Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Incarcerated Sex Offenders' Perceptions of Family Relationships: Previous Experiences and Future Expectations

Academic journal article Western Criminology Review

Incarcerated Sex Offenders' Perceptions of Family Relationships: Previous Experiences and Future Expectations

Article excerpt

Abstract: Utilizing semi-structured interviews with 24 inmates in one medium security prison, this study examines how incarcerated sex offenders approaching release perceive previous experiences with and future expectations for their families. Observed characteristics of family associations among these inmates, both prior and subsequent to their labeling as sex offenders, will help identify how such public identification may impact social support from loved ones that is often necessary for successful community reintegration. Findings reveal that incarcerated sex offenders held both positive and negative outlooks toward their families before and after their labeling. Almost without exception, sex offenders reporting positive family experiences prior to their public identification described relationships that featured support, encouragement, and intimacy. However, those detailing negative family experiences discussed traumatic situations riddled with separation, violence, and sexual abuse. The majority of sex offenders anticipating positive family experiences upon release described personal acceptance, employment opportunities, and housing options. Most of these inmates, however, also possessed negative expectations for their families, including relationships characterized by rejection and doubt. Limitations and directions for future sex offender research are discussed.

Keywords: sex offenders, sex offenses, families of sex offenders, sex offenders' perceptions


As a result of increasingly large numbers of incarcerated offenders in the United States, numerous inmates are returning to society from prison each year. There are currently over 1.6 million criminal offenders living in American correctional facilities; approximately 1 in every 201 people in the U.S. are locked behind bars (Guerino, Harrison, and Sabol 2011). The majority of these people, nearly 650,000 inmates annually, are released from state and federal prisons (Swanson, Rohrer, and Crow 2010). Following release from incarceration, many of these ex-inmates quickly discover considerable setbacks in the community. Despite their liberation from incarceration, former inmates may encounter debt, homelessness, substance abuse, and unemployment that make life on the outside more arduous (Travis, Solomon, and Waul 2001; Visher, La Vigne, and Travis 2004).

For these reasons, robust family ties are essential for both current and former inmates, as these relationships may increase post-release success. Lower recidivism rates are common among former inmates that have family contact throughout their incarceration (Arditti, Lambert- Shute, and Joest 2003; Klein, Bartholomew, and Hibbert 2002). Specifically, prison visits from loved ones significantly decrease the risk of backsliding into criminal activity (Bales and Mears 2008; Duwe and Clark, 2011). Family attachments also prove to be influential in assisting ex-offenders with employment in the community (Berg and Huebner 2011). Further, family relationships often afford former inmates opportunities for financial assistance and housing (La Vigne, Visher, and Castro 2004; Nelson, Deess, and Allen 1999; Visher et al. 2004; Visher, Yahner, and La Vigne 2010).

Strong family support may be especially critical for sex offenders. Between 10,000 and 20,000 such offenders are estimated to be released annually from American correctional facilities (Center for Sex Offender Management 2007), and today, more than 700,000 individuals are registered sex offenders in the United States (Ewing 2011). Sex offenders arguably face more challenging impediments to successful reintegration (Burchfield and Mingus 2008; Levenson and Cotter 2005; Levenson, D'Amora, and Hern 2007; Levenson and Hern 2007; Mercardo, Alvarez, and Levenson 2008; Robbers 2009; Tewksbury 2004, 2005; Tewksbury and Lees 2006, 2007; Zevitz and Farkas 2000). Publicly identified sex offenders experience feelings of anxiety, depression, embarrassment, isolation, and shame (Burchfield and Mingus 2008; Levenson and Cotter 2005; Levenson et al. …

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