Victims of miscarriages of justice: trauma and its treatment.


Hello readers!

I am pleased to upload my second article, which is about trauma and innocent people in prison. Please not that this essay was written more than 2 years ago, hence, when referring to miscarriages of justice in this essay, I mean only people who have spent time in prison before their convictions were overturned. Enjoy!

I feel terrible, very restless and irritable. This is not like me at all. The car crash happened 6 months ago but I still couldn’t feel safe in a car. Pictures of the accident come flashing into my mind, they won’t go away and even at night my dreams are more like nightmares with scenes of the crash happening again and again… I can’t stop shaking when I think I could have died” (NHS, 2013). This is what a person with a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stated six months after the trauma. The statement perfectly reflects to one of many disorders incarcerated people may develop (Crighton and Towl, 2008; NHS, 2013). Prisons are high risk institutions due to people detained in them and, therefore, people are more likely to experience trauma, which can lead to different physical and emotional disorders (Crighton and Towl, 2008). Although most prisoners receive rehabilitation and are taught how to live outside prior to their release, victims of miscarriages of justice are being released suddenly and without any preparation (Naughton, 2013). Therefore this essay will establish whether there is a higher probability of trauma for wrongfully imprisoned people and their families than for other imprisoned offenders and, if there is, what are they experiencing and how is trauma affecting their development. The essay will also analyse the probability of experiencing mental disorders and trauma in prisons and evaluate the extent of these issues within wrongfully imprisoned people. It will then discuss possible experiences of victim’s families and outcomes of these experiences. The last part of the essay will analyse possible outcomes of ill-treatment, available rehabilitation and compensation for people suffering prison sentences due to miscarriages of justice.

Some quantitative studies show significant links between prison and psychological disorders related to trauma. A study involving 163 randomly selected female prison inmates reveals that 83 per cent were bothered by a PTSD symptom in the last month, while 60 per cent of the sample could be possibly diagnosed with PTSD (Reichert and Bostwick, 2010). High percentage of people suffering from PTSD in prisons is also supported by Kubiak (2004), who conducted research on 199 prisoners who voluntarily entered substance abuse treatment. 53 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women met the criteria for a lifetime PTSD. However he also found that women with PTSD and substance abuse disorder (SUD) were more likely to have drug relapses, while males did not show significant statistical differences, suggesting that men are more likely to recover. It could be related to the fact that women are more likely to experience trauma outside of prison, therefore they are facing places and people related to it and, therefore, re-experiencing it. Another study conducted by Powell, Holt and Fondacaro (1997) showed similar results with 54 per cent of prisoners having PTSD. However children in prisons show a significantly lower rate of PTSD cases – 11 per cent (Howard League, no year). This may be the case due to different definitions of PTSD or due to different examination methods. Another suggestion is that young people are less aggressive in prisons and those who are suffering from PTSD, have been traumatised before entering prison (Youth Justice Board, 2005).

Statistical studies this far suggest that 50 to 60 per cents of adult prisoners are experiencing PTSD. However, most prisoners will have higher vulnerability to trauma due to lack of protective childhood and parental help (Youth Justice Board, 2005). This means that the victims of miscarriages of justice, who are less likely to come from disrupted or abusive families, are less vulnerable than other prisoners, therefore less likely to develop PTSD (Crighton, 2008). A research, which was mentioned before, of 163 female prison inmates states that about 25 per cent of sample experienced trauma during their childhood, 41 per cent as teenagers and 84 per cent in their adulthood. Trauma experienced during childhood and teenage years are likely to be outside of prison, therefore supporting the argument that offenders are more likely to have experienced first trauma prior to imprisonment (Reichert and Bostwick, 2010; Youth Justice Board, 2005). Similarly HM Inspectorate in Prisons (2014) stated that people who had experienced traumatic events before the imprisonment are more likely to develop PTSD. Research conducted by Kessler et al (1995) also shows that 51 per cent of females and 61 per cent of males are experiencing trauma in their lifetimes in the United States, but only 20 per cent of females and 8 per cent of males are having PTSD. This study is also supported by Gibson’s et al (1999) findings that 0.5 to 12 per cent of males from general public are suffering from PTSD. It, therefore, supports the argument that victims of miscarriages of justice are less likely to develop PTSD, as they are part of general public who are less likely to experience trauma during their childhood. Reichert and Bostwick (2010) stated that more types of trauma lead to more symptoms of PTSD, considering that prosecuted people often experience subsequent trauma in prison (Crighton and Towl, 2008).

