A Concept Of Incarceration Criminology Essay

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The effect of incarceration pertains not only to the incarcerated but also their respective families and communities at large. This chapter presents a thematic review of literature on the following: concept of incarceration, unintended consequences of incarceration, coping mechanisms for adjustment to incarceration and social support systems available to families of incarcerated persons. Each of these themes is discussed with reference to existing body of literature. Most of the literature available, however describes the situation as it pertains in Europe, the United States of America and other developed countries. Even though the literature presented under the subsequent headings are not the only ones available, they are the ones that are of central importance to the particular literature heading.

2.1 Concept of incarceration

A Prison is an institution designed to securely house people who have been convicted of crimes. These individuals, known as prisoners or inmates, are kept in continuous custody on a short or long term basis. The gravity of the offense determines the duration of the prison term imposed. For certain crimes, such as murder, offenders may be sentenced to prison for the remainder of their lifetime (Adler et al, 1996).

 Individuals accused of violating criminal law are tried in a court of competent jurisdiction and either convicted (found guilty) or acquitted (found not guilty). Persons who are convicted are then sentenced, that is, assigned specific punishments. These sentences may involve fines, probation (supervised release), or incarceration (confinement). First-time offenders may be sentenced to probation instead of incarceration. Offenders convicted of more serious crimes and those who have prior criminal records may be sentenced to incarceration in either a jail or a prison, depending on the nature of the crime (Ajayi, 2012).

Although prison structures have been in existence since ancient civilizations, the widespread and persistent use of long-term confinement as a form of criminal punishment began only in the 15th century. In the contemporary world every industrialized nation has prisons, and the role of prisons throughout the world is to punish criminals by restricting their freedom. In most countries, prison systems are constructed and operated by governments. However, several countries, including the United States, also authorize private corporations to build and run prisons under contract for the government. (Gibbons, 1987 cited in Ajayi, 2012)

Imprisonment has several universal functions, which include the protection of society, the prevention of crime, retribution (revenge) against criminals, and the rehabilitation of inmates. Additional goals of imprisonment may include the assurance of justice based on a philosophy of just deserts (getting what one deserves) and the reintegration of inmates into the community following their sentences. Different countries place greater emphasis on one or more of these goals than others do. For intance, prisons in the Scandinavian countries stress rehabilitation and offender reintegration. Although prisons in the United States also include rehabilitation and reintegration programs, U.S. penal philosophy emphasizes societal protection, crime deterrence, and just-deserts justice. Thus the U S is more concerned with the welfare of the society other than the welfare of the prisoners themselves. (Ajayi, 2012)

Variations among prison policies in various countries depend upon the society's experience with managing criminals, as well as its experiments with different ways of correcting and improving prisoner behavior. As the years go by and after experimenting with various systems, societies try to come out with the most effective method of treating prison inmates. In reality some countries' programs foster changes among inmates better than others do. (Champion, 2006).

Societal rejection, labeling and deviant behavior

Even though it is generally believed by the society that deviance is as a result of the internal dispositions of the deviants, there are other social factors that account for some of these deviant behaviors. Social labeling theorists see criminal behavior as a result of societal reaction to certain acts of people. They hold the assertion that deviance and criminality are a result of the response of others. According to social labeling theorists, deviance is no more than behavior that people so label (Macionis et al 1994). If an individual commits an initial deviant act, it is society's reaction to such act that determines whether the act will be repeated and not the internal disposition of the offender. If the offender is made to feel worthless and is labeled as a deviant, these theorists believe that that particular label put on him by society is inculcated into the consciousness of the offender to the extent that the offender behaves in a way that is consistent with that label by affirming it hence, a recommitting of offense.

Macionis and colleagues in their book on sociology stated that according to Edwin Lemert, activity that is initially defined as deviant is basically known as primary deviance. Secondary deviance manifests if the deviant label becomes part of the person's self concept and social identity. With respect to prisoner recidivism, society's reaction to a released ex-convict determines whether he will go back to his deviant acts or will resettle back in society. Thus if an ex-convict is accepted by society and helped, he is likely not to recommit the offense. On the contrary, if he is tagged and branded as a social misfit, the likelihood of re-offense becomes great (Macionis et al., 1994).Thus labeling can force or urge the ex-convict to fulfill the expectations of others by recommitting the deviant act. It has thus been argued, that a powerfully negative social label can drastically change a person's self-concept and social identity. Being labeled a criminal means being rejected by society, friends, close associates, employers and relatives. There is a high propensity that being negatively labeled will turn to behavior that fulfills the observer's imagination and prophesy (Macionis et al., 1994).

