Positive Personality Changes As a Result of Prison Reform

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The concept of prison reform has been a widely debated subject for many years, specifically the mental aspect of prison reform. Current prison environment simply doesn’t foster behavior that may lead to positive personality changes that can lead to an individual reintegrating into society, rather it encourages toxic masculinity in the environment and leads to more habitual prisoners (author x) (author x). With more and more prisoners being released each year, it’s important that they do not retain any negative traits that may have fostered during their time in prison (author x). From this, there is a question, to what extent should the mental health aspect of prison reform be improved? More specifically, the purpose of this paper is to view the question in a scientific lens, focusing upon the psychological effects of the current prison system as well as focusing upon how these effects are being fostered and whether there is any way to address those problems.

In order to discuss the importance of prison mental reform and how to possibly improve upon it, the effects of the current prison system must first be looked at. Prisoners often go through what is called by psychologists and criminologists, “prisonization”, in which prisoners adapt to the prison environment (author x). The effects of “prisonization” often leaks into one’s life afterwards after being released, even if they are not in the prison environment any longer. Christian Jarrett, a neuroscientist turned science writer from BBC, a well known non partisan source was able to interview multiple prison inmates after being released, one that supported the above statement was from a 42 year old male former prisoner, which stated, “I do [still] kind of act like I’m still in prison, and I mean you [are] not a light switch or a water faucet. You can’t just turn something off. When you’ve done something for a certain amount of time… it becomes a part of you.” This shows the seemingly permanent and significant effect the current prison system has on one’s mental state. The effects of post incarceration syndrome are severe, the most significant of which includes a lack of trust in others and “emotional numbing” resulting from “prisonization”. One of the interviewees, a man now 52 in age, said, “I do have an issue with trust, I just do not trust anybody.”. On the case of emotional numbing, an anonymous interviewee said, “It does harden you. It does make you a bit more distant… It is who you become, and if you are hardened in the beginning then you become even harder, you become even colder, you become more detached.”(author x) These two traits make it extremely difficult to reintegrate into society as the lack of trust and emotional distancing can make it more difficult to socialize with others, a significant part of life. However, these effects must have causes as well.

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There are several causes of the negative mental effects of prisoners, relating to the individual personalities of the prisoners rather than the environment of the prison. What’s important to realize is that the personality traits tend to differ upon whether it was the first time the person committed the crime (first-time criminals) or whether they committed more than one crime before (habitual criminals) (author x). Habitual criminals were more emotionally unstable and had worse mental health than first time criminals. According to Kumari etc from the Indian Journal of Health & Wellbeing, first time criminals scored higher on four of the five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness), specifically extraversion which is linked to being outgoing, gregarious, sociable, and openly expressive, while habitual criminals had significantly higher scores in neuroticism, which was accompanied by low agreeableness and _____ (author x). Higher scores of neuroticism is often linked to anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depression, and loneliness (author x). This shows the significant difference between both types of prisoners, that they have different personality traits which therefore lead to different behaviors. Prisoners must be treated differently by therapists as to whether they are first time criminals or habitual criminals, first timers with a conservative mindset, and habitual with a restoring mindset. Once again according to Kumari, Anima, Naved Iqbal, first time criminals are shown to be more outgoing and more integrable to society than habitual criminals, whose social skills have disintegrated (author x). This major difference must have therapists to treat each with a different strategy, first timers with a conservative mindset, as in to retain those positive personality traits they currently have, and habituals with a restoring mindset, to restore the positive personality traits they have lost and to eliminate the negative personality traits they have developed.

Toxic masculinity is one of the main causes of the effects in prison. There are two main causes to toxic masculinity in the current prison environment, the need for respect and the lack of confidentiality. Men have a major need for respect, which this isn’t necessarily a bad attribute, however in the prison environment the need for respect is often denied by others in the prison system such as staff or simply other prisoners, this need leads them to attempt to get it in desperate ways. According to Terry A Kupers from the journal of clinical psychology, the man who starts to feel disrespected soon develops a strong urge to dominate over others, examples of this may include a “tough-guy posture, outbursts of temper, and the tendency to act out troubling impulses rather than to introspect about their meanings and ramifications (author, x)”. These listed behaviors are primarily associated with toxic masculinity (author x). The other main cause of toxic masculinity is lack of confidentiality. Again, according to Terry A Kupers from the journal of clinical psychology, “Most correctional systems have policies that require mental health staff to report to custody staff whenever mental health staffers hear of any illegal action or potential threat to the security and smooth operation of the prison.” (author x) The lack of confidentiality encourages prisoners to bottle up their feelings, which may lead to a prisoners’ increase in temper and tendency to act out troubling impulses, another attribute of toxic masculinity. The acknowledgement of these two causes of toxic masculinity are important, as it allows therapists to possibly implement strategies to satisfy the needs of the prisoner. Once again according to Terry A Kupers there are four strategies that may be required to do, to alleviate the main obstacles in prisoner treatment (lack of respect and confidentiality) (author x). The first three include respect their resistance to treatment, make the prisoner understand the constraints of what can realistically be accomplished during therapy, and to stand up and advocate for the prisoner (author x). The fourth strategy is to inform and be honest to the prisoner of the lack of confidentiality (author x). The first three fulfills the need for respect in the prisoner, as the therapist clearly shows that he respects the prisoner and is willing to inform them as a human being the constraints as well as fighting for the prisoner, which also shows respect to the prisoner as well. The fourth shows the prisoner even more respect and allows the prisoner to be aware of what information that they could safely share.

The current U.S. prison system has had a seemingly negative effect upon current prisoners. It disrupts their personality traits, making it more difficult to reintegrate into society after being released. These negative effects however seem to have straightforward causes, one largely relating to the personality traits of the prisoners, and one that talks of the environment that cultivates these personality traits. Despite these large obstacles, therapists should be able to overcome them with employing multiple strategies based upon giving the prisoner their need for respect and to change strategies when dealing with first time or habitual criminals.


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