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Is there a recognizable post-incarceration syndrome among released “lifers”?

Marieke Liem & Maarten Kunst

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

Available online 30 April 2013



It has been suggested that released prisoners experience a unique set of mental health symptoms related to, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder. We sought to empirically assess whether there is a recognizable post-incarceration syndrome that captures the unique effects of incarceration on mental health. We conducted in-depth life interviews with 25 released "lifers" (individuals serving a life sentence), who served an average of 19 years in a state correctional institution. We assessed to what extent the symptoms described by the participants overlapped with other mental disorders, most notably PTSD. The narratives indicate a specific cluster of mental health symptoms: In addition to PTSD, this cluster was characterized by institutionalized personality traits, social–sensory disorientation, and alienation. Our findings suggest that post-incarceration syndrome constitutes a discrete subtype of PTSD that results from long-term imprisonment. Recognizing Post-Incarceration Syndrome may allow for more adequate recognition of the effects of incarceration and treatment among ex-inmates and ultimately, successful re-entry into society.



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