Severe psychological consequences of wrongful convictions: study

The psychological consequences of wrongful accusations appear to seriously affect the lives of those accused, even after exoneration or overturning of convictions, according to a study by Samantha K Brooks & Neil Greenberg of King’s College, London, reported in SAGE (for healthcare professionals). 

There is a wealth of literature on the psychological impact on criminals post-conviction. However, there is far less research involving those who are wrongfully accused of a crime and later shown to be innocent, most probably because finding truly innocent individuals post-conviction is difficult. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to assume there is an extra layer of resentment, frustration, confusion, anger and dissonance involved when the individual knows they were wrongfully accused.

Data were extracted from 20 relevant papers, and thematic analysis was conducted on the data.

Eight main themes were identified: loss of identity; stigma; psychological and physical health; relationships with others; attitudes towards the justice system; impact on finances and employment; traumatic experiences in custody; and adjustment difficulties.

The psychological impact on those wrongfully accused appears to be vast, severe and long-lasting.

False accusation has been compared to trauma experienced by military veterans, refugees, disaster survivors and prisoners of war. It has been suggested that there is a unique form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced only by those wrongfully imprisoned. It is also reported that those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned can experience difficulties finding employment due to lacking job skills and the stigma surrounding their conviction, which can exacerbate mental-health problems.

Commonly, social networks, friendships and relationships appeared to break down after individuals were wrongfully accused. In the Burnett et al and Hoyle et al study, 27/30 participants reported a fractured social network, 17/30 reported a strain on intimate relationships and 8/30 reported a strain on relationships with children or grandchildren. Additionally, many reported feeling ‘forced out’ of friendships.

Several studies reported ‘secondary trauma’ in the close families of those wrongfully accused.

In the Burnett et al and Hoyle et al study, 28/30 participants reported loss of faith in the criminal justice system, while 20/30 reported loss of trust in the police. Similar disillusionment was noted by Campbell and Denov whose participants reported intolerance of injustice, cynicism and mistrust in the fairness and legitimacy of authority figures following release from prison. Jenkins41 found that both primary and secondary victims of wrongful accusation experienced feelings of bitterness and resentment at the state not acknowledging the injustice or offering an apology. Konvisser’s participants reported a lack of apology or official acknowledgement of their innocence from prosecutors left them feeling as though they were under a cloud of guilt and could not obtain closure. Participants also reported fear and tension surrounding governmental entities, frustration at feeling betrayed by the system, loss of faith in the justice system, and anger towards the system.

This is the first systematic review of the literature on the psychological consequences of being wrongfully accused of a crime, as well as indirect consequences which may impact on psychological well-being (e.g. financial impact).

Full report

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13 Responses to Severe psychological consequences of wrongful convictions: study

  1. Garry Stannus says:

    Lynn Giddings tonight (20 July 2021) reports that Karen Keefe has had an outstanding charge resolved with a 12 months Community Service Order – she’d spent over 9 months in jail prior to eventually being bailed. It is worthy to note that this charge was not related to the Sue Neill-Fraser case and that the ‘pervert justice’ charge which had hung over her head for the last several years or so … seems to have been abandoned by the Crown. I am glad that Lynn and others were able to be present at today’s court hearing. Now I continue to hope for ‘Justice for Jeff’ and also, of course, for Sue – and an Inquiry.

  2. Andy says:

    On a final note regarding karen. Where are the diaries she 100% said she has? Nowhere as they don’t exist. Never did, it was the only way she could try n wriggle out of this once trying to capture megz and put her in the boot of a car didn’t work… or she could always try and blame her longtime friend (never boyfriend) and say it was all his idea coz he’s dying of emphysema and will be dead by the time this comes to light… He doesnt even have emphysema and is the one who stopped her getting to megz…. and fancy comparing your lies and fallacies to that of lindy chamberlin. Matinee jacket my arse.
    Her story has more holes than swiss cheese and yes i have proof of what im saying

  3. owen allen says:

    Eight main themes were identified: loss of identity; stigma; psychological and physical health; relationships with others; attitudes towards the justice system; impact on finances and employment; traumatic experiences in custody; and adjustment difficulties
    Yes, I relate to that, and yet I only did 10 months in custody. But my life crashed when remanded the first time for “failing to appear in court, yet wasn’t a flight risk. I note recently it is not mandatory for arrest warrants to be issued for failing to appear.
    Second arrest when they put me in Risdon for 7 months for playing a guitar in a public place, which I did daily same time same place for weeks prior; and I was charged and convicted on breaking a restraining order.
    I tell you this so you understand how they abuse the power of the law for their own personal agendas. Victimise the outsider; anybody not connected to the regime.

  4. Steven Fennell says:

    The situation surrounding Karen Keefe is one that needs examination and action and I hope that this brave lady can receive justice in due course.

