In Illinois, the recidivism rate is 43% within three years of release from prison. Seventeen percent of released prisoners commit the same crime again within one year of release. Recidivism is high because former prisoners have a hard time finding housing, employment and healthy relationships. The stress of worrying about how they’re going to meet their basic needs leads them to commit additional crimes. On top of that, they may have mental health disorders either before, during or after imprisonment.
Their awareness of the stigma against people who have committed felonies causes many former inmates to feel hopeless. Every failed attempt at living an honest life can further exacerbate those feelings of hopelessness, despair and depression. They may feel worthless or consumed with guilt. Thinking of their past can keep them in a state of depression. Fatigue, sleep problems, psychomotor disturbances and suicidal thoughts are other symptoms of depression. They may find it hard to find the energy and motivation to continue searching for a job and a better environment to be in.
Serving time in prison could cause PTSD. Some people go through bad experiences, such as bullying and sexual abuse. The prolonged stress of imprisonment could also cause PTSD. A person doesn’t have to be the direct victim to develop PTSD either. If they witnessed bad acts going on in prison, then it could cause this trauma disorder. Symptoms include difficulty with emotional regulation, anxiety, avoidance, depression, hypervigilance, hypersensitivity and flashbacks. Some former inmates have said that although they’re trying to change their lives, the flashbacks and trauma of prison violence interfere. Some people go into prison with undiagnosed PTSD, and their time behind bars worsens their mental health.
Tips for reintegration
Former prisoners should seek therapy, even if they don’t think they have a mental health disorder. Therapy isn’t just for people with a disorder. Anyone who’s going through a difficult life change can benefit from therapy. You could also volunteer in your community to begin building healthy relationships. The people with whom you volunteer may be able to help connect you with opportunities. This can also provide a healthy support system so that you don’t go back to bad influences. It’s important to socialize with people who aren’t involved in crime, as it reduces your chances of committing crimes.
After going through a challenging situation like imprisonment, it’s no surprise that mental health issues are common among recently released prisoners. Many of them had mental health struggles before imprisonment as well. The stigma they face trying to reintegrate into society serves as another barrier to changing their lives for the better.