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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

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

Re-entry following incarceration is a complex issue in the contemporary United States. Mass incarceration and tough on crime policies have contributed to a system that disproportionately punishes and incarcerates people of color. For the correctional system, these racial and ethnic disparities translate to issues related to “successful” re-entry following incarceration. Traditionally, re-entry success has been considered to be desistance from crime. However, ideas about re-entry success have developed to include broader concepts of successful reintegration into society. Prominent scholarship surrounding criminal justice policies, procedures, and processes has recognized and made strides in addressing facilitators and barriers to successful reintegration for formerly incarcerated individuals, and has uncovered obstacles uniquely faced by minorities. Specifically, researchers have identified these race-related correctional concerns in areas such as probation and parole experiences, familial ties, resource access, employment and educational opportunities, community disadvantage, civic disenfranchisement, and health. Recent scholarship has provided a wealth of considerations for addressing these convoluted re-entry issues. Withal, research indicates that a shift toward more evidence-based policies and interventions shows the most promise for improving re-entry outcomes for minorities, and the need for more equitable policies and practices involving incarcerated and re-entering persons. Assisting re-entering individuals with accessing vital resources (e.g., health care, housing, government assistance), equipping them with necessary skills to live stable and independent lives (e.g., prison-based services, educational assistance, professional training, employment opportunities), promoting healthy connections with their families and communities, and restoring their civic power are all steps that evidence suggests improve re-entry success and reintegration. Continued research on these areas and race is essential to understanding the dimensions of disparate re-entry experiences and creating an even road to successful reintegration after incarceration.