The rate of incarceration has greatly risen in the last few decades, and prisons are continuously being built to keep up with the growing number of inmates. Many prisoners suffer from mental and cognitive disorders, which can easily be aggravated by the type of environment in a jail. Most people overlook this, as the individual is in jail for a reason, but this is where occupational therapy for inmates can help. OT’s can also help in rehabilitation efforts upon release.
Occupational Therapy for Inmates
Assessing Prisoners’ Abilities
Occupational therapists working in prisons usually possess a different level of knowledge and skills due to the environment. Normally, OT’s can assess a patient’s abilities by observing the individual’s reactions to his/her surroundings. But, in a small visiting room, it can be hard to do so. Occupational therapy for inmates is most beneficial when the OT has great knowledge of the specific condition and what skills are necessary for success in different activities.
Mental & Cognitive Help
There are many education programs available to inmates, but some are unable to engage due to mental health problems, learning disabilities, or head injuries. Occupational therapy for inmates can increase their chance at rehabilitation if they are able to participate in these programs. Many of those incarcerated also have difficulties with speech and language, with very poor communication skills.
Occupational therapists can provide training in basic life skills and help develop healthy habits. It’s not likely that every offender will be able to find a job upon release, but developing healthy lifestyles and habits can produce a more positive outlook. An example is a gardening program where inmates can grow produce for the kitchen. Not only are the prisoners developing interests and hobbies, but also they’re learning how to work in groups and practicing communication skills.
After release, many offenders are re-arrested within a few years. Having the chance to develop skills and interests can give the individual a sense of purpose and decrease the likelihood of re-arrest. Acquiring knowledge and different skillsets can also help when it comes time for a job search.
Life After Prison
The age group of 60+ is the fastest growing prison population, rising 146% between 2002 and 2014. Many of these inmates have served long sentences and possibly haven’t been “out” since before the Internet existed. So, it can be a harder transition when there is little knowledge of today’s world.
Occupational therapy students at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at IUPUI are helping incarcerated individuals at the Indianapolis Re-entry Education Facility. The students assist those who have been in prison for at least 10 years. Many inmates are fearful for release due to the fact that they have little knowledge of the technology and lifestyle of today.
“I looked in the advertisements this week. I saw something, and I don’t know if it was a laptop, a notebook or a box of crackers. But it cost $785.”
Occupational therapy for inmates that are preparing for release can involve training in technology, socialization, finances, employment, health, and education. Some offenders have never used a smartphone, owned a checkbook, or haven’t had visitors for over 10 years. OT’s can also help prisoners reconnect with family members.
Occupational therapists can help inmates have another shot at life. They’ll get the help they need to succeed in programs and be able to explore their interests and skills. The ability to participate in different programs can be highly beneficial in rehabilitation efforts.