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Psychological Consequences of Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment

NCJ Number
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Volume: 46 Issue: 2 Dated: January 2004 Pages: 165-182
Adrian Grounds
Date Published
January 2004
18 pages
This study describes the findings of psychiatric assessments in a series of 18 cases of wrongful convictions and imprisonments over the last 12 years in the United Kingdom.
There is little empirical research on the psychological effects of wrongful conviction and imprisonment. This article presents preliminary findings from a sample of 18 cases in the United Kingdom referred for systematic psychiatric assessment after their convictions were quashed on appeal and they were released from long-term imprisonment. All assessments were of men with 15 having been wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment and 3 convicted of other offenses and receiving shorter prison terms. Clinical findings were presented in the areas of enduring personality change, post-traumatic stress disorder, other psychiatric disorders, other forms of physical and psychological suffering, and problems of adjustment on release, such as practical skills, adaptation, social circumstances and sense of purpose, notoriety, lost time, and relationships. There were major problems of psychological and social adjustment found, particularly within families. The difficulties were similar to those described in the clinical literature on war veterans. The findings suggest that those released following wrongful conviction and imprisonment may have significant psychiatric and adjustment difficulties of the kind described in other groups of people who have suffered chronic psychological trauma. It seems likely that at least some of the post-release problems are effects of long-term incarceration. A systematic study of a representative cohort of people released following wrongful conviction is needed to determine whether these findings are correct and to develop explanatory models. References