The term incarceration or imprisonment evokes different feelings for different people, depending on their experiences with the law and law offenders. For those who have had unpleasant experiences with criminals whether directly or indirectly, incarceration translates to justice, while for those who have been unjustly incarcerated or have a close person who has, incarceration translates to injustice, dehumanization and probable aggravation of criminal tendencies.
For another group of people, with particular reference to our Nigerian society, incarceration is really not necessary when it is obvious that one has committed a crime. For such people, incarceration is an undue privilege that an offender shouldn’t have access to. This mentality is the reason certain people resort to jungle justice as a means of delivering justice, because they do not have confidence in our law enforcement agents to ensure that justice is obtained.
That notwithstanding penal institution is instituted by governments all over the world to punish those who are in conflict with the law, keep the society safe, serve as a deterrent to others, enable people affected by the acts of law offenders to get closure and to serve as a corrective institution for law offenders. In other words, prison or penal institution serves two main functions namely; Restoration of justice and Rehabilitation.
In developed countries, where penal institutions serve the two main functions, a good number of returning citizens i.e., ex-prisoners, tend to have a change in behaviour. On the contrary, such could not be said of prisons in developing countries most especially Nigerian prisons. This is often a result of the following factors;
• Prison Congestion
• Poor Rehabilitation Programmes
• Corruption of Warders
• The lackadaisical attitude of prison management towards effective rehabilitation of inmates.
Nevertheless, prolonged incarceration whether in developed, developing or underdeveloped countries, comes with a lot of psychological consequences which affect inmates. As a result of poor structuring as well as insincere and ineffective management of Nigerian prisons coupled with other factors mentioned earlier, inmates go from bad to worse and also adopt more criminal behaviour that is not only detrimental to them but the entire society, when they are released from prison. In addition to this, they also suffer physical and psychological ill health, which worsens their behaviour.
Earlier this year, CAPIO in collaboration with Nigerian Psychological Association (NPA), carried out a psychological assessment of inmates in maximum security Prison Enugu, and the outcome of the study shows that a good number of the inmates in Enugu Prison, suffer a wide range of psychological problems some of which include: drug abuse, neurological damage, poor cognitive performance, intellectual disability, depression, anxiety, phobia, somatization, psychoticism, etc.
In a similar study carried out in India by Tomar (2013), on “Psychological effects of Incarceration: Can we promote Positive Emotions in Inmates, he outlined other consequences of incarceration which includes;
• Dependence on institutional structure and contingencies.
• Interpersonal distrust and suspicion
• Alienation
• Incorporation of exploitative norms of prison culture
• Low self-worth
• Hypervigilance as a result of persistent victimization in prison
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as a result of pains of imprisonment.
Having looked at the consequences of incarceration, the next question that justifiably comes to mind is, how can these psychological issues be dealt with? The answer is not actually far-fetched, it requires the following;
• Consistent and effective psychotherapy/counseling sessions for inmates in prison.
• Mandatory referral of inmates to prison psychologists for periodic psychotherapy/counseling.
• Compulsory therapy for returning citizens i.e., those released from prison, before getting them reintegrated into society. This will not only serve as a rehabilitation exercise, but will also help them to avoid committing the same crime that drove them to prison as well as rid them of vices possibly picked from prison.
• In relation to the above, CAPIO is already something to that effect as some magistrates in the state refer some inmates on parole to CAPIO office for Psychotherapy as an alternative to continued imprisonment.
• Prison decongestion
• Ensuring professionalism among prison staff.
The issue of rehabilitation often seems complex, but I believe that little, sincere, dedicated and effective efforts of all involved towards it, will make a huge difference. Together we can actually make Nigerian Prisons a place for restoration and rehabilitation of prisoners.

Article by:
Innoeze Clara U. (Clinical Psychologist)

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