A concluding thought is that less than a half, but more than 10 per cent of wrongfully convicted are suffering from PTSD symptoms, but many more are experiencing trauma in prison, therefore may develop symptoms later. However all studies mentioned above are based separately on prison population in general and the public outside the prison, and does not specifically state statistics on wrongfully convicted people. Therefore these statistics do not show accurate data on victims of miscarriages of justice (Crighton, 2008; Gibson et al, 1999; HM Inspectorate in Prisons, 2014; Howard League, no year; Kessler et al, 1995; Kubiak, 2004; Powell, Holt and Fondacaro, 1997; Reichert and Bostwick, 2010; Youth Justice Board, 2005).

Although the statistics are inconclusive, trauma can cause physical sufferings, such as flashbacks, nightmares, dizziness and increased speed of heart beats as well as mental disturbances, like avoiding feelings, thoughts, people and places that remind the incident, or people may even lose interest of life (NHS, 2013). PTSD is often followed by substance use disorder (SUD) in order to forget about the incident, but it also increases the risk of a subsequent trauma in prisons, which can strengthen PTSD (Kubiak, 2004). Trauma can also destroy the beliefs of life or a belief of a particular state or organisation, for instance it can destroy the belief in Police and court system for people suffering from injustice (NHS, 2013).

Johnny Kamara stated that even 6 years after his release he still did not like to appear in crowded areas and sometimes got into a panic in such situations, therefore indicating strong psychological trauma, and Vincent Hickey is alleged to have slashed his wrists in prison as well as he has turned to drugs, therefore strengthening the argument that trauma is followed by SUD (Naughton, 2013). Hattestone (2002) stated that Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham six, still looked terrified and vulnerable when speaking about his experiences in the police station and prison. Although these observations were made by a journalist and not by a psychiatrist, Mr Hill also stated that many professionals told him that he had been living in depression and tension for so long that he is unlikely to ever recover.

Although there are enough people suffering in prisons, victimisation does not end there. Prisoners’ wives, children and other family members are considered as secondary victims, who are suffering outside of the prison as well as they can unintentionally bring more stress to primary victims when visiting them (Naughton, 2013). For example mother of Michael Hickey said that every day was a torture when she had to see her son in prison. But it is even worse for young people. Nick Molloy, the son of Pat Molloy, who died while wrongfully imprisoned, said that he was regularly beaten at school, spat at on the street and abused in town (Taylor and Wood, 1999) and Paddy Hill told the Guardian that his daughter experienced similar attitudes (Hattenstone, 2002).

When one of the parents is going to prison, their children are exposed to family disruption and, in some cases, growing up away from their families, therefore making them more likely to offend (Youth Justice Board, 2005). The same paper conducted a study involving one hundred young people who were subject to a Detention and Training order. Only twenty-eight per cent were living with a parent and almost half were subject to some form of abuse (Youth Justice Board, 2005). However other researchers state that desistance and criminal activity is related to significant relationships and social bonds, therefore stating that young people may not get involved in criminal activities if they are in loving foster families (Blonigen, 2010; Chylicki, 1992; Laub and Samson, 2001; Mischkowitz, 1994).

Without mentioning secondary victims, who are left without any help, even primary victims are not receiving any psychiatric or social help from the government after their releases (Naughton, 2013). For instance Andrew Adams had no place to go after he was released. His mother died while he was in prison and his father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, therefore leaving him without any help. He became homeless and unemployed, which are two important elements contributing to the development of a criminal behaviour (Naughton, 2013).

Although even a life sentence does not mean that a person will stay in prison for a whole life, innocent people are more likely to stay imprisoned longer because they maintain their innocence (Naughton, 2013; Taylor and Wood, 1999). A story of Michael Hickey tells that he turned down an offer of a parole stating that he will maintain his innocence. Another concern about him is that he went to prison as a teenager, therefore he never learned how to pay bills, find a job or rent a house (Taylor and Wood, 1999). Lack of knowledge about such daily responsibilities indicate higher re-offending rate after leaving prison (Blonigen, 2010). However Meisenhelder (1977) found that people, who stop offending, do so because they cannot cope with prison anymore and, therefore meaning that wrongfully imprisoned people may not offend.

Paddy Joe Hill divorced his wife while he was in prison (Naughton, 2013), while several researchers established that married people are less likely to develop criminal behaviour (Blonigen, 2009; Chylicki, 1992); however a quality of marriage, which can be damaged after imprisonment, is also likely to stop people from offending and reoffending (Laub and Sampson, 2001; Mischkowitz, 1994).

