Psychological work is essential in successfully reintegrating. This work, be it consciously with a therapist or unconsciously (through sports, creative arts etc.), is vital in the process of a prisoner adapting to their future freedom.
Many of the ways of thinking that are necessary when in prison need to be deconstructed. These patterns take hold to allow you to survive the life conditions in prison. “In prison, you have to show others that you won’t let yourself be pushed around”, states Ali, who after 17 years spent behind bars, today supervises young people from the Dispositif Relais, an organisation that helps with reintegration into society. The prison environment imposes its own rules, way of working and appropriate behaviour. Prisoners are on the defensive, scared and subject to a military-like schedule in prison. The longer the incarceration, the longer it is to yourself free.
Before prison, many have grown up in underprivileged areas, where crime seems to be the only way to get out. The concept of reintegration should be put into perspective.
Before incarceration, these young people do not necessarily feel in tune with societal norms. For example, this is the case for Marc S., who spent who childhood in a children’s home for young offenders. The last time he ran away led to his first crime, and then prison.
This is the vision of the world that many prisoners have had throughout their life up until prison. This gives them a feeling of guilt and inability to do anything other than be a criminal. This is why social workers or charitable organisations are needed in prisons.
William Sbrugnera is a psychologist that specialises in helping offenders. He works directly within prisons to listen to prisoners, and by extension, start psychological treatment. “What we expect of a prisoner, is that they become independent. That’s the ideal scenario. Reintegration without independence will never work”, he states.
Between 1995 and 2015, first time offenders re-offended in 57% of cases. According to the psychologist, these figures are not so surprising. “When offenders are released on parole, they feel obliged to meet the court’s desires. They are required to have a house, a job…but what they like doing? The courts don’t care.” After this observation, the psychologist tempers his words. “Needing somewhere to live and having a job is a way for an ex-prisoner to avoid falling into poverty.”
William Sbrugnera puts forward three principles to an efficient reintegration: competence, connection and autonomy. In Marcus’ case, competence is partially fulfilled with his job. He is not, however, autonomous. Since his release from prison in 2003, loneliness is part of his daily life. Marcus has never been able to create connections outside of ex-prisoners.