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Graffiti has a long history. There are many examples from the history of human cultures of signs and symbols left on walls as remnants of human presence. However, the origins of modern graffiti reside in the explosion of creative activity associated with the development of urban cultural expression among marginalized individuals, groups, and communities in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Graffiti has expanded in form and content as well as geography to become an almost universal urban phenomenon. It is a ubiquitous feature of cities and an adornment of the modern urban landscape. It has developed beyond its original expression and identification with lettering and spray paint to now encompass a range of media and practices that are associated with street art.
Graffiti in particular, but also street art, has engendered contrasting opinions and reactions about its effect, meaning, and value. It elicits a variety of responses both positive and negative. Is it art or is it crime? Is it a creative expression or resistance to dominant urban design discourses and management? Is it vandalism? Is it the result of deviant youthful and antisocial behavior? It has been linked to urban decay and community decline as well as regeneration and gentrification. Graffiti writers and street artists have been criminalized, while others have been lauded and promoted within the commodified world of the art market. The popularity and spread of graffiti as a global phenomenon have led to an increasing academic, artistic, and practitioner literature on graffiti that covers a range of issues, perspectives, and approaches (identity, youth, subculture, gender, antisocial behavior, vandalism, gangs, territoriality, policing and crime, urban art, aesthetics, commodification, etc.). The worlds of graffiti and street art are therefore complex and have provoked debate, conflict and response from those who view them as forms of urban blight as well as from those who perceive them as an expression of (sub)cultural creativity and representative of urban vibrancy and dynamism. The study of who does graffiti and street art, as well as why, where, and when they do graffiti and street art, can help develop our understanding of the competing and contrasting experiences and uses of the city, of urban space, of culture, of design, and of governance. Graffiti is therefore also the focus for social policy initiatives aimed at youth and urban/community regeneration as well as the development and exercise of criminal justice strategies.
Bill McClanahan, Avi Brisman, and Nigel South
Since first proposed by Brisman and South, green cultural criminology has sought to interrogate human-environment interactions in order to locate meaning. Within the broad framework of green cultural criminology, work has emerged that follows visual criminology in looking to the visual cultural register for insights into the intersections of crime, harm, justice, culture and the natural environment. This article turns the green cultural criminological gaze towards motion pictures, by considering how cinema can serve as a central and essential site of the cultural production and communication of knowledge and meaning(s) that inform human interactions with the natural environment. Indeed, environmental crimes, harms, and disasters are constructed and imagined and represented in cinema, and the films discussed in this article illustrate the ways in which the environment-culture connection in the contemporary cinematic mediascape has influenced public discourses concerning environmental change and harm. This article begins by examining the capacity of documentary film to raise public awareness and generate shifts in public consciousness about environmental harms. From here, it explores cinematic science fiction representations of apocalyptic climate disaster, noting the power of the medium in communicating contemporary anxieties surrounding climate change. Finally, filmic communications of a central category of interest for green cultural criminology—resistance to environmental harm—are described, in addition to the various ways that resistance by environmentalists has recently been represented in popular cinema. The films discussed throughout—including An Inconvenient Truth, Cowspiracy, The East, If A Tree Falls, Night Moves, and Snowpiercer—are not an exhaustive sampling of contemporary representations of environmental issues in cinema. Rather, they represent the most salient—and are among the most popular—moments of contemporary cinematic engagement with the nexus of environmental harm and culture. This article concludes by contending that a green cultural criminology should continue to look to the visual register because sites of cultural production often overlooked by criminology (e.g., cinema, literature) can reveal significant and essential information about the moments in which environmental harm, justice, and culture intersect and collide.
Timothy R. Lauger
Street gangs are, by definition, social groups that contain patterns of interactions between gang members, associates, and other gangs in their social environment. The structure and content of these interaction patterns, or group processes, are essential for both understanding gang life and explaining collective and individual behavior. For example, variations in organizational sophistication, internal cohesion, and individual-level social integration influence the day-to-day experiences of gang members and can affect criminal behavior. Social ties between gang members are also mediums for street socialization and the development and/or transmission of gang culture. As prospective gang members age and become exposed to street life, they gravitate to peers and collectively learn about how to negotiate their social environment. They connect to other gang members and model the gang’s ideals to become accepted by the group. Routine interactions in the gang communicate the nuances of gang culture and explain the group’s expectations for violent behavior. These lessons are reinforced when conflicts with other groups arise and contentious interactions escalate into serious threats or actual violence. Cultural meanings developed in the gang can alter how a member perceives social situations, various social roles (e.g., gender roles), and his or her sense of self. Interactions within the gang develop the gang’s collective identity, which becomes an ideal standard for members to pursue. Gang members perform this idealized notion of “gang member” in public settings, often acting as if they are capable of extreme violence. For some members these performances may be fleeting and largely disconnected from the ideals to which they truly aspire, while others may fully embrace the ideals of the gang. Such variation is contingent on social processes within the gang and how socially integrated an individual is to other members. Researching social processes within gangs provides a wealth of information about how life in the gang influences gang member behavior.