Societal protection and crime deterrence

Locking up dangerous criminals or persistent nonviolent offenders means that society will be protected from them for the duration of their incarceration. Thus, imprisoning criminals temporarily incapacitates them and eliminate the threat and danger they pose to society. Additionally, society expects that prisons will cause inmates to regret their criminal acts, and that when most prisoners are released they will be deterred from committing future crimes. This however is not the case. A June 2006 report from the National Prison Commission of the USA states that what happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons. On the contrary, these get to the wider society when inmates are eventually released into the society. Released prisoners tend to be more dangerous and harmful to society than when they were first imprisoned. They acquire new, sophisticated and more dangerous behaviors from other inmates in the prison (Hastings, 2006).The continuation of this trend implies that released inmates commit offenses again and are sent back to the prisons.

The prisons and the prisoners in them form some identity and a kind of family cohort that the prisoner identifies with. In furtherance, experts disagree about whether imprisoning criminals actually prevents further crime. Some critics argue that American prisons simply warehouse violence meaning that U.S. prison inmates are confined and incapacitated in large numbers, with little or no effort made at rehabilitating them. Critics have labeled the result of this process turnstile justice, referring to the fact that most inmates are habitual and persistent offenders and return to prison following conviction for new crimes (Champion, 2006).

Thus, in an effort by society to protect itself from criminals through mass incarceration, all that it has succeeded in doing is to keep criminals in an incubation to be released back into society later in more dangerous forms. Attempts by the society to use prisons to control criminal behavior has not only been a fiasco but has compounded the problem by making these prisons a fertile ground for the hardening of criminals.

Rehabilitation and reintegration

Prisons attempt to rehabilitate inmates so they will avoid future criminal behavior. Most prisons have vocational and educational programs, psychological counselors, and an array of services available to assist inmates to improve their skills, education, and self-concept. (Glasner & Sheridan, 2005)Most prisons provide programs designed to reintegrate the prisoner into the community. Even though there is an effort by prisons to rehabilitate prisoners through education and vocational training, released inmates who benefit from such facilities are not monitored to access the effectiveness of such initiatives In work release and study-release programs, prisoners may participate in work or educational activities outside of prison. As prisoners near their parole or release dates, some are permitted unescorted leaves or furloughs to visit with their families on weekends. This involvement with the community may help inmates readjust to society after they have been released. Recently, there has been a growing public belief and conviction towards effective prisoner rehabilitation as the most effective way of reforming prisoners. (Ajayi, 2012).This notwithstanding, societies attitudes at accepting released convicts let alone those on work release and study release programmes is much to be desired with,

However, the social structure of prisons and prison practices can actually impede rehabilitation and reintegration. For example, inmates acquire attitudes and knowledge from other inmates that may strengthen their desire to engage in criminal behavior and improve their criminal skills. Agboka when writing on the prison system in Ghana cited lynch and Sabol as saying that prisoners acquire new behaviors in prison that strengthens the ones they already had. Consequently, these prisoners come out not as reformed individuals but rather as hardened criminals (lynch & Sabol, 2004 cited in Agboka, 2008).The prison subculture is such that is able to initiate convicts into more sophisticated criminal orientations than they had been convicted of.

The isolation of inmates from society also hinders attempts at rehabilitation. Prison environments are unique and distinct from other populations. An American sociologist Ervin Goffman has described U.S. prisons as total institutions that is, self-contained, self-sufficient social systems that are unique and distinct. Isolated within a total institution, inmates are cut off from the rights and responsibilities of society. This lack of connection with societal norms can prevent successful reintegration into society when inmates are released. The inmate cannot conform to societal norms, rights and responsibilities if he does not understand these regulations in the first place (Champion, 2006).

Although prisoners must abide by institutional rules, they also establish their own rules for themselves. Thus, a culture within a culture, or prison subculture, exists. This subculture has its own status structure and hierarchy of authority. Thus, according to Agboka, Lynch and Sabol argued that once experienced, a prison is transformed from a mystery to a real life experience that has been suffered and survived. Prisoners are socialized into the prison subculture and upon their return, they show a greater deviant orientation than before they went in (Agboka, 2008). In many prisons therefore, inmates fear the informal prison subculture and its reprisals for rule violations more than formal administrative rules and punishments. If the prison subculture rejects the goals of the institution (such as rehabilitation), inmates are less likely to accept those goals (Ajayi, 2012).The adoption of new sub cultural goals other than the institutional goals enhances the strengthening of criminal intent and behavior upon release.

2.2 Unintended consequences of incarceration


Losing a parent to prison affects multiple aspects of children's lives and affects them to varying degrees. Such a loss can likely have a significant impact on the emotional, psychological, developmental, and financial well-being of the child. Yet there has been little research exploring these consequences of parental incarceration. The broader phenomenon of parental separation and loss, particularly in the context of divorce or death, has, by contrast, received substantial research attention (Travis, 2005).This situation has persisted because parental loss due to incarceration have been stigmatised by the society and nobody seems to be ready to see it as a social problem that deserves absolute attention.

