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Exploring the Effects of Incarceration on the Safety and Well-being of Families and Inmates Using the Crime Victimization Survey.

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)
Original Solicitation

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2005, $34,997)

This project was competitively reviewed under the management of Patrick Clark, NIJ and satisfies all the requirements as stated in the solicitation on NIJ Data Resource Program.

Traditionally, the effects of incarceration have been assessed in terms of the recidivism of individual offenders or the reductions in aggregate crime rates (Nagin, 1998; Blumstein, et al. 1978; Leavitt, 1996). More recently the number of people incarcerated and the clustering of that incarceration in inner-city black populations raise the prospect that incarceration may be undermining less coercive institutions of social control, such as families and communities (Lynch and Sabol, 1992; Rose and Clear, 1998, 1999; Clear, 1996; Moore, 1996). To the extent that these less coercive institutions of social control are the first line of defense against crime, then undermining them may mean that the long run consequences of the massive increases in incarceration of the past fifteen years will be increased crime at least in those communities with highest incarceration rates (Rose and Clear, 1998).

Allegations that incarceration undermines less coercive institutions of social control are largely speculative (Moore, 1996; Clear, 1996; Rose and Clear, 1998; Nightengale, et al., 1996). While there is a small body of research that attempts to document the effects of incarceration on less coercive institutions of social control, this work is limited in a number of ways (Lynch and Sabol, 2000; Hagan and Dinonvitzer, 1999. The studies of the effects of incarceration on families, for example, are often descriptive and qualitative. Typically small groups of families of inmates are asked about the pains that imprisonment has caused them. There is no attempt to isolate the effects of imprisonment from all of the other conditions that are affecting the lives of these families. As a result, arguments that imprisonment is undermining families are not as persuasive as they could be. Studies with more rigorous research designs are essential to provide a convincing test of the assertions that incarceration has undermined families of inmates. Designs that feature over-time measurement of the conditions of families as well as experimental and control groups would offer the type of evidence required. Unfortunately such designs are logistically difficult to implement and extremely expensive. Moreover, they usually entail severe trade-offs in generalizability for validity.

This proposal describes a creative use of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) that would provide a more rigorous test of the effects of incarceration on families at relatively low cost. Unique features of the survey, instituted in 1995, permit the identification of persons leaving households for institutions and returning from institutions to households. Since households are interviewed multiple times over a three year period, it will be possible to monitor changes in the status of households both before and after removal and re-entry. Of particular interest, here, is the victimization experience of these households. Moreover, since most households in the survey do not experience the incarceration of their members in a given year, there will be ample opportunity for control groups. By providing over time measurement of family conditions as well as control groups, this analysis of the NCVS data can provide a more definitive test of the effects of incarceration on families than has been possible heretofore.

Date Created: June 6, 2006