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Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

James M. Binnall and Maryanne Alderson

Reentry is the process of ending a period of incarceration, leaving jail or prison, and returning to society. Not to be confused with reintegration or recidivism, reentry is not a measure of success or failure. Instead, reentry is a journey, and no two reentries are analogous. The reentry process is individualized and highly dependent on a number of factors including a reentering individual’s sentence structure, incarceration experience, and postrelease resources. Depending on these factors, a reentering individual may find his or her return to the free world a relatively smooth transition or a task riddled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. To navigate such obstacles, most reentering individuals need assistance. Traditionally, reentry assistance was provided by the state, through correctional programming in prison or by parole authorities tasked with monitoring a reentering individual postrelease. In recent years, nonprofit and faith-based organizations have increasingly been a part of innovative reentry initiatives. There has also been a recent expansion of Internet-based reentry resources, such as reentry.net and exoffenders.net, which allow those experiencing reentry to obtain reentry resources online. Reentry initiatives typically take two forms: deficit-based and strengths-based. Deficit-based reentry models use actuarial assessments to identify a reentering individual’s criminogenic risks and needs. In theory, deficit-based models then address those risks and needs through measured, tailored responses. Critics of deficit-based models argue that by focusing only on risks and needs, such approaches overlook reentering individuals’ talents and skills. Acknowledging these criticisms, many reentry initiatives have shifted away from the traditional deficits-centered model of reentry and toward a strengths-based approach. Rather than focusing on the risks and needs of a reentering individual, strengths-based approaches highlight the attributes of reentering individuals and draw on the experiences of former offenders who have successfully navigated their own reentry and best understand the pitfalls of the process. Recent, albeit limited empirical and experiential evidence supports the strength-based approach to reentry, suggesting that the concerns and insights of those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system make the transition from incarceration to freedom a smoother one.

Article

Alec C. Ewald

Collateral sanctions are legal restrictions on the rights and privileges of people who have experienced contact with the criminal justice system, particularly contact resulting in conviction. Usually placed in civil and regulatory codes, collateral sanctions may limit a person’s ability to vote, live in public housing, own a firearm, qualify for an occupational license, serve in the military, receive public benefits, sit on a jury, or borrow money for college, among other activities. Yet, because they are usually defined as “indirect” consequences of a conviction, they may never surface in the criminal justice process, and they frequently extend far beyond the sentence. Such restrictions can deeply compromise the civic status and life chances of Americans with conviction records. But they are far from uniform: some serious restrictions are triggered by criminal justice involvement well short of a conviction, while others mark only some classes of offenders or operate only in some states. Layered into the federal system, multiplying the complications of criminal law and regulatory law, and imposed by civil servants with wide leeway in their interpretation of rules, American collateral sanctions are varied and complex. Their reach and severity in the United States appear to be unique in the democratic world and mark an important respect in which the American carceral state extends beyond mass incarceration.

Article

Mass imprisonment in the United States is an epidemic that has spread across five generations affecting millions of individuals, their families, and hundreds of communities. The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world—with over 2 million behind bars and another 5 to 7 million under community supervision on parole and probation. With 5% of the world’s population, the United States has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. This U.S. system imposes many punitive policies, holding more of its citizens in isolation and solitary confinement than all the other prisons of the world combined and imposing the highest rates of life sentences of any nation. This public health analysis of mass incarceration in the United States (first proposed in Ernest Drucker’s 2011 book, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America) must therefore also address the high rates of prisoner reentry that accompany it—with over 600,000 U.S. prisoners reentering society each year—with the highest recidivism rate of any nation. This population is disproportionally poor and members of America’s large minority populations (African Americans and Latinos). The public health model provides a new tool for ending the American epidemic of mass imprisonment and, of equal importance, healing those who have survived its blows. This stage of the American story of mass incarceration is covered in Drucker’s 2018 book, Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health. But releasing people from prisons is not enough—the taint of punishment has a long-lasting and debilitating effect on the millions who return from prison to their home communities—facing social stigma and the many restrictions placed upon them as part of the conditions of parole—including limits of their access to public education, healthcare, and housing—as well as convicted felons’ loss of the right to vote. The United States badly needs a paradigm shift that replaces these impediments to successful reentry after prison, creating instead a positive place and normal life for this population in the outside world.

