Earlier this month I interviewed a prisoner who was being prescribed mood stabilisers for his undiagnosed (and non-existent) bipolar disorder. As a prison behaviour management strategy, this made sense. By prescribing medications that blunt a prisoner’s affect and flatten their emotions, prisons are more able to control and manage their inmates.
However, often psychotropic drugs are prescribed in the absence of psychological counselling or therapy. This means that people in prison are unable to develop cognitive and behavioural strategies to better manage their emotions. There may be reasons for this: prison is a dangerous place to engage in therapy and be vulnerable. However, many people in prison need to work through complex issues and learn new ways of interacting with the world and often psychological support is not easily available upon release into the community either.
The interview got me thinking. What if the (over)use of psychotropic medication in prisons is making reintegration back into the community for offenders more difficult? It’s reasonable to presume that, if they have not received effective therapy, prisoners who are released back into the community are no better able to regulate their emotions than they were when they offended. It follows that if someone is having trouble controlling their emotions, they may also have trouble controlling their behaviour. Reintegration after prison is a frustrating time. Many offenders are living below the poverty line and have unstable housing and social relationships. Often people who have been imprisoned are unemployed and face the stigma of being an ex-prisoner. In such depressing and frustrating situations, I wonder: are we setting these people up to fail?