Danielle M. Reynald
This article provides a critical overview of the concepts of guardianship and informal social control. The discussion compares these fundamental criminological concepts and highlights areas where there is overlap, as well as key points of departure. The relationship between these concepts is scrutinized to illustrate their distinct origins as well as the distinctive ways each of these concepts have developed within the criminological literature. This article focuses on informal social control as a multi-level community process, and on guardianship as a multi-dimensional situational concept comprising, in its most fundamental form, the presence or availability of guardians, inadvertent and/or purposive supervision and direct or indirect intervention. In doing so it showcases the dimensions of guardianship which bear close resemblance to aspects of informal social control, while simultaneously emphasizing that there are important distinctions to consider when comparing some of these dimensions and the levels at which they operate. One core distinction is that informal social control is dependent on neighborhood social ties and collectively shared expectations. On the other hand, while guardianship can be strengthened by social ties at the street-block or neighborhood level, it does not necessarily require such ties to function effectively at the microlevel. Although these concepts do coincide the discussion stresses that theoretical and empirical clarification about what makes them distinct is important. In conclusion, this article shows how each concept makes a unique contribution to criminological understanding about the role of informal citizens in crime control at places.
American courtroom films depicting criminal trials have long resonated with audiences around the world, including viewers in countries whose legal systems are very different from those portrayed in the films. Three principal factors account for the broad popularity of these films.
1. Flexibility of the genre: The crimes with which defendants are charged can be carried out in an infinite number of ways and for an infinite variety of motives. Stories can be comedies or dramas; real or fictional; and “who-dunits,” “why-dunits,” or “how-dunits.”
2. The adversary system of trial: The American adversary system of trial is made to order for screenwriters. The question-and-answer format produces verbal duels between lawyers and witnesses that often result in surprise evidence, sudden plot twists, and in-your-face comeuppances. While the nominal targets of the testimony and the arguments are the jurors who are frequently present, the jurors are proxies for the writers’ ultimate targets, the viewers.
3. Subject matter: Defendants in courtroom films are typically charged with murder or other forms of serious crime, topics to which viewers in all countries can easily relate.
For individual courtroom films, the “moment of truth” typically occurs when viewers find out whether a defendant is innocent or guilty. But for the courtroom genre as a whole, “moments of truth” consist of the “macro lessons” that courtroom films “teach” to viewers about the American system of criminal justice. Most viewers, regardless of where they live, have had little or very little exposure to actual criminal trials. For most people, what they think they know about American criminal justice is based on the images of law, lawyers, and criminal justice portrayed in courtroom films.
Historical study of crime, media, and popular culture has been underway since “the cultural turn” in the social sciences and humanities in the 1980s. Since then, a diverse literature has emerged presenting different theories, dealing with various time periods and topics, and challenging contemporary assumptions. Much of this work has focused on the press, because newspaper archives offer a familiar source for researchers accustomed to working with documents in libraries and because “moral panic” has provided a theory that can be easy moved from one time and place to another. However, crime, media, and popular culture presents a vast history and much of this has yet to be examined by criminologists. It includes broadcast radio, television, and feature films, as well as folklore, ballad and song, and theatrical performance, not to mention novels and stories. There has been enough historical research by specialists in literature, journalism history, film history, and other fields to demonstrate the value of historical research for criminology. But making to most of this history will require methodological innovation and theoretical development. To understand the history of crime, media, and popular culture, criminologists will need to move away from document-based historical research and toward digital forms of archived media. They will also need to develop theoretical perspectives beyond 1970s sociology.