Article

Christopher Seeds

Life without parole sentencing refers to laws, policies, and practices concerning lifetime prison sentences that also preclude release by parole. While sentences to imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole have existed for more than a century in the United States, over the past four decades the penalty has emerged as a prominent element of U.S. punishment, routinely put to use by penal professionals and featured regularly in public discourse. As use of the death penalty diminishes in the United States, life without parole serves as the ultimate punishment in more and more U.S. jurisdictions. The scope with which states apply life without parole varies, however, and some states have authorized the punishment even for nonviolent offenses. More than a punishment serving purposes of retribution, crime control, and public safety, and beyond the symbolic functions of life without parole sentencing in U.S. culture and politics, life without parole is a lived experience for more than 50,000 prisoners in the United States. Life without parole’s increasing significance in the United States points to the need for further research on the subject—including studies that directly focus on how race and racial prejudice factor in life without parole sentencing, studies that investigate the proximate causes of life without parole sentences at the state and local level, and studies that examine the similarities and differences between life without parole, the death penalty, and de facto forms of imprisonment until death.

Article

Marisa Omori and Oshea Johnson

There have been two major approaches to studying racial and ethnic inequality in punishment: The first approach comes from the sociology of punishment and social inequality literatures, and considers how the carceral state, including criminal justice institutions, create racial inequality through policies and practices broadly, or how racialized narratives are embedded in these policies and practices. This includes how scholarship has been drawn from institutional racism and other race literatures and integrated these ideas into how punishment policies and practices are racialized, as well as how the criminal justice system is both a consequence of and a contributor to increasing racial inequality. In particular, the social inequality literature has also been concerned with the rise of mass incarceration and its consequences for racial inequality in individuals, families, and communities. The second approach is drawn from the criminology literature on courts and sentencing, and generally focuses on the magnitude and location of racial disparities for individuals being processed in the criminal justice system, with a particular attention to sentencing outcomes. There are several complementary frameworks that have been used to frame racial inequalities in punishment outcomes; most of them focus on individual-level decisions and decision-makers, with some considerations of organizational-level factors. Most often, this literature also quantitatively tests racial disparities of court processing and court case outcomes, with a particular focus on sentencing of convicted defendants, including whether a defendant was sentenced to prison or not (the “in/out” decision), and the length of prison sentence. The two perspectives can inform each other; the sociology of punishment focuses on policies and practices that drive racial inequality, and the courts and sentencing literature focuses on the consequences of these factors in case processing outcomes.

Article

Dawn Moore

The variables impacting how one experiences imprisonment are far ranging. George Jackson (1994), a pivotal character in American penal history, wrote that, “[b]lackmen born in the [United States] and fortunate enough to live past the age of eighteen are conditioned to accept the inevitability of prison” (p. 4). Ruth Wyner (2002), incarcerated 40 years after Jackson under vastly different circumstances, describes a very different sort of bleakness associated with her incarceration: One evening, just before I settled down to try to sleep, I allowed myself to remember my daughter in a way that I usually suppressed: remembering and feeling all the love that I had for her, every bit. A huge chasm grew inside me, dark and raw, and my throat constricted as I felt enveloped by the sadness. This was what was inside of me when I allowed myself to touch it. (p. 156) Such personal experiences of incarceration offer a window into how prisons function, or often more correctly, fail to function, from the point of view of the prisoner. These perspectives are vitally important to a fulsome understanding of incarceration because prisoners and their experiences paint a picture of confinement that is patently different from those described by penal officials and governments. There are numerous issues that shape the experiences of confinement, both historically and in the present day, a list longer than can be adequately addressed in this entry. Still, there are key concerns that recur in the literature and in ongoing debates about incarceration. Included here are human rights abuses, overcrowding, the overuse of solitary confinement, the situation of women prisoners, the incarceration of indigenous peoples, and health, especially mental health concerns.

Article

As we begin to think about the United States as a carceral state, this means that the scale of incarceration practices have grown so great within it that they have a determining effect on the shape of the the society as a whole. In addition to the budgets, routines, and technologies used is the culture of that carceral state, where relationships form between elements of its culture and its politics. In terms of its visual culture, that relationship forms a visuality, a culture and politics of vision that both reflects the state’s carceral qualities and, in turn, helps to structure and organize the society in a carceral manner. Images, architecture, light, presentation and camouflage, surveillance, and the play of sight between groups of people and the world are all materials through which the ideas of a society are worked out, its politics played out, its technology implemented, its rationality or common sense and identities forming. They also shape the politics of freedom and control, where what might be a free, privileged expression to one person could be a dangerous exposure to another, where invisibility or inscrutability may be a resource. In this article, these questions are asked in relation to the history of prison architecture, from premodern times to the present, while considering the multiple discourses that overlap throughout that history: war, enslavement, civil punishment, and freedom struggle, but also a discourse of agency, where subordinated peoples can or cannot resist, or remain hostile to or in difference from the control placed upon them.