Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Rural/urban Differences in Inmate Perceptions of the Punitiveness of Prison: Does Having Children Make Prison More Punitive? *

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Rural/urban Differences in Inmate Perceptions of the Punitiveness of Prison: Does Having Children Make Prison More Punitive? *

Article excerpt

America has been on an incarceration binge for many years. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the number of persons under supervision of adult correctional authorities at the end of 2013 was almost seven million with more than 1.5 million inmates housed in state and federal prisons (Glaze & Kaeble 2014; Kaeble et al. 2015). The United States houses a greater proportion of its citizens in prisons than any other country in the world. Many of these prisoners are parents. The number of parents incarcerated in state and federal prisons increased by 79% during the period between 1991 and 2007 (Glaze and Maruschak 2008). Nationally, there are more than 120,000 incarcerated mothers and 1.1 million incarcerated fathers who are the parents of minor children ages 0-17 (Glaze and Maruschak 2011; National Resource Center on Children & Families of the Incarcerated 2014).

Due to the high rate of parental incarceration, a major challenge these parents face during their time in prison is the potential disruption of relationships and communication with the outside world, especially with the family (Western and McClanahan 2000). Social ties are an integral part ofhuman nature, particularly the relationships between inmates and their families (Casey-Acevedo and Bakken 2002). Thus, the relationships the inmate had before incarceration, during incarceration, and upon release are important factors in the lives of the inmate and their families. Within the field of corrections, it has long been held that contacts with family and friends (e.g., letters, telephone calls and visitation) are essential for helping inmates adjust both during confinement and after their release (Harriston 1998). Maintaining family ties can assist by normalizing the inmate's lifestyle and his or her perception of being part of a family unit. Although incarceration presents challenges to the family unit, the role of the family is important for inmates, especially those who are parents.

While several studies examine the detrimental impacts of incarceration on both the inmate and their children, no known research considers whether the impacts vary by whether the inmate had a rural or urban upbringing. In fact, research examining the impact of rurality on incarceration has largely been limited to two areas: research that examines the decision-making processes of those who choose to locate prisons in rural counties (e.g., Genter, Hooks, and Mosher 2013) and research examining rural/urban differences in substance abuse and treatment (e.g., Warner and Leukefeld 2001). Furthermore, despite a large body of research that examines demographic predictors of inmates' perceptions of the punitiveness of prison (see May and Wood 2010, for review), no research of which we are aware examines rural and urban differences in those perceptions.

Thus, the purposes of this paper are threefold. In this paper, we investigate whether having a child influences an inmate's perceptions of the severity of prison compared with alternative sanctions. We then examine rural/urban differences in this association. Finally, this research extends the literature of offenders' perceptions of punitiveness by examining rural/urban differences in the impact of several demographic variables on the amount of alternative sanctions inmates will endure to avoid one year of imprisonment.

Incarceration and Family Disruption

While there are many families affected by incarceration, the research around the negative impacts of parental incarceration is a growing literature investigated from the perspective of the inmate as well as the perspective of children, caregivers and other family relatives. Many inmates with children experience parental stress due to the dissolution of the family unit (Arditti, Smock and Parkman 2005). Parental stress refers to difficulties coping with the demands of attaching to and competently parenting children (Loper et al. 2009). Research suggests that incarcerated women often experience guilt associated with the crimes they committed and the consequences of leaving their children behind. …

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