The incarceration of a parent has a tremendous impact on their children. Even though research has been limited, though increasing, available information clearly shows that, children experience social, emotional, and developmental problems as a result of a parent's incarceration. It is extremely important to recognize that much of the research to date in this area focuses on the incarcerated mother because they are predominately the primary caregiver. Moreover, as the rate of incarcerated women increases, the impact on their children will be more traumatic due to their fundamental responsibilities as the primary caregivers. However, more needs to be known about the men who are incarcerated that are fathers as well. There is perhaps a presumption in the public perception that incarcerated men have not been and do not want to be involved in the lives of their children and families. However, research indicates otherwise. Male inmates are interested in their children and families, would like to play a significant role in parenting their children and contributing to livelihood of their families, and will participate in programs to improve their parenting skills and their relationships with their families. Men in prison want to be active participants in the lives of their children and families (Mendez, 2001). Even though they may not be the primary caregiver, they play a role in their children's lives, either directly or indirectly, and their contribution needs to be more appropriately accounted for and considered.

Contemporary social policy may make it virtually impossible for men to be present or visible in the lives of their children. In general, a loss of a parent can cause emotional, behaviors, psychological and economic problems for a child. In particular, arrest and incarceration have a negative affect impact on the health and welfare of the child (Sack & Seidler, 1978). For example, Sack found that pubescent males exhibited anti-social behavior when a parent, the father, was incarcerated (Sack, 1977). When a parent is incarcerated, such a loss has been described to be as traumatic to a child as when a parent dies or there is a divorce. However, when a parent dies or there is a divorce, there are opportunities to openly discuss that loss and receive sympathy from others. However, when a parent is incarcerated, the topic is often considered taboo and the stigma associated with it precludes open discussion and elicits little sympathy (Fritsch & Burkhead, 1981). This inability to communicate or the failure to explain to the child what happened to their parent may create anxiety for the child and impact his or her ability to cope. The effects of parental incarceration on children are discussed below.

Trauma of the Arrest

In some instances, the arrest itself is traumatic because the children may have been present when their parents were arrested, with no explanation provided to the child of what is happening. More distressing, children may be left by themselves after the arrest without a social support system and fall through the cracks. (Sacks & Seidel, 1978; San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, 2005) There have been incidents where the parent is arrested and the child is left alone without systemic intervention from social services and the criminal justice system. In other cases, the child may be taken to a shelter, placed in foster care, or placed with relative (San Francisco Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, 2005). Johnson (1991) purports that one in five children witness their mother being arrested and taken away by the police. Children who witness their parent(s) arrest are typically terrified (Myers et al., 1999). These children may not understand the circumstances under which their parents were arrested. Therefore, the child may perceive the situation as being threatening and hostile. In another study, Kampfner (1995) interviewed 30 children that witnessed their mother's arrest. Findings revealed that these children suffered flashbacks and nightmares about the incident.

When a parent is imprisoned and taken out of the child's life, it can have permanent social, emotional, and developmental impacts resulting in aggressive behavior, withdrawal, criminal involvement, peer isolation and depression. Hagan and Dinovitzer (1999) also summarize theses impacts as strain, socialization and stigmatization.


Strain can be manifested as economic strain on the remaining family members. When a parent is removed from the home and when he or she provides financial support, the abrupt removal creates a vacuum (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999). Families, which are already poor and are on the edge of collapse, run into a further hopeless financial abyss. As a result, the remaining parent "may have less money and time to invest in their children." (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999. p. 124). Consequently, older children may become responsible for the care of younger children because the remaining care-giving parent may have to work longer hours or seek additional employment, therefore is not at home to care for younger children (Hagan & Dinovitz, 1999). In addition, older children may need to enter the workforce to help provide for the family, consequently, limiting their participation in school, athletics, or other social activities that define childhood (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999). Lost to prison seems to force children in the family into making choices that require them to assume adult roles that may be detrimental to their social and emotional development.


In the situation where the parent that was incarcerated provided positive role modeling, support and supervision for the family, the child may experience the emotional trauma associated with that loss. Moreover, children may become more susceptible to the antisocial behavior of peers (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999).

Stigma and Social Isolation

The stigma associated with imprisonment can cause feelings of shame, anger, and rejection in the child which can impact his emotional reaction to subsequent stressful life events (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999). Children are afraid that they will be labeled by their peers, teachers, and other family members because they have an incarcerated parent (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999). According to the literature, the children of prisoners experience social and peer isolation, inner conflict over the imprisonment and separation from the parent, and either manifest antisocial behavior themselves or develop alternative pro-social behavior, rejecting the antisocial social behavior of the father (Travis, 2005; Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999). Initial qualitative findings from a 3-year ethnographic study of families of male prisoners in Washington, DC, suggest that children are also affected by social stigma during a parent's incarceration (Braman & Wood, 2003). Other qualitative work indicates that children of incarcerated parents may not be privy to the social support and sympathy otherwise afforded families experiencing the involuntary loss or absence of a family member (Arditti, 2005; Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999). Children may be exposed to criticism of themselves or their mothers regarding their involvement or lack of involvement with their incarcerated father (Braman & Wood, 2003). Finally, children who maintain in-person contact with their fathers during incarceration may undergo potentially stigmatizing experiences in the correctional environment as part of the visitation routine (Arditti, 2005; Hairston, 2001).

