Prisons are often portrayed as inhumane and having bad psychological effects on inmates. Those who believe so are also likely to take the view that inmates should be offered help to avoid these bad effects, or cope with them should they occur, regardless of their probability of reconviction. This accords with the department's aim of providing humane containment.
Many individual clinical case studies purport to show the negative psychological effects of imprisonment on individuals — depression, psychosis, suicidal ideation, anxiety, personality deterioration, cognitive functioning deterioration, apathy, aggression, loss of social skills and many others have been reported. It could be argued that, if these are common, humanitarianism demands psychological treatment resources should be directed towards alleviating them.
Several major studies from 1980 onwards show prison inmates do not generally experience such problems. The first, and probably most comprehensive study to date, concluded, 'Some individuals show deterioration in response to confinement, and others show improved functioning, whereas others show no appreciable change’ (Bukstel & Kilman 1980). Later studies have drawn similar conclusions (Zamble & Porporino 1990, Bonta & Gendreau 1990,1992, Farrington & Langan 1992, Eysenck & Gudjonsson 1989, Zamble 1992, 1990).
Any effects of imprisonment seem to depend on many interacting variables — institutional orientation, degree of actual or perceived crowding, length of sentence, degree of contact with the outside world, age, inmate personality, extent of control and repression, group relationships, prison design and others. Effects are not frequent or serious enough to be a basis for allocating psychological treatment resources, except when imprisonment is clearly causing individual psychological distress.
A significant number of prison inmates are on remand from the courts, and a proportion will have psychological problems as a reaction to their arrest and custody. Treatment should be available to them on humanitarian grounds. It should deal with the transient psychological effects of their current situation, rather than any offending behaviour of which they have not yet been found guilty.
This report in no way argues for re-balancing psychological treatment resources between community corrections and prisons, but any move to do so would have to account for the effect on service staff. It is important Community Corrections and Public Prisons staff see the department's aim of reducing re-offending reflected in adequate provision of specialist resources to help them achieve it. This is particularly crucial to prison staff, who often work under trying conditions which can over-emphasise custodial concerns at the expense of rehabilitation.