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Psychological Dimensions and Social Consequences of Incarceration


Subject Psychology Pages 3 Style APA


Incarceration is the state of being imprisoned or confined in prison. Travis, Bruce, and Stevens lament that even after many years of stability in the USA, the years between 1920 and 1970 registered the highest incarceration rates (19). As a result, the number of prisoners quadruped during this period to 2.2 million adults, making the USA have the world’s largest penal population. For instance, one-quarter of the prisoners globally are held in US prisons, which is ten times more than the incarceration rates in other democracies.  The prison population is composed chiefly of the disadvantaged population, under 40 years and primarily under-educated. These prisoners are additionally exposed to drug addictions, physical and mental illnesses, and lack of work experience (Travis et al. 22). To save the American population from the negative psychological and social consequences of incarceration, this argumentative essay proposes the use of alternative measures to reforming offenders.

Incarceration has far-reaching negative impacts on the psychological and social dimensions of the prisoner. Schnittker’s representative survey revealed that incarceration caused fear, uncertainty, and anxiety among inmates (123). This negative psychological state continued to affect the prisoner even after they serve their sentence. The research findings further showed that incarceration’s impact varied from prisoner to prisoner depending on personal and environmental dynamics; however, the reality remained that imprisonment led to poor psychological and social outcomes. The article noted that the former prisoners were not only predisposed to psychological implications but also social consequences. After the end of their term, they are often neglected and secluded in society. Baćak, Lars, and Jason add that since most prisoners are from disadvantaged backgrounds, their poor economic state predisposes them to the persistent dilemma (307). For instance, they have to establish social connections faster once they are released from prison. However, society profiles them, making it hard for potential employers to hire them because of their negative criminal record. These challenges are worse for the prisoners with the underlying psychiatric disorder since they become vulnerable to two stigmas concurrently.

The controversial nature of this topic has attracted divergent views and researchers. One of the most influential contributors to this debate is Porter and Laura, who notes that prisons change people’s social and psychological dimension (137). These authors cite the works of Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. They document that the body is the most fundamental issue that affects prisoners’ reaction to their immediate environment in the prison and outside. They argue that when the body is imprisoned, it alters the person’s relationship to time and space. Thus, every inmate develops a biased perception of time, space, and their own body. This outcome affects their identity, psyche, and imaginary world.

Given that the prison exposes the inmates to repetitive daily routines, prolonged confinement, and the lack of freedom, they become out of sync with the external world. The prison environment further triggers new acting and thinking habits that are often dysfunctional during the post-prison adjustment period (Porter & Laura, 138). The desocialization process caused by incarceration affects both the psychological and social dimensions of the prisoners after release. In most cases, the former prisoners become disadvantaged because of these adverse outcomes.

Whereas those opposed to incarceration highlight the negative social and psychological dimensions elicited by imprisonment, the proponents argue that these impacts are often reversible. They note that the impacts are varied across inmates; thus, those who show negative habits after release from prison are an outlier population. Haney argues that not every inmate who goes through prison is psychologically and socially affected (66). They acknowledge that prison life subjects the prisoners to deprivation, atypical norms, and living patterns, and it is generally a painful experience. Still, it does not necessarily change the inmates. Haney argues in support of incarceration, noting that the prison institutionalizes the prisoners’ brains to conform to rules and laws governing the society. This conditioning begins when the person steps into prison. The psychological and social atmosphere within the prisons creates a correctional environment that makes them internalize the need to comply with the laws to succeed. Because of this conditioning, the prisoners positively change their attitude towards adhering to society’s laws (Haney 66). This positive consequence is beneficial after release from prison, as it conditions them to become law-abiding citizens.

This argumentative essay dissects two dissenting views; in favor and against incarceration. This topic is often controversial; therefore, it has attracted divergent thoughts. The authors’ dominant perception is that incarceration triggers negative social consequences and psychological dimensions that disadvantage the inmate’s post-imprisonment. It notes that prisons seclude the inmates and socialize them into a life of pain: the resultant psychiatric disorders and negative labels and stigma of criminal record disadvantage the former inmates. However, the other faction insists that incarceration institutionalizes the prisoners, making them law-abiding.




Baćak, Valerio, Lars H. Andersen, and Jason Schnittker. “The effect of timing of incarceration on mental health: Evidence from a natural experiment.” Social Forces 98.1 (2019): 303-328.

Haney, Craig. “The psychological impact of incarceration: Implications for post-prison adjustment.” Prisoners once removed: The impact of incarceration and reentry on children, families, and communities 33 (2016): 66.

Porter, Lauren C., and Laura M. DeMarco. “Beyond the dichotomy: Incarceration dosage and mental health.” Criminology 57.1 (2019): 136-156.

Schnittker, Jason. “The psychological dimensions and the social consequences of incarceration.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 651.1 (2014): 122-138.

Travis, Jeremy, Bruce Western, and Stevens Redburn. “The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences.” (2014).

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