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May 4, 2023

Pressley, Napolitano Call for Research on Mental Health for Formerly Incarcerated People

Lawmakers Encourage National Institute of Mental Health to Study Post-Traumatic Prison Disorder

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, during Mental Health Awareness Month, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (CA-31), Co-Chair of the Mental Health Caucus, requested the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to research post-traumatic prison disorder and share findings related to prevention and treatment for people returning from behind the wall.

Post-traumatic prison disorder, also referred to as post-incarceration syndrome, is an under-researched mental health condition experienced by individuals who have been confined in carceral settings, like jails, detention centers, and prisons, at the local, state, or federal level. While it shares characteristics similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers consider it a distinct condition, with effects ranging from anxiety to depression to suicidality.

“Throughout the United States, it is critical that we confront barriers that hinder successful reentry for people returning to their communities, including the negative mental health impacts caused by incarceration,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to NIMH Director Joshua A. Gordon. “Our national strategy to support people who are formerly incarcerated and end the cycle of mass incarceration must address post-traumatic prison disorder.”

Every year, more than 640,000 people are released from state and federal prisons. The status of their mental health is a major determinant of what happens next in their journey.

“NIMH has an important role to play in supporting the mental health of people transitioning from jails and prisons. By researching and publishing findings on post-traumatic prison disorder, your agency will inform how Congress, state and local governments, and community-based organizations respond to the complex needs of people,” the lawmakers continued. “We encourage you to work directly with formerly incarcerated people and engage stakeholders who are rooted in communities that are disproportionately impacted by incarceration.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Throughout her time in Congress, Rep. Pressley has been a consistent advocate for trauma-conscious policies, including for formerly incarcerated people.

  • In February 2023, Rep. Pressley joined advocates and survivors of the Boston Marathon attack for a roundtable discussion on her Post Disaster Mental Health Response Act, which was signed into law by President Biden in December. The legislation, which Rep. Pressley first introduced in October 2021, will expand mental health support for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attackslike the Boston Marathon bombingthat are designated emergency declarations by FEMA. 
  • In December 2021, Rep. Pressley unveiled the Fair and Independent Experts in Clemency (FIX Clemency) Act, historic legislation to transform our nation’s clemency system and address the mass incarceration crisis. This legislation is informed by the Congresswoman’s People Justice Guarantee (PJG), a comprehensive, decarceration-focused resolution that outlines a framework for a fair, equitable and just legal system. 
  • In June 2021, Rep. Pressley reintroduced the STRONG Support for Children Act, her landmark legislation that takes a holistic and community-based approach to addressing the growing crisis of childhood trauma.
  • In March 2021, Rep. Pressley sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to address the nation’s growing trauma crisis and laying out a series of steps the administration should take to confront the far-reaching hurt plaguing our communities and our nation.  In April 2021, she published an op-ed where she reflected on the collective pain experienced by communities in her district over the past year.
  • In July 2019, Rep. Pressley worked with Chairman Cummings to convene the first-ever Congressional hearings on childhood trauma.  Watch Congresswoman Pressley’s full question line and follow-up questions here and here.
  • As a Boston City Councilor, she convened the Council’s first-ever listening-only session to hear directly from those impacted by the trauma of community gun violence