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Families and Incarceration

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2002
278 pages
This dissertation details findings from a 3-year ethnographic study of the effects of male incarceration on families in the District of Columbia.
Nearly 1 out of every 10 adult Black men in the District of Columbia is in prison. This dissertation asserts that the effects of incarceration have a profoundly negative effect on the families of offenders. Following a discussion of the ways in which incarceration, poverty, and crime affect individuals in the District of Columbia and throughout the Nation, the paper summarizes several case studies of families of incarcerated individuals, indicating that incarceration has expanded to affect a sizeable majority of families in the District, including many middle class and suburban families. Addressing the social economies and the social costs of incarceration, the author indicates that incarceration has rippling effects on the economy of a household and on the reciprocal exchange networks of a family. Specifically, incarceration leads to a loss of income and childcare, increased legal costs, and increased telephone expenses. In terms of kinship issues, the author suggests that incarceration exacerbates the already chaotic nature of life for families in the inner city because of the extreme social stigmas of criminality associated with incarceration. Additionally, the restructuring of households necessitated by incarceration affects gender ratios through the absence of the male father figure. The author indicates that in many ways the use of incarceration has missed its mark, instead injuring the families of the incarcerated as much, if not more, than the incarcerated individual himself. Furthermore, the author suggests that a vast social silence surrounds families of incarcerated individuals adding additional injury to incarcerated individuals and their families. An appendix presenting the methodology and data sources used in this study completes this dissertation.

Date Published: May 1, 2002