Send to

Choose Destination
Int J Law Psychiatry. 2009 Sep-Oct;32(5):294-303. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.06.003. Epub 2009 Jul 19.

Doing time: a qualitative study of long-term incarceration and the impact of mental illness.

Author information

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15213,USA.


Once convicted, the perpetrator of serious crime embarks upon a new journey: the challenge of adjusting to long-term imprisonment. Prisoners' views of incarceration and the meaning of this experience may affect their later adjustment to life in the community. On the basis of brief narrative responses collected during an epidemiological survey of the psychological health of prisoners in France, this study examined the impact of incarceration on psychological state in a group of 59 inmates serving long sentences. Qualitative content analysis and computer-assisted linguistic analysis (using ALCESTE software) were performed on the textual data of open responses to three standard questions. Using a combination of these two approaches, seven categories of the subjective experience of prisoners in the sample were identified: the Outside World, Others, Punishment, Time, Affects and Impulses, Self-Concept, and Speech. Further qualitative analyses were then performed to compare the responses of Severely Mentally Ill (SMI) subjects and subjects with no psychiatric disorder. These analyses revealed contrasting attitudes towards incarceration. SMI subjects spoke in more hostile and persecutory terms about their experience in prison, attributing suffering to external circumstances, while subjects with no psychiatric disorder evoked similar themes, but with an introspective attitude. The themes evoked by mentally ill individuals in our sample suggest that their reactions to the prison environment arise in part from aspects of their psychiatric symptoms, and this may have relevance to future mental health policy and practices in criminal corrections.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center