The enduring popular fascination with crime and criminality suggests that history matters. In the most obvious sense, current representations of crime in the media bear traces of earlier codes and practices. Recognizing this past enables a more sophisticated understanding of the present—especially since many current controversies have much longer histories than is usually acknowledged. This is not to suggest a long line of steady continuity stretching back to the earliest forms of oral, face-to-face storytelling from the latest mediated technology that encompasses the lives of millions around the world. Instead, the argument is that understanding changing forms of representation requires attention to how developments in communication media are themselves integral to the formation of modern societies. For example, it has been argued that the blurring of fact, fiction and entertainment is indicative of a postmodern “hyperreality,” where the boundary separating reality from its representation has “imploded” to such an extent that there are now no real-world referents (Baudrillard, 1988). However, the boundaries between fact and fiction have always been fairly fluid. For instance, during the 16th and 17th centuries, both novels and news reports were seen as neither entirely factual nor as clearly fictional (Davis, 1980, 1983). Moreover, what we now regard as a “news story” would have to have been cast in the form of fiction for it to appear in the press during the 18th century. None of this is to suggest that people are incapable of distinguishing between the real and the imaginary, but to insist that understandings of crime in everyday life are continually informed by representations of crime in popular culture.
The importance of bringing to bear a historical perspective is emphasized throughout, as is the sheer range of material. The tendency to refer to “the media” in the singular obscures the diversity of media forms (film, television, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, books, and so on) that surround us. The word “media” is the plural of “medium,” which was initially used to refer to the materials used for communication (Briggs & Burke, 2005, p. 5). From the papyrus, clay, and stone of the ancient world to the plastic, metal, and wire of modern media, it is clear that the technologies of communication have an immense influence, ranging from the most inner dimensions of personal experience to the global organization of power. In a time of fast-paced media developments and rapid information delivery, a thorough understanding of media history and changing forms of representation is needed more than ever.
Mark S. Fleisher
Radical culture change instigated by conflict among diverse cultural groups has had adverse social and psychological effects witnessed by the rise of youth gangs. A close look at the processes of gang formation in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City illustrates that rapid changes in core cultural systems had a chilling effect on ethnic groups’ core cultural practices, such as adolescents’ rites of passage to adulthood. In the absence of culturally prescribed, ritual activities, adolescents have not been prepared to assume their culture’s prescribed adult roles. That radical loss in a core cultural tradition has adversely affected adolescents’ behavior. Research in the early decades of the 20th century in Chicago reported that adolescent gang members experienced depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and addictions as consequents of violence clashes between Chicago’s native white population and European immigrants and black migrants. Over the decades of gang research in America and Europe, sociologists and anthropologists have come to agree on cultural elements in theories of gang formation: American and European youth gangs are derivative of cultural clashes, which engender racism and fundamental antagonistic changes in cultural systems’ economic production and social control. Effects of hostile culture change include social discord, unemployment, gang, and violence.
Social network research on adolescent gangs has shown that gangs are not closed social groups limiting gang members’ interpersonal contact to co-group members. Gang and non-group adolescents differ in attributes (sex, age, education), but structural measures of adolescent gang groups and non-groups are similar. Network research has carefully examined gang and non-gang adolescents’ personal networks. A personal network of male and female gang members includes people they know who know them. A personal network’s composition can include a few friends, close friends, and best friends, and numerous others inside a gang group as well as members of other gangs and non-gang members. Personal network relations connect gang adolescents to their families, friends, and neighborhoods, despite gang membership. Gang ethnography describing youth gang members and their families has shown that gang youth have been victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, experience periods of episodic homelessness away their natal and extended kin, as well as fictive families, and suffer adverse mental health consequences.
This chapter analyzes the representation of homicide in contemporary television drama series. The chapter draws upon critical analysis from the fields of criminal law, criminology, law and literature, and cultural studies to provide various analytical frameworks and perspectives through which to understand and critique specific dramas and the portrayal of homicide drama generally. If criminology is an effort to understand crime and criminals, then crime dramas including homicide television dramas can be considered a form of popular criminology that can and should be analyzed in terms of cultural representations of crime and criminal justice. Theorists have proposed that crime fiction can be categorized as mystery, detective fiction, or crime fiction. This framework provides a means for analyzing homicide drama, including the possibility of resolution and justice, geographic and temporal settings, the portrayal of the murder, and the construction of the three stock characters of crime fiction (the victim, the detective, and the murderer). The chapter concludes with a presentation of theories about the impact of media portrayals of crime upon public beliefs about crime, criminality, and the criminal legal system.