Prevalence of juvenile delinquency/criminality among youth of prisoners

According to Bilchik et al. (2001), research is beginning to reveal that children of offenders are more likely to enter the criminal justice system than children of no offenders. Estimates reveal that children of offenders are six times more likely than their peers to become criminally involved and become incarcerated. Goldstein (1984) used data collected from the Health Examination Survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics to study the relationship between families with absent fathers, parental supervision, and conduct disorder in youths. This survey, which was conducted between 1966 and 1970, studied thousands of youths between the ages of 12 and 17. Data collected were obtained from youth reports, parent reports, and school reports. Conduct problems were assessed using reported contacts with police, disciplinary actions in schools, and arrests.

Findings from Goldstein's study revealed that the police had questioned boys from absent father families significantly more than boys whose fathers were present. Also, boys with absent fathers tended to have more contact with the police than girls with absent fathers. In terms of parental supervision, Goldstein found that boys, but not girls, in homes with no supervision, had a greater chance of having contact with the police. Finally, this study showed that boys with absent fathers showed a greater chance of having disciplinary problems at school than boys from father present homes.

A study by Lipsey and Derzon (1998) found that 15 to 20 percent of children with incarcerated parents who had committed serious crimes are likely to exhibit conduct behaviours during adolescents. It has also been found in a study by Hungerford (1993), that 40 percent of the boys aged 12 to 17 whose mothers were incarcerated were delinquent. Sirpal (2002) examined the relationship between familial criminality and juvenile gang membership.

Two groups of families, 79 with criminality and 79 with no reported criminality were compared. The first group of parents interviewed children participated in Gang Reduction Activities and Sports programs (GRASP). The families in GRASP had children who were either identified as gang members or were at risk for becoming a gang member. The latter group of parents' children participated in the Police Athletic League (PAL). This program was open to all families. The only condition for admission was that the child was not delinquent or a gang member. The ages of the children ranged from 12 to 18. Parents were given a self-report survey in order to measure the effects of parental criminality on juvenile gang membership. Analysis from this study revealed that parental criminality was a significant factor related to gang membership and delinquency among juveniles.

A study by the Survey of Youth in Custody conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (1988) found that more than half of all juveniles and young adults in custody reported a family member serving time in jail or prison. Furthermore, adolescent children of incarcerated parents are one-half to three times more likely than their peers to get arrested (Eddy & Heid, 2003). A study by Myers et al. (1999), reported similar findings that children of incarcerated mothers are more likely than other children to engage in lawbreaking and to be arrested.

The Oregon Youth Study (OYS) was a longitudinal study of 206 boys that began in 1983 (Eddy & Heid, 2003). The OYS participants grew up in lower to working class European American families. Participants were recruited from four grade classes in 12 public elementary schools. At the beginning of the study, 2% of the boys had parents who had been arrested as adults; 9% had a mother who had been arrested; and 22 % had a father who had been arrested. By the age of 18, 80% of participants who had had either a mother arrested or a mother and father arrested had been arrested two or three times. However, for youths whose parents were never arrested, 20% had two or more arrests. The study showed that participants with criminal parents were more likely to be arrested than those youths without criminal parents. The research reviewed indicates that children whose parent(s) are incarcerated are more likely than their peers to engage in lawbreaking, and be arrested. Furthermore, the majority of juveniles and youth that have served time in jail had parents that were in prison. Therefore, a link is beginning to be identified that shows a causal relationship between parental incarceration and criminality in their children.

The following section discusses the school performance of children whose parents are incarcerated.

Poor school performance of children

In addition to behavioral problems, children with incarcerated parents may have school related problems and problems with peer relationships. Stanton (1980) reported that 70% of 166 children of incarcerated parents studied show poor school performance and 50% exhibited classroom behavioral problems following the incarceration of their parents. Additionally, Sack et al. (1976) conducted a study of 31 families of prisoners, 20 imprisoned fathers and 11 imprisoned mothers. Wives of male prisoners reported that their children had problems in schools following their father's incarceration. Problems included poor grades or instances of aggression. Furthermore, Sack et al. (1976) found that the children ages 6-8 years of age had developed school phobia. Four of the 20 children did not want to go to school for a four to six week period after the confinement of their parent.

Trice (1997) compared the school performance of 219 children of incarcerated mothers in a state prison in Virginia with their same-gender best friends, whose parents were not incarcerated. This data was collected using the reports of the caregiver of the target child and the mother of the peer child. The investigation revealed that children of incarcerated mothers were more likely than their peers to experience suspension, mandated school visits by the guardian, extensive school absences, and failing classes. Furthermore, the study revealed that the drop-out rate of children with incarcerated mothers was 34% compared to 10% of their best-friend peers (as cited in Myers, et al., 1999).

