How "Tough on Crime" Hurts Families

Across the partisan divide, many agree that mass incarceration in the United States must be reduced. As policymakers consider reforms, the May 2016 volume of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, edited by a team of SSN scholars, examines the potential consequences for families. New research highlights harms suffered by the children and families of people in prison and on parole. 

On September 19th The American Academy of Political and Social Science convenes a Capitol Hill Policy Seminar on “How Does Incarceration Affect Families? Can the Latest Research Inform Policy?”  Drawing from the latest new research, this event will offer policymakers and advocates a succinct overview of the family effects of parental imprisonment and the most promising approaches to improving public safety and family wellbeing.

A new volume of the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, “Tough on Crime, Tough on Families? Criminal Justice and Family Life in America,” has been assembled and edited by SSN members Hedwig Lee, Sara Wakefield and Chris Wildeman. SSN briefs highlight key findings from articles in the volume. Research shows that even minor encounters with the criminal justice system can be highly stressful for family members, including the more than two million American children of incarcerated parents. Going forward, scholars call for more robust data – even as they draw from existing to research to suggest reforms that can help family members affected by incarceration.

The Needs of Families with Incarcerated Members

Families with incarcerated members face instability and heightened stresses. Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to be placed in the care of Child Protection Agencies – and they grow up at higher risk for future incarceration.  Specialized services and extra supports are needed to help these families thrive.

A Multi-Generational Study of Families Involved with Prisons and Child Protection Agencies
Lawrence M. Berger, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Laura Cuesta, Rutgers University

The Needs of Families of People Held in Local Jails
Megan Lee Comfort, RTI International and University of California, San Francisco

The Impacts of Incarceration on Work and Family Life

For ex-prisoners and family members alike, incarceration hampers chances to work, volunteer and sustain deep relationships with children.

The Harmful Impact of Online Criminal Histories
Sarah Esther Lageson, Rutgers University

Do Inmates Families Do Better or Worse Depending on Whether Fathers are Sent to Jails or to State or Federal Prisons?
Christopher Wildeman, Cornell University, Kristin Turney, University of California, Irvine, and Youngmin Yi, Cornell University

Next Steps in Research and Data Collection

Scholars spell out the need for new data compilations to better track the effects of incarceration on children and families, with greater attention to racial differences.

Why We Need Improved Data to Better Understand the Consequences of Incarceration for American Families
Amanda Geller, New York University, and Garrett T. Pace, University of Michigan

Reexamining Race When Studying the Consequences of Criminal Justice Contact for Families
Anna R. Haskins, Cornell University


More From SSN Members on Incarceration and American Democracy:

Scholar Spotlight: Mass Incarceration and American Democracy

September 2016