Who really suffers when a prison sentence is given?


At this very moment in time there are 82,813 people in prisons in the UK (weekly updates of prison UK populations) whereas in February 2004 there were only 69,122. We are punishing more-and-more people every year with prison but is it effective (a topic for another post) and does it only punish those who were at fault?

In the first known study of its kind, University of Michigan researchers found that people with a family member or friend in prison or jail suffer worse physical and mental health and more stress and depressive symptoms than those without a loved one behind bars. Moreover, these symptoms worsen the closer the relationship to the person who was locked up

According to the study, those who knew someone in prison had 40 percent more days where poor physical health interfered with their usual activities, including work, and 54 percent more days where poor mental or emotional health interfered with these activities.

Should this be a consideration when deciding on a suitable punishment for an offender?

Many people believe that all offenders should be punished. Some believe individuals can change and can be responsive to rehabilitative interventions, either within prison or the community others feel that prisons should be more strict than they currently are (or at least seem to be if you believe the media).

There are many motivations behind punishments, some negative, so to reinforce the concept that the individual has done wrong, some supportive to help rehabilitate the offender.

Many would consdier these factors when thinking about the punishment of going to prison but it seems that we have ignored those that could be at risk in society – those related to offenders who are sent to prison.

Talking about the study into the effects of prison on ‘loved ones’ the research states: “Our study demonstrates that incarceration is not only enormously expensive economically, it also has public health costs and these should be taken into consideration. In the last 30 years or so, we have seen a more and more punitive system, one where judges no longer have discretion for sentencing.”

Moving toward a rehabilitation model may benefit both the offending individuals and society – but should we?

Kruger, D.J., & De Loney, E. H. (in press). The association of incarceration with community health and racial health disparities. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action.

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3 Responses to “Who really suffers when a prison sentence is given?”

  1. George August 5, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    I think there should be a distinction made between the accidental offenders – those who committed crimes either out of stupidity, passion, or simply as a mistake – and the serious, chronic offenders – those who will commit crimes no matter where, how, and who they are. The former can and should be rehabilitated, while the latter are usually beyond repair

  2. Andy September 24, 2009 at 11:27 am #

    Hi Jamie, very interesting subject to discuss. As you are aware I know from personal experience what prison does, not only to the offender and their family whilst serving their sentence but how on release the stigma of spending several years in prison stops you from being a member of society. Even now I am still being punished for my crime, and yes I accept that for I committed a very serious offence.
    After several years of being free from prison life I have finally admitted to myself and my family that I suffer from depression and have on a weekly basis wanted to commit suicide. I am now on medication hoping that it works and saves my marriage and family.

  3. London Counselling September 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    I have always hoped that sentences to imprisonment were always in balance. But in this world of no fair judgment comes with much disappointment to its society. It’s not always that we get to consider certain things but if that’s the least we can do for consideration it should best be done than in a fair manner to be negotiated with money matters.

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