What Promotes healing among the wrongfully convicted? Results from a qualitative study of exonerated persons in California
Social Determinants of Health,
Vol. 7 (2021),
8 June 2021
Background: Exonerees are individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime. Later found innocent and released from prison, exonerees often spend decades incarcerated.
While limited, research suggests that the unique trauma of wrongful conviction has profound adverse mental health implications which challenge reintegration, well-being and healing. In this study we examined exoneree perceptions of their mental health and coping mechanisms used to support healing.
Methods: We conducted a qualitative study utilizing a phenomenological approach to examine shared coping and healing mechanisms among exonerees. Twelve California exonerees participated in semi-structured interviews describing their experiences with coping and healing due to wrongful conviction. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, transcripts were coded with a hybrid coding scheme utilizing a thematic analysis.
Results: Overall findings underscore the lifelong trauma and subsequent adverse mental well-being among wrongfully convicted exonerees, framed in association with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and hypervigilance. Three areas emerged as valuable coping mechanisms for exonerees that support a pathway toward healing: 1) Peer support and building community with other exonerees through organized meetings (convenings and healing circles); 2) Community education to build community awareness through storytelling; and 3) Advocacy engagement in the wrongful conviction movement and criminal justice reform.
Conclusions: Complementing comprehensive mental health services with opportunities for peer support, advocacy, and community education through storytelling may help exonerees regain lives lost to their wrongful convictions.
- Mental Health
- Psychological Trauma
- Criminal Law
- Adaptation, Psychological
How to Cite
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