The Relationship Between Trauma and Incarceration

When discussing trauma in the incarcerated population I was struck by the stories of what these people had endured. I wanted to dive a little deeper on the connection between incarceration and trauma to give a more well-rounded image of what incarcerated individuals experience.

To begin it has been found that PTSD occurs at significantly higher rates in incarcerated individuals compared to the general population (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). There is about a 300% increase between the two populations with PTSD symptoms occurring in 4% of a studies community population and 48% of the studies incarcerated population (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). Incarcerated individuals are also found to have more likely experienced trauma in childhood that non-incarcerated populations (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). While in prisons though, assaults and other traumatic interactions are found to be underreported but contribute greatly to the increased percentage of people developing or experiencing PTSD symptoms (Hodges-Pietryka, 2022). This does not end after incarceration though. Many of these individuals struggle with reentry into their communities. While in prison they are likely very bottled up and unable to process or share the thoughts and feelings they are having. This can contribute to more negative outcomes due to unmanaged symptoms which is one of many factors that increases the likelihood of reoffending (Morrison, 2022). The process of reentry is heavily reliant on family/friends, service providers, and community members (Morrison, 2022). Symptoms of untreated trauma such as insomnia, hypervigilance, hyper-reactivity, difficulty with attention and concentration, and paranoia can greatly strain these relationships and hinder the process further (Morrison, 2022).

These issues are a significant factor in why incarceration is often cyclical. We need to shift to a more trauma informed approach to both incarceration and reentry if we want a solid way to tackle the relationship between trauma and incarceration. Many of these prisoners do not have a robust support system so I would suggest improving things on the inside of the system first as many problems arise from the culture within prisons. I strongly believe that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” but we won’t get there unless work is put in to be more informed on how the system and trauma play a role in the damage being done.



Hodges-Pietryka, M. (2022). Stories of Revictimization During Incarceration: The Returning Citizen’s Experience (Order No. 29319933). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2707688376).

Morrison, M. (2022). Trauma Exposures across the Life Course for Individuals Who Experience

Incarceration (Order No. 29325001). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2705437979).

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One comment

  1. Great post, John. I appreciate the deeper dive and recommendation for a trauma-informed system during incarceration and after, during re-entry. It’s so important, as we learned from Deveaux, to support people re-entering society, to put them in a better position of success rather than re-offending.

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