All over the world the place of law and punishment is undergoing radical change.  Specifically, the focus of imprisonment is shifting from punishment to rehabilitation. There is growing awareness of human needs of the prisoners and measures to provide them care in addition to custody.


Freedom is one of the most: important needs for any individual. Opportunities to choose the ways of living, thinking, decision making are all very important to keep a person healthy and happy. Loss of freedom can mean stress and emotional distress for most persons. Living in a prison limits a person in several ways to limit free living which is important to maintain positive mental health.  The information given will help you understand and cope with the prison life.


Being locked away in a prison deprives a person of many of the normal day to day satisfactions and joys of free living, like, living a family life, visiting loved ones, meeting and sharing time with relatives and friends. A person loses several of these opportunities, while in prison.


1. Losses due to imprisonment:

Loss of intimacy: For all human beings, living with one’s loved ones, feeling wanted and loved is essential to happiness. In prison, the offender is denied free and unlimited access, to loved ones. Intimacy with other inmates or officers is often not encouraged.


Loss of influence: All individuals try to retain some control over how they interact with others.  In prison, inmates have little power or effect on others, except on weaker inmates. They cannot change their day-to-day activity, which is regulated by the staff and institutional rules. 'Example, many of the undertrials feel that the convicts try to rule over them, telling them where to sit and stand, at times punish them, demand things from them. The convicts feel that they were treated the same way when they were undertrials, and "showing their power" over the less influential undertrials seems to be the only way they know to show their importance.


Loss of Autonomy: The freedom to make choices is an essential aspect of individual functioning. Being deprived of choices, in what they want to do (e.g., when to work, who to see etc.) contributes to frustration.


Loss of physical activity: A certain amount of activity in the form of work or recreation is important for feeling contented.  This need is largely unmet in prisons. Very little useful work is available in most prisons.


Loss of privacy: All of us need to be alone some of the time. This is not available in the prison. While having nothing to do, the inmate may not even have the opportunity of being to oneself. With the overcrowding and unfriendliness in the prisons, sharing emotions with one or two people can become difficult and there is a fear that anything discussed may become public. Even if a prisoner wants some time to be alone, there does not seem a possibility.


The circumstance of being within four walls of a prison is upsetting enough. It is very important that the environment in the prison does not add to further suffering. The facilities and care must help to make this period of confinement least painful and easier for a person, so that the experience will not scar his/her for life.


2. Emotional stages to imprisonment:
Every prisoner coming into prison for the first time goes through different stages of adaptation. Such reactions are similar to what occurs in other stressful situation like death of a family member, or loss of something valuable.


The stages of experiencing the loss (grief) are as follows:


Stage of Denial: That is refusing to accept the reality.

Thus the person may not believe this as actually happening to him/her. He/she refuses to accept his/her present situation, or think of ways of coping with it. He/she seems in a state of shock.

This stage normally lasts for few days and rarely for weeks and months.


Stage of Anger: This is characterized by a feeling that prisoner being in the prison is someone else's fault. This is seen as feelings of anger with others and with the prison system and the community.  The person may feel "They are doing this deliberately to me," or "The whole system is corrupt."


Stage of Bargaining: In this stage the person is hoping that there will be some easy way of getting out of their predicament or hoping that the outcome of the trial will not be too serious.


Stage of Despair: In this stage, the reality of being a prisoner is gradually accepted, and the person begins to feel sad and unhappy. Prisoners feel that nothing can save them, that they are trapped here. Prisoners feel hopeless and helpless. They may stop eating and drinking and become very withdrawn.


Stage of Acceptance: This is the stage when prisoners realize the reality of their being prisoners and make the necessary changes in themselves to live with the situation. This stage may take several months or years for the person to achieve. It is in this stage that the prisoners would be able to constructively plan for their present and future.



Read "Justice through Prison the Dual Purpose"


1. Eye contact: There should be adequate eye contact with the prisoner. Avoid talking when looking elsewhere.


2. Gestures: Gestures like head-nodding conveys to the prisoners your interest and encourages talking and sharing.


3. Facial expressions: Interposing the conversations with smiles brings greater comfort and flow of conversation.


4. Conveying interest: This is done by asking for more details, making up personal references or relating to the person as an individual (e.g., use of name, mother tongue).


5. Understanding the problem: This can be achieved by "It must have really upset you", "Anyone would be annoyed by this event", "As a person it must have hurt your dignity."


6. Directing the conversation: by questions like "you were telling me about your children." This measure help to obtain full information from the prisoners.