Part 2 of 2
Prisoners who struggle with their emotions and behavior create obscure as well as camouflaging personas. They risk alienation from others and are subject to chronic emotional flatness and debilitating social interaction finding that they have created a permanent and unbridgeable distance between themselves and other people.
These are some of the conclusions of Craig Haney, a professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, and an renowned expert on the effects of incarceration. Some of Haney’s other findings:
Some prisoners find safety in social invisibility by becoming as inconspicuous and unobtrusively disconnected from others as possible. In extreme cases, especially when combined with prisoner apathy and loss of the capacity to initiate behavior on one’s own, the pattern closely resembles that of clinical depression. Long-term prisoners are particularly vulnerable to this form of psychological adaptation.
In addition to obeying the formal rules of the institution, there are also informal rules and norms that are part of the unwritten institutional and prisoner culture code that must be followed.
In many institutions, the lack of meaningful programs has deprived most inmates of pro-social or positive activities in which to engage while incarcerated. Prisoners are denied basic privacy rights and lose control over mundane aspects of their existence that most citizens take for granted.
They are housed in extremely cramped spaces (a 60 square foot cell is roughly the size of a king-sized bed), have little or no control over who they share that space with and the intimate contact it requires. Some feel they are treated like infants, and the degraded conditions under which they live are a repeated reminder of a compromised social status and stigmatized social role as prisoners. A diminished sense of self-worth and personal value may result. For some prisoners, incarceration is so stark and psychologically painful that it represents a form of traumatic stress severe enough to produce post-traumatic stress reactions once released.
The fact that a high percentage of persons presently incarcerated have experienced childhood trauma means, among other things, that the harsh punitive and uncaring nature of prison life may represent a kind of “re-traumatization” experience for many.
Mental illness and developmental disability represent the largest number of disabilities among prisoners. Upwards of 20 percent of the current prisoner population nationally suffers from either some sort of significant mental or psychological disorder or developmental disability, Haney says, yet both groups are too often left to their own devices to somehow survive in prison and leave without having had any of their unique needs addressed.
Supermax facilities are where prisoners are kept under conditions of unprecedented levels of social deprivation for long periods of time. This kind of confinement creates its own set of psychological pressures that, in some instances, disable prisoners for re-integration into the outside world.
Haney’s basic propositions: prisons have become difficult places to adjust and survive over the last several decades; adaptation to prisons exact psychological costs to prisoners; some prisoners are more vulnerable to the ill effects of imprisonment than others; the psychological cost and ill effects of imprisonment can severely impede post-prison adjustment; and multiple things should be done, in and out of prison, to minimize these impediments.
The abandonment of rehabilitation, Haney believes, has resulted in an erosion of modestly protective norms against cruelty toward prisoners.
The Impact of Doing Time
Part 2 of 2