Henriques (1982) study of imprisoned mothers and their children included the perceptions of the guardians of the children whose mothers were incarcerated. The guardians expressed concern relating to the academic performance of these children. One guardian believed that separation from the mother affected the children's schoolwork. In school, children with incarcerated parents experience trouble with schoolwork, their peers, and authoritative figures. For this reason, these children may do poorly in school

The next section of this review investigates drug and alcohol usage among children with incarcerated parents.

Drug/alcohol usage

Although numerous researchers have written about the effects of parental incarceration on children and youth, research that identifies substance abuse as a problem among this population is scarce. The following paragraphs discuss available studies that state that children with imprisoned parents are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Two studies, Hagen and Dinovitzer (1999) and Bilchik et al., (2001) stated that children of imprisoned parents are at a greater risk for alcohol and drug abuse. Reed and Reed (1997) also noted that children whose parents are incarcerated might be exposed to enduring trauma that leads them to abuse substances as a coping mechanism. In addition, Lowenstein (1986) studied 118 married Jewish criminal first time offenders. Husbands were interviewed in prison and wives at home. This study investigated the ability of the children to adjust successfully to their father's imprisonment. Drug problems and involvement were measured. Results from the study revealed that some mothers identified experiencing drug problems with their children.

According to Butters (2002), the experience of family stressors such as a family unit disruption, may affect the patterns of drug use among adolescents. Butters (2002) used the 1997 cycle of the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey conducted on students in grades 7, 9, 11, and 13 in which 3,990 students were surveyed. Results from the study revealed that youths who reported being from a disrupted family were 79% more likely to use cannabis than those who had not experienced family disruption. Distant parent child relationships have also been shown to cause drug usage in children.

2.2.2 Spouse

Imprisonment alters family dynamics

When a parent is sent to prison, many dimensions of family undergo significant changes. The family structure, financial relationships, income levels, emotional support systems, and living arrangements may be affected (Travis, 2005).

Intimate relationships are substantially burdened by incarceration. The forced separation of spouses and other intimate partners creates enormous strains on those relationships, frequently ending them. Few prisons allow conjugal visits or extended contact, which might ameliorate those strains. The artificial nature of same-sex institutions inhibits the cycles of dating, friendships, and courtship experienced in free society (ibid). The parent in prison is removed in a psychological sense, not just physically absent. Most aspects of family life are outside their sphere of influence and control. While a spouse or partner is in prison, life for the loved one left behind also undergoes significant changes. The removal of a partner from the spouse has repercussions and this becomes more profound if the removed partner was attached to the spouse prior to incarceration.

The literature suggests that wives and girlfriends of inmates experience significant personal change, often gaining independence and self-sufficiency (Furstenberg, 1995). Such changes can alter the spouse's expectations of the familial role the prisoner will play upon his or her return. In addition, changes in family composition during an inmate's absence can preclude the prisoner from resuming his or her role upon return (McDermott & King, 1992). For example; the introduction of a new father figure in the lives of a prisoner's children may forever alter the father's relationship to his children (Travis, 2005).

The social stigma of incarceration may prompt adult family members to avoid complicated or difficult discussions with children to explain the absence of an incarcerated family member. Being kept in the dark about a family member's incarceration can influence the child emotionally and psychologically, and this in turn impacts the restoration of parent-child relationships (ibid).

Incarceration can also damage the financial situations of the families left behind. Most parents (71%) in state prison were employed either full- or part-time in the month preceding their arrest.

Among incarcerated fathers, 60 percent held a full-time job prior to imprisonment, compared with 39 percent of mothers. For fathers, these wages were the primary source of income for their families (68%). Other sources of income included public assistance (13%), family and friends (18%), and illegal sources (Sullivan, Mino, Nelson & Pope, 2002).For incarcerated parents, these sources of income are terminated when they go to prison. This financial loss disproportionately burdens families already living in poverty. Mothers relied primarily on wages (44%) and public assistance (42%) as primary sources of income. They also relied on family and friends (26%) as well as illegal sources (28%) for income. Child support only accounted for about 6 percent of mothers' income (ibid).

However, in some cases, parental incarceration may temporarily improve a family's circumstances. For example, if the incarcerated parent was abusive, then a period of separation may bring relief to the family and improve living conditions. Similarly, the incarceration of a drug-addicted family member who stole money and property from his or her relatives may stop the drain on family resources. But more typically, the separation due to imprisonment has a negative impact on the family (Travis 2005).

Impact of Imprisonment on Intimacy and Commitment

It is difficult to carry out intimate relationships from prison. Barriers to contact and communication, transformations in family roles, and psychological changes due to detainment impede the development and maintenance of intimacy and commitment (Travis, Jeremy, 2005).

Many prisoners are housed far away from their families. The cost of visitation and the inhospitable prison environment may further inhibit efforts to maintain contact. Limited visiting hours, lack of privacy, and restrictions on movement and physical contact diminish the efforts men and women do make to stay connected (Fishman, 1990; Hairston, Rollin, & Jo, 2004). In interviews with 51 men in minimum security prison in Utah and Oregon, 65% of the men reported that they received no visits from their spouse or partner while in prison (Day et al., 2005).

