While it was formerly believed that wrongful convictions were an uncommon occurrence, current statistics on their incidence show the seriousness of this problem in the United States and throughout the world. 120 nations have recorded more than 5,800 exonerations globally. Over 20,800 years have been served by innocent individuals in 2,448 verified wrongful convictions in the United States from 1989 to 2019 alone.
From the 1980s to the present, the United States has executed up to 50 innocent persons, while 165 other death row convicts have been freed after being proven innocent. For exonerees and their families, unjust incarceration has catastrophic consequences.
However, there aren’t many resources available to help the exonerated person’s mental health and effective social reintegration. This article gives a general overview of the psychological effects of wrongful incarceration and discusses how social workers might effectively assist clients following exoneration.
In This Article
The Effects of Wrongful Imprisonment
Considering that imprisonment, in general, can be a traumatic experience, being wrongfully incarcerated can be especially unsettling. While exonerees experience distinct mental health consequences as a result of their erroneous conviction, most inmates suffer the same negative effects of incarceration. When people think of jail, they often think of terror and violence.
According to haney (2001), prisoners who are subjected to harsh conditions such as punishment, overcrowding, isolation, neglect, and abuse may develop psychological adaptations that have detrimental effects, such as decreased self-worth and self-worth, hypervigilance, emotional repression, social isolation, abusive and/or violent behavior, and post-traumatic symptoms of stress.
These emotions, which are more prevalent among exonerees, might impair adjustment after release from jail. The consequences of long-term incarceration are further aggravated by unjust arrest, being convicted, and custody, as well as the pain brought on by forced confessions.
Few studies have looked at the psychological effects of unjust incarceration thus far. Beyond these examples, there is only limited knowledge about the psychological disorders that the majority of exonerees endure. Death-row exonerees and those who were released based on dna evidence have drawn considerable attention.
However, it is common for wrongful incarceration to necessitate techniques of adaptation, including routines to deal with the exhaustion and hopelessness of solitary confinement and long legal fights. Such changes could make it possible to survive while being held, but they can have a disastrous effect on exonerees’ home life.
According to grounds’ 2005 study, many exonerated individuals struggled to operate in their unstructured homes because they had been accustomed to following instructions from prison guards. Exonerated people move into a world of loss, including “loss of time, loss of security feelings, loss of loved ones, and loss of self.” exonerees, like the majority of trauma survivors, may retreat, show reluctance to divulge the distressing specifics of their gruesome experiences and feel less capable of emotional expression and closeness.
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Overcoming the Trauma of a Wrongful Conviction
Here are some essential tips to help you overcome the trauma of a wrongful conviction:
Social Workers Support
It is both the law and the right thing to do to make sure exonerees have access to mental health services. For the exonerated to manage the challenging responses to wrongful imprisonment and to encourage social reintegration, it is essential that they have access to swift and continuing extensive mental health assistance, including intensive case management, private, family, and group therapy, peer assistance, and support options.
Exonerations need assistance for exonerees and their families that are customized to the local context and community since they are local occurrences. Interventions should also take into account the exoneree’s family’s ability to cope with their situation as well as how the social environment has altered as a result of their incarceration. To increase access to these much-needed services, social workers are in a unique position to offer such interventions.
An exoneree’s first few weeks and days after being released from jail are crucial for early intervention. As with any trauma, the healing process can only start when the victimization has stopped, or in this case, after the exoneree is set free.
However, social workers must be careful not to think that any monetary compensation granted to exonerees may lessen the devastation of wrongful conviction since wrongful incarceration is a type of chronic psychological trauma.
Additionally, social workers can help exonerees identify and remove obstacles to reintegration during this period by advocating for their access to necessary resources. Such assistance is essential for exonerees’ well-being and integration into society.
The Innocence Project
The innocence project’s social work department provides a model of intensive case management that could be replicated; they reach out to exonerees before they are released to assess to identify what kinds of support are needed to encourage their seamless transition back to society as a whole. Benefits of this program include improved adherence to treatment and ongoing caregiving through the establishment of a support system.
Given the difficulties in adjusting between exonerees and their loved ones, family therapy is essential. Such counseling can assist to enhance coping mechanisms, foster cohesiveness and reconnection, and foster mutual understanding. Family mediation, family systems therapy, parenting workshops, and cognitive behavioral therapies that promote exonerees’ adoption of familial duties are examples of therapeutic strategies to strengthen family relationships.
Exonerees leave prison traumatized by the misery of unjust imprisonment after being subjected to state violence and having their fundamental rights as individuals violated. Even though they are few, the studies that have been conducted on the consequences of false convictions have found that exonerees and the people they care about are more likely to experience a wide variety of adverse mental health outcomes.
In addition, they can experience high rates of economic hardship, drug misuse, poor health, and broken social relationships. To assist their transition and promote their healing and empowerment, the exonerated require and deserve thorough case management, private and family therapy, peer support, and chances to share their story.
However, after being wrongfully imprisoned, it might be difficult to have access to conventional resources of support and effective advocacy options. Social workers can provide trauma-informed support and advocate for reforms to reduce wrongful imprisonment and compensate exonerees for immeasurable damages that enhance exonerees’ overall well-being. Such compensation must include more than just monetary compensation to cover the losses suffered by exonerees and their right to care.
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