Is there a recognizable post-incarceration syndrome among released "lifers"?

Int J Law Psychiatry. 2013 May-Aug;36(3-4):333-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2013.04.012. Epub 2013 Apr 30.


It has been suggested that released prisoners experience a unique set of mental health symptoms related to, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder. We sought to empirically assess whether there is a recognizable post-incarceration syndrome that captures the unique effects of incarceration on mental health. We conducted in-depth life interviews with 25 released "lifers" (individuals serving a life sentence), who served an average of 19 years in a state correctional institution. We assessed to what extent the symptoms described by the participants overlapped with other mental disorders, most notably PTSD. The narratives indicate a specific cluster of mental health symptoms: In addition to PTSD, this cluster was characterized by institutionalized personality traits, social-sensory disorientation, and alienation. Our findings suggest that post-incarceration syndrome constitutes a discrete subtype of PTSD that results from long-term imprisonment. Recognizing Post-Incarceration Syndrome may allow for more adequate recognition of the effects of incarceration and treatment among ex-inmates and ultimately, successful re-entry into society.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Boston
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Syndrome