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Imprisoning America

Imprisoning America: The Social Effects of Mass Incarceration

Mary Pattillo
David Weiman
Bruce Western
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Imprisoning America
    Book Description:

    Over the last thirty years, the U.S. penal population increased from around 300,000 to more than two million, with more than half a million prisoners returning to their home communities each year. What are the social costs to the communities from which this vast incarcerated population comes? And what happens to these communities when former prisoners return as free men and women in need of social and economic support? In Imprisoning America, an interdisciplinary group of leading researchers in economics, criminal justice, psychology, sociology, and social work goes beyond a narrow focus on crime to examine the connections between incarceration and family formation, labor markets, political participation, and community well-being. The book opens with a consideration of the impact of incarceration on families. Using a national survey of young parents, Bruce Western and colleagues show the enduring corrosive effects of incarceration on marriage and cohabitation, even after a prison sentence has been served. Kathryn Edin, Timothy Nelson, and Rechelle Parnal use in-depth life histories of low-income men in Philadelphia and Charleston, to study how incarceration not only damages but sometimes strengthens relations between fathers and their children. Imprisoning America then turns to how mass incarceration affects local communities and society at large. Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza use survey data and interviews with thirty former felons to explore the political ramifications of disenfranchising inmates and former felons. Harry Holzer, Stephen Raphael, and Michael Stoll examine how poor labor market opportunities for former prisoners are shaped by employers’ (sometimes unreliable) background checks. Jeremy Travis concludes that corrections policy must extend beyond incarceration to help former prisoners reconnect with their families, communities, and the labor market. He recommends greater collaboration between prison officials and officials in child and family welfare services, educational and job training programs, and mental and public health agencies. Imprisoning America vividly illustrates that the experience of incarceration itself—and not just the criminal involvement of inmates—negatively affects diverse aspects of social membership. By contributing to the social exclusion of an already marginalized population, mass incarceration may actually increase crime rates, and threaten the public safety it was designed to secure. A rigorous portrayal of the pitfalls of getting tough on crime, Imprisoning America highlights the pressing need for new policies to support ex-prisoners and the families and communities to which they return.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-676-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Bruce Western, Mary Pattillo and David Weiman

    The growth of the U.S. penal system over the past twenty-five years has significantly altered the role of government in poor and minority communities. Between 1920 and 1975, the state and federal prison population totaled around .10 of 1 percent of the population. After half a century of stability in imprisonment, the incarceration rate increased in every single year from 1975 to 2001. At the beginning of the new millennium, the proportion of the U.S. population in prison had increased fourfold over twenty-five years. If jail inmates are also counted, the U.S. penal system incarcerated a total of .69 of...


    • 2 Incarceration and the Bonds Between Parents in Fragile Families
      (pp. 21-45)
      Bruce Western, Leonard M. Lopoo and Sara McLanahan

      The family life of the poor has changed dramatically over the past thirty years. Since 1970, rates of divorce have increased by about one-third (U.S. Department of Commerce 2001, 87) and rates of nonmarital childbearing have roughly doubled (McLanahan and Casper 1995, 11). Consequently, the proportion of single parents in the population increased substantially. Among white women aged twenty-five to thirty-four in the lowest third of the education distribution, about 8 percent were single parents in 1965 as compared with 19 percent in 2000. Race differences are striking. Among black women aged twenty-five to thirty-four with the same level of...

    • 3 Fatherhood and Incarceration as Potential Turning Points in the Criminal Careers of Unskilled Men
      (pp. 46-75)
      Kathryn Edin, Timothy J. Nelson and Rechelle Paranal

      Over the past thirty years, three interrelated trends have profoundly affected the lives of low-income men. First, wages for low-skilled men employed full-time and full-year have declined sharply, as has the proportion of men who do work full-time and full-year. The drop has been substantial for African Americans and Latinos, but especially dramatic for unskilled whites (Bound and Johnson 1992; Katz and Murphy 1992; Lerman 1993), a trend that continued even through the economic expansion of the late 1990s (Holzer and Offner 2001). Second, rates of marriage for low-income and minority men have declined dramatically, driving up the proportion of...