The limited time for visitation can place undue pressure on what needs to be accomplished during these brief episodes of communication. Fishman (1990) sheds light on the range and intensity of emotions felt during these visits. Women reported feelings of intense anger, attachment, remorse, and resentment, as well as vicious fighting and passionate reconciliation. Fishman conducted repeated qualitative interviews with 65 men and 30 of their wives in prison in Vermont to examine the effect of incarceration on men and their families. She found that women's experiences during visitation varied widely. Some perceived visits as opportunities for renewed courtship, while others found the visits to be stressful and unfulfilling. In many cases, the relationship felt one-sided to the women, who were supporting their partners emotionally and materially but sometimes getting little in return (Fishman, 1990).

Role Changes

Examination of Fishman's qualitative interview results revealed that relationships were sometimes compromised by the changes in roles that resulted from the men's absence. Women often became the major decision maker and head of the household, although some women tried to mitigate these changes by saving decisions for discussion during prison visits (Fishman, 1990). To counter changes in traditional gender roles, imprisoned men may seek unhealthy ways to assert their power, including entangling their partner in criminal activities by demanding that they bring in contraband or that they step into their former role in the drug trade. Men also may use dominance and threats to control women. Harassment and even violence have been reported during prison visits as men worry about losing their roles as husband and father in the family (Fishman, 1990; Nurse, 2002).

Psychological Changes

Harsh prison policies, rigid routines, deprivation of privacy and liberty, and a stressful environment all take their toll on men's psychological development. Inmates must adapt to unnatural living conditions, and these changes often conflict with the personality characteristics needed to sustain intimate relationships with partners and children. Because of the loss of autonomy, many men experience diminished capacity for decision making and greater dependence on outside sources. The prison environment also leads to hyper-vigilance as men worry about their safety, and this may result in interpersonal distrust and psychological distancing. The "prison mask" is a common syndrome that develops; the mask is the emotional flatness men take on when they suppress emotions and withdraw from healthy social interactions. To survive in an often brutal environment, prisoners may develop hyper-masculinity, which glorifies force and domination in relations with others. Finally, many prisoners are plagued by feelings of low self-worth and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (Haney, 2001). All of these psychological changes, which may be necessary for survival in the prison environment, can impede intimate relationships.

Marital and partner bonds are also weakened by economic strain. The majority of families affected by incarceration are of low income (Mumola, 2000), and the men's earnings are important for making ends meet (even though some of those earnings may come from illegal sources). At the time of their arrest, 61% of fathers incarcerated in state prison were employed full-time and 12% were employed part-time or occasionally. However, 27% of incarcerated fathers in state prison report that the source of their income in the month prior to their arrest was illegal (Mumola, 2000). As noted earlier, 54% of fathers in state prison reported providing the primary financial support for their children prior to incarceration (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008).

The loss of direct income can create a significant burden on struggling families, especially when it is combined with the additional costs associated with arrest and imprisonment, including attorney fees, collects calls from prison, and the expenses of traveling to the prison and providing material goods for the inmate (Arditti, 2005). According to qualitative research conducted by Arditti, Lambert-Shute, and Joest (2003), the proportion of women working actually declined (from 89% to 64%) after their partners were incarcerated because of the need for childcare and other issues. Furthermore, many women had to go on public assistance as a result of their partner's incarceration. , the stress of financial hardship has been linked with psychological distress,

For single mothers negative parenting behaviors leads to poor child outcomes (McLoyd, 1998). Single parenthood due to incarceration is a role taken on involuntarily, and anger and resentment about this new situation may weaken commitment to the imprisoned partner. Parenting also may become more challenging because many children whose parents are imprisoned show elevated rates of internalizing and externalizing problems (Jose-Kampfner, 1995; Murray & Farrington, 2005). Many women with an incarcerated partner see a reduction in available social support to cope with the stress associated with their partner's imprisonment as friends and family withdraw because of the stigma (Arditti et al., 2003). In addition, incarceration is marked as an "ambiguous loss" because the partner's absence is not publicly mourned or socially validated. This can lead to exacerbated grief and the phenomenon of being a "prison widow" (Arditti et al., 2003).

2.3 Coping mechanisms for adjustment to incarceration

During difficult times or times of transition, individuals rely on a variety of coping mechanisms and support systems to deal with increased pressure and anxiety from looking within to one's spirituality to turning outward to family, friends, or support groups such as one's church or mosque.

Numerous coping strategies have been identified and attempts made to classify them into conceptual domains (Moos & Billings, 1982). There appears to be no current consensus about a coping typology. However, three common dimensions of coping responses seem to include those that: (1) modify the situation from which the strainful experience arises; (2) control the meaning of the problem; and (3) manage the stress (Pearlin & Schooler, 1978). These three dimensions are not considered mutually exclusive and can be applied simultaneously or sequentially to a given problem.

