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«This PDF is available from The National Academies Press at The Growth of Incarceration in the United ...»

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Schram, 2002; Ritchie, 2004; Solinger et al., 2010). For example, Ward and Kassenbaum’s (2009) ethnographic study of a women’s prison finds that, although women were subjected to virtually the same pains and deprivations of imprisonment as men (albeit with less pressing threats of victimization by other inmates), they felt the loss of familial roles and affectional relationships much more acutely and adapted to the prison environment in ways that reflected this.

Owen’s (1998) ethnographic study of the very large women’s prison in California (the Central California Women’s Facility [CCWF]) reveals an inmate culture that developed “in ways markedly different from the degradation, violence, and predatory structure of male prison life”; that is, “in some ways, the culture of the female prison seeks to accommodate these struggles rather than to exploit them” (Owen, 1998, p. 2). Yet despite the gendered nature of these accommodations, “the social organization of women in a contemporary prison is created in response to demands of the institution and to conditions not of their own making.” Thus, just as in male prisons, the typical female prisoner’s “subsequent immersion in this culture” has a temporal dimension that “shapes one’s level of attachment to prison culture as one becomes prisonized... or socialized into the normative prison structure” (Owen, 1998, p. 2). Also as in male prisons, Owen reports that overcrowding permeated the conditions of daily life at CCWF.

Although there are a number of parallels between life in men’s and women’s prisons, women prisoners face a number of additional hardships that complicate their experience of incarceration. For one, women’s prisons historically have been underresourced and underserved in correctional systems, so that women prisoners have had less access to programming and treatment than their male counterparts (e.g., Smykla and Williams, 1996).

Women prisoners also are more likely to be the targets of sexual abuse by staff (e.g., Buchanan, 2007). Specifically, women victims of sexual coercion and assault in prison are much more likely than their male counterparts to report that the perpetrators were staff members (e.g., Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson, 2006). Beck (2012) finds that of all reported staff sexual misconduct in prison, three-quarters involved staff victimizing women prisoners.

A majority of women prisoners are mothers, who must grapple with the burden of being separated from their children during incarceration (e.g., Phillips and Harm, 1997). In 2004, 62 percent of female state and federal inmates (compared with 51 percent of male inmates) were parents. Of those female inmates, 55 percent reported living with their minor children in the month before arrest, 42 percent in single-parent households; for male inmates who were parents, the corresponding figures were 36 and 17 percent (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008).

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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Imprisonment of Youth In the 1980s and 1990s, new laws and changing practices criminalized many juvenile offenses and led more youth to be placed in custody outside the home,9 including many who were tried as adults and even incarcerated in adult prisons. Confining youth away from their homes and communities interferes with the social conditions that contribute to adolescents’ healthy psychological development: the presence of an involved parent or parent figure, association with prosocial peers, and activities that require autonomous decision making and critical thinking. In addition, many youth face collateral consequences of involvement in the justice system, such as the public release of juvenile and criminal records that follow them throughout their lives and limit future education and employment opportunities (National Research Council, 2013).

Youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system fare worse than those that remain in the juvenile justice system (Austin et al., 2000; Task Force on Community Preventive Services, 2007). The number of juveniles held in adult jails rose dramatically from 1,736 in 1983 to 8,090 in 1998, a 366 percent increase. In the late 1990s, 13 percent of confined juveniles were in adult jails or prisons (Austin et al., 2000); the proportion of confined juveniles who end up in adult jails or prisons is about the same today.

According to Deitch and colleagues (2009), “once a [youth] has been transferred to adult court, many states no longer take his or her age into consideration when deciding where the child is to be housed before trial and after sentencing.... Although federal law requires separation of children and adults in correctional facilities, a loophole in the law does not require its application when those children are certified as adults. On any given day, a significant number of youth are housed in adult facilities, both in local jails and in state prisons” (p. 53). In 2008, 7,703 youth were counted in jails (Minton, 2013), and 3,650 prisoners in state-run adult prisons were found to be under 18 (Sabol et al., 2009). The number of juvenile inmates has declined in recent years, with 1,790 in prisons (Carson and Sabol, 2012) 9 Juvenilesare considered to be confined (as opposed to incarcerated) when they are adjudicated delinquent and ordered to be placed in residence outside the home—for example, in a group home or juvenile correctional facility. In an overall trend that is very similar to the one we have described for adults, the confinement rate of juveniles increased through the 1980s and 1990s. By 1997, the juvenile confinement rate had reached a peak of 356 juveniles in placement per 100,000 population. The confinement rate of juveniles rose steadily from 167 in 1979, to 185 in the mid-1980s, to 221 in 1989, reaching a peak in 1997 before starting to decline (Allen-Hagen, 1991; Child Trends, n.d.; Kline, 1989; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1983; Sickmund et al., 2011). It is worth noting that the placement rate did not change substantially between 1985 and 2008; the increased confinement rate is due largely to the growth of delinquency referrals handled by juvenile courts during that period rather than greater use of placement (National Research Council, 2013).





Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

–  –  –

and 5,900 in jails (Minton, 2013) in 2011. With the growth in prison and jail populations, juveniles still represent less than 1 percent of the overall incarcerated population.

When youth are confined in jails, detention centers, or prisons designed for adults, they have limited access to educational and rehabilitative services appropriate to their age and development. Living in more threatening adult correctional environments places them at greater risk of mental and physical harm (Deitch et al., 2009; National Research Council, 2013). Research also has shown that placing youth in the adult corrections system instead of retaining them in the juvenile system increases their risk of reoffending (Bishop and Frazier, 2000; Mulvey and Schubert, 2011; Redding, 2008).

