CRJ 220 Effects of Longterm Imprisonment While the average time served in US prisons is 34 months, many inmates are serving sentences longer than this. According to a 2009 report by the Sentencing Project, 140,610 out of 2. 3 million inmates are serving a life sentence. However, with the possibility of parole, not all life sentences mean inmates spending their lives behind bars. Some inmates will return to society and face many challenges. One issue with long term imprisonment is the effect on family.
While the inmates connection to his/her family may remain the same, the family moves on. Some spouses will divorce over the crime itself. The inmate now faces their long term sentence without the support of a significant other. Even those whose marriages survive the initial ordeal will encounter many more challenges along the way. Spouses are facing the prospect of spending a great period of their lives alone. The inmate knows this and will now have the added anxiety of wondering: will they find someone new, will they cheat?
Children further complicate the matter. The child will grow up without a father or mother. At any age, the child will go through milestones that the inmate will miss: first words, first steps, first day of school, first date, graduation, marriage, grandchildren, etc. The long term inmate will likely miss one or more of these events. Young children may not remember their parent. They will likely have no relationship with the inmate. Even those who manage to form some kind of bond find it is very difficult to maintain from behind bars.
The released inmate then has to be a part of a life that they were absent from for years. Another issue with long term imprisonment is employment. In five or more years, much can change. As society changes, technology advances. An inmate’s prior skills, training and education may now be irrelevant. While “free” workers may face the same dilemma, they also are given time to gradually adjust to these changes and learn new skills. The inmate is thrown into these changes upon release. Even if their skills are still relevant, the inmate may lose their work skills after not using them in so ong. The long term inmate who was incarcerated at a younger age may not have had a chance to get an education or any job or skill training at all. Upon their release they may be 48 with the education of a 17 year old. Long term imprisonment may also have an effect on work ethic. Inmates have not been part of the work force for a long period of time. While some inmates are assigned jobs, not all are. Will those who don’t have a diminished work ethic upon release? Will they remember how to function in a work environment?
Another issue with long term imprisonment is the effect on mental health. Those sentenced to long terms may encounter psychological issues during their sentence and upon their release. Inmates may give up hope; those sentenced to life in prison give up the idea of ever gaining freedom. Though they may have a chance at parole, they know the chance of being released might be slim. There are inmates who commit suicide shortly after being sentenced because they can’t deal with the extreme life change. Being in a prison environment for so long also can change a person.
Inmates grow very accustomed to the prison lifestyle: waking up at a certain time, following a strict schedule, being watched at all times, following very strict rules. It can be difficult to adapt into being a “free” individual again: making your own decisions, knowing what to do without someone telling you what to do, giving yourself rules, etc. There are also the rules in prison versus the rules in society. Prison rules include not only the ones set by the institution itself, but also prison ‘norms’ set by the inmates. These rules are very different from the ones we have in society.
These rules can also change an inmate’s personality. They may become more violent to protect themselves or prove their power to others, or become overly cautious and suspicious of people. These effects can carry over upon release. While some of the effects of long term imprisonment are beneficial to society and the inmate, many of the effects are harmful as well. The longer a prisoner is incarcerated, the more they will adapt to their environment and lose contact with the outside community. This adaptation can be difficult to reverse, even after release into society.