    • 4 Returning to Strangers: Newly Paroled Young Fathers and Their Children
      (pp. 76-96)
      Anne M. Nurse

      In recent years, academics have begun to focus more attention on the effects of our nation’s high rate of incarceration. One area of concern has been the impact of prison on inmate parents and the other parent of their children (see chapters 2 and 3 in this volume). In general, research and policy efforts have been directed toward adult inmates; little thought has been given to their juvenile counterparts. This lack of attention is surprising in light of estimates suggesting that a large number of imprisoned juveniles are parents. A significant percentage of these are fathers. In California, for example,...

    • 5 Children of Incarcerated Parents: Multiple Risks and Children’s Living Arrangements
      (pp. 97-132)
      Elizabeth I. Johnson and Jane Waldfogel

      State and federal inmates were parents to more than 1.3 million children in 1997, a near tripling of the 1986 figure (Johnson and Waldfogel 2002). This dramatic increase in the number of parents in prison has prompted concern about the well-being of children whose parents are incarcerated. But parental incarceration is only one of many factors that may influence how these children are faring. We know, for example, that many children whose parents are incarcerated have been exposed to parental (for example, substance abuse, mental health problems) and environmental (for example, poverty) risk factors before their parents’ incarceration. Attributes of...


    • 6 Effects of Incarceration on Informal Social Control in Communities
      (pp. 135-164)
      James P. Lynch and William J. Sabol

      Over the past twenty years, the United States has experienced a massive increase in imprisonment (Lynch and Sabol 1997; Blumstein and Beck 1999). From 1980 and 2002, U.S. prison populations increased from about 330,000 persons (Gilliard and Beck 1996) to more than 2 million (Harrison and Beck 2003). The estimated number of persons who had ever been incarcerated in state or federal prisons increased from 1.8 million in 1974 to more than 5.6 million in 2001 (Bonczar 2003). It is generally conceded that this increase in incarceration was driven primarily by shifts in policy toward more punitive treatment of drug,...

    • 7 Lost Voices: The Civic and Political Views of Disenfranchised Felons
      (pp. 165-204)
      Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza

      Incarceration affects many aspects of community life, from demographic composition to public safety. In addition, it silences the political voices of millions of disenfranchised felons and dilutes the political strength of the groups to which they belong.

      The criminal justice system in the United States is unique internationally not only for the relatively high rate at which it incarcerates citizens but also for the sharp restrictions it places on the political rights of offenders and former offenders. Nearly all states (forty-eight of the fifty) bar incarcerated felons from voting; most (thirty-three) bar either parolees or probationers, or both, from voting;...

    • 8 Will Employers Hire Former Offenders?: Employer Preferences, Background Checks, and Their Determinants
      (pp. 205-244)
      Harry J. Holzer, Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll

      The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that, at current incarceration rates, approximately 9 percent of all men residing in the United States will serve some time in state or federal prisons. For certain subgroups of the population, the proportion likely to serve time is quite large. For example, according to these estimates, nearly 30 percent of African American men and 16 percent of Hispanic men will serve prison sentences at some point in their lives (U.S. Department of Justice 1997). The BJS also estimates that the median time served for prisoners released during the late 1990s was less...

  8. Conclusion

    • 9 Reentry and Reintegration: New Perspectives on the Challenges of Mass Incarceration
      (pp. 247-268)
      Jeremy Travis

      The steady growth of imprisonment in America over the past generation has created an unprecedented social and policy challenge: the reintegration of large numbers of individuals who have spent time in America’s prisons. This challenge has been largely overlooked amid the intense political and philosophical debates over our sentencing policies that have accompanied the inexorable rise in the rate of imprisonment in this country.

      It has not always been so. In the golden age of indeterminate sentencing, which lasted from early in the twentieth century until the mid-1970s, the goal of prisoner reintegration occupied a prominent place in the rhetoric,...

  9. Index
    (pp. 269-278)