Virtually no research exists that specifically examines the positive or negative coping mechanisms (for example, personal spirituality, substance use) family members and communities of prisoners utilize to mitigate the strain, emotional problems, and stress associated with incarceration.

A related study by Lane (2012) on "the function of religion as a coping mechanism for prison wives and girlfriends" however revealed that religious and spiritual beliefs are important sources of strength for prisoner wives and pen girlfriends during the incarceration of their partners.

Literature on coping mechanisms adopted by individuals and families to stressful life situations indicates that a person's well being may be enhanced by certain dimensions of spirituality (example, Ellison 1991). Research has also shown that religious coping mechanisms, when compared to other coping mechanisms, help individuals to better react to stressful situations (Seeman & McEwen, 1996). Furthermore, religious groups can be important emotional and tangible support systems (Bradley, 1995).

On the other hand, non-criminal justice research indicates that drug and alcohol use is related to stressful life situations and may be used as a negative coping mechanism (Saxon et al. 2001; José et al. 2000; Butters, 2002). These issues have been virtually unexplored when it comes to understanding how families deal with the additional stress associated with incarceration.

2.4 Social support for incarcerated families

Communities and Service Agencies

The high rates of incarceration affect a relatively small number of communities across America. These communities already struggle with high rates of unemployment, crime, drug use, and poverty. Now they also face the added burden posed by the record levels of community residents who are sent to, and return from, prison. These communities therefore have a vested interest in the outcomes of returning prisoners and the state of their family networks during and after incarceration. Communities can play an active role in improving the outcomes of released inmates and their families. Community based organizations are well positioned to provide assistance with housing, substance abuse treatment, health care, employment, child care, counseling, and vocational training. They can make contact with prisoners prior to release to assist in the reentry process. These groups also play an important role in preparing the community for a prisoner's return (Travis 2005).

Many social service agencies provide services to former prisoners and their families. However, the delivery of these services may not be aligned to reflect the unique demands of the incarceration and reentry processes. For example, a returning prisoner may be eligible for community-based drug treatment but might be referred to join a waiting list upon his or her release from prison, during a high-risk time for relapse. Similarly, a public school may offer counseling to students experiencing difficult life crises, but may not be aware that a young person is severely stressed by the impending return of an incarcerated parent. By recognizing the service overlap and strategically coordinating these services to respond to the needs created by the criminal justice process, children and families are more likely to benefit. In addition, there is also a role for applied child developmental theory and research, where university-community collaborations can enhance program design and evaluate current program performance. But there is also a risk that involving multiple service agencies potentially increases the demands and conditions placed on family members, causing further strain to families. Therefore, the collaborative efforts of child protective services, health and human services, research organizations, and the criminal justice system are a central part of improving the outcomes of prisoners and their families. Creating comprehensive strategies to mitigate the harmful effects of incarceration and reentry upon prisoners, their children, and their families is an enormous challenge (Travis 2005).

In recent years, a number of innovative efforts have pointed the way to new models for reentry management. In cities such as Oakland, Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Cleveland, mayors have designated prisoner reentry a priority for their municipal administrations. These cities have created coordinating committees that cut across city services and community organizations. Other cities, including Baltimore, San Diego, and Winston-Salem, have formed community coalitions to work with returning prisoners and their families at the neighborhood level. These fledging efforts underscore both the potential and difficulties inherent in local mobilization efforts on behalf of the families and children of incarcerated members of the community (Travis 2005).

2.5 Reunification and Reintegration

Reentry is a challenging process along several dimensions. Upon release, former prisoners must find housing, employment, and health care. With access to public housing and assistance restricted by law, many struggle to find suitable living arrangements and financial support. Finding employment is also difficult for many returning prisoners, who often have limited educational backgrounds and vocational skills and face legal barriers to joining certain professions and discrimination from potential employers. Those with a history of substance abuse also confront the risk of relapse after release. For a family who has struggled in an inmate's absence, many barriers make it difficult for family members to resume support roles when the prisoner returns home. These barriers can include new relationships, relocation, limited finances, and feelings of resentment. Even in instances where families are in a position to offer support to a returning inmate, reentry is still an extremely challenging process for the ex-offender (Travis 2005).

Barriers to finding employment and housing, as well as pressures from former peer groups and detachment from loved ones, all contribute to the personal challenges with which a returning prisoner grapples. Amidst these difficulties in the reentry process, restoring the parent-child relationship after incarceration can be particularly complex. New relationships may have formed in the inmate's absence. The lack of contact during imprisonment may have attenuated the parent-child bonds. Structural changes may have altered relationships between family members. Feelings of shame and the social stigma of incarceration may create additional strains (Travis 2005).

