Researchers at NCBI/National Institute for Biotechnology Information have suggested that Post-Incarceration Syndrome/PICS should be considered a specific sub-cluster of psycho-social problems that share or overlap symptoms with PTSD/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
PICS symptoms are specific to those incarcerated and those recently released from incarceration.
For registrants diagnosed with PICS, cluster symptoms seem magnified due to not being able to fully reintegrate back into society because of registry constraints.
According to the NCBI, reported PICS cluster symptoms are characterized by “institutional personality traits, social-sensory disorientation and alienation”.
Those incarcerated are controlled, their every movement accounted for by the authorities. An inmate’s critical thinking, individualism, emotional and personal expression become deadened in a setting where one must maintain passivity towards authority figures and yet be able to display a certain level of controlled assertiveness towards other inmates for mere survival. Personalities become “institutionalized”.
Once on the “outside” individuals need to re-establish their individual identities and begin making decisions for themselves. Due to the rules and regulations of the registry and the authority it holds over registrants, being able to regain one’s sense of independence and personal identity in society can be extremely complicated.
Those experiencing post-incarceration syndrome suffer from feelings of alienation, of “not belonging” in social settings and fears that “anything good” they have is only temporary, that it can be taken from them at any time. As one becomes more accustomed to “living on the outside”, normally those kinds of feelings would lessen, gradually subside.
For those on the registry, these feelings are experienced for an extended period of time. Registrants worry all the time, about everything and with good cause. Every knock at the door, every wrong glance they may make, every action they take causes them to second guess whether or not they are breaking some vague registry rule that they may not realize they are breaking.
Registrants are challenged from re-entry into society, many find themselves outliers, forced to live on the fringes of communities with inadequate access to housing, employment and basic human relationships.
Social-sensory deprivation while incarcerated isn’t just solitary confinement, it’s the lack of socialization with the outside world, the lack of access to current technology that will be required to “fit in” to society once released from incarceration. Relating to people in social settings can be scary and difficult for those who have had limited “normal” social contact while incarcerated. Relearning social cues and how to trust people once on the outside, can be crippling and debilitating. For those convicted of sex offenses, incarceration comes with its own unique set of circumstances. Many registrants have suffered traumatic mental and physical abuse issues while in prison. Adjusting to a society where they may feel unwanted, disoriented, alienated and detached from their communities, is, in itself, traumatizing.
Criminal justice reform must consider the ongoing need for treatment of mental health issues both pre and post incarceration. For registrants experiencing PTSD and PICS, this need is especially important as mental health issues will surely be compounded when they try to re-enter society while living under the unforgiving constraints of the registry.