods of time to readapt to living in society after serving a prison sentence. An ex-offender may have thoughts of not deserving to belong in society, not feeling equal to others, or no longer being able to recognise himself. According to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, low self-esteem and disorientation is are "typical after prison" and can make the ex-prisoner vulnerable to reoffending.
Difficulty Finding Employment
There is a huge stigma associated with people who have served time in prison. Resettlement support helps prisoners to find work before they leave prison, but some may have difficulty keeping a job while others may have difficulty finding a job. Ex-prisoners with high-level skills and abilities may end up working in menial jobs because they are discriminated against if they apply for anything higher. Others may find that they have become deskilled while serving their sentence. The Georgia State Pardons and Paroles explains that "prison punishes the offender but does not teach him or her how to deal successfully with society."
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- "A Comprehensive Study of Female Offender"; Urbina; 2008
- "Doing Time"; Matthews; 1999
- "JAMA"; Treating Drug Abuse and Addiction in the Criminal Justice System; Redonna K. Chandler, et al.; 2009
- "The Future of Children": Incarceration in Fragile Families; Christopher Wildeman, et al.; Fall 2010
- The Addiction Website of Terence T. Gorski: Post Incarceration Syndrome and Relapse
- Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles: Frequently Asked Questions