Joachim J. Savelsberg and Suzy McElrath
Structural and cultural changes in the modernization process, combined with contingent historical events, gave rise to a human rights regime. It is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated after World War II and the Holocaust. Yet, only the gravest of human rights violations have been criminalized. First steps were taken beginning in the 19th century with The Hague and Geneva Conventions, constituting the Laws of Armed Conflict. They were followed by the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), and eventually the Rome Statute (1998) on which the first permanent International Criminal Court is based. Some scholars even observe a justice cascade. Enforcement of the norms entailed in the above legal documents benefits from opportunities such as increases in international interdependencies, the buildup of international organizations, and the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations in the human rights realm. Challenges arise from partially competing principles such as conflict settlement and survival of suffering populations as cultivated by social fields such as humanitarianism and diplomacy and from a lack of law enforcement. While international institutions play a crucial role, much international law is implemented through domestic courts. International penal law pertaining to human rights has affected domestic policymaking in the human rights realm but also nation-level policies pertaining to the punishment of common crimes. Finally, debates continue to rage regarding the effects of the criminalization of grave human rights violations. Proponents have thus far focused on potential deterrent effects, but a new line of thought has begun to take cultural effects seriously. Its representatives identify a redefinition of those responsible for mass violence as criminal perpetrators and substantial representational power of international criminal law against those who bear responsibility for the gravest of human rights violations.
Rachel Austin and Amy Farrell
Although the exploitation of people for profit is not a new phenomenon, in the late 1990s and early 2000s international leaders, advocates, and the public became increasingly concerned about the risks of exploitation inherent in labor migration and commercial sex work. In 2000, the U.S. government passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA), which defined a new crime of human trafficking and directed law enforcement agencies to begin identifying and responding to this form of victimization. Following passage of the TVPA, U.S. media interest in human trafficking as a crime increased steadily, though the framing of the problem, its causes, and its solutions has changed over time. Media coverage of human trafficking spiked around 2005 and has risen steadily since that time. Human trafficking has become a “hot topic”—the subject of investigative journalism and a sexy plot line for films and television shows. Yet, the media often misrepresent human trafficking or focus exclusively on certain aspects of the problem. Research on human trafficking frames in print media revealed that portrayals of human trafficking were for the most part oversimplified and inaccurate in terms of human trafficking being portrayed as innocent white female victims needing to be rescued from nefarious traffickers. Depictions of human trafficking in movies, documentaries, and television episodes in the United States have followed a rescue narrative, where innocent victims are saved from harmful predators. Additionally, traffickers are commonly portrayed in the media as part of larger organized crime rings, despite empirical evidence to the contrary. Incorrect framing of human trafficking in the popular media may lead policymakers and legislators to adopt less helpful antitrafficking responses, particularly responses focused on criminal justice system solutions.
Thalia Anthony and Harry Blagg
Indigenous people have been subject to policies that disproportionately incarcerate them since the genesis of colonization of their lands. Incarceration is one node of a field of colonial oppression for Indigenous people. Colonial practices have sought to reduce Indigenous people to “bare life,” to use Agamben’s term, where their humanity is denied the basic rights and expression in the pursuit of sovereign extinguishment. Across the settler colonies of Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, the colonial drive to conquer land and eliminate Indigenous peoples has left deep scars on Indigenous communities and compromised bonds to kin, culture, and country. Indigenous people have been made refugees in their own countries.
Contemporary manifestations of penal incarceration for Indigenous people are a continuation of colonial strategies rather than a distinct phase. The concept of “hyperincarceration” draws attention to the problem of incarceration and its discriminatory targets. It also turns our attention to the turnstile of incarceration in Western postmodernity. However, the prison is but one form of exclusion for Indigenous people in a constellation of eliminatory and assimilatory practices, policies, and regimes imposed by colonial governance. Rather than overemphasizing the prison, there needs to be a broader conceptualization of colonial governance through “the camp,” again in the words of Agamben. The colonial institutionalization of Indigenous people, including in out-of-home care, psychiatric care, and corrective programs, is akin to a camp where Indigenous people are relegated to the margins of society. We eschew a narrow notion of hyperincarceration and instead posit a structural analysis of colonial relations underpinning the camp.
Timothy O. Lenz
The media inform the public about crime while also reflecting and shaping thinking about crime. The news media primarily provide information when they report on crime as part of the coverage of public affairs, but they also shape thinking about crime. The entertainment media, particularly television and film crime stories, primarily entertain audiences, but they also reflect and shape public opinion about the threat of crime, the causes of crime, criminal justice policies, and the criminal justice system. The media effect on the general public’s thinking about crime includes both the news media and the entertainment media because the trends toward infotainment in the news media (e.g., docudramas and true crime reality shows) and realism in the crime genre (stories that are based on or inspired by actual events) have blurred the distinction between fact and fiction.
