The Harms of Jail Incarceration

Time in jail, even if brief, can be traumatizing and destabilizing. For example, jails emphasize control and constraint over someone experiencing a behavioral health crisis, which is at odds with recovery and wellness.Feeling a loss of control is a primary reason people receive emergency psychiatric care, and crisis interventions done to
people rather than with them can reinforce these feelings of helplessness and hinder positive outcomes. The most appropriate mental health care, including emergency care, is provided in the least restrictive manner and avoids coercion. See Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Practice Guidelines: Core Elements in Responding to Mental Health Crises (Rockville, MD: SAMHSA, 2009), 5, 7,
Other harms follow people after they’re released, as a history of incarceration makes it harder for someone to get a job, access treatment, or secure stable housing.See for example Meda Chesney-Lind and Marc Mauer, eds., Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (Washington, DC: The New Press, 2003).

These effects also create conditions that make incarceration more likely in the future. By isolating people from their communities and loved ones, making it harder for them to meet their economic needs, enhancing feelings of shame, and heightening exposure to trauma and violence while behind bars, incarceration exacerbates the root causes of interpersonal violence.Sered, Until We Reckon, 2021, 67-79. The harms of jail time can also extend to incarcerated people’s loved ones and communities; incapacitating someone removes them from their home, job, and social network, which can mean the loss of a primary income, caregiver, or other crucial support for the people connected to them.