    It is time that state and Federal Governments undertook similar studies and act upon the results.

    There are of course many that have there own story and I am one of them.

    As a victim of wrongful imprisonment that saw me spend 2,373 days wrongfully in prison I can attest first hand to the severe psychological consequences of a wrongful conviction.

    My journey towards justice is not over. I am not talking about any claim for compensation which may or may not be lodged, but rather justice for the persons that gave false statements and perjured evidence in court. I seek an examination of the police process in my case case. Not just police, but the Corona’s office who were equally inept.

    The details of my matter are equally not for this forum, however like Karen it is to alert people of the failings in the system.

  5. LB says:

    The devastating consequences of wrongful convictions and any associated murky conduct spill into the community in a ripple effect. Just reading this post tonight sickens me to the core and highlights the need for any wrongdoings anywhere to be properly investigated and put right promptly. I only have the utmost respect for the victims and their families who must be told that they have an army of support from decent people…. This simply cannot be allowed to go on in any civilised society.

    • William Elliot says:

      LB i quite agree i know a woman who been wrongly convicted on vrtually zero evidence and murdrr of her husbandor anyone not in her nature in Hobart on Australia day 2009 where for reporting her partner missing they locked her up and gave her a lengthy sentence. They the authhorities ie police and judiciary know shes innocent but persist in her detention. The Authorities and judicial system there is pecerted and also mal practice too leafing to gross misscarrisges of justice and these folk dont give a chit and all they are bothered about is being sued for wrongful detention, wrongful imprisonment slander and deffamation of character and health affected and declining in prison. This woman is Susan Neill Fraser and i know her and het family as we were friends prior to Sue goung back to Australia both her mum and dad died while she was in jail probably through stress of daughter being in prison for somethimg she didnt do and stress causes heart attack or strokes all caused by blind judges and prosecutors one other dpp said the case shouldnt have reached court due to virtially zero evidence. The Hobart judiciary and police need to be seriously overhauled as it seems to me they wouldnt know truth or justice if it bit them on their legal backsides. This needs the Hobart tasmanian press behind forcing true justice please ensure they get this and like me fight Sues case and for other innocents being jailed by arrogant big headed fools in judiciary that cant admit they wrte wrong and correct injustice thank you.

      • andrew says:

        Please, William Elliot, re-read your comments before posting and correct spelling and other errors to make your comment easier to read and comprehend. Thanks.

  6. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Strength be with you Karen and thank you for sharing this.

  7. Rosemary says:

    I would extend that disillusionment in the justice system to every supporter and witness of an ongoing wrongful conviction. Faith in our justice system, politics etc is eroding at a fast pace. This report helps to identify issues that we can all take on board in our attempts to support anyone wrongfully convicted or accused. Thank you for your broad approach to justice issues brought to the public attention.

  8. Karen Keefe says:

    The tactics TasPol have used to get me to change my statements to them has caused me horrific and on going trauma. They used recorded sessions of my therapeutics appointments that were “accidentally ” recorded whilst I was an inmate at Mary Hutchinson Women’s Prison. They obtained the knowledge of a brutal sexual assault that I had suffered at the hand of 9 men over 8 hours and 7 months pregnant. With this knowledge I was berated and abused for being “just a Junkie”, therefore I deserved it. The details are not for this post but let me tell you, they stooped so low that they leaked the worst of the details to other prison inmates, causing me to be the target for some really harsh treatment. I have spent nearly 4 years on bail for charges pertaining to the Sue Neill-Fraser appeal and those four years have seen me bought to the brink of suicide, more than once. My children suffered being followed by the media, resulting in an order being made to protect them. After this four years of relentless pursuit by TasPol , and their failure to have me alter my statement. Last Friday in open court, my charges were officially declared “not to be indictable” . So they move on to the next victim…..and me……I’ll continue to fight for Sue’s release and I’ll continue to feel the damage they’ve done to my mental health

    • Rosie Crumpton-Crook says:

      Karen, the strength you have shown is admirable, most people would not have been able to withstand such pressure. Thank you for never giving up on Sue.

    • Andy says:

      So using the victim approach now i see karen. Honestly just once i wish this woman would do something positive with no gain. This all started over karen wanting reward money and was willing to go to any lengths to secure her nest egg even if it meant trying to get meaghan to recount some story of how events had unfolded which was untrue. Why would anyone get involved in a murder case if they knew nothing of the actual event, to the extent karen did and then moan that her mental health n family suffered?
      If she hadve stayed out of it this would be nowhere near the mess it has become. Also i find it hard to believe someone like karen would be teased or ridiculed when she is known for orchestrating that type of behaviour. Want want want take take take is a motto she lives by even to this day… keeps living a lie, hwr memory needs to be better n her stories a bit more believable. Poor meaghan, being mixed up with karen. I feel sad that meaghan trusted her n that karen like with everyone in her life just doesnt care

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