Psychological Effects of Wrongful Conviction

Adrian Grounds, University of Cambridge

There is minimal research on the psychological effects of wrongful conviction and imprisonment. This is a descriptive study of a sample of 18 men referred for systematic psychiatric assessment after their convictions were quashed on appeal and they were released from long-term imprisonment. Sixteen were UK cases; two were from other jurisdictions. The assessments revealed evidence of substantial psychiatric morbidity that was unexpected in relation to previous research on the psychological effects of imprisonment. Fourteen men met ICD-10 diagnostic criteria for 'enduring personality change following catastrophic experience' (F62.0), twelve met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and most reported additional mood and anxiety disorders. There were substantial problems of psychological and social adjustment, particularly within families. The difficulties were similar to those described in the clinical literature on war veterans. Possible explanations for these effects are discussed: specific traumatic features of miscarriage of justice and long-term imprisonment both appear to contribute.

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Updated 05/20/2006