Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Incarceration

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Incarceration 

 People enter into the prison system beaten battered and bruised by life. Trauma isn’t new for them. With little care and resources within many states, jails and prisons are the largest mental health providers in many counties and states (Rousseau, 2020)  The trauma that is survived for many will become a form of PTSD-Post traumatic stress disorder. 

a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.” (OXford)

Of the 10.3 million prisoners worldwide approximately 750,000 are likely to have a clinical diagnosis of PTSD. (Branyi, Cassidy, Fazel, Priebe, & Mundt, 2018). PTSD conditions can often go unnoticed and may lay dormant for years before a life situation triggers it to the surface. The  prison systems breed traumatic events, stressors, fear and psychological harm. Prison adversely impacts self-esteem, self worth, cognition and the human spirit. (Flood, 2018)  While incarcerated many painful and devastating past memories may often be awakened due to the harsh conditions of a dehumanizing, uncaring lifestyle that prison life offers. These memories of past traumatic experiences, may cause a person to undergo crippling emotional reactions and pain. (Thomas, 2019)

Being incarcerated in general is traumatizing, the inhuman treatment, lack of compassion and suffrage of the daily routine is most difficult to survive but then you add past trauma coming to surface and living in repeated trauma daily. It is no surprise that  each year more than 700,000 people leave prison having undergone a traumatic experience. When emerging from the prison system, many will return to society undiagnosed and untreated. (Flood, 2018)

Many will enter society unaware that they are institutionalized.  “Institutionalization is used to describe the process by which inmates are shaped and transformed by the institutional environments in which they live.” (Rousseau, 2020) When a person enters the prison system they are required to conform to the everyday occurrence, if not they will be forced to obey the norms of the prison system. One must incorporate the norms of prison into their way of thinking and behaving. Prison is it’s own society with its own set of rules and protocol. The way you feel, the way you act, the way you interact needs to fall into step with the prison norms. This personal transformation is called ‘Institutionalization” It happens differently for each individual. The longer the person is sentenced, the more significant the transformation, weather consciously or unconsciously they are becoming ‘institutionalized”.  It may happen over time or after several altercations/penalties. It is a forced conformity into an environment that has no privacy, no compassion, where you are deprived of emotion, touch, while controlled and dehumanized. (Rousseau, 2020)

It goes without saying that when a person is released life is no longer the same. You couple that with the loss of self identity, being labeled as a criminal, stigmatized as a felon, denied by society and you have a challenging transition into society. Support network through Reentry agencies provides a safe space for post-incarceration adjustment to take place. It allows people a chance to reacclimate into an environment where they have no judgement (Flood, 2018). Prison reentry programs provide a sense of belonging, structure and support for people coming out of prison. A program offers compassion, empathy and they are being treated as a human being. Again they are going through an adjustment to a new norm. A new sense of worth. The support of others is critical at this time. 

As people find their way back into society’s norms some may need something that has a meaning for them. They may choose to go into a field of work that allows them to help the next person. Thus giving them a sense of value and purpose. For others, being the voice for the ones left behind allows them to share their stories to educate and bring change for the ones left behind. (Flood, 2018)

PTSD is often a part of people’s lives and increases during release. Therefore, It is important as a community to open our hearts and minds to people who are returning to their communities. Support systems and compassion can make the difference between success and recidivism. 


Branyi, G., Cassidy, M., Fazel, S., Priebe, S., & Mundt, A. P. (2018). Prevalence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Prisoners. Epidemiologic reviews, 40(1), 134–145.

Flood, F. (2018). Reframing Trauma: The Transformative Power of Meaning in Life, Work, and Community. Journal of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Disorders, 02(05). doi:10.26502/jppd.2572-519×0052 Retreived from

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Oxford Dictionary on Retrieved from

Rousseau, D.  (2020) Lecture notes, Module 6:  Trauma and the Criminal Justice System Retrieved from:

Thomas, Liji. (2019, February 27). Prisoner Post Traumatic Stress. News-Medical. Retrieved on June 15, 2020 from

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One comment

  1. This is a great topic! I know in my own experience, the probationers that I supervise with felony convictions cite obtaining employment as their biggest barrier. Luckily with the inception of the “Ban the Box” campaign, it seems to be getting easier for ‘felons’ to get hired. If you have not heard of it, you can find more information at the Ban The Box website:

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