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New Report: Trauma ‘A Way of Life’ for Returning Citizens

Michael Gelb - The Crime Report: June 19, 2020

A striking 47 percent of former inmates experienced at least one traumatic event in the eight months after they were released from prison, according to a study conducted at Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Research and Development (IJRD).

Of those who experienced trauma, 18 percent lost a loved one to homicide, 23 percent were violently assaulted, 31 percent witnessed a serious injury or death, 31 percent were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or sustained a serious injury, and 60 percent learned of the serious injury or death of a loved one.

Incidents like these led one participant to describe the post-release “mental anguish” and another participant to claim that “trauma’s just a way of life” during reentry.

The study also found that the resources necessary for successful reentry “dwindled” for many individuals eight months after their release. These resources included employment, income, transportation, housing, insurance, and support from friends and family.

This left former inmates “trying to navigate extremely stressful life events without the very resources needed for them to be able to succeed,” according to the study.

“The support systems available to [ex-inmates] in communities are not prepared to adequately respond and our data suggest that the need for change in available supports is urgent,” said one of the study’s authors, Carrie Pettus-Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at the Florida State University (FSU).

The authors argued that the failure of these support systems is of great detriment to former inmates because they become stuck in the revolving prison door. This, in turn, disadvantages their families and the communities in which they live.

Pettus-Davis added: “It is time for community members and stakeholders to better understand the post-incarceration experience and ask if our expectations of immediately paying off debt, finding employment, gaining more education, attending multiple programs, and engaging in community services are just too high.”

“Larger conversations” would be a good start towards implementing much-needed reforms to reentry preparation and the support systems offered to current and former inmates, according to the study.

The authors reached these conclusions by studying more than 1,800 individuals who were released from 50 prisons into 12 urban and rural counties in Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The study utilized the unique 5-Key Model for Reentry, which measures the “strengths and psychological well-being of formerly incarcerated individuals to ensure they will remain crime-free and contribute positively to society.”

The five keys are: Meaningful Work Trajectories, Effective Coping Strategies, Positive Social Engagement, Positive Relationships, and Healthy Thinking Patterns.

More about the 5-Key Model, its purpose, and its contents can be found here.

The study’s authors also took time to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented national conversation on police brutality and systemic racism.

The authors explained that after March 16, 2020, they transitioned their work with participants from in-person to telephone and online teleconferencing systems.

To inform future correctional responses to outbreaks of disease, the study’s authors have begun collecting data from studying participants on their experiences during COVID-19, whether they had been released prior to the outbreak, released during the outbreak, or remained in prison.

In regard to the ongoing national conversation on policing and institutional racism, Stephanie Kennedy, Ph.D., director of research dissemination at IJRD, commented in a statement accompanying the report, “One can imagine how those who have recently released from prison have been affected as the reentry period is often a stressful and chaotic time of transition in the best of circumstances. A national exploration of racial violence may be experienced by these individuals in an amplified way, making a stressful transition even more challenging.”

To read the article, click here.

To read the full report, click here.

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