.. Auburn Criminology Expert Explains How Prison Conditions Affect Mental Health
More than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, a 500% increase from just 40 years ago. As prisons across the country become overcrowded and incarcerated individuals struggle with mental health conditions, understanding the impact of prison environments becomes increasingly important. Timothy Edgemon Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology’s latest work, Inmates’ Mental Health and the Distress of Incarceration, examines the individual effects of prison conditions and suggests ways to improve mental health outcomes. increase.
What do we know about the relationship between prisons and mental health?
Previous research has believed that prisons themselves can cause mental health problems, but I tried to unpack different aspects of prisons. and its impact on different aspects of mental health.
As prisons become increasingly overcrowded, average rates of depression and hostility among those incarcerated rise. People in prisons with less overcrowding experience less depression and hostility, so when overcrowding increases, so does their mental health impact.
Higher percentages of prison work assignments are associated with reduced negative mental health. People in prison appear to have improved mental health on average because they have the ability or choice to engage in work activities.
Higher security levels in prisons are associated with increased depression.
Why should prison conditions be studied from a sociological perspective?
people go to jail not as punishment for punishment. No one wants their freedom taken away. That’s the punishment.
When we talk about prison conditions and conditions of confinement, we are talking about overcrowding, exposure to violence, and damage in prison. It all adds to the punishment you are given. That is not the original purpose of prisons.
The second reason I think we should be concerned about this is that to the extent that these confinement conditions affect people and they affect their mental health and affect people negatively, Because most people who are in prison will be released into society.
Past research has shown that people who develop mental health problems in order to go to prison or in connection with prison do worse when they are released. You will not be able to work, you will not be able to find a job and you are more likely to return to prison. What negative impact will this have on our society and community?
What do you think prisons should do to improve the mental health of inmates?
What this research suggests, and what previous research suggests, is that we need to take very serious consideration of how confined situations affect people. I think that is apt to be lost, and we should seriously consider how the environmental conditions of prisons have real-world effects on the individuals held there.
Specifically, how can these environmental conditions be improved? There are many ways. The more expensive ways are, obviously, to add more prison beds to reduce overcrowding, add wings to prisons, or build new prisons to reduce overcrowding. I don’t think it’s the way You can build prisons, add more beds, but you can also break out, so you can get more people out of prison. Rethinking other methods of punishment is important to reduce overcrowding and ultimately environmental problems in prisons, but it’s a readjustment of the big picture.
One of the things I made in this study is that simply increasing recreational opportunities in prisons and not using them as a control method is beneficial. Re-prioritizing work, offering more work assignments, and increasing the number of programs available to people can also help. back to This is because if the prison is overcrowded, it will limit the amount of these programs that can be offered.
Listen to the full conversation with Edgemon on the podcast What You Didn’t Know.
About Timothy Edgemon:
Timothy Edgemon is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at the College of the Liberal Arts. His research examines the links between criminal justice and health outcomes at the individual and societal level. His current research focuses on the relationship between prison conditions, post-release mental health outcomes, and recidivism rates.