However, many research findings stated above are related to people who had been offending before and, therefore, primary victims of miscarriages of justice may not fall into the same category of people. But their children, the secondary victims, are still developing their personalities and the incident may affect them (Bolnigen, 2009; Chylicki, 1992; Laub and Sampson, 2001; Meisenheller, 1977; Mischkowitz, 1994).

There are some charity organisations, such as Pheonix Futures (2012), who are providing help to different people with different issues. This organisation for instance, helps people with drug and alcohol misuse and is working with prisoners and offenders referred to them by National Offenders Management Service. This means that they have the necessary experience to work with people from prisons, so they may be able to help victims of injustice as well.

Apart from social issues, primary victims of miscarriages of justice are also eligible to compensation. People from Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, for instance, received compensations for years spent in prison (BBC, 1999; Bright and Hill, 2002). However they have to prove their innocence to receive this compensation. Another criticism about the eligibility is that only people whose convictions are quashed outside the normal appeal system can receive it. Therefore those who spend time in prison between the trial and first appeal cannot receive anything if they are found not guilty in an appeal (Taylor and Wood, 1999).

In a conclusion it can be stated that people suffering from PTSD can become anxious and stressed or even lose interest in life. Although it is clear that some victims of miscarriages of justice may develop PTSD due to trauma in prison, the number of people developing this psychological disorder is unclear due to lack of research conducted in the area. Their children on the other hand often experience the same attitudes as many children with criminal behaviour, therefore they become more likely to offend after a parent goes to prison. Primary victims are not receiving psychological help from the government; however, if they are eligible, they can receive a compensation, which can be used for care. In this case, however, they have to wait until they receive the compensation, but some of the victims may not have a house or family who would be able to welcome them, therefore leaving some victims of miscarriages of justice homeless.


BBC (1999) UK: Northern Ireland Guildford Four members demand settlement, BBC [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2014).

Blonigen, D.M.  (2010) Explaining the Relationship Between Age and Crime: Contributions from the Developmental Literature on Personality, Clinical Psychology Review, 30, pp.89-100.

Bright, M. and Hill, A (2002) Birmingham Six man wins £1m payout, The Guardian [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2014).

Chylicki, P. (1992) To Cease with Crime: Pathways out of Criminal Careers. Unpublished PhD thesis. Lund University, Sweden.

Crighton, D. A. and Towl, G. J (2008) Post-Traumatic Stress, in: Psychology in Prisons (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 167-184.

Gibson, L., E., Holt, J., C., Fondacaro, K., M., Tang, T., S., Powell, T., A. and Turbitt, E., L. (1999) An Examination of Antecedent Traumas and Psychiatric Comorbidity Among Male Inmates with PTSD, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 12 (3), pp. 473-484, SpringerLink [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 29 April 2014).

Hattenstone, S. (2002) ‘I’m dead inside’, The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 15 February 2014).

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Kubiak, S., P. (2004) The Effects of PTSD on Treatment Adherence, Drug Relapse, and Criminal Recidivism in a Sample of Incarcerated Men and Women, Research on Social Work Practice, 14 (6), pp. 424-433 EBSCO [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 9 February 2014).

Laub, J. H & Sampson, R. J (2001) ‘Understanding desistance from crime’. In: Beaver, K.M., Wright, J.P.

Meisenhelder, T. (1977) An Exploratory Study of Existing From Criminal Careers, Criminology, 15′ pp. 319-334.

Mischkowitz, R. (1994) ‘ Desistance From a Delinquent Way of Life?’, In: Weitekamp, E. & Kerner, H. (eds.) Cross-National Longitudinal Research on Human Development and Criminal Behaviour. Norwell: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Naughton, M. (2013) Victimology, in: The Innocent & The Criminal Justice System. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 191-208.

NHS (2013) Post Traumatic Stress: A Self Help Guide for People in Prison, NHS [Online]. Available at: ( (Accessed: 10 February 2014).

Phoenix Futures (2012) Phoenix Futures. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 5 February 2014).

Powell, T. A., Holt, J. C., & Fondacaro, K. M. (1997) The prevalence of mental illness among inmates in a rural state, Journal of Law and Human Behavior, 21,427-438.

Reichert, J. and Bostwick, L (2010) Post-traumatic stress disorder and victimization among female prisoners in Illinois [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 10 February 2014).

Taylor, N. and Wood, J. (1999) Victims of Miscarriages of Justice, in: Walker, C. and Starmer, K. Miscarriages of Justice: A Review of Justice in Error. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 247-262.

Youth Justice Board. (2005) Persistent Young Offenders: A Retrospective Study.  [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 10 February 2014).



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