These disadvantages are borne disproportionately by youth of color, who are overrepresented at every stage of the juvenile justice process and particularly in the numbers transferred to adult court. Youth of color also remain in the system longer than white youth. Minority overrepresentation within the juvenile justice system raises at least two types of concerns.

First, it calls into question the overall fairness and legitimacy of the juvenile justice system. Second, it has serious implications for the life-course trajectories of many minority youth who may be stigmatized and adversely affected in other ways by criminal records attained at comparatively young ages (National Research Council, 2013).

Congress first focused on these kinds of racial disparities in 1988 when it amended the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-415, 42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq.)10 to require states that received federal formula funds to ascertain the proportion of minority youth detained in secure detention facilities, secure correctional facilities, and lockups compared with the general population. If the number of minority youth was disproportionate, then states were required to develop and implement plans for reducing the disproportionate representation. Despite a research and policy focus on this matter for more than two decades, however, remarkably little progress has been made toward reducing the disparities themselves. On the other hand, at least in the past decade, some jurisdictions have begun to take significant steps to overhaul their juvenile justice systems to reduce the use of punitive practices and heighten awareness of racial disparities (for more discussion, see National Research Council [2013]). The steady decline in the juvenile confinement rate, from 356 per 10 In 2002, Congress modified the disproportionate minority confinement requirement and mandated that states implement juvenile delinquency prevention and system improvement efforts across the juvenile justice system. Thus, the requirement was broadened from disproportionate minority confinement to disproportionate minority contact, and states were required to implement strategies aimed at reducing disproportionality.

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

–  –  –

100,00011 in 1997 to 225 in 2010, is one indication that these reforms may be having the desired impact (Child Trends, n.d.; Sickmund et al., 2011).

General Psychological Observations Imprisonment produces negative, disabling behavioral and physical changes in some prisoners, and certain prison conditions can greatly exacerbate those changes. Although imprisonment certainly is not uniformly devastating or inevitably damaging to individual prisoners, “particular vulnerabilities and inabilities to cope and adapt can come to the fore in the prison setting, [and] the behavior patterns and attitudes that emerge can take many forms, from deepening social and emotional withdrawal to extremes of aggression and violence” (Porporino, 1990, p. 36). As discussed further below, numerous empirical studies have confirmed this observation.

Even one review of the literature (Bonta and Gendreau, 1990) reaching the overall conclusion that life in prison was not necessarily as damaging to prisoners as many had previously assumed nonetheless cites a number of studies documenting a range of negative, harmful results, including these empirical facts: “physiological and psychological stress responses... were very likely [to occur] under crowded prison conditions”; “a variety of health problems, injuries, and selected symptoms of psychological distress were higher for certain classes of inmates than probationers, parolees, and, where data existed, for the general population”; studies show that longterm incarceration can result in “increases in hostility and social introversion... and decreases in self-evaluation and evaluations of work” for some prisoners; and imprisonment itself can produce “increases in dependency upon staff for direction and social introversion,” “deteriorating community relationships over time,” and “unique difficulties” with “family separation issues and vocational skill training needs” (Bonta and Gendreau, 1990, pp. 353-359).

Coping with the Stresses of Incarceration Many aspects of prison life—including material deprivations; restricted movement and liberty; a lack of meaningful activity; a nearly total absence of personal privacy; and high levels of interpersonal uncertainty, danger, and fear—expose prisoners to powerful psychological stressors that can 11 Rates are calculated per 100,000 juveniles ages 10 through the upper age limit of each state’s juvenile court jurisdiction (Child Trends, n.d.; Sickmund et al., 2011).

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

–  –  –

adversely impact their emotional well-being.12 Toch and Adams (2002, p. 230) conclude that the “dictum that prisons are stressful cannot be overestimated” and identify patterns of “acting out” and other forms of apparently “maladaptive” behavior in which prisoners sometimes engage as they attempt to cope with the high levels of stress they experience in confinement.

Prison stress can affect prisoners in different ways and at different stages of their prison careers. Some prisoners experience the initial period of incarceration as the most difficult, and that stress may precipitate acute psychiatric symptoms that surface for the first time. Preexisting psychological disorders thus may be exacerbated by initial experiences with incarceration (e.g., Gibbs, 1982). Other prisoners appear to survive the initial phases of incarceration relatively intact only to find themselves worn down by the ongoing physical and psychological challenges and stress of confinement. They may suffer a range of psychological problems much later in the course of their incarceration (Taylor, 1961; Jose-Kampfner, 1990; Rubenstein, 1982).

For some prisoners, extreme prison stress takes a more significant psychological toll. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis applied to a set of interrelated, trauma-based symptoms, including depression, emotional numbing, anxiety, isolation, and hypervigilance.13 In a review of the international literature, Goff and colleagues (2007) find that the prevalence of PTSD in prisoner populations varies across studies from 4 to 21 percent, suggesting a rate that is 2 to 10 times higher than the prevalence found in community samples (Kessler et al., 1995; Stein et al., 1997). Studies conducted in the United States have observed the highest prevalence: PTSD is reported in 21 percent of male prisoners (Gibson et al., 1999; Powell et al.,

1997) and in as many as 48 percent of female prisoners (Zlotnick, 1997), and in 24 to 65 percent of male juvenile inmates (Heckman et al., 2007;

see also Gibson et al., 1999).



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