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Mitchell Cozad on The Unintended Consequences of Incarceration

Consequences of Incarceration

When someone is convicted of a crime, they face more than the punishment laid out by the court—incarceration has far-reaching implications and can have severe unintended consequences. From difficulty finding employment to strained relationships, it’s important to understand all aspects of incarceration. Keep reading to explore some of the most common and difficult collateral consequences of incarceration.

Finding Employment

The moment an individual is incarcerated, their earning potential is severely limited or nonexistent. This makes it difficult for this person to pay off fines associated with the conviction, debts from lawyers and court fees, and any restitution owed to victims.

Not only that, but many employers are reluctant to hire individuals who have spent time in jail or prison due to perceived instability or a lack of trustworthiness. Even if they do find employment after serving their time, they may face difficulty advancing in their career due to the stigma associated with being formerly incarcerated.

Challenges with Housing 

Besides difficulty finding employment, housing is another issue that former inmates struggle with upon release from prison or jail. Many landlords are hesitant to rent property to people who have a criminal record due to safety concerns or fears of property damage.

Furthermore, it is difficult for formerly incarcerated individuals to get approved for housing since they often don’t meet credit requirements or income levels necessary for approval. This can lead some released inmates into homelessness as they don’t have anywhere else to go after getting out of prison/jail.

Relationship Challenges 

Criminal convictions can also strain family relationships and friendships due to feelings of guilt or shame associated with the conviction on the part of the defendant, and judgment and a lack of understanding from the family or friends.

This can make it difficult for released inmates to reintegrate back into society; without social support systems in place, it can be especially hard for them to transition back into normal life without assistance from loved ones who understand where they come from and accept them despite their past mistakes.

Similarly, forming romantic relationships can be challenging because of the stigma attached around dating someone who has been arrested/convicted before. This is particularly true if the conviction was something society deems unacceptable, like domestic violence or a sex offense.

The Psychological Impact of Incarceration

Incarceration is a reality for far too many people in the United States. The psychological impact that incarceration and involvement in the criminal justice system has on individuals has been well documented, and the effects are far-reaching and can have an immense impact on an individual’s reintegration into society after release from prison. Here’s how incarceration affects a person’s life long after they’ve been released:


The trauma associated with incarceration is one of the most profound psychological impacts of being incarcerated. This trauma can come in many forms including feelings of powerlessness or loss of freedom stemming from lack of control over daily activities or conditions in prison; fear of violence or abuse within prison; and guilt or shame about having been convicted.

In addition, there is often a sense of isolation due to being separated from family and friends while incarcerated. All these factors contribute to a heightened sense of anxiety that can lead to difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, increased risk for PTSD symptoms, suicidal thoughts or ideations, and emotional numbness or detachment from reality.


The feeling of constant worry associated with incarceration does not end when an individual is released from prison. In fact, it may become even more pronounced as former inmates try to reintegrate into society after their release.

This heightened sense of anxiety may be driven by feelings that they do not belong in society anymore; worries about finding employment; fear that they will be rejected by people they know; difficulty adjusting to a new lifestyle outside prison walls; reconnecting with family members who have moved on without them; and general uncertainty about their future.

This constant state of tension often leads to avoidance behaviors such as avoiding social contact with others out of fear that they will judge them harshly because of their criminal record.


The depression that often accompanies incarceration is usually more severe than what was present before incarceration due to long-term separation from loved ones combined with a feeling that no one is available to help them during their time in jail or prison. Again, feelings of guilt for having committed crimes and worry about future job prospects also contribute to this depression which can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as fatigue or lethargy as well as mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts or ideations.

This depression often leads former inmates to turn back to criminal behavior to cope with the overwhelming stressors associated with trying to reenter society after their release.

Incarceration As The Modern Scarlet Letter

In colonial America, the scarlet letter was used as a public symbol of shame and punishment for individuals who had committed moral or social transgressions. Wearing the letter “A” on their clothing publicly marked them as outcasts and condemned them in the eyes of society.

“In modern times, incarceration has been compared to the scarlet letter due to its similar effects on an individual’s life.” Says attorney Mitchell Cozad. “When someone is incarcerated, they are deprived of their liberty and confined in a prison as punishment for a crime. This often comes with a social stigma that can have far-reaching consequences. This type of social oppression can penetrate all details of someone’s life even after they have served their debt to society.” Cozad Continued.

Like the scarlet letter, incarceration can act as an ever-present reminder of an individual’s past mistakes and make it difficult for them to start over again. The comparison underlines how involvement in the criminal justice system can create further inequality in society and limit opportunities for those who have been incarcerated.

Strategies for Addressing Issues After Incarceration 

As you can see, going to prison can have life-long consequences that extend far beyond the prison walls. For individuals released from prison, there are many challenges they must face to successfully reintegrate into society. The following include a few strategies we could implement to address these difficulties after release.

Reducing the Social Stigma of Incarceration 

The social stigma associated with being incarcerated can cause individuals to feel isolated and marginalized upon release. To reduce this stigma, it is important that former inmates are given a chance to express their experiences in their own words.

This can be done through storytelling workshops and other creative outlets that allow former inmates to tell their stories in a safe space without fear of judgement or retribution.

The more educated people are about the realities of prison, the less likely it is to be stigmatized.

Providing Support for Individuals Post-Release 

Support is essential for those transitioning out of prison back into society. Former inmates need access to healthcare services, counseling services, housing assistance programs, and educational resources as they attempt to rebuild their lives post-release.

Providing these forms of support reduces recidivism rates by equipping individuals with the tools they need to become productive members of society again. Furthermore, having access to supportive networks such as peer mentors who have gone through similar experiences can be invaluable in helping former inmates maintain a positive outlook on life after incarceration.

Creating More Opportunities for Employment and Housing 

Since many employers are reluctant or unwilling to hire those with criminal records or prior convictions, it is important to find organizations that are willing to work with formerly incarcerated individuals and give them a chance. This could include setting up job fairs specifically designed for formerly incarcerated individuals or working with local businesses directly to help them better understand why hiring someone with a criminal record isn’t a bad thing.

Additionally, organizations should work together with landlords and property owners to create more affordable housing options open to people with criminal backgrounds so they have a place to live upon release from prison.

The strategies discussed here are just some of the ways we as a society can address issues after incarceration. It will take effort on all our parts—from government officials to community members—to ensure that those who are released from jail or prison get the help they need to rebuild their lives and stay out of trouble in the future.

In theory, with dedication and hard work, we can create an effective system that helps former inmates successfully return home without repeating past mistakes or ending up back in jail or prison again.

The psychological impact of incarceration cannot be underestimated. “The environment of incarceration forces people to experience the deprivation and anguish of what many doctors have described as mental illness.” Says attorney Mitch Cozad. Its effects are far reaching and wide ranging – impacting individuals’ mental health while they are still incarcerated as well as their ability to reintegrate into society upon release from prison. It is important for those who are or have been incarcerated to understand these difficulties so they can find ways to prepare themselves for life beyond bars – both mentally and emotionally.

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