The study of ideology in the crime genre includes the development of theories; empirical analyses of the media effect; explaining ideology, film, and television crime stories as legal texts explaining criminal procedure; and the exploration of current issues related to thinking about rights, law, violence, and justice.
Asher Flynn and Nicola Henry
Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) is a form of technology-facilitated sexual violence. The term describes a pattern of behaviors involving the nonconsensual creation, distribution, or threats to distribute, nude or sexual images. Also known as “revenge pornography” or “nonconsensual pornography,” IBSA affects a significant proportion of the population. According to Australian research conducted by Henry, Powell, and Flynn, and the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner, one in five Australians between the ages of 16 and 49 have had at least one experience of IBSA, including 1 in 10 who have had a nude or sexual image shared without their consent. In a 2016 US study conducted by Lenhart, Ybarra, and Price-Feeney, 4% of men and 6% of women ages 15 to 29 reported having had a nude or nearly nude image shared without their consent. These figures are likely to be an underestimate of the true prevalence of IBSA because such studies only capture victims who have become aware that images of them have been created or shared without their consent.
Perpetrators of IBSA can include intimate partners, family members, friends, acquaintances, and persons unknown to the victim, with diverse motivations, including sexual gratification, retribution, coercive control, social notoriety, monetary gain, and voyeurism. The images themselves may be self-created by the victim as a “selfie” or produced consensually in the context of a relationship. Alternatively, images may be digitally altered, taken surreptitiously in public or private settings, or created coercively, or they may have been taken of a sexual assault or rape. While IBSA is not itself new, technology has created a conducive and large-scale platform for such abuse to occur.
This article analyzes the tension created between the lack of images and the imagination of alternative justice from the particular perspective of “restorative justice.” The most sustained justice discourse to propose significant differences to the criminal justice system, restorative justice nevertheless has not proposed differences necessarily on the “battleground of images,” but, as argued in the article, mainly on the subterrain of “imagination.” It does not, therefore, offer an image of alternative justice, but rather an alternative of justice that belongs to the realm of imagination, pointing simultaneously at the limits of representation and the necessity of developing new forms of imagination that go beyond images to incorporate alternatives at the levels of metaphors, language, architecture, and practices. Using a few exemplary cases, the text argues overall for the primacy of imagination over images of alternative justice.
Daniel L. Stageman
The gap between public perception of immigrant criminality and the research consensus on immigrants’ actual rates of criminal participation is persistent and cross-cultural. While the available evidence shows that immigrants worldwide tend to participate in criminal activity at rates slightly lower than the native-born, media and political discourse portraying immigrants as uniquely crime-prone remains a pervasive global phenomenon. This apparent disconnect is rooted in the dynamics of othering, or the tendency to dehumanize and criminalize identifiable out-groups. Given that most migration decisions are motivated by economic factors, othering is commonly used to justify subjecting immigrants to exploitative labor practices, with criminalization often serving as the rationale for excluding immigrants from full participation in the social contract. When considered in the context of social harm, immigrants’ relationship to crime and criminality becomes more complex, especially where migration decisions are forced or made under coercive circumstances involving ethnic cleansing, genocide, or other state crimes; many recent examples of these dynamics have rendered large numbers of migrants effectively stateless. Experiencing the direct or collateral effects of state crimes can, in turn, affect immigrants’ participation in a wide range of crime types, from status crimes such as prostitution or survival theft to terrorism and organized criminal activity such as drug trafficking or human trafficking. While there is no available research evidence indicating that immigrants participate in any given crime type at higher rates than the native-born, the dynamics of transnational criminal activity—reliant on multinational social networks, multilingual communication, and transportation across borders—favor immigrant participation, though such crimes are often facilitated by multinational corporations.
