Prison settings often complicate the ability for an inmate to process grief and loss leading to complicated and unresolved grief (Hendry, 2009; Wilson, 2011). The physical separation of the incarcerated and their loved ones create another complicated factor to grief along with the possibility of not being able to mourn with family and friends at memorial services (Young Junior, 2003; Hendry, 2008; Taylor, 2012). As a social work intern at Monroe County Correctional Facility, this topic becomes of great importance when working with inmates experiencing grief and loss. Providing treatment to these inmates mitigates the difficulties related to reentry, enhances the “ability to cope with prison life” (Hendry, 2009, p. 271), and decreases the likelihood of recidivism (Hendry, 2009).
Prevalence of Grief in Correctional Facilities
The research that is accessible on grief and loss for incarcerated individuals in limited within the United States; however, many studies have been published in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In one study conducted in the United States, Harner, Hentz and Evangelista (2010) discuss the prevalence of grief in women’s correctional facilities. They state, “nearly half of all women in prison experience the death of a loved one during their incarceration” (p. 1). In 2009, it had been determined that no statistics were available regarding incarcerated males and the loss of a loved one (Hendry, 2009).
Given the limited amount of statistics for this topic, I will bring in personal experience from working at Monroe Correctional Facility. During the first week of working at the jail, two inmates in program were experiencing the loss of a loved one. The mother of one inmate’s child was shot to death in New Jersey leaving the inmate to grieve her loss and to be concerned about the placement of his child. Another inmate’s grandfather, the positive role model in the family, died of cancer and had been sick for a period of time before his death. Since the family was concerned about letting the inmate know, he found out that his grandfather was sick during the same weekend that he had passed. He had no opportunity to talk to his grandfather one last time and because of complications, he was also unable to attend the funeral, despite driving him to the location of the service. Additionally, during groups, many inmates share their experiences of loss while growing up when discussing the reasons for their substance use.
This experience is inadequate to show the true depth of loss experienced by inmates because it is limited to what I have been made aware of during individual and group sessions. There are two jails in Monroe County and I am only exposed to approximately 100 of those inmates. Furthermore, it is not part of the jail culture to share the emotions related to loss which can lead to unresolved grief and loss (Wilson, 2011; Taylor, 2012). This “unresolved loss and grief can be a contributory factor in offending behavior (Wilson, 2011, p. 10); therefore, this topic must be further explored.
Worden’s Four Tasks of Grief
The research that provides a theory of grief and loss often refers to Worden’s four tasks of grief (Young Junior, 2003; Hendry 2009). Dr. J. William Worden (1982) has laid out four tasks of grieving and the normal grief reactions in his Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. These tasks include: accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain of the grief, adjusting to the environment that the deceased is no longer a part of, and to emotionally relocate the deceased and continue on with life. Due to the restrictions in correctional settings, it is complicated, if not impossible, to get through these stages of grief.
The first task, accepting the reality of the loss, becomes difficult for inmates when they are unable to attend memorial services (Hendry, 2009). Even if they can attend, it is often embarrassing and humiliating to the...
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Harner, H.M., Hentz, P.M., & Evangelista, M.C. (2010). Grief interrupted: The experience of loss among incarcerated women. Qualitative Health Research, 1-11. doi: 10.1177/1049732310373257.
Hendry, C. (2009). Incarceration and the tasks of grief: A narrative review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 270-278.
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Taylor, P.B. (2012). Grief counseling in the jail setting. American Jails, 39-42.
Wilson, M. (2011). Exploring the efficacy of a bereavement support group for male category c prisoners: A pilot study. Bereavement Care, 29(3), 10-16.
Worden, J.W. (1982). Grief counselling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner. Springer, New York: Tavistock.
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Young Junior, V. (2003). Helping female inmates cope with grief and loss. Corrections Today, 76-94.
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