Neither Here nor There: Incarceration and Family Instability
Date:  03-23-2017

Report sheds light on the collateral consequences the criminal punishment system unloads on families
From Kristin Turney’s report Neither Here nor There: Incarceration and Family Instability:

Despite the data limitations, my findings add to a growing body of literature on the consequences of paternal incarceration for family life and the intergenerational transmission of inequality. Similar to the recent demographic changes that have transformed family life, such as trends in nonmarital childbearing, incarceration rates, as well as social inequality in incarceration rates, have increased rapidly over the past four decades. Incarcerated individuals do not exist in isolation. Instead, while incarcerated, they experience a period of liminality where they are both connected to and disconnected from their families, which contributes to relationship dissolution. By documenting how and under what conditions the collateral consequences of incarceration extend beyond the offender, and spill over onto his family, this research highlights the considerable influence and unintended consequences of the penal system on family relationship

Family instability in the United States has increased dramatically since the 1970s. Demographic changes in family life including postponement of marriage, more short-term cohabiting unions, and a dramatic increase in the rate of births to unmarried parents, mean that considerable numbers of adults and children experience frequent relationship churning in their family lives. Family instability has been found to impede parenting practices, increase stress and mental health problems, reduce social support networks, and increase poverty and material hardship. Instability is also linked to many detrimental outcomes for children, including behavioral problems, reduced educational achievement and attainment, and health deficiencies. Some scholars have suggested that family instability, which is disproportionately concentrated among economically disadvantaged groups, may increase income inequality and contribute to the intergenerational transmission of poverty.1

Another recent demographic change in the United States— the rapid and dramatic rise in mass incarceration—may contribute to family instability. About 2.3 million U.S. residents (1 in every 134 individuals) are incarcerated in prisons or jails, and even larger numbers of individuals have been recently released back to their families and communities.2 There are compelling reasons to believe that mass incarceration, most often experienced by poorly educated minority men, contributes to family instability.3 Indeed, most of these men—prior to confinement, while behind bars, and after release—are connected to families as romantic partners and fathers.4

Incarcerated men are simultaneously members of, and isolated from, families, and are by and large unable to perform their roles as romantic partners and fathers. Maintaining contact with incarcerated partners is difficult and costly for women, while men, upon their release, may face a variety of consequences including stigma and discrimination, difficulty finding employment, and increased physical and mental health problems. All of these consequences could make reintegration into family life difficult. Continue reading >>>