In the context of crime, victimization, and immigration in the United States, research shows that people are afraid of immigrants because they think immigrants are a threat to their safety and engage in many violent and property crimes. However, quantitative research has consistently shown that being foreign born is negatively associated with crime overall and is not significantly associated with committing either violent or property crime. If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for a criminal offense, it tends to be for a misdemeanor. Researchers suggest that undocumented immigrants may be less likely to engage in serious criminal offending behavior because they seek to earn money and not to draw attention to themselves. Additionally, immigrants who have access to social services are less likely to engage in crime than those who live in communities where such access is not available. Some emerging research has shown that communities with concentrated immigrant populations have less crime because these communities become revitalized. In regard to victimization, foreign-born victims of crime may not report their victimization because of fears that they will experience negative consequences if they contact the police or seek to avoid legal mechanisms to resolve disputes. Recently, concern about immigration and victimization has turned to refugees who are at risk of harm from traffickers, who warehouse them, threaten them, and abuse them physically with impunity. More research is needed on the relationship among immigration, offending, and victimization. The United States and other nations that focus on border security may be misplacing their efforts during global crises that result in forced migrations. Poverty and war, among other social conditions that would encourage a person to leave their homeland in search of a better life, should be addressed by governments when enforcing immigration laws and policy.
The use of detention for immigration purposes is a carceral trend that continues to increase across the world and is a phenomenon no longer limited to so-called western countries or the global north. Linked to the criminalization of mass migration under conditions of globalization, immigration detention can be understood as both a policy and a practice that is directed towards the control of unwanted human mobility. The extension of tactics traditionally used in the penal system to the realm of immigration control raises important questions about the purpose, justification, and legitimacy of immigration detention. Broadly defined as the confinement of non-citizens under administrative powers rather than criminal law to achieve immigration-related aims, immigration detention is one amongst an array of border control strategies aimed at the identification of migrants, the prevention of absconding, and the facilitation of their removal. Only recently has this form of confinement become the focus of criminological inquiry. Researchers have found that immigration detention has a profound impact on those who are detained, particularly on mental and physical health as well as on more complex issues of identity, belonging, human rights, and legitimacy. Empirical research has indicated that although the detention of migrants is not punishment, it is often experienced as such, with the prison emerging as a point of comparison through which to make sense of this practice. That the “usual suspects”―poor men and women of color―are the primary populations detained raises important questions about the use of immigration detention in the service of punitive and restrictive migration control strategies that further global inequality along the familiar lines of gender, race, and socioeconomic status.
Sara Wakefield and Janet Garcia-Hallett
The rapid rise in the incarceration rate, most notably in the United States over the last four decades, has drawn greater attention to the disabilities imposed by incarceration experiences and the spillover of these complications to the families of inmates. Prisons have always disproportionately drawn upon the disadvantaged, but research today details how imprisonment creates new harms for inmates as well as for those who are connected to them but were never incarcerated. In this contribution, the effects of incarceration on the family are briefly described across several domains. First, the social patterning of incarceration effects are described, for inmates and for their families, showing that imprisonment effects are both widespread and overwhelmingly repressive for some groups. Next, the effects of incarceration on the families of inmates are described, focusing on the partners and children of inmates, and differentiating between maternal and paternal incarceration. Incarceration is broadly harmful for families, but there is a significant gender gap in knowledge—research on paternal incarceration and the romantic partners of male inmates is much more common, rigorous, and uniform in findings. Where findings are mixed, scholarship is reviewed on how examining incarceration and family life has expanded across varying fields that often differ in their research approach, emphasis, and methodology. Finally, the discussion ends with the most pressing challenges for researchers going forward, suggesting that studies interrogating heterogeneity and leveraging new data sources offer the most fruitful path. This review is focused largely on the United States. First, and most practically, much of our knowledge about the effects of incarceration on the family is based on U.S.-based samples. Second, the effects of incarceration on the family have worsened significantly as a result of the prison boom in the United States. It remains to be seen how such effects translate to different contexts; some research suggests similar process at much lower incarceration rates, while others show less harm in other contexts.
A nation’s rate of incarceration is the number of people incarcerated as a proportion of its total population. Internationally, there is broad variation in the degree to which nations incarcerate their citizens, with a nearly 40-fold difference between the highest and lowest rates. The incarceration rate is often interpreted as a measurement of the degree of punitiveness in a society, although it is an imperfect measurement. Factors that may influence these rates include rates of serious crime, law enforcement and prosecutorial decision making, scale of prison admissions, length of time served in prison, and other means of social control in a society.
Emerging scholarship is exploring the broader societal factors contributing to a nation’s rate of incarceration. These studies explore policy initiatives to prioritize incarceration as a means of crime control, degree of inequality in a society, racial assumptions about crime, and the cultural values of a nation. With the rise of mass incarceration in the United States, a body of research has developed that is assessing the limited public safety benefits and collateral effects of these developments. These counterproductive effects include impacts on family formation and parenting in high-incarceration communities, rates of civic engagement, and the fraying of community bonds and informal social control.