For a small share of returning prisoners, reunification after non relative foster care placement is an additional difficult reality. As discussed earlier, some incarcerated mothers (10%) and fathers (2%) have children placed in foster care during their imprisonment. Although a greater percentage of mothers have children placed in foster care, more children of incarcerated fathers are placed into foster care because the vast majority (93%) of parents in prison is fathers. Parents returning from prison who wish to take their children out of foster care must demonstrate that they now can adequately care and provide for their children. But little help is available to parents in finding suitable housing, employment, and child care, which are required before reunification can take place. Additional complications arise for parents who received public assistance prior to incarceration. They are one and a half times more likely to have their children placed in foster care than parents who did not receive public assistance sprior to their arrest (Murray, Farriington , Sekol & Olsen 2009).

Receipt of public assistance may be associated with a weak family support network and an inability to find adequate relative care. This may present additional burdens for reunification. Some parents have their parental rights terminated while they are in prison. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act authorizes states to initiate termination of parental rights proceedings when a child has been placed in foster care for 15 months in a 22-month period. Many states have supplemented ASFA with legislation that relieves the state of making reasonable efforts to reunify families when "aggravated circumstances" are present. In a few states (Alaska, California, incarceration qualifies as an "aggravated circumstance." Another issue facing some prisoners is child support. Parents who are subject to formal child support agreements are under additional pressure to find a sufficient source of income to start paying child support immediately upon release. Child support payments usually accumulate during a parent's prison term, although a few states and localities suspend payments during periods of incarceration. For example, Iowa considers incarceration an involuntary act and the incarcerated debtor entitled to a modification of his or her child support payments (Leasure, 1988 In Baker, 1999).

Family interventions are based on the notion that strengthening the family support network for a returning prisoner will improve his or her chances of success. These interventions can thus meet the needs of the family, the released inmate, and the larger society. The few studies of these interventions are very encouraging. For example, an evaluation of La Bodega de la Familia, the direct service arm of Family Justice, Inc., which provides support to the families of drug users in the criminal justice system, found that the rate of illicit drug use among program participants declined from 80 percent to 42 percent, a significantly greater decrease than among those who did not participate in the program. In addition, researchers found that family members participating in the program obtained medical and social services at substantially higher rates and had fewer needs than those in the comparison group. Researchers concluded that strengthening the family network improved outcomes for both the returning prisoner and the individual family members (Sullivan et al, n.d.).

Reentry and the Marital/ Partner Relationship

With some exceptions, most men who are imprisoned return home. Reentry is the dynamic process of exiting prison and returning to a free society (Visher & Travis, 2003). Although this can be an exciting time for some families, it can be a fearful time for others (particularly those whose partners have a history of domestic violence). There are a number of challenges that men and women need to anticipate as men attempt to resume their roles as husbands/partners and fathers. The reentry experience for each inmate is shaped by his pre-incarceration history (e.g., substance abuse, domestic violence history, job skills and experience); his prison experience (i.e., mental and physical health status); and his attitudes, beliefs, and personality traits (Travis, Solomon, & Waul, 2001). This section focuses on common obstacles to family well-being, including role renegotiation, negative emotions, relapse, interpersonal conflict, and the threat of domestic violence.

Inmates frequently look first to their families to meet their immediate needs for money, housing, and emotional support (Fishman, 1990; Visher & Travis, 2003). The majority of prisoners being released report feeling close to their family, and 70% of the men in the Ohio Returning Home Study expected to live with their family upon release from prison (however, in this study the definition of family was not restricted to partners and children) (Visher, Baer, & Naser, 2006). Research suggests that married men who reside with their wives and children upon release have a more successful transition (Visher & Travis, 2003). Although families play a substantial role in the reentry process, the criminal justice system does little to prepare families for their reunion (Fishman, 1990).

Reestablishing Roles

There is paucity of research available to reliably document the process of reintegrating into the marital/partner relationship at reentry. The very few research about this process emanates from small qualitative studies of men who were imprisoned and released and their partners (Fishman, 1990; Hairston & Oliver, 2006). Contextual summaries from these qualitative interviews and focus groups suggest that reintegration often starts with a "honeymoon period," where the couple gets reunited. Many women have the belief that their partners will fulfill the promises they made while in prison with regards to stopping their criminal behaviors. However, numerous misunderstandings may arise as the couple attempts to reorganize their lives and reestablish their roles in relation to the relationship and the household (Fishman, 1990).It must however be emphasized that it is not always in all cases that conflicts will arise.

One issue identified in the available research involves power struggles and renegotiation of roles. Ex-convicts who have lost control of their families and have been forced to revert into dependency during their imprisonment may seek to assert their own power and control within their family upon return. However, women who gained independence and self-sufficiency and resilience during the period on their own may desire more egalitarian roles and struggle with their partners for control (Travis, McBride, & Solomon, 2005). On the contrary, men and women who desire traditional roles in their partnership may feel thwarted if the man has difficulties finding employment and establishing himself as the financial breadwinner (Fishman, 1990). One of the most challenging tasks faced by prisoners and their partners upon release is recreating a sustainable family process that acknowledges the inevitable